Buying a sailboat negotiation tactics – our story!

If you told me a few years ago that my husband and I would end up being the proud owner of a 56’ sailboat and would be sailing around the world, I would have said, ‘no way – we could never afford a boat that size and how would we pay for our travels?’ We knew nothing about sailboat negotiation tactics.

Well… as I write this article, we’ve been living on our 56’ Oyster, named Britican, for over almost three years and my family and I have traveled over 18,500 miles in her. We’ve circumnavigated the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic Ocean (took 18 days), travelled along the Caribbean and up to the east coast of America.

Sailboat negotiation tactics

Sailboat negotiation tactics

Our story isn’t conventional but it goes to show you what’s possible.

It all started in 2012 when we put our house up for sale. We decided to purchase a house on the coast so that we’d be closer to our sailboat (an old 35’ Moody).

Within days of putting the house on the market it was sold, subject to contract. Unfortunately that contract never came to closure.

A company purchased our house and wanted to turn the house into a foster home for delinquent children. Once the news got out in the neighborhood the whole street boycotted the sale, things got political and after months of trying to fight the neighbors, we gave up.

I thought, ‘perhaps it’s not time to sell our house?’ and ‘maybe we’re not supposed to move to the coast.’

After the dust settled I became more and more frustrated. I was ready for a change, but didn’t know what it needed to be.

One afternoon, while my husband, Simon, was doing a boat delivery job (it’s only the 2nd delivery job he’s ever done), I text him a message saying, ‘why don’t we sell the house, buy a boat and sail around the world for a while.’

When Simon returned home we talked about our idea. It wasn’t a new dream, however it wasn’t a ‘real’ dream either. It was one of those dreams that you do if and when you win the lottery.

For some reason we decided to seriously entertain the idea.

Could we sell our house, buy a boat and find a way earn an income while sailing around the world?! And what will our 3 year old daughter think of all this?

After thinking about things for a week, we put the house back on the market with a new agent. The Sunday before the house sale went public, I decided to walk out the front door to go to the coffee shop. I then remembered that I needed a book, so I went back in the house to grab it.

As I walked out of the house a woman in a car was parked outside. She wasn’t there a few minutes ago when I first left the house – it seemed that I was suppose to have bumped into her.

She introduced herself, explained that she had a viewing booked for Monday to see our house. She was doing a drive by. Apparently, the agent rang her as soon as he saw our house knowing it might be a perfect fit.

I asked the woman to come in and take a look. She felt a bit apprehensive as she didn’t want to bother us on a weekend, but eventually she got out and I gave her a tour of our house.

She agreed to buy the house within two days of seeing it.

I thought, ‘wow – perhaps this is a message that this whole ‘sell the house and buy a boat thing’ is the right path!

Simon then went out and started viewing the type of boat we were interested in – Oysters. He started with a 45’ but couldn’t stand up in the saloon. Then he tried a 49’ and experienced the same issue. Eventually, Simon went on a 56’ Oyster and boat was perfect – he could stand straight up. Simon is 6’4.

His initial reaction, however, was ‘there’s no way we can afford a 56’ Oyster – new or used!’

Well… I’ve been asked to keep the figures to ourselves as the deal we got was unprecedented, but let me explain how things transpired.

One of the Oyster brokers explained to Simon that there was an Oyster 56’ in Spain that had been on the market for a while and the owner would probably take a reduced offer. Simon then went to work and learned everything he could about the boat and how the price was compared to other 56’s. The boat seemed perfect and the price was already extremely attractive, but it was ultimately 25% too high for our budget.

There’s no way we could afford the boat and have enough savings to sail for a while.

Simon then decided to make a ridiculous offer, subject to survey and sea trial. Simon’s offer was around 30% lower than the value of boat listed.

Apparently the boat was reduced by a substantial about in recent weeks so the owner was not impressed.

Discussions went back and forth for over a week.

Eventually the owner explained that he’d consider 22% off the current list price. The boat was already priced to sell – any other Oyster 56’ was much higher.

Simon and I were excited but wondered ‘what’s the catch?’ Will the owner stand by his consideration or does he want us to view the boat and end up loving it so much we pay the full price? Were we all just wasting our time?

We flew out to view the boat and after seeing her, we hired a surveyor to do a professional survey. We also took the boat out for a sea trial. We were totally in love.

The survey came back with a variety of normal issues but nothing that was a deal breaker. Even if we wanted to get the price reduced further I think the owner would have said, ‘you’re already getting the deal of the century…’

The more conventional way for sailboat negotiation tactics is like this:

1. View several boats to narrow down the one you like the most. If you can’t view in person, check out boat sale specs online or from brokers.

2. Make an offer subject to survey and sea trial – most people make an offer below the list price to see if the owner will negotiate a lower price. Sometimes you can find other boats that are the same make/model that are a lower price so to rationalize your lower offer. Sometimes boats are simply priced to sell and the owners won’t budge.

3. View the boat yourself if you haven’t already and if you’re definitely interested…

4. Get a professional surveyor and go for a sea trial

5. Negotiate the price down based on what needs to be fixed as per noted in the survey and/or as per what you find during your walk-around and sea trial.

