Ali Wood gets tips from the trade on how to sell your boat from a marine surveyor and a yacht broker so you can get the best price to spend on your next boat
The saying goes that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it.
To the contrary, PBO readers often tell us that selling their boat is the saddest day of their lives.
While we can’t help with that bitter-sweet goodbye (aside from providing lots of inspirational ‘armchair sailing’ in the pages of PBO) we can help you prepare for the sale.
Is now a good time to sell your boat?
Crispin Lennox is group sales and marketing manager at Avon Marina in Christchurch, Dorset, which sells motorboats ranging from BRIGS to Zodiacs and Cranchis.
“It’s certainly been a flatter year,” says Crispin. “There’s a sense of calm, which I think is a direct reflection of being post-Covid. The bubble has now flattened out, and inevitably the cost of living crisis and mortgage rates have had an impact on luxury purchases.”
That said, business has been steady for Avon Marina, which has sold boats between £25,000 and £80,000 to a largely local customer base.
Business starts to pick up around late February and March, which is a good time to list your boat ready for the boating season from spring to September.
“You might also make a quick sale if you drop the price at the end of August,” says Crispin. “It might be that your marina berth has run out or you need to sell your current boat to buy a different one, in which case we may be able to offer a part-exchange.”
How to value your boat
Maybe you can no longer sail, maybe you’ve been bequeathed a boat you don’t want, or maybe you want to buy something new.
Whatever your reason for selling, probably the first thing you want to know is what is your boat worth?
You need to price your boat correctly and there will be a ceiling for your kind of boat regardless of how much you’ve invested in new kit, sails or electronics (which are rarely recouped).
Boatbuilder Graham Moody points out in his book, the Boat Buyers’ Handbook, that older cruising yachts tend to hold their value more than racing boats.
“Cruising boats do not need to be as weight-conscious as racing boats. This tends to result in the quality cruising boat being strong, with a long life expectancy, resulting in high resale values.”
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to depreciation.
In the motorboat market, the age of the boat isn’t so important as the engine service history and the mileage, explains Crispin Lennox.
The warranty and service book need to be up to date, and a valuation is drawn from a like-for-like comparison with other similar boats.
“We don’t just look at a boat and value it,” he says. “We always refer back to our records and research. We don’t want to get the price wrong.”
You can find a reasonable sales price by comparing your boat to others on the market in terms of age, sale, condition and equipment.
By doing so, you’ll be able to justify your price to potential buyers. Also, price can be affected by seasonality, fetching a better price in the spring.
A good place to start is boat brokerage websites such as Rightboat or Apollo Duck.
For example, a recent search for a 30-45ft yacht up to £30,000 yields 544 results ranging from a 29ft 1971 Kings Cruiser 29 (£3,000) to a deck saloon Colvic Countess 33 (£30,000).
With any luck, your particular make of boat will be for sale or has been sold previously, in which case you can narrow your search.
For example, a search for Colvic Countess 33s reveals two others at £24,500 (deck saloon) and £29,950 (wheelhouse).
On Apollo Duck, there are five similar boats, ranging from £23,000 to £34,500, built between 1983 and 1997.
Should you hire a broker when you sell your boat?
Assuming, therefore, that £30,000 is a reasonable starting point for your Colvic Countess, where next?
Should you hire a broker and can they give you a more accurate guide to price?
Brokers know the market value of your boat better than anyone, as they’ll know the actual sale price of boats similar to yours – not just the starting or advertised price.
Marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies points out that a yacht broker may not be interested in selling a boat under £10,000 or even £20,000, however.
And while Avon Marina does sell used motorboats from £8,000, Crispin agrees that it’s the same amount of work to sell a low-value boat as a high-value one, so it’s important the boat is presentable and can be sold as seen.
Not all boats will be accepted for sale. A broker will deal with advertising, sea or river trials, and liaise with surveyors. They can also deal with any rectification work.
For example, Avon Marina has an on-site engineer who can get hold of parts and book any work required to get the engine or boat up to spec.
