So the time has come to sell your boat, and you need to get the best price possible! Knowing how to sell a boat privately can maximise your return, whether upgrading to a new vessel or simply looking to part ways with your current one.
With most brokers typically taking 10% of the final sales price they achieve, it makes sense to consider the alternative of selling your vessel privately at a considerably lower expense. While there are merits to both approaches, this article will focus on the process of selling your boat privately and the benefits and pitfalls of doing so.
Selling a boat privately lets you control the entire process and maximize your profit. Bypassing the traditional route of engaging a broker, you can tailor the selling experience to your preferences and needs.
Table of Contents
Advantages of Selling a Boat Privately
Control Over the Sales Process
First and foremost, selling a boat privately puts you in the driver’s seat; you have complete control over every aspect, from pricing to marketing and negotiation. Instead of relying on a broker’s decisions, you can make informed choices based on your knowledge of the boat and your goals as a seller. This level of control empowers you to set a competitive yet fair price, ensuring you’re not underselling your cherished vessel.
A Higher Return
One of the most enticing benefits of a private sale is the potential for increased profit. You can retain a greater part of the proceeds by cutting out the broker’s commission, which typically ranges from 5% to 10% of the final sale price. This financial advantage can be significant, especially when dealing with a high-value boat. Selling privately allows you to pocket more money from the sale or reinvest it in your next boating adventure.
A More Personal and Efficient Sales Process
Selling a boat privately lets you establish a direct connection with potential buyers. As the owner, you know intimately the boat’s history, features, and overall condition. By communicating directly with prospective buyers, you can provide detailed information, answer inquiries promptly, and foster a sense of trust and transparency. This direct interaction often leads to a more personal and efficient sales process.
Marketing that Matches the Vessel
Another advantage of private selling is the ability to tailor your marketing efforts to suit your boat’s unique characteristics. While brokers may have a broader reach, utilizing online platforms, social media, and targeted advertising allows you to showcase your boat to a vast audience of potential buyers. You can highlight its best features, present captivating photos, and craft an enticing description that captures the essence of your vessel. With the right marketing strategy, you can attract interested buyers who genuinely appreciate what your boat has to offer.
Flexibility in Negotiations
Selling a boat privately also allows you to negotiate directly with buyers. Without the intermediary of a broker, you can engage in open and honest discussions, finding a mutually agreeable price that satisfies both parties. This negotiation process is an opportunity to build rapport, understand the buyer’s needs, and secure a quicker sale.
While there are several benefits to selling a boat privately, it’s essential to consider the potential disadvantages as well. Here are a few challenges you may encounter when selling privately instead of using a broker.
Disadvantages of Selling a Boat Privately
Limited Market Reach
Brokers typically have an established network and access to a wide range of potential buyers looking specifically for certain vessels. Selling privately may restrict your reach, as you are unlikely to have the same extensive connections or marketing resources as a broker. This could result in a smaller pool of interested buyers.
Time and Effort
Selling a boat privately requires a significant investment of time and effort. You’ll need to handle various tasks, such as creating listings, responding to inquiries, scheduling viewings, negotiating deals, and managing paperwork. The additional responsibilities may become overwhelming if you have a busy schedule or need more boat sales experience.
Expertise and Market Knowledge
Brokers possess industry knowledge and expertise that can be invaluable during the selling process. They understand market trends, pricing strategies, and the complexities of boat transactions. Selling privately may require you to navigate these aspects independently, potentially leading to challenges in accurately pricing your boat or effectively marketing it to the right audience.
Lack of Objectivity
Selling a boat privately means you are emotionally attached to the vessel, which can cloud your judgment during negotiations. Brokers, on the other hand, bring an objective perspective to the table and can negotiate on your behalf, detached from personal sentiments. This objectivity can sometimes lead to more favorable pricing and deal terms outcomes.
Legal and Documentation Challenges
Selling a boat privately means you are responsible for handling all legal aspects of the transaction. This includes ensuring proper documentation, registration, and transfer of ownership. If you’re not familiar with the legal requirements or if complexities are involved, it may be more challenging to navigate these processes without the guidance of a broker.
