Boat Buying and Selling Tips

Customers often ask how I know what a fair price for a boat is. Well, honestly it is up to the consumer to decide what a fair price for a boat is. NADA Guides and ABOS are both booking programs that are made for consumers and dealers to establish a fair price when buying or selling a product. Unfortunately neither of these guides is accurate and should not be used when buying or selling a boat (especially during a poor economy). The reason I say not in a poor economy is because of new boat prices being driven so high forces most people to buy used. These guides work off percentages deducted each year from the MSRP. There are a few issues here though. In some cases, MSRP’s listed on these price guides are already inaccurate from the beginning. Boats are not like cars in value. This is where I have a problem with NADA guides. Time of year, region, supply and demand, condition, etc will all play a part in pricing a particular boat. For instance, in our area we have lots of fisherman. The lakes and rivers around us usually attract certain attributes in a boat. When multiple consumers are looking for a popular style or brand of boat, supply and demand will be up especially when the price of new boats is so high. When you are searching NADA for car prices, you can pick a certain vehicle and find 2 or 3 in your city to compare and go look. I mean exact car and sometimes even color. Now when you do this with a boat you may find one in Georgia, Ohio, and California. It’s kind of hard to look at all 3. At this point, being a dealer has its advantages. I can look at a boat and value it by what I’ve sold similar models for previously. I would encourage all consumers to find about 10 to 15 boats identical to the boat you are trying to price. I know that we can “ask” whatever we want for a boat, but in most cases I think you will find that boats will usually be priced pretty close with each other. Honestly, if you want to sell your boat and a booking program says it’s worth 5k and everyone is asking 10k there must be a reason for it. You’re not going to leave money on the table. Price it to be competitive but don’t give it away. Most consumers don’t know what boats actually sell for. Guess what, neither does NADA. The last time I checked NADA does not sell boats. Next let’s look at NADA’s structure for pricing a boat. First I find the boat that I am trying to book. I will now select options. Here is lies a big problem. When selecting options they leave it broad but somehow manage to put a price on them. For instance if I select fish finder, how do I know if I’m selecting a Lowrance X-50 DS or a Lowrance HDS-10. This is a big deal considering there is a $2,000 price difference. This is just one example. You could go down the list with the same scenario. Notice I haven’t really mentioned ABOS. If you are dead set on using a booking program, I would suggest ABOS. It costs over a hundred bucks for a year but so does NADA. Wait, you’re not using the free version of NADA are you? Just remember that you get what you pay for or don’t pay for. If the free version was just as accurate as their paid version why would they bother trying to sell any versions at all? With ABOS you can make condition adjustments on the boat that you are booking. As a dealer I can also include dealer installed items to add to the price quote for more accuracy.

The point in all of this is to be educated and smart when purchasing or selling a boat. Let’s face it; when we’re buying a boat we want it for as cheap as possible and when selling we want as much as possible. I’ll go over a few things that I like to do when I buy a boat. Remember that I do this for a living and I’ve seen and heard it all.

  • Don’t take someone’s word that a boat runs. Get out and drive it. If you are serious about buying a boat this should not be a problem for either party. Here at Pirate of the Cumberland Marine LLC we enjoy this part of the process
  • If you are not mechanically inclined don’t be afraid to have a mechanic check out the boat and engine. It will cost you an hour labor, but it could potentially save you thousands. We like to check compression on our engines before we buy or trade for them and will be more than happy to do this in front of you. Compression will be more accurate in testing an engine than any other test in my opinion. Unless it is a fuel injected engine, do not focus on engine hours. If equipped, carbureted engines usually have an hour meter connected to the key on power. If the key is left in the on position, then the gauge will continue to count hours. These gauges can also be replaced and manipulated to falsify the hours. This is about the most useless gauge ever installed on a boat. Most fuel injected engines however will actually store information on the ECM such as hours and time at a certain RPM range. This is nice for knowing exactly what the hour is. You could have an engine with 1000 hours at idle or an engine with only 250 hours but at wide open throttle the entire time
  • Ask about previous service such as oil changes, gear lube, or water pump impellers. These are all things that should be checked regularly and serviced annually. A routine service can cost anywhere from $200-$400 depending on labor rates. Never run a used boat without having it serviced. I had a friend buy a boat that was "recently serviced". He took the previous owner's word that all lubes had been changed, and found out the hard way that his lower unit had no gear lube. There was no water, just completely empty. This was always an old timer's way of winterizing and unfortunately sometimes people forget to fill them back up. In his case this was a $2,000 mistake
  • If an outboard is installed check the strength of the transom. Most outboard boats will show some stress in the gelcoat near the splash well but does not necessarily mean a bad transom. If a transom is rotted it will have a substantial amount of flexing if the motor is rocked. Sometimes you will even be able to see the fiberglass splitting apart around the splash well. This is usually caused by not using a transom saver or leaving outside unprotected
  • Next let’s look at the condition of the boat. A boat that has been left outside with the cover off to rot should not book for the same amount that a waxed and polished boat sitting indoors does. This brings me to another argument all together. Boats are not made to stay uncovered outside. You wouldn’t leave your windows down on your nice car all year long through rain, sleet, snow, hail, etc. In this situation your tattered boat is not worth what my nice showroom condition boat is. Once again NADA cannot help you here
  • Check for switches and all electronics to function properly. Nobody wants to fix stuff immediately when you buy a used boat. Some of these repairs can be time consuming and costly
  • Before you drive 200 miles to look at or purchase a boat ask about the tires on the trailer. Rotting tires will not get you very far after your purchase, enough said
  • If you are buying from an individual check your states rules for buying and selling a boat. Here in TN we do not have titles, but we do have registrations. When performing a non-dealer transfer you will need a bill of sale and the previous owner’s registration NO EXCEPTIONS. If the previous owner did not register the boat into his or her name THEY CANNOT SELL THE BOAT. Do not get suckered into buying a boat that you can’t register. This happens a lot due to people avoiding taxes. Be leery of purchasing a boat out of state. This is usually much more difficult to do when it comes to transferring ownership. Some states will have titles on boats, motors, or trailers and some states will not. It can be a very confusing process and unfortunately there are county clerk employees that are clueless on transferring boat ownership
I hope this can be useful and informative on your boat search. Buying or selling a boat should be a pleasant experience for everyone. We hope that this helps.

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