6. If you and the owner can come to an agreement the contract of sale gets drawn up

Back to my story…when the time came to agree on a final purchase price I got cold feet.

We were talking about big money here.

We would have enough money to buy the boat and sail for a couple years (off savings) if our other boat sold quickly (the Moody 35). The issue I had is that I didn’t know if our other boat would sell in a month or in a year.

Our broker managed to suggest to both the owner and us to set up an option. What happened is we decided to buy the boat less the amount we’d get from selling our other boat. Once our other boat sold, we’d then send the money over to the owner and the option would close.

The deal made me feel good and we proceeded with the sale.

Interestingly, our old boat sold on the exact same day that we signed the contract for the new boat. Coincidence or what?! And this was less than two months after we decided to put the house on the market so to ‘sell up and sail away.’ Oh yeah – we also managed to complete on our house, buy an apartment (fall back property if all else failed), sell our car and offload all our possessions.

Talk about a miracle – eh?

Now that I’ve owned our boat for almost three years, have been living in the sailing world full time and am a lot wiser, how do I reflect on the deal we got?

We were extremely lucky. And…I think the universe was on our side.

Like many newbie boaters we were terribly ignorant. When we looked at the boat ourselves, we just walked around it starry eyed. We didn’t know what to look for when we lifted up the floorboards, how to examine the engine or that we should have asked for previous service records.

We didn’t know that star-type cracks on the gel coat could mean that the boat was in an impact. We had no idea that you can use your fingernail to flake the threads off the sails and halyards to determine if they’ve got much life left in them. We didn’t know that the rigging (big expense!) has to be replaced every 10 years to ensure full insurance coverage in the event of a demasting (and know to ask when the last time the ringing was changed).

We didn’t know that the bolts holding the keel on can be inspected and if there’s rust around them it could mean the keel is rotting off – a deal breaker! We didn’t think to walk around the marina asking neighbors about whether the boat had been sitting there neglected or whether the owner kept on top of things.

We didn’t even think about videoing our viewing with our phone or brining a magnet (magnets shouldn’t stick to marine grade stainless steal. If they do, the steal is inferior and won’t preform as well).

Anyway, Simon and I were like two giddy children – we just looked through the boat imagining being anchored off a sandy beach lined palm trees while sipping our gin and tonic.

What was the worst thing, is that the surveyor we used was recommended by the broker – what a no-no! I mean, what a NO-NO!

If the surveyor is getting work from a broker do you think they’re going to bite off the hand that feeds it? Another terribly stupid mistake. I even overhead the broker say something indicating that the surveyor wouldn’t get future referrals if he complicated issues.

In the end, our boat was in okay shape. Not great, not good, but okay. Heck – we haven’t sunk.

Had we been more intelligent about properly inspecting the boat ourselves we would have spotted various trouble areas. Perhaps we could have negotiated the price down further OR, more importantly, fixed the things that needed fixing before breaking down at sea?!

And if we hired an independent surveyor perhaps he would have been more forthcoming about the serious issues.

Over the past couple years we’ve had to buy new sails, new rigging and have had major engine overhauls. NOT CHEAP but considering the original list price and the prices of other 56’ Oysters we still haven’t spent more than the asking price. (Surely I’m saying that to make myself feel better…the way we rationalize things – eh?!)

Here are my take-away’s (that you can take away or leave)

  • Don’t assume you can’t afford a particular boat. Prices can be negotiated down substantially. I actually have a friend that acquired a boat for free.
  • It does no harm to test the waters with a very low offer. What do you have to lose? The owner is either going to say ‘no’ or consider the offer.
  • If your boat purchase is contingent on something else selling (the house, a car, another boat) consider being creative with an option.
  • Bring a checklist of what to look for. There are serious telltale signs that can be recognizable that will help to negotiate the price down or tell you to flat out walk away. Furthermore, it’s better to find a deal breaker yourself than to pay $600+ for a surveyor to tell you.
  • Find an independent surveyor that has nothing to do with the broker and/or seller. You want someone that has no vested interest in the sale of the boat.

So…the moral of my story?! ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ and ‘there are no rules’. I’ll have to have those two sayings tattooed on my gravestone – I use them so often.

Anyway, if you want to be more prepared than we were when we first looked at our boat…

…In my guide, ‘Viewing Boats to Buy: A checklist for personal inspections,’ I have a very comprehensive list that provides newbies and even seasoned boat owners with a list of things to take on a viewing, what to look for on the hull, things to look out for on the deck, things to check inside the boat and what to consider during a sea trial when personally viewing a boat. You don’t want to pay $600+ for a surveyor if you can find a deal-breaker ahead of time, now do you? Out of all the guides I’ve created, this one will potentially save you the most…and this is the one that boat sellers and boat brokers don’t want you to see. Click the guide cover now to learn more…

viewing boats to buy
viewing boats to buy

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BOAT BROKERS – HOW TO FIND A GOOD ONE! I interviewed a broker to find out what to look for in a good broker. Click the link to find out more 🙂