Setting Sale: 5 Steps to Selling Your Boat

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BOSTON (MainStreet) -- A classic quip has it that the two happiest days of a man's life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.

The point, cynically made, is that casual boaters often get in over their heads and the thrill of the open seas diminishes with every repair and fuel bill.

A summer fades into fall, some may be thinking about ending the season by selling their boat or yacht. Rough economic conditions may be forcing the hand of otherwise reluctant sellers.

What's the best way to sell your boat? The following are some suggestions for maximizing the proceeds and shortening the time your seaworthy joy stays on the market.

Hold off just a bit
It may make sense on your end to sell at the end of summer. Unfortunately, the same may not hold true for buyers.

"If you bought a boat right now you'd have to concern yourself with storage ... if it's a boat that requires that," says Scott Croft, a spokesman for the Boat Owners Association of The United States. "Or you have to figure out if you can put it in your backyard. That is a concern this time of year."

"I see ads now there are people selling boats 365 days a year, and you do see the ads now popping up occasionally that will say 'winter storage included,' and people will try to negotiate that factor. 'Buy the boat and I'll pay for your winter storage,'" Croft says.

Find the right sales pitch
You are more than likely going to spend some money to sell your boat. While plunking down a "for sale" sign or flier at the marina may grab some eyeballs, you will likely have to cast a wider net through classified ads, online postings and the like.

When posting online, take the time to compose a photograph that displays your boat in the most attractive way possible. If you don't feel up to the task, spend the extra money it takes to hire a professional photographer. Their expert eye could make a big difference.

Especially with a yacht, finding a specialized broker could help speed the sale and remove a lot of the hassle. Like a real estate agent, a broker will extract their own fee -- many require a flat stipend for less expensive boats and a percentage take on costlier vessels.

"I had to use one about a year and a half ago and I ended up loving using a broker," Croft says. "It made it so much easier because of what they know -- not only about how to find a buyer but how the paperwork goes and all that."

Tout the flourishes
While the "big" characteristics of your vessel (size, age, horsepower) will be what garners serious interest, the little touches and accessories may be what close the deal. Amenities count, so be sure to emphasize add-ons such as fish finders and radar.

Just as you would with a house when potential buyers pay a call, scrub and polish your boat until it sparkles. Displaying it in the most pristine and attractive way possible could help you bargain for a better price and may be what pushes an on-the-fence buyer to commit.

Pricing is critical
Before selling your boat, make sure to research what comparable makes and models are selling for. What you think a boat should be worth may not reflect what buyers are willing to pay.

Don't fret that your smaller, older boat won't find a buyer. What customers are looking for varies greatly.

Croft himself is looking to buy a boat, and says his own needs are typical of more modest buyers.

"I'm looking to buy used and I'm looking to buy a small, what they call a 'roots boat,' as in going back to your roots," he says. "I want something that is very simple, affordable to own and maintain -- something with very few systems. There's no air conditioner, water system or outdrives; it is basically an engine and a boat."

Croft says there is definitely a market for smaller, less expensive boats.

"People say it is expensive, but it's what you make it to be," he says of boating. "If you want it to be expensive and have all the amenities, go for it. If you want to keep it less expensive and more affordable for the family, there are ways to do that. People think that boating is all for the rich and a bunch of Thurston Howell IIIs, and that's far from the truth. Most boats in this country, more than 95% of them, are under 26 feet. These are not large boats. For every big yacht you see on the water, there are probably 300 little ones tucked away on somebody's porch or backyard."

Don't hide the flaws
We all know what it is like to see a sleazy car salesman skirt around a vehicle's defects. Don't be that guy. Be upfront about what items may need repair, upgrades or a touch-up. These flaws will eventually be discovered, and any sense of "dishonest" could scare off a potential buyer.

You may be able to turn your honesty into a plus by balancing these negatives with the counterbalance of touting parts, add-ons and extra work you've put into the boat.

As for buyers, Croft recommends that they pay for a "survey" of any boat they buy. Similar to the services provided by a home inspection service, a survey will give a top-to-bottom assessment of the seaworthiness of the vessel, pointing out minor and major issues that may need to be addressed. Such a service will typically cost less than $1,000 -- money well-spent for a boat that costs thousands.

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