Lack of a Professional Network
Brokers often connect with other industry professionals, such as surveyors, mechanics, and insurance agents. Selling privately means you may have to seek out and coordinate these services on your own, potentially adding complexity and time to the selling process.
Security and Safety
When selling privately, you should be cautious about sharing personal information and meeting potential buyers. There is a greater need to ensure your safety during viewings or sea trials. Brokers often have established safety protocols and can handle these aspects more efficiently, minimizing potential risks.
It’s important to weigh these potential disadvantages against the advantages of selling privately. Consider your circumstances, knowledge of the market, available time, and comfort level with handling the responsibilities of a private sale. Sometimes, working with a reputable broker may provide a smoother and more efficient selling experience.
Preparing Your Boat for Sale
To prepare a boat for sale and obtain the highest possible price, you will need to expend a bit of elbow grease! Presenting your boat in the best possible condition, conducting thorough maintenance, and showcasing its value with supporting documentation can significantly impact the perceived value and justify a higher price.
Remove the Clutter, Clean, and Detail
No buyer wants to be tripping over your nicknacks during a showing; show them you are serious about selling by removing all of your personal belongings. Thoroughly clean the boat, both inside and out. Remove any dirt, grime, or stains. Polish and wax the hull to enhance its shine. Pay attention to the interior, ensuring all surfaces, upholstery, and fixtures are spotless and gleaming. A clean and well-maintained boat creates a positive first impression and can justify a higher asking price.
Address Maintenance and Repairs
Take care of any necessary repairs or maintenance tasks before listing the boat. Fix mechanical issues, replace worn-out parts, and ensure all systems are working properly. This demonstrates that she has been well-maintained and instills confidence in potential buyers, potentially justifying a higher price.
Upgrade and Enhance
Consider making strategic upgrades or enhancements that can increase the boat’s value. This could include installing new electronics, upgrading navigation equipment, replacing outdated amenities, or adding desirable features. However, be mindful of the cost-to-value ratio to ensure that the upgrades will genuinely contribute to a higher sale price.
Gather Documentation Together
Compile all documentation and paperwork related to the boat, including registration, title, maintenance records, receipts for high-value purchases, and any warranties or guarantees. A comprehensive and organized set of documents demonstrates transparency and can increase buyer confidence, potentially influencing them to pay a higher price.
Conduct a Pre-Sale Inspection
Consider hiring a professional surveyor to conduct a pre-sale inspection of the boat. This inspection can identify any hidden issues or areas that require attention. Addressing these concerns proactively allows you to present a well-maintained and problem-free boat to potential buyers, potentially justifying a higher price and minimizing negotiations based on condition.
Stage the Boat
Create an inviting and attractive ambiance by staging the boat for viewings, removing personal items and clutter, organizing storage spaces, and creating a clean and welcoming atmosphere. Consider adding some decorative touches to highlight the boat’s potential and make it more appealing to potential buyers.
Setting the Right Price
Setting the right price for a boat requires careful consideration; here are key factors to consider when determining an appropriate asking price:
Conduct thorough research, both physically with local brokers and media and online, using listings websites to understand the current market conditions for boats similar to yours. If there are no exact matches, look for listings of comparable makes, models, sizes, and ages to gain insights into their asking and selling prices. Analyze both local and national markets to assess demand and pricing trends.
Condition and Age
Consider the boat’s overall condition and age relative to comparable listings. Consider any recent repairs, maintenance, or upgrades that enhance its value. A well-maintained and newer boat generally commands a higher price than one in poor condition or with significant wear and tear.
Features and Equipment
Evaluate the boat’s features, equipment, and amenities that add value. Consider factors such as engine type and condition, navigational equipment, electronics, entertainment systems, the boat layout and accommodation, and other accessories. Boats with desirable and sought-after features tend to have higher price tags.
Look beyond current listings and research recent sales data for boats similar to yours, where available. Try to determine the actual sale prices rather than just asking prices, as this reflects market value more accurately. Recent sales data can reveal trends and help you assess the appropriate price range.
Sources of sold boat data include paid services such as boat appraisal websites BUCvalu and NADA Guides, some marine industry publications, owner discussion forums, and word of mouth through your local boating club.
