Monday, August 5, 2013

What We've Learned Thus Far - Boat Brokers

I wish I had more interesting things to write about right all the tasks of refitting a boat...but alas we are still searching for the right boat.  We have a lead on one, but nothing will happen with it until October at the earliest and, until we have one purchased, we will continue to search.  In the meantime, I've been slowly working my way through the generous gift of books from my friends at The Retirement Project (btw: really excited for them right now, they are moving their boat to the coast to start their new life).

Some of the books I probably should have read before we started shopping for a boat.  The "Cruising Catamaran Communique" was a bit dry but provided some good information on what to look for in a catamaran and how to interpret some of those confusing specification numbers.  The book I'm reading now, "The Essentials Of Living Aboard a Boat", chronicles what one guy learned in his first live-aboard boat purchase.  His early experiences and thoughts got me thinking about what we've learned thus far in the boat buying process.  Then I wondered if it might be fun  to periodically touch upon the highlights of what we've learned thus far. So here goes...the first installment...

Boat Brokers

When we first started looking at boats and were searching all the usual places (like Yachworld and Sailboatlistings), I wrote a post about the pain of trying to shop for a boat from Colorado.  Just a few people had found our blog at that point, and one suggested we try to find a buyers broker. Seems like a pretty obvious recommendation, doesn't why hadn't I thought of it? We used a realtor when we bought our first house, so it would seem to make sense to do the same for our first on-the-water home. While we may pay a bit more for a boat to help cover the commission the broker(s) receive compared to a "for sale by owner" sale, what we would hopefully get in return is someone to help us newbies with finding the right boat as well as guiding us through the process.  Since we are so far from the ocean, having "boots on the ground" in a market where boats were actually available hopefully would help us pre-qualify options and reduce the number of wasted trips to see boats that wouldn't suit us.

One thing I didn't think would be a problem would be finding a broker.  The economy isn't that great, so finding someone who wanted to pocket 5~10% of a $100 to 200 thousand dollar purchase shouldn't be that hard, right? Well, apparently most catamaran brokers must be immune to the effects of the economy as we had a hard time initially finding one.  We searched online for broker recommendations and sent out a number of introductory emails, but got few responses. We did receive a response from a broker at the St. Petersburg location of The Catamaran Company when we asked about a specific boat he had for sale.  When we asked if he would like to act as our buyers agent, he became unresponsive for a time, blew off a scheduled call with us, and then finally passed us on to another Catamaran Company broker out of St. Augustine.  We are glad he did!

Within a day of receiving the email that we were being passed on to a different broker (apparently we weren't worthy of the St. Petersburg broker's least that is the feeling we got), we were contacted by Pete Gulick from the St. Augustine office.  We quickly set up a time for a call to "get the ball rolling".  He called right on time (a refreshing change) and we discussed what we thought we were looking for.  We later set up a trip to see a variety of boats he thought might fit our desires and to help us narrow down our options.  Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to find us a boat and filter out the "lemons" so we weren't wasting a lot of time looking at boats that just wouldn't work for us.

While we don't have a boat yet, it has definitely not been for a lack of Pete's trying to find the right boat for us.  It is just plain difficult when there were only 50 or so boats of your top model choice that were ever made.  In fact, when a "for sale by owner" boat popped up that looked like it might be a really good fit for us, he was the first to suggest that we should pursue it and said he would be happy to help answer questions and provide suggestions. I think he has a good balance of providing help and suggestions to novice buyers without being overbearing or pushy.  He seems genuinely interested in getting his customers the right boat for them and not just what gets him the biggest paycheck.  A very welcome change from the stereotypical used car salesman type you might expect.

So, What have we learned so far when it comes to boat brokers?

  • While brokers are paid by the seller out of the proceeds of the sale, a buyers broker should have your best interest at heart.  Be wary if the broker is only interested in selling you his listings (they get both the buyer's and seller's portion of the commission that way).
  • A buyers broker seems to be a very good idea for a novice boat buyer as they should help guide you through the process, paperwork, etc.
  • A buyers broker is even more important if you don't live, or plan on spending every weekend, in a location where the types of boats you are looking for are available.
  • A broker has access to some resources not available to the public and can provide things like the selling prices of similar boats (what the real estate profession often refers to as "comps"). [updated]
  • Finding a good buyers broker can take time and persistence.  Don't settle for one that isn't 100% in your corner.  For all the bad ones, there are good ones out there.
  • Not all brokers for a given company are the same, judge each one on their individual merits.
  • So far, Pete Gulick at The Catamaran Company in St. Augustine rocks!
UPDATE: Sadly, I can no longer recommend Pete Gulick (and can't say I could ever actually recommend the Catamaran Company).  A number of issues have arisen post sale that cause me to rescind the recommendation.  I apologize to anyone that may have taken my recommendation and used their services with less than satisfactory results.