The broker will be insured against fraud and can assist with negotiations and deal with all the sales paperwork.
“Employing a broker can take away a lot of the stress of selling a boat, and also buying one,” says Ben. “Plus, your deposit is safe with a broker. I’ve seen private buyers fail to get their deposit back after pulling out of a sale when the survey revealed a major structural fault.”
It makes sense to choose a local brokerage. Many marinas have on-site brokers, and local boat owners may take an interest in a poster in the window, even if not actively searching online.
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The broker will also have a local customer base to market to and will know their needs. They may be able to suggest your boat to a customer as an alternative to the one they’re searching for.
If you’re in a very quiet area, it might be worth moving the boat to a busier hub, such as the Solent, for example, if you’re based on the South Coast.
You’ll need to think about this before lifting out, as you may prefer to sail there than pay the cost of haulage.
A broker will also advertise your boat nationally on a site such as Boats for Sale.
When someone enters an enquiry the broker marketing the boat will immediately follow up with a phone call or email.
“We often find people turn their boat search into a mini-break and look at four or more boats over the course of a weekend,” says Crispin. “For example, we have a customer driving over 200 miles from East Anglia for a viewing.”
A broker is acting for the buyer as well as the seller and will help with all the due diligence required from both parties.
Another option is to display your boat at a show such as the Southampton Used Boat Show, which takes place annually in September, and showcases power and sail up to 14m.
Owners needn’t be on site as the show is manned by the boatpoint team.
Prospective buyers look at the boats on land, guided by a broker, and then arrange a sea trial thereafter.
What does a broker charge to sell your boat?
The yacht broker fee is usually based on commission (around 10%) and/or a fixed price depending on the boat type and the services required.
Avon Marina takes 8% plus VAT on the sale of the boat, and there is also a lifting charge if it needs to come out of the water, a storage fee and a valet fee.
Boats can be sold in or out of the water.
The broker will charge a fee for sea trials to cover fuel and time, and this is paid for by the prospective buyer.
You’ll be provided with a standard written agreement to sign, which may well include clauses about insurance and the broker’s exclusive right to sell your boat during the term of the agreement, as well as cancellation information.
UK brokerage boatpoint charges 6% of the boat sale with a minimum commission of £2,000.
For boats at the Southampton Used Boat Show, this drops to 5%.
Whether going privately or through a broker you’ll need to show that tax has been paid.
Note, vessels built before 1985 are deemed VAT-paid if they were in the EU on December 31, 1992, providing there’s paperwork to support both dates.
You may also need to prove to a diligent buyer that you are indeed the owner (in the UK, unless you’re applying for a marine mortgage, there’s no legal requirement to register boat ownership) and that there’s no debt attached to the yacht, such as marina, yacht club fees or an outstanding portion of a marine mortgage.
You need to ensure all your servicing documents are together too.
“We use a legal document drawn up by a marine solicitor,” says Crispin. “It includes details such as identification, hull number, VAT paid, outstanding finance, title document, bill of sale and builders’ certificate.”
Note, if you’ve been bequeathed a yacht and you wish to sell it, the solicitor acting on behalf of the estate would usually instruct the surveyor to do a valuation and then sell it through a broker.
Should I offer sea trials?
Be wary of offering your boat for a sea trial if you are selling privately. Brokers charge for this service, and for good reason.
Ben cites one boat owner in Cardiff who offered to give test sails and found he did them nine times before actually selling his boat.
“You’ll get the world and his wife coming out for a free sail!” he warns.
Rather, a sea trial should be the last thing that happens before the boat exchanges hands.
Ideally, your boat should be out of the water when you’re ready to sell so that the survey can take place. All the detailed work a surveyor needs to do requires access to the whole boat, inside and out.
Is a pre-sale survey worthwhile?
A marine survey is the responsibility of the buyer, not the seller, and the surveyor will give a valuation.
Provided there is nothing structurally wrong with the boat, Ben finds this often comes within 10% to 15% of the asking price.
