How many times have we heard over the last 18 months that “this is the best time ever” to buy a boat? It may very well be true. And the reason is the simple economics of supply (a ton of it) and demand (not so much). Even as we see signs of improvement, the economy has taken its toll, and the result is lots of boats for sale and not that many hungry buyers.
The days of your local dealer being the only option are long gone. Today’s buyer not only has to determine what to buy, why to buy and when to buy, but also where to buy. Dealer? Broker? eBay? Usedboats.com? Never has the inventory been so broad. The question today is, where can you find the best deal? We looked for answers from the experiences of four recent buyers.
Jim Anderson’s story is simple: He purchased a second home on Long Island. It came with a boat slip, and he wanted to fill it, preferably with a 20-foot center console or walkaround. Anderson quickly realized that the price of a new boat was more than he cared to spend. So he did what an ever-increasing number of consumers are doing — he turned to eBay, Craigslist and a few local boat traders. There, online, he found numerous promising candidates, but ultimately the experience left him cold.
One seller claimed the first $16,000 would take his 2003 20-foot Boston Whaler Dauntless. When Anderson offered the asking price pending a test of the engine, the buyer claimed he had another offer and upped the ante to $18,000. Later, Anderson saw the boat advertised to the first person to offer $19,000. Says Anderson: “I sent him a very strongly worded e-mail questioning the ethics of his pricing strategy.”
Other boats being offered online simply did not live up to what the listing promised. “For the most part, there was always something wrong with the boat that was not in the advertisement,” Anderson says. “Some looked beautiful in the photos and description, but when you actually got there, they showed more signs of wear and tear.”
Most owners were honest about problems once Anderson pointed them out, but they didn’t offer them unprompted. “They didn’t try to hide anything, but they didn’t go out of their way to mention anything until you noticed it.”
Mark Menachem, eBay and Craigslist specialist for Marine Max Miami, states the obvious: There’s no guarantee with private online sales. Horror stories include listings of everything from stolen boats, to boats about to be repossessed, to total neglect. “A lot of the boats for sale are through a private party that hasn’t been able to afford to maintain it for the past year,” Menachem cautions. He’s also seen boats with undisclosed storm damage or altered hour meters. “Boats are misrepresented very often by individuals.”
In contrast, a dealer will often commission a survey, send a boat through the service department for review, even offer a warranty (some states require a 60-day mechanical warranty, but structural issues are still up to the buyer to find, dealer or not). Weighing these pros and cons ultimately pushed Anderson away from the private market. “At the end of the day, I decided I really didn’t want to buy a boat out of somebody’s backyard,” he says. So Anderson moved on.