Unique Selling Points
Identify any unique characteristics or upgrades that make your boat stand out from others on the market. These distinctive features, such as recent renovations, customizations, or high-end components, can justify a higher price. Highlight these selling points in your listing to attract potential buyers.
Location and Demand
Consider the location where you are selling the boat. Different regions may have varying demand and market conditions, influencing pricing. For example, vessels located in areas with a high boating population or popular boating destinations may command higher prices due to increased demand.
Recognize that boating seasons can affect prices. Prices may fluctuate in areas with distinct boating seasons depending on demand during peak times. Consider the time of year you plan to sell and how it aligns with boating seasons in your region.
Determine your pricing strategy based on your goals and timeline. If you’re looking for a quick sale, pricing your boat below market value may attract more potential buyers. However, pricing at the higher end of the market range may be more appropriate if you’re willing to wait for the right buyer and maximize profit.
Keep Some Negotiation Room
Bear in mind that buyers often negotiate on the asking price. Consider leaving some room for negotiation while maintaining a realistic bottom line. Setting a slightly higher price than your desired final sale price can allow room for negotiation while still achieving your desired outcome.
Consider a Professional Appraisal
Consider hiring a marine surveyor to evaluate your boat’s value objectively. Their expertise can help you establish a fair and accurate price based on industry standards and market conditions.
By conducting thorough research and balancing your goals, you can determine the right price that attracts potential buyers while ensuring you receive a fair value for your boat.
Creating an Attractive Listing
Creating an attractive listing for your boat is crucial to capturing the attention of potential buyers and generating interest. Here are the steps to create a compelling listing:
Choose an Engaging Title
Craft a concise and attention-grabbing title highlighting your boat’s key features or selling points. Use descriptive language and include important details like the make, model, and year. For example, “Well-Maintained 2018 Sea Ray Sundancer 320 – Low Hours, Loaded with Upgrades.”
Write a Detailed Description
Provide a thorough and accurate description of your boat. Include relevant information such as the boat’s size, type, construction material, engine specifications, and notable features or upgrades. Describe its condition, maintenance history, and any recent repairs or improvements. Be honest and transparent about any known issues. Use descriptive language to paint a picture for potential buyers.
Highlight Key Features
Emphasize the unique and desirable features that set your boat apart. This could include navigation equipment, fishing gear, entertainment systems, sleeping arrangements, or any customizations you’ve made. Mention features that enhance comfort, safety, or performance and any recent upgrades or renovations.
Take High-Quality Photos
Invest in professional-quality photographs that showcase the boat’s best features. Capture clear, well-lit, and high-resolution photos that showcase your boat’s exterior, interior, and key features, ensuring the images accurately represent the boat’s condition, and highlight its best attributes.
Take multiple photos from different angles to provide a comprehensive view in good lighting conditions. High-quality photos significantly impact the online presentation of your boat and attract more attention, potentially resulting in a higher perceived value and increased interest.
Make a Sales Video
Many listing sites are open to the inclusion of a video showcasing your boat; the same rules apply, consider using a professional, make sure the lighting is good, and the video resolution and sound quality are top-notch.
Provide Accurate Specifications
Include detailed specifications such as the boat’s length, beam, draft, weight, fuel and water capacity. Mention the engine type, horsepower, hours, and any relevant mechanical details. Providing accurate specifications helps potential buyers assess if the boat meets their specific requirements.
Offer a Comprehensive History
Share relevant information about the boat’s history, including ownership details, service records, and maintenance history. Mention any significant upgrades, repairs, or improvements that have been made. Buyers appreciate a well-documented history as it instills confidence and demonstrates that the boat has been well-maintained.
Set a Realistic Price
As indicated above, price your boat competitively based on market research and the boat’s condition, features, and recent sales data. Mention if the price is negotiable or if you are open to offers.
Provide Contact Information
Remember to display your contact information, including a phone number and email address, to make it easy for potential buyers to reach you!
Choosing the Right Platforms for Promoting Your Vessel
Choosing the right platforms to place your boat listing is crucial for reaching a broad and relevant audience of potential buyers. Check here for our guide to choosing online listing sites. When selecting media, consider the platform’s user base, reach, cost, and the specific audience it attracts. Using multiple platforms to maximize exposure and increase the chances of finding the right buyer is generally beneficial. Before listing your boat, remember to evaluate the platform’s credibility, security measures, and ease of use.