But what if you want to get the survey done first?
“We are getting brokers now suggesting the concept of a pre-sale survey for sellers, but I’m not keen on the idea,” says Ben. “I believe that, in law, if you know the faults with your boat and don’t declare them you could end up in trouble. The buyer needs to get a survey and this needs to be with an independent surveyor they trust. As a seller, don’t share an old survey without checking the copyright first. As a buyer, bear in mind an old survey could have been altered.”
Crispin adds that as a broker it would be a difficult balance to strike.
“We take the boat on in good faith but [if we commission a survey] how much time do we spend making sure everything works in order to present it to the seller? We could spend a lot of money getting a boat in tiptop condition but the onus has to be on the buyer.”
Fix the faults before you sell your boat
Before listing your boat, and taking the best possible photos (full daylight, no clutter), you need to try and fix the cosmetic and structural faults that would immediately put off a prospective buyer.
“Do as much as possible that needs doing,” says Ben. “If you know the faults it’s better to sort them out as much as possible and present the boat in its best condition. If the seacocks are corroded, replace them. If the steering’s stiff, get it sorted. And don’t leave the boat dirty. Even if there’s nothing structurally wrong with your boat, if it’s in poor condition it will put buyers off.”
Crispin agrees: “Present your boat in the way you would want to see it as a buyer. We always encourage a professional valet. Upholstery is a big factor, as are boat covers (get rid of those gull droppings) and clean decks. No one wants to buy a boat that looks like it’s been scratched, scraped and bounced. You can overcome most things – for example, you can fix a loose wire on a piece of electronics – but first impressions usually come down to cleanliness. You’d be surprised at the condition of some boats we’re asked to sell!”
“You also need to declutter,” adds Ben. “We’re talking the 30 years of stuff you’ve acquired and left in the lockers – out-of-date flares, parts for engines you no longer have, redundant sails.”
Not only is this important for the prospective buyer, but should they go on to commission a survey, the marine surveyor needs clutter-free lockers to do a decent inspection.
“When I bought my last boat I had to remove eight bags of rubbish – old blankets, spares, even a mattress,” said Ben. “I still went ahead with the sale because I knew what I was buying but another purchaser might not be so keen, especially if they’re a first-time buyer.”
What if there are jobs you can’t afford to do?
A clean and declutter is one thing, but what if your boat requires costly remedial work?
Boats cost time and money, and in many cases, it’s this drain on resources that pushes you to sell in the first place.
What if you simply can’t fix everything that’s wrong?
“Call in the experts and get quotes” advises Ben. “If, for example, your rigging is over 10 years old, get a rigger to check it over. It may be fine, in which case you can pass that paperwork on to the buyer. It’s then down to the buyer to flag that with the marine surveyor. If I’m told to look out for a problem with the engine manifold, for example, I can then take a closer look at the time of the survey.”
When you sell your boat with a broker, you will be asked to flag any known faults and defects.
“It’s really important that the seller is honest with us at this stage,” advises Crispin. “We can work on any issues before the boat goes to market. We’re legally obliged to point out the flaws to the buyer, so if the seller isn’t willing to rectify an engine fault, for example, this will affect the sale price and the boat will be ‘sold as seen’. It’s really important that the buyer gets a survey.”
Make an inventory
Prepare a full inventory and ensure that everything you genuinely want to include with the sale is on board.
Remove anything you wish to sell separately or keep hold of.
“Nine times out of 10, when doing surveys, I find kit on board that the owner wants to keep hold of,” says Ben. “The worst thing for the buyer is to turn up expecting the nice VHF radio on the inventory only to find the owner has swapped it out.”
If you do want to keep hold of kit, perhaps because it may hold more value if sold separately (for example, electronics, racing sails or outboard engine) then make the buyer aware of this early on. Or you may even throw it in to seal the deal (see negotiations).
“Always think ‘negotiation,’ advises Ben. “What are you going to do with your liferaft or tender? Maybe if you’ve got £500 worth of kit or more you can use it to close the deal.”
