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Should you use a Broker when buying a Boat?
A broker will crawl over a boat with you, pointing out any features or shortcomings. Photo by Rob Lucey

How to Buy a Boat, Part Two: Dealers, Brokers or None

So you’ve decided to buy a boat. If you read last month’s installment of this series (Choose the Right Kind of Boat), you realize there is a daunting number of decisions to be made before you choose the best boat for you. When you find yourself in irons with no clear course forward in the process, it could be time to consult with a professional.

New Boat Dealers

If you are shopping for a new boat, the process is similar to buying a new car. You will want to visit several boat dealers to compare what they have to offer. The dealers should show you the various lines they represent, extolling the advantages each has to offer. (If you’re looking for a particular company’s boats, your best bet is to visit the company’s website or contact it to find the nearest dealer representing the company’s products.)

As mentioned last issue, boat shows provide a convenient opportunity to “kick the fenders” on the offerings of numerous boat dealers all in one location. Most exhibitors also offer “boat show discounts.” As with an automobile dealer, negotiating is the norm. During a down market, dealers are more willing to offer bargains to help move inventory or pass on incentives from the manufacturers.

Unless you experience love at first sight, your best bet is to narrow down the selection to a few boat models that interest you and will meet your needs, then go home and research them. Most of the larger brands of boats have active owner groups with websites providing forums to answer any questions you might have before making a big commitment.

Used Boat Dealers

As with car dealers, boat dealers often take in used boat inventory as trade-ins or through other acquisitions. Sometimes the dealer will refurbish these boats before posting a for sale sign on them. Also like the auto industry, some will even offer warranty programs for the pre-owned boats they sell.

Boat Brokers

While dealers may have some used boats on their lot, if buying a secondhand vessel is your primary objective, your best bet may be to work with a boat broker. Brokers are more like a real estate agent than car dealer. They sell used boats on behalf of boat owners and also help prospective buyers (like you) find boats to meet their needs. (Definitions can get blurred when brokers decide to carry a line or two of new boats, making them dealer/brokers.)

Buyer brokers develop a working relationship with clients, learn what customers are looking for, provide guidance and help them track down the perfect vessel. Just as a realtor might take you house hunting by driving you to various homes in a city, the broker will be your guide as you hit the marinas, walking you through various boats and helping to interpret the details in listing sheets.

The main thing you gain by working with a broker is their knowledge. They also have access to listings of all of the available boats on the market – but these days, so does anybody with access to the Internet.

You also gain their insight on local market prices, so that you are able to make a suitable offer when you do find your dreamboat. And, like a realtor, they negotiate on your behalf. Somebody who can say, “let me check with my client and get back to you” can insulate you from a seller’s pressure tactics and add leverage to the purchase process.

Brokers also guide their clients through the paperwork required for transferring ownership. They may help buyers locate financing, facilitate sea trials and haul-outs for inspections, check for liens on boats, and provide valuable insights on how best to address any problems encountered along the way.

Certified Pros

Finding the right broker can be crucial step in finding the right boat. How do you find that perfect broker for your personal boat buying quest?

You want a broker who knows boats – especially the type of boat you are interested in. If you’re into sport fishing, find a broker who knows fishing boats, preferably one who has done some serious fishing. If you’re looking for a megayacht, there are brokers who specialize in that niche. If you want to be a cruiser but aren’t sure about choosing a trawler or sailing yacht, there are knowledgeable brokers – often former cruisers themselves – who can guide you through the decision process. You should be able to get a good idea about what kind of boats a brokerage company specializes in simply by glancing at their advertisements or website.

If you have friends who have bought boats through brokers, you should ask about their experience. Local boatyards and other marine service providers may also have recommendations.

Or you can search for certified local brokers through professional organizations like the Yacht Brokers Association of America (www.ybaa.org). Other more localized groups in our region include the Florida Yacht Brokers Association (www.fyba.org) and the Gulf Coast Yacht Brokers Association (gcyba.com). All of these groups maintain directories of their members on their websites.

The associations set professional standards, provide training and administer tests before certifying members. Professional certification is not required for brokers, but they do need to adhere to ethical standards, particularly during the price negotiation process. Certification can provide reassurance that your broker is meeting the necessary standards.

Brokers build their careers by forming relationships with customers who will call them again when it’s time to sell their boat or buy their next boat. If you find a professional who’s in the business for the long haul, it’s in their best interests to do a good job for you.

Going Bare Boat

These days, empowered by the Internet, some people decide to shop the market without a broker. Buyers can explore not just the local market, but also the state, national and international boat markets with a few clicks on the keyboard.

While this may be tempting, first time buyers in particular should probably stick with professional help. Boat brokers are paid a percentage of the sales price by the seller, so it doesn’t directly cost a buyer anything to use a broker. If a broker is both the listing and selling broker, he or she gets the entire commission. If not, the two brokers split the commission. (Obviously, the first instance should raise some alarms regarding how to ensure the broker can fairly represent both your needs and the seller’s during negotiations.)

One instance in which a broker may not be helpful is if you find your dreamboat and it is “for sale by owner.” Without a listing broker, the seller would be under no obligation to pay the commission, so your broker would be unlikely to show you that boat unless you pay the commission.

Another instance when a broker might be unnecessary is if you were buying a boat from a friend or family member and already know all you need to know about the boat and its value.

Whether you go it alone, or find your boat with the help of a dealer or broker, once you find your boat, the next professional you’ll want to work with is a marine surveyor. We’ll pick up with that next month.

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