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Show Boating

By Jason Y. Wood

There’s a boat show in your future and it’s approaching quickly. Best to be prepared: If there’s one thing to say about this market for brokerage boats, it’s that all bets are off. And whether you’re looking to buy, are looking to sell, or are just plain looking for the fun of it, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you see. But the right approach is key, and it should be adjusted for the market at hand. Brokers know how to look at a boat show—it’s their business after all—and they can offer smart tips.

Get ’Em While They’re Hot: Now is a great time to buy. Why? The available inventory of quality brokerage boats is shrinking, and in ways you probably didn’t realize. “We’ve seen a lot of boats go to foreign markets: Australia’s been very busy, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey—we don’t normally see a lot of boats go that way,” says Mike Bass of South Florida Yachts [(561) 389-6589; www.southfloridayachts.com]. “But their markets are up and coming. And so we’re seeing a lot of our inventory go offshore, and I don’t think it’s ever going to return.” In light of the build production over the last three years, there is more selection of pre-owned boats now than there is going to be in the coming two or three years.

“If you’re buying a brokerage boat, buy as current as possible and that boat will probably be what will be considered a modern boat,” Bass says. “If you buy a new boat that’s stamped 2011 or 2012, by the time you’re ready to sell it in a couple years there’s not going to be a lot out there to compete with that boat. If it’s in inventory it will be a sellable item.”

Bring in Some Help: As knowledgeable as you are, most boat buyers can’t do it all. The process takes on the scope of a full-time job: Tracking prices on several available boats, tuning into shifts in demand, and keeping equipment lists straight. Boat sellers seem to have the upper hand.

“My advice is to hire a buyer broker and to work with them exclusively,” says Curtis Stokes of Curtis Stokes and Associates [(855) 266-5676; www.curtisstokes.net]. “A lot of buyers seem to feel they need to go to the listing broker directly. They think they’re going to get a better buy—maybe the seller will pay less of a commission and give them a break on the price—but that’s not true in most cases.”

A buyer broker serves as your advocate in the process—a consultant rather than a salesman: “Buyer brokerage is just a no-brainer for buyers in today’s market,” Stokes says. “We fly anywhere in the world to photograph boats and check the specs to make sure they’re correct, and give the buyer our feedback before they even travel to look at a boat. That can save them a lot of time, money, and hassle. It eliminates boats and shortens the list. And it doesn’t cost them any more because we collect our commission from the seller and the listing broker.”

And buyer brokers make the boat show better. “If they’re working with a buyer broker, they can go through the show and see what’s there,” Stokes says. “The broker can get priority boarding and appointments ahead of time by researching what boats are in the show and talking with the listing brokers. And because there are a number of boats in Fort Lauderdale that no one can justify putting in the show, the buyer can stay an extra day or two and the buyer broker can make appointments to see boats that are relevant to their price range.”

Pull the Trigger: “Make an offer,” says Crom Littlejohn, a broker with Merle Wood and Associates [(954) 525-5111; www.merlewood.com]. “We can put some wonderful inventory in front of buyers. They’ll never get the opportunity to see this concentration of inventory of real, for-sale boats in one location. You don’t know what’s going to own a boat until you put a bona fide offer in front of somebody. You ask the brokers what will own it: We don’t know what’s on the seller’s deck that day, at that moment, influencing their decisions. Most owners aren’t sharing with us what their daily bottom line may be.”

“Sellers don’t want to get into serious negotiating and bottom-line numbers unless they believe a prospective buyer is very sincere and prepared to move forward,” Littlejohn says. “The best way to show that that is the case is with a bona fide offer.”