Choosing an appropriate starting price can make or break the sale of your boat, yet this is one of the most difficult aspects to get right when selling a boat. Almost all the other processes – including presenting it in a clean, tidy condition and creating informative, attractive adverts – are straightforward matters, even if they may be time-consuming.
A good starting point is that there are many more vendors who overprice their secondhand boats than undervalue them. One of the biggest mistakes is to use historical trends to ascertain the current value of your boat. At one time vessels generally appeared to maintain their cash value – while they didn’t appreciate in price in the way that real estate does, they also didn’t depreciate in the manner that cars do. However, that was in a time of relatively high inflation that masked the depreciation of boat prices in real terms.
In addition, over the past decade demand for the many boats built in the 1970s and 1980s has dropped significantly. Many of these are seen by today’s buyers as offering accommodation that’s simply too cramped for comfort, while larger yachts of this era suffer from high mooring costs due to their long overhangs and inefficient use of space.
Determining the asking price
Asking prices for boats that are apparently similar to yours are the most obvious guide for pricing your own vessel. But there’s a catch here – the well prepared boats that sell quickly aren’t advertised for long, whereas those that are over-priced may hang around for years. Therefore, a disproportionate number of the adverts you will see are for optimistically priced boats.
Brokers enjoy a significant advantage over private sellers in this respect, as they have access to the data from boats.com’s sister website soldboats.com. This records the actually selling price – and time taken to achieve a sale – exactly the information that’s needed to set the price. Therefore the broker should be able to tell you the number of boats like yours that have sold in the UK in the last year and the prices achieved. Don’t be tempted by a broker who gives you an optimistic valuation in order to get your business if they can’t back it up with concrete examples of similar boats sold at that price.
Of course, how you define what "like yours" means can be difficult to nail down. While vehicle prices are fairly accurately reflected in "The Glass's" or "Parkers Guide", boat values are not nearly so cut and dried. A pair of boats that came out of the same mould on the same day might have very different values three years later, depending on upgrades and maintenance schedules. Prices also fluctuate with location, season, and how anxious the seller is to move the boat on.
If data for several boats of the same model and year are available, it should be fairly easy to compare values, making allowances for differences in equipment and the standard of maintenance. For a more unusual boat, look at the asking prices of boats of a similar style, size, and age, but note that well known brands may attract a premium.
Location is also an important factor to consider – if your boat is in an inaccessible harbour you will need to give people a reason to invest the time and money needed to view it. This inevitably means the asking price needs to be lower, unless it’s a very specialised boat for which there’s such a demand that potential buyers will be happy to travel.
It’s also important to avoid what economists call the “sunk costs fallacy,” which can prompt us to act in ways that are not in our best interests. The price you paid for an item, whether a boat, house, car or investment many months or years ago is irrelevant to its value now – present value is determined solely by current market forces.
When it came to selling one of my own boats a few months ago, I made sure everything non-essential that looked even marginally shabby was removed from the boat and the vessel was as clean as possible, with the topsides polished and the bottom freshly antifouled.
Then I set a price that was around 10-20 per cent below the asking price of similar craft, allowing for the defects I already knew about. There’s no point hiding these, as any decent surveyor will discover them. With some deft negotiation – it helped that there were several people wanting to view the boat – it sold for the asking price within 10 days of the first advert.
This realistic asking price arguably saved me renewing a 12-month mooring contract, looking after the boat over the winter and commissioning in the spring. The costs of that would have amounted to a tangible percentage of the boat’s value, as well as taking a big chunk of my spare time.
This experience of selling that boat also illustrates that, if it’s a well presented boat at a decent price, there’s a good chance of getting a number of serious enquiries at an early stage. If so, you have negotiating power to force interesting parties to stick close to the asking price. And if you don’t get a number of interested parties for a boat that’s well presented and effectively marketed, then you may have been asking too much in the first place.
The most common exception to the guidance above is for specialist craft that appeal to a relatively small number of people. This may include certain styles of raceboats, as well as cruising yachts equipped for very long distance voyaging. In both cases the cost of the equipment needed can be very high relative to the total value of the boat. In these cases the vessel may remain on the market for an extended period, before a buyer who recognises the value of the gear and equipment that would be of no interest to someone seeking a boat for coastal cruising comes along.
Tips to increase the value of your boat
- Save all maintenance records
- Wash and polish at least once a season
- Cover the boat when not in use and especially in the winter
- Follow manufacturer instructions for winterisation and maintenance schedules
- On sailing boats, inspect the mast annually and replace fatigued rigging
- Rinse trailers thoroughly, especially when used in salt water
Read our maintenance guide for more tips on protecting the value of your boat as well as our piece on preparing a boat for sale.