  1. Mike,

    I feel your pain. We searched for a boat for about 3-4 years. Our first challenge was to decide between multi-hull and mono-hull. Without opening the can of worms, there are huge advantages to both. Then, one day our phone rang. That was a good day.

    Just to be sure (it wasn’t clear on the posting), using a buyer’s agent should not cost you anything. The buyer’s agent will split the 10% commission with the seller’s agent. As an agent for you, the broker can see the “back-side” of Yachtworld. They can look at price history of the boat for sale, how long it has been on the market, and selling prices of similar boats. This will help you make an offer in line with the value of the boat. Typically you should start about 20% below the asking price and not be willing to move much. It is still very much a buyers market.

    Have you considered buying a boat coming out of charter? Often, these can offer great value. But be aware, you will need money to recondition the boat. You will want to redo all upholstery, electronics, sails, rigging etc. But, if you plan to go cruising, the chances are you will do this to any boat you buy within the first year or two. And, you put in systems of your choice – not just what comes with the boat. This is a contact I had used (we did not buy at boat from him):
    Jim Adams
    Leopard Catamarans/The Moorings Yacht Brokerage
    Toll-free: (800) 850-4081 x102
    Office: (954) 462-3075 x102
    Cell: (954) 303-5310
    Fax: (954) 462-2440

    In addition to a survey, be sure to have oil samples tested from the engine(s) and generator by a lab of your choice (this applies to any boat you buy). Start shopping now for a surveyor. Do NOT depend on anybody in the industry to recommend one. This person MUST represent only you in the purchasing process. Be willing to fly your surveyor to the boat.
    Interview them and ask a lot of questions to find someone who will really hunt for problems.

    Good luck in your continued search.


    1. Hey Mark,

      Thanks for commiserating with us. I think the mono- vs. multi- decision has been made after our ASA 114/St. Petersburg charter trip.

      I agree that, if you are buying a boat listed with a broker, that it costs nothing more to have a buyers agent. The question becomes does the price of a boat go up when it is listed with an agent so the owner recoups some of the cost compared to an owner selling it themselves. In that case, it is a bit more of a gray area if the buyer is, in essence, paying for the broker(s). That's the somewhat subtle difference I tried to balance out in the post. The pricing info is definitely an important advantage to having a buyers broker...I'll need to update the list to add that one as I should have and simply forgot.

      After talking with and hearing about ZeroToCruising's experiences, we have re-thought the idea of a prior charter. Hearing the stuff that the Moorings takes care of when they phase out (I keep forgetting...was that the term they use) a charter boat, it does sound better than the potentially very worn out boats I was imagining. Definitely need a good survey and I'm sure it depends greatly on which charter company a boat comes from, but we would consider one if we could find one in our price range that we like.

      And speaking of surveys...I think I'll need to do a post on what I've learned about that once I've made it through a successful one. Our broker pointed us to the site where you can search for surveyors instead of just recommending one or two. He did say he'd heard good things about a couple but definitely wanted us to interview them and make our own decisions. After the survey on a Lagoon 37 we had put an offer on, I'm pretty convinced we have a decent surveyor (and don't currently own a money pit of a boat). Learned quite a bit from him in the process. Will likely pay for his travel if needed on our next survey.

      Thanks, we could use all the good luck we can find. :-)


  2. Hi Mike. I came across your blog recently and share many of your experiences. We started looking to try living on a boat almost the same month as you did and have gone (and are going) through many of the things you write about. it's often makes me smile knowing that there are other people across the globe that are doing the exact same thing under quite different circumstances (while you are landlocked with no sea close by, we live on a small island and still no sailboats available for sale within at least a thousand miles)
    I've bought (and mostly read) many of the books you mentioned, but had not heard of the Cruising Catamaran Communique. It seems it covers in detail some boat models. could you tell me if this includes the Mahe 36, which we ended up buying?
    Thanks and best wishes from the Indian Ocean,

    1. Hi Dom,

      Congratulations on the Mahe! My wife and I saw one at the Annapolis boat show and we liked it. The Cruising Catamaran Communique that I have is copyright 2007 (there may be newer edition?) but the Mahe isn't there. It has mostly older boats (only 19 entries in the "in production" section and some of those aren't anymore) and includes the Antigua and Louisiane 37's. The entry for the Antigua says they are a "Popular Manufacturer" and he has extensive experience with the entire line.

      When I asked a question about the pros and cons of the Lagoon 37 versus the Tobago 35 (I think that is the direct predecessor of the Mahe), people seemed to think both were very good boats.

      It's amazing how many people are actually considering this lifestyle. Hope you are finding some of my ramblings interesting...or at least amusing. Funny how a thousand miles of land or a thousand miles of ocean cause the same shopping issues. Just took a peek at your the pictures in the marina post. I guess there is one difference, you can keep your boat near your current home as you learn...a 35+ foot catamaran would look silly at our reservoirs and would take a truck to get it here. :-)

      Good luck on your quest to become full-time cruisers and wishes and greetings from the middle of the U.S (wishing we were in the Caribbean)

      -M ike