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Buying a Yacht Requires Proper Research

Before purchasing a yacht, consider all the work that’s required before handing over the check.

September 3, 2021
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Steve Haefele illustration
“Individual buyers and sellers are texting million-dollar deals based on little more than reviews they read on the internet.” Steve Haefele

People are buying boats like they’re ordering designer sneakers online,” groused a pal who surveys yachts. He insists that potential owners attend a review of his findings aboard the boat. These days, he says, most can’t be bothered.

While surveyors and brokers can sometimes find themselves at odds over an issue, traditionally, the good ones avoid getting involved in a deal without each other’s support. My pal says he’s troubled by changing times: “Individual buyers and sellers are texting million-dollar deals based on little more than reviews they read on the internet, for God’s sake. It’s insane.”

It used to be that pioneers in yachting gravitated toward custom yacht designs. Typically, they’d owned a few boats and decided that they knew enough to build their dream boat. Before penning checks, though, the wise ones knew to ask a designer and builder if they’d ever done anything similar—and if it had worked. Now, instead of cutting a check for a custom build, some are bankrolling new boat companies.

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A successful sales friend of mine who handles a pedigreed brand said potential buyers negotiating by text and email are flooding his inbox with competitive deals. “I’ve never heard of half these companies. It seems like a new builder pops up every week,” he explained. Many are little more than wannabes with websites and computer animation. Those with leading-edge support often have a hull or two taking up dock space.

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Newbie builders that burp out a boat and have any advertising budget can usually count on critical acclaim and perhaps even an award or two. Like Hollywood, the marine industry enjoys congratulating itself. The thing is that with a boat, the difference between a love story and a horror flick could cost you more than a bucket of popcorn.

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Today’s “new is neat” dynamic has complicated things. Unproven boats and spineless warranties are risky in normal times. If you have spent more than a few years on the water, you may have noticed that some new boats look like they’ve just blasted off the cover of Popular Science. “Anything that looks different and is packed with gizmos and technology appeals to this generation of buyers,” my sales pal said.

The yacht market has never been more challenging, he admits. While he is trained to fit buyer to boat, he has noticed that too often his sales team is compelled simply to take an order. “Too many of today’s buyers are already internet experts,” he said. “Whether they’ve set foot on a boat or not, they believe they know all there is to know. Most don’t.”

My surveyor pal now turns down requests for surveys unless a broker is involved and the client is engaged. “Wealthy people sometimes have difficulty understanding that I’m not their employee,” he explained. “They’re paying for my knowledge and my opinion, whether they like it or not.”

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They should listen. If they decide their new ride’s a bad fit, it’s no refund, no return.

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