Listing the boat
Once you’re sure you’ve fixed the faults, or got quotes for those you can’t, and that your boat is clean and clutter-free, you’ve done an inventory, compiled the paperwork and taken lots of photos, it’s finally time to list it for sale.
If you’ve appointed a broker they will probably have helped you with this already. If not, you’re ready to show your boat to the world.
Buyers may require more information than you can upload to a website so it’s worth compiling a specification sheet to email.
Perhaps you even have video footage? If so, you can upload this to a free site such as YouTube and make the setting private or unlisted so only the buyer can see it when you share the link.
Don’t list your boat until you know you’ve time to do viewings. There’s no point listing it and then disappearing to the Mediterranean for the summer.
Some boat brokerage sites, such as Apolloduck.com and Rightboat.com, offer free listings, while others, such as Boatsandoutboards.co.uk, charge as little as £10 per month for unlimited photos, or more still for a featured listing and video.
Theyachtmarket.com charges private sellers £79 plus VAT for a three-month listing with video and photos.
The key to negotiation is to be prepared and anticipate the kind of questions a buyer might ask.
Work out the lowest price you’re willing to accept, but instead of dropping the price, can you throw in some extras?
Experienced salespeople will always try to add value before discounting. Perhaps it’s a handheld VHF, a liferaft, a tender or all of those things.
Don’t offer these immediately, but see how the negotiations go. This is where it pays to make a detailed inventory before listing your boat.
Do some research on sites such as Apolloduck, ebay, and Gumtree to see how much money you could make if you sold them separately.
If you need time to think about an offer, agree a date to get back to the buyer – but they may use this time to look elsewhere.
Doing the deal
An agreed sale price will either be conditional – that is, subject to survey and possibly sea trial and any other agreed conditions – or unconditional.
The broker will provide a Sale and Purchase Agreement which both parties sign.
This is a binding contract that you may wish to get checked by a marine solicitor.
When negotiations are complete – possibly after a survey and re-negotiation – the broker will send the seller a Bill of Sale to complete and return, together with all the documentation and keys.
When the sale is complete (ie when funds have cleared), you will be sent a completion statement and the balance of the money minus the agreed commission.
The Bill of Sale makes the legal transfer of ownership of the boat. If you’re selling privately, be sure to get a decent outline contract that covers all bases.
RYA members can download a contract entitled ‘Agreement for Sale and Purchase of Second Hand Boat’.
Whilst this is mainly aimed at commercial vessels it serves as a useful starting point for pleasure yachts too.
How to sell you boat: the RYA view
Paralegal Lucy Rutter explains Caveat Emptor and what this means for buyers and sellers
Under English and Welsh law when buying a second-hand boat from a private individual who is not selling in the course of business or when buying through a broker who is acting on behalf of a private individual not selling in the course of business, ‘Caveat Emptor’(buyer beware) applies, which means that a buyer is expected to protect himself or herself by undertaking due diligence on the purchase.
The seller is not obliged to voluntarily offer up any information, but would be legally obliged to provide accurate answers to any questions a buyer asks to avoid misrepresentation which influenced the buyer to complete the purchase.
This also applies to the broker who is acting as an agent for the seller.
A buyer only has limited redress against the seller if any defects are subsequently discovered if they do not ask.
However, false statements given by the seller could give rise to a legal action for misrepresentation and one of the remedies would be a right to damages.
The key takeaway from this article is that the onus is on the buyer to ask all relevant questions when buying a secondhand boat which, for a prudent buyer, would include instructing a surveyor and/or any engineers/specialists to ensure that all facts are known to the buyer prior to purchase completion along with completing a sea trial.
Important issues that become apparent from the due diligence process can be included within the written contract governing the transaction.
A written contract is advisable to avoid disputes later on and if you need to prove a misrepresentation case.
- RYA members can benefit from additional advice on this subject and other marine-related matters as part of their membership. They can contact the legal department on 02380 604223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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