Boat For Sail

It started last summer with my good friend Mike. He needed a bigger boat. His wife said that with the kids growing, she needed more space. The 29-footer wasn’t cutting it anymore. I said, “You’re the luckiest man on the planet.” His questions began: “Should I wait until fall, get a broker, or use Craigslist? What price? Do I include the dinghy, the dishes? How big can I go: older and bigger, or newer and smaller?”

Mike eventually got his act together and was able to work with a local broker to list the boat. Since she cost under $10K and Mike would be doing the showings himself, the broker would just charge a flat rate for doing the transaction. On the backside, they would help him move up to a mid-30-foot boat.

When buying and selling a boat, you don't need therapy. You just need one trusted friend who can answer your questions... and calm you down.

My phone had been ringing since fall. With little interest in the initial listing, the second guessing began. “Is the price too high? Should I move the boat to Annapolis? Do potential buyers understand winter storage is paid for?” My email filled up with links to boats: Beneteau 36.1, Jeanneau 37, Catalina 350… I sent him back a 1990 Sabre 38mkII. Mike replied, “Are you selling your boat?” I made my point: “They are all for sale. If you see one you like on the dock or in the yard, don’t be afraid to ask.”

With a price reduction of $500 and a couple of nice days in February, the action picked up. A couple of low offers landed on the table. Mike did his homework; he knew what his boat was really worth. He countered with his bottom line, and one of those low offers came up. Sold.

It was a good learning experience along the way, too. He got to be the seller, and now he was the buyer. Admittedly, his sale was relatively simple. Even though some of the offers came with all the standard contingencies of financing, surveys, and sea trials, it was going to be a cash deal at $6500.

Many trips to boatyards around the Bay ensued. A mid-2000s Catalina 350 rose to the top of the list. Having come on a trip with me to Florida, the search expanded to the entire East Coast. The cost of getting the boat home would impact the price, but it would be an adventure for the two of us. Again, Mike did his homework. With current comps in hand from his broker, they worked out values for several boats under consideration. The offer was developed. The offer was rejected, low baller… bottom feeder… One seller came down $1000, the other just $250!

Curious, neither of these boats was priced to sell, yet they had both been on the market for many months. The offers were well below asking price, but with the simple thought of settling in the middle, they would sell for what the comps showed and the listed book values. The waiting game began… and Mike’s over-thinking. “Am I too low? Does the seller really want to pay for summer storage, insurance, etc.? Why do they not want to negotiate? They have access to the same comps and book values. Surely they are willing to come down more. The bottom line can’t be just $250 less than asking. Why don’t they just put it out there?”

I reassured him, “Don’t worry.” Having recently sold and bought a house, I told him what my realtor told me: “The first offer is usually the best. You don’t want to turn that guy off. If they really want to sell, they will come to the table. At this point all you can do is put your best offer forward, and if it is rejected, move on.”

Cooler heads prevailed. Mike upped his offer. The owner of the first boat, which was newer and better equipped but also a five-day sail away, began to negotiate. The seller got a little more; Mike got some scheduled engine maintenance. The deal was made, survey completed, papers signed. 

Mike called me. “It’s getting real!” he said. “When do you want to bring her home?”

By Capt. Joe Musike