Selling Your Boat
By: Chris Caswell
Reprinted here by permission from 'PassageMaker Magazine'
You've had great fun with your boat, but the time has come to move on to a boat that is (choose one): larger, faster, shinier, newer. She's been your best friend but you've got "boat fever" and, if you're like most boatowners, you'll trade up on a regular basis. All those new boats at the boatshows caught your eye but, before a new boat arrives in your slip, you have to sell the old one.
Here are ten tips to make your boat a fast seller.
It's a natural human trait: we draw conclusions based on visual evidence. When a potential buyer walks up to your boat and sees ratty docklines, it's clear that you don't take care of essentials. When the buyer looks into the bilge and sees rusty brown water, you obviously aren't a good boatkeeper. If he pulls an engine dipstick and sees dirty black gunk, well, what would you think about the engine condition?
I know that when I see a boat that is a floating ghetto, two things come to mind. First, I automatically assume that maintenance is equally shoddy on all the systems and, second, I think about making a low-ball offer.
Any yacht broker will tell you the first 30 seconds aboard are the most important and, if your buyer sees a sparkling boat, it's already half sold. In real estate, the three most important words in a home are "location, location, location". For boats, it's "looks, looks, looks."
On the outside, now is the time to wax the hull, polish the metal to a gleam, and add a coat of fresh varnish. Teak decks shouldn't be gray, and non-slip surfaces shouldn't have stains, either. A small investment in maintenance can earn you thousands in resale value.
Inside, give your boat a good spring cleaning. If you have carpet, a shampoo will remove the dirt and stains that you don't even notice anymore. Curtains and upholstery need cleaning, too, especially if you have pets or smokers aboard.
In the galley, it's particularly important to clean the stove and oven to get rid of the spills and crumbs from last season, because many women look at the stove to see how well the boat is maintained. Empty out the refrigerator, clean it thoroughly, and leave an open box of baking soda to remove the odor of that onion you forgot months ago.
Wipe down the cabinets and bulkheads using a household cleaner and I guarantee: you'll be shocked by the color of the cloth. Tip: Leave sheets of scented fabric softener in drawers and lockers, so that they have the flavor of fresh laundry when a buyer opens them.
When you're cleaning, don't just think about the broad strokes, such as the hull or deck, but get down to the details, too. Nothing makes a worse first impression than a once-yellow shore cord that is a sticky-icky blackish color.
And, yes, cleaning means the bilge, too. If it's really grim, call in some professionals who can steam or pressure wash it back to pristine.
2. Good Smelling-
Clean is just a start, because your boat has to smell clean and fresh, too. How many times have you stepped below into a funky aroma that combines oil, mildew, dirty bilge and a nasty head into a scent that is guaranteed to kill a sale.
Cleaning your boat thoroughly is a good start, but pay particular attention to the head, where it needs to look and smell like the day the boat launched. Empty the holding tank, and add chemicals to neutralize any aroma. Make sure you leave ports or hatches open to air the boat thoroughly. Think about how inviting it feels when you're looking at boats in a boatshow, and make yours the same.
The old joke is that a boat is a hole in the water, but the truth is that we throw junk, not money, into it. If you were to open every locker today, you'd be astounded at the useless stuff you have aboard. Empty WD-40 cans, bent shackles, gaskets that fit nothing aboard, all the stuff that had to be tossed somewhere but which never left. Why do we fill galley drawers with stray corks, because no one ever loses corks. Archaeologists would have a field day aboard any modern yacht.
Empty lockers look much larger and you'll find that many of the odors you've been fighting emanate from the grungy stuff in lockers. Clean the lockers, and the aroma goes, too. When you get them emptied, it would be a good idea to throw a coat of white paint in there, too. You want your buyer to think you have immense amounts of stowage space because, as you know, there is never enough.
Take off all your personal gear, too, because you want the potential buyers to start thinking about her as their boat. Personal photographs: gone. Lipstick and shaving cream in the head: gone. Not only will this get rid of personal attachments, but it makes the boat larger, too.
Don't forget the hanging lockers while you're getting your gear off. A locker full of someone else's aromatic foul weather jackets isn't conducive to a sale.
This is also the time to remove anything that doesn't go with the sale. Too many million-dollar sales have been queered at the eleventh hour by the question of who gets the $100 barometer. Don't pillage the boat, but take anything with a personal sentiment and leave the rest. Tip: take the toaster and blender from the galley. They date the boat, make the counters look crowded, and are probably dirty, too.
I've always found it amusing that the only time everything works perfectly on my boats is when I put them up for sale. No boat larger than a dinghy sells without a survey these days, so it's better to fix things before that point.
