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...
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 it...so 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 time...at 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.