Research Popular Boat Listing Websites
Identify reputable and widely-used boat listing websites that have a large user base. Some popular platforms include Boat Trader, Boats.com, and Craigslist, but some websites require you to be a registered broker. Try to find media that cater specifically to boats and have a dedicated section listing boats for sale. See our guide here.
Consider Niche Marketplaces
Explore niche marketplaces specialising in certain types of boats or specific boating communities. For example, if you’re selling a sailing boat or a catamaran, consider platforms like Sailboatlistings.com or Catamaransite. These niche websites can attract a more targeted audience of buyers interested in your specific type of boat.
Evaluate Local Classifieds
Check local classified websites or newspapers in your area with a dedicated section for boats. These platforms can effectively reach buyers who prefer to purchase locally or within a specific region. They often have lower listing fees or are free to use, making them a cost-effective option.
Utilize Social Media
Leverage the power of social media platforms to promote your boat listing. Share the listing on your personal profiles, boating-related groups, and boating enthusiast communities. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can help you reach a broader audience and generate word-of-mouth referrals.
Engage with Boating Forums
Participate in boating forums and online communities where enthusiasts gather to discuss boats, share experiences, and exchange information. Many forums have dedicated sections for selling boats.
Consult with Local Marinas and Yacht Clubs
Contact local marinas, yacht clubs, or boat dealerships in your area. They may offer listing services or have bulletin boards where you can post your boat for sale. These establishments often attract boating enthusiasts and can help you connect with potential buyers.
Consider Print Media
Depending on your target market and the type of boat you’re selling, print media such as boating magazines or local newspapers with dedicated boating sections might be worth considering.
Marketing and Promotion
OK, it’s time to get publicising your boat! Using the research you’ve just completed, post your beautiful listing online and in print.
Responding to Inquiries
Be Responsive and Professional
Monitor your listings regularly and respond promptly to inquiries and messages. Be professional, courteous, and informative in your interactions with potential buyers. Provide accurate and detailed information and address any concerns or questions promptly.
Conduct Viewings of Your Boat
When showing a boat to a potential buyer, creating a positive and informative experience is important. Remember, during the showing, strike a balance between providing necessary information and giving the potential buyer space to explore and form their own impressions. Be genuine, transparent, and responsive, aiming to create a positive experience that helps them envision owning and enjoying the boat.
Confirm Buyer’s Interest
Before scheduling a showing, have a conversation with the potential buyer to ensure they are genuinely interested in your boat. Ask questions to understand their needs, preferences, and budget. This helps ensure that the showing is not a waste of time for either party.
Verifying the Buyer’s Credentials and Conducting Meetings Safely
It’s important to get a feel for each potential buyer to ensure you’re not wasting your time (and theirs) with viewings. I know of several boats sold here in St Martin that were later washed ashore as wrecks following their use in people or drug trafficking!
Checking a potential buyer’s credentials is an important step in boat selling to ensure you deal only with serious and qualified buyers. Here are some things you can do to help gain assurance:
- Request identification such as a driver’s license or passport. Verify that the name and photo match the individual you are communicating with.
- Obtain contact information, including their full name, phone number, email address, and residential address. Cross-check this information for accuracy and legitimacy.
- Communicate with the potential buyer using multiple channels. For example, if you initially connected through email, follow up with a phone call or video chat. Legitimate buyers should be open to various modes of communication.
- Perform online research to gather more information about the potential buyer. Search their name, email address, and phone number to see if any red flags or suspicious activity emerge. Consider utilizing search engines and social media platforms for insights.
- Request references or testimonials from the potential buyer. Ask for contact information of individuals or organizations they have previously dealt with in the boating community.
- Request proof of funds or financing, including bank statements, letters from financial institutions, or verification from a reputable lender.
- Consider involving professionals in the transaction, such as boat brokers or legal representatives. They can help vet potential buyers, verify credentials, and ensure the sale process proceeds smoothly and securely.