Now is the time to cure that erratic windshield wiper because Murphy's Law says that a buyer is going to flip that one particular switch. Sure, you lived with it, but the buyer only sees an example of poor maintenance.
Make sure the fire extinguishers are current, the lifejackets legal, and the flares within their expire dates.
When it comes to the canvas on board, if yours is worn or tired, you have two choices: remove it or repair/replace it. Remove anything that isn't necessary to the sale to cut your replacement costs. But a Bimini top is expected so either repair the frozen snaps or, if the top is marginal, replace it.
I shouldn't have to say this, but make sure the engines start promptly. Many sales have been lost because a battery was drained and the engine wouldn't fire. Tune the engines and charge the batteries, because you want to impress the buyer with engines that fire instantly.
Speaking of engines, now is the time to think about having your engine steamed to get rid of all the oil. The downside is that it will show the bare spots that rust immediately. You'll want to wire-brush them and touch them up with the engine enamel. Don't---ever---just paint over everything. That's a red flag for buyers and surveyors alike. They both assume you're hiding something.
When it comes to electronics, you're probably best leaving them, rather than trying to upgrade them. Every buyer has different tastes in brands and types so, if your electronics are old or tired, you might want to make it clear that you're giving the buyer a rebate of x-thousand dollars for new electronics of his choice. That's turning a negative into a positive, and he'll start dreaming about all the new black boxes he can buy for your former boat.
If you had the engines or gear rebuilt professionally, get the receipts and make them available. You need to prove that your engines or generator have a certain number of hours, or that the air conditioning was rebuilt on this date. Again, this is reassuring to the buyer.
Sure, a boat can sell on its own but, with a little work, you can add immensely to the sale price. Some of the smartest buyers I've seen have assembled a notebook, providing all the details on the boat: history, upgrades, inventory, systems. Some have included tearsheets from positive magazine reviews of the boat, others have listed the voyages taken. This is, plain and simple, a selling tool. Tip: you might include some ads for similar boats, that are more expensive, of course!
The same thing applies to photography. I'm always astounded, in this age of digital cameras, that so many brokerage photos look like they used a Polaroid from the '60s. Get good, well-lit photos of every area of your boat, from saloon to cabins and heads. This means the engineroom, cockpit, foredeck and, if there is one, the flybridge. Get detail shots of the electrical panel, electronics, and don't forget the tender, too.
There are many who say that having a survey before you sell your boat is an unnecessary expense, but I think that it's worth every penny. First, there's going to be a survey because your buyer is smart and, besides, it's required for insurance and financing.
More important, though, is that it gives you a chance to fix things for a few dollars that might take thousands off the selling price. You'll get a preview of what the buyer's surveyor is going to find wrong, and you can make them right.
Now is not the time to stint on fixing things found on the survey. Sure, it may cost you a hundred dollars to fix the compass light but the buyer's surveyor may suggest taking off a thousand dollars because all the compass might be bad, too. It's better to cure it now, on your terms.
Most people don't realize it but there are, of course, three prices: the seller's price, the buyer's price, and the fair market value. Your starting point should be the market value because owners invariably overvalue their boats. See what similar boats with similar equipment are selling, and then price yours aggressively, because you don't want to be on the market for months. You want to be in your new boat.
You can't do anything about the buyer's idea of the price, but if he makes an offer fairly close to what you are asking, grab the money and run. You can make up any difference when you buy your next boat. Experienced yacht brokers shake their heads with tales of clients who held out for a few bucks more and lost a sale, only to have their boats languish for months longer on the market. No, you shouldn't take a bath on your boat, but don't be penny-foolish.
I left this for last because you have to get all the previous items in order, but you should imagine your boat as a stage and you need to add props to make it convincing. Don't go overboard, but a few items can make all the difference.
For example, the dining table should be set for a nice dinner. If you're leaving your plates aboard, so much the better. Placemats, dishes, wine glasses. Have you ever seen a brochure for a new boat that didn't have the dining table decorated invitingly?
The same for the staterooms. Don't leave the mattresses bare: a cheerful and inexpensive comforter, with a couple of matching pillows turns a prison cell into an inviting getaway. In the head, hang one towel on the bar or it will look too stark.
Don't go overboard with vases and decor: that's what you removed to make the boat look large. Perhaps a book or two on a shelf, a magazine on the coffee table. Lived in but not overloaded is the goal.
This is a boat you've enjoyed, and it's now time for her to go to a new owner. This shouldn't feel like arm-wrestling with Arnold Schwartzeneggar. It should be a good time, when you can start thinking seriously about your next boat.
Saying goodbye to an old friend is always tough but that's offset by getting top dollar that you can put toward a new dream boat. One thing to remember: there is someone out there who wants your boat.
After all, you did!