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The Smart Buyer: A consultant can help you find the right boat

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Advice from a third party with no vested interest in the transaction can provide vital information that will help boat buyers make educated decisions about the boats they purchase. But such advice can be hard to find.

In addition to designing yachts, Robert H. Perry offers consulting services for boat buyers.

That’s why Seattle-based yacht designer Robert H. Perry set up a consulting branch of his company. Perry’s clients pay $500 for the right to call and ask questions, taking advantage of the unbiased perspective of a designer familiar with a variety of used boats.
“People want to know about how well a boat will sail, whether it’s safe or has some inherent flaws in the design, how it was built and whether the builder may have cut corners,” Perry says. “I try to match the buyer with the right boat.”
Perry encourages buyers to realistically decide what they expect from a boat. “Are you really going to sail off to Tahiti, or are you just thinking about doing it six years from now? You may think you want one kind of boat but really should be looking at another type.”
Perry notes that some buyers have a bad case of tunnel vision. They don’t want to admit they’re not going offshore, so they limit themselves when they start looking. “Some of my clients won’t even consider a fin keel,” he says. “They end up buying a pig that can’t get out of its own way when they would have been much happier with a boat that performs better.”
Perry, or another reputable consultant, will inject a little reality into the dream, identifying the advantages and disadvantages of a boat and pointing buyers to vessels they might have overlooked. “I try to get clients to broaden their range in terms of what they are looking at in a given price spread that would be suitable,” he says. “There are a lot of boats out there that people perceive as unsuitable to cruising, but in reality they can be fabulous cruising boats. For example, some racer-cruisers might do well as coastal cruisers. Boats are like people. Each has its own personality.”
And then there are the know-it-all buyers, the kind brokers hate and the kind Perry works hard to educate. Perry says some buyers come armed with a multitude of graphs, ratios and formulas, but these data should not exert undue influence on the buying decision; they represent only part of what a buyer should consider. “The technical information in the wrong hands can lead to misinterpretations that will cause a client to steer away from a boat that might have been good for them. Use caution when looking at the formulas,” he says.
When it’s time to make an offer, Perry advises buyers to take the time to find the best surveyor. Don’t ask the seller’s broker for a referral, he says, adding that doing your own legwork is a vital part of the buying process. “The surveyor is an essential part of the equation,” he says. “But many are not as good as they should be, and failure at that stage can get costly.”
Asked whether a machinery survey should be done in addition to the general survey, Perry answers with an emphatic yes. Too often a surveyor will miss problems that an expert mechanic will spot immediately. If there is any question about the boat’s electrical system, it should be checked as well.
In most cases, buyers deal with the seller’s broker. Unless the buyer plans to spend a large sum of money, chances are it will be difficult to find a broker to represent him or her in the search and in negotiating a fair price for the boat. Perry points out that although most brokers are honest, it is in the interest of the buyer to get as much information as possible to determine whether the listed boat is the right one. “Some brokers are very skilled at convincing buyers that the boat that’s on hand will do the job,” he says. “Sometimes it just isn’t the right vessel for the buyer’s intended uses. It’s easy to be misled.”
Perry says the best way to avoid surprises and sail away with the right boat is to use knowledge and have a practical approach. When problems are discovered during a survey, it doesn’t mean the boat is no good. Perry warns against overreacting to seemingly bad news. “Some buyers turn down boats that have some minor blisters,” he says, citing this as an example of where knowledge comes into play. “But blisters don’t have to kill a deal as long as the problems are taken care of properly.”
So just what does Perry look for in a boat? “A good boat has to have a balance of characteristics that in the end satisfy the owner,” he says. “For myself, I want a boat to sail well. I want the helm balance to be good. I want the boat to go to weather and point within 32 degrees of the apparent wind. It must have directional and dynamic stability.”
Perry can be reached at (360) 652-7771.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.