Trust Your Instincts. If something feels off or suspicious during the interactions with the potential buyer, exercise caution and further scrutinize their credentials. Trustworthy buyers will typically be cooperative and understanding throughout the process.
Remember, while these steps can help verify a potential buyer’s credentials, they are not foolproof. Always prioritize your safety and exercise caution when sharing personal information or meeting potential buyers in person. If you have concerns or encounter any suspicious activity, consider seeking professional advice or involving local authorities to ensure a secure and successful sale.
Prepare the Boat
Before the showing, thoroughly clean and organize the boat. Remove any personal items, clutter, or unnecessary belongings. Ensure all systems are in proper working order and have any inventory equipment, such as life jackets or safety gear, readily accessible.
Schedule the Showing
Agree on a mutually convenient date and time for the showing. Allow the potential buyer to thoroughly inspect the boat and ask questions. Schedule the showing during daylight hours to provide optimal visibility.
Remember that a 3rd party will not be as familiar with your vessel as you are, and there is a risk that a potential buyer may be injured while viewing your boat. Check your insurance clauses to ensure you are covered if he is injured aboard and decides to take legal action! If necessary, ask the potential buyer to sign a disclaimer.
Greet the Potential Buyer
Welcome the buyer with a friendly and professional demeanor. Introduce yourself and establish a positive rapport. First impressions count!
Provide a Guided Walkthrough
Walk the potential buyer through the boat, pointing out its key features, amenities, and equipment. Start with the exterior, including the hull, deck, and special features like a swim platform, solar panels, or fishing equipment. Then, move to the interior, showcasing the cockpit, saloon areas, galley, berths, etc.
Encourage the potential buyer to ask questions and provide detailed and accurate answers. Be prepared to discuss the boat’s history, maintenance records, recent repairs or upgrades, and other pertinent information. If you don’t have an immediate answer, offer to follow up later with the requested information.
Allow Hands-On Inspection
Allow the potential buyer to inspect various boat components, such as the engine, electrical systems, navigation equipment, and storage areas. Demonstrate how systems work and highlight any recent maintenance or improvements. Let them touch and feel the boat, encouraging them to sit in the seats, lie on the berths, and operate equipment if appropriate.
Highlight Unique Selling Points
During the showing, emphasize the boat’s unique selling points that you previously identified, such as recent upgrades, special features, or customized elements. Share the benefits and advantages of these aspects to help the potential buyer visualize themselves enjoying the boat.
Offer a Sea Trial (if appropriate)
If the potential buyer expresses serious interest, and if it’s safe and feasible on the day of the showing, offer a sea trial. This allows them to experience the boat in action and assess its performance on the water. Ensure that all necessary safety precautions, such as life jackets and briefing on emergency procedures, are in place.
Follow Up and Remain Available
After the showing, thank the potential buyer for their time and interest. Encourage them to reach out with any additional questions or concerns. Stay responsive and available to address further inquiries as they decide.
Negotiating the Sale
Be professional and Fair
Negotiating the sale of a boat fairly and professionally is essential to foster trust, reach a mutually beneficial agreement, and ensure a smooth transaction. Approach negotiations with an open mind and a willingness to find common ground. Listen actively to the buyer’s concerns and objectives while effectively communicating your own. Be transparent and provide accurate information about the boat’s condition, history, and known issues. Maintain professionalism and respect throughout the negotiation process, refraining from aggressive tactics or unrealistic demands. Seek compromises and explore creative solutions to address differences in expectations.
Aim for a fair price that reflects the boat’s value and market conditions, considering its condition, features, and recent sales data.
Reach an Agreement ‘Subject to Survey’
Most boat buyers will insist on commissioning a pre-purchase survey before finalising the purchase contract, and you should expect the first offer to be made “subject to survey.” An independent marine surveyor acts on the buyer’s behalf to thoroughly inspect the vessel. It is his job to report any issues that affect the safe operation of the boat within the scope that the buyer intends to use it in the future. Unless your boat is pretty new, you should expect the surveyor to find any issues you may not already have made public or were unaware of.
You should also expect the buyer to use these findings to negotiate the final sales price.
