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Five Ways to Buy Right

Lead Line — October 2002

Every month we get mail from a few new readers asking for help in buying a boat. A lot takes the form of, “I can get this 32-foot Boat X for $125,000 or this 34-foot Boat Y for $150,000. Which should I buy?” There is, of course, no right answer to that question, any more than there is to which house I should buy or which car is best for me. Or for that matter, which woman I should marry.

Buying a boat is about taste, preference, and imponderables. The only person who can decide if a boat is worth her price is the buyer, so in such cases, often the best we can do is help determine priorities. (Do you need three cabins if you’re only going to overnight? Are diesels worth the money if you put 70 hours on your boat annually?)

When the questions aren’t so owner-specific, we can be of more help. It’s not that we’ve bought all that many boats—especially compared to some of our readers—we’ve just heard enough success and horror stories to intuit from them what works and what doesn’t. For those of you on the cusp of a nautical purchase, here are five things we’ve learned that may help smooth your way through the process.

Trust your broker. There are no doubt bad brokers around, as there are in any profession. But there are plenty of good ones, too, and a good broker is your most valuable asset in navigating the shoals of boat buying. Find one you trust and can work with, and listen to his advice. He wants to make the deal almost as much as you do, and if he’s sharp, he’s thinking about selling you more boats, so he’ll take care of you.

Don’t trust your surveyor. Well, at least not totally. Most surveyors are competent and professional, but they’re not psychic. They can’t find everything that’s wrong with your boat. Hire a good one and consider what he reports, but do your own investigation, too. Be involved in the evaluation of your boat, ask questions about areas that concern you, and don’t settle for answers that don’t adequately address your concerns or explain them in language you can understand. Don’t expect someone else to protect your interests the way you would.

It’s not what you pay for a boat—it’s what you sell her for. Jack Leek of Ocean Yachts told me this years ago, and it’s still true. You cannot determine if a boat is worth her sale price if you don’t factor in resale value. Some boats cost more to buy but historically return a larger proportion of that cost to their owners when they sell; others are great bargains at purchase time but depreciate quickly—and some are damn near impossible to sell at all. Resale values are available from a number of Web sites and knowledgeable brokers. You need this information before you make the deal because…

No boat is forever. You’re sure this will be your last boat. She has everything you could ever want, so why would you ever trade her? But inevitably, two years later you need more (or maybe less) room, power, range, equipment’whatever. Despite your strong feelings to the contrary, the chances are high you’ll trade your dream boat within two years. Once you understand this, you appreciate the importance of resale value.

Speed is overrated. Because of PMY’s testing regimen, we get a lot of inquiries about performance. Many buyers are obsessed with a minimum speed and will consider no boat that fails to meet that criterion. They forget that the days when conditions and passengers allow you to actually use all of that speed are relatively rare. They also often fail to consider that speed is expensive, in both engine and fuel costs.

Don’t be intimidated. Buying a boat is no more complicated than buying a house—often less—and the result is more fun.

This article originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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