It is prudent for both parties to sign a Purchase Agreement “subject to survey,” details of which are given here. Suppose you have finance attached to your vessel. In that case, this will often be reflected in the owner’s name, and you should be sure to disclose and finance arrangements where the boat is held as security. This finance will need to be paid off in full for the finance house to release the lien and before a transfer of ownership can occur further down the line.
Take a Deposit?
The same difficulties arise with taking a deposit as with the payment of the final sum agreed; the buyer will be reluctant to transfer funds to a private account without some security, but you can choose to use the services of an Escrow provider. There will be a cost attached to this.
Understand the Survey Process
A pre-purchase survey is a thorough inspection of every nook and cranny of your boat by an experienced person. Unless the boat is particularly complex or scheduling is difficult, the survey can typically be completed in one full day and comprises an in-the-water inspection, a sea trial, and an out-of-the-water inspection. If your boat is in the water, you might expect the in-water assessment during the morning, a short lift-out at the boatyard over lunchtime, and a sea trial once the boat goes back in the water. If your boat is on the hard, the surveyor will do the out-of-water inspection, you will splash when he is finished, and he can complete the in-water survey and do the sea trial in the afternoon.
While the prospective buyer carries the cost of the survey and the lift-out, it’s essential that you help to coordinate with the surveyor and the yard. You should expect to operate the boat during the sea trial or to provide a skipper and crew; neither the buyer nor the surveyor is insured to handle your vessel until the title has transferred and the buyer has his own insurance!
Dealing With Survey Findings
The buyer will receive a verbal report of findings from the surveyor at the end of the day, and he may or may not discuss these findings with you at the time; he may prefer to wait until he has the written report in his hand before sharing the information.
Findings can range from comments on the cosmetic appearance of canvas, gelcoat, decking, woodwork, etc., to structural issues such as the failure of a hull-to-deck joint or a rotting bulkhead. The surveyor will also typically have made an inventory of the safety gear on board as it relates to the future planned use of the vessel.
The buyer will be unable to secure insurance on the boat until major structural issues and safety items have been addressed, so you will enter a new negotiation phase.
If you have already declared the issues from the survey in your listing, literature, and photographs and your discussions with the buyer, and if your price already reflects these failings, you can reiterate this to your buyer. Otherwise, you should expect to do one of two things – rectify the issue found to the satisfaction of the surveyor and the buyer OR reduce the sales price to allow the buyer to carry out the work.
Finalising the Agreement
Unless the buyer has decided, as a result of the survey, that he no longer wants to complete the purchase, you should make the final negotiations on price with an understanding that the buyer is still keen on your vessel and aim for a mutually agreeable final amount that reflects the true condition of the boat. Ultimately, by negotiating professionally and fairly, both parties will be happy with the outcome.
Safely Handling of Payment
Both parties should now be able to sign a final Bill of Sale, details of which are given here, and all that remains is the transfer of funds. Depending on the sum involved, you may be more comfortable using the services of an independent lawyer or broker with an Escrow account; this is a holding account where both parties can conclude the paperwork once the buyer has transferred the funds into Escrow.
Escrow services can be found online or locally, but fees are attached.
Once you have the funds, paying off any outstanding loans on your boat promptly is crucial. Your bank will withhold the title transfer to the new owner until this is resolved. To avoid any surprises or delays during the closing process, it is important to inform the buyer well in advance about this requirement. This ensures they are aware that immediate title transfer may not be possible.
Transfer of Ownership
The Purchase Agreement has been discharged after the Bill of Sale is signed and the purchase price transferred. You effect the transfer of ownership by deregistering the vessel with your flag state, the country in which your boat is registered, and the buyer registering it with his. The buyer will often need evidence that you have deregistered before he can complete his registration, so you should do this promptly if asked to.
If there is no change of flag state, there is likely to be a process in place for the transfer of title; you should refer to your flag state for this.
You should also cancel your insurance policy; you may be due for a refund of part of the premiums.
Congratulations! You’ve sold your boat privately and saved yourself $$$ in brokerage fees… but perhaps you can see why a broker’s commission is so high; there is quite a lot of work involved. Hopefully, by following the steps above, you’ve been able to get the best price possible for your boat and hopefully made some new friends as well!
And if it all sounds like just a bit too much work, have a look at our guide on selling your boat through a broker here.