The Smart Buyer: It’s boat show season

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Time to go shopping

There’s no better place to check out a huge variety of boats than at a boat show. And with the fall show season gearing up, buyers will have plenty of opportunities to catch up on the latest boats, propulsion systems and electronics.

You'll get more one-on-one time with sales personnel at the preview days offered at some shows - before the masses arrive.

If you think you’re ready to pull the trigger on a boat, be sure to do your pre-show homework.

“Anybody that buys a new boat does a tremendous disservice to themselves if they fail to carry out their own due diligence and learn about the boat before they buy it,” says Peter Frederiksen, Viking Yachts’ director of communications. “They need to be involved in the process because the salesman [at the show] may not be giving you the complete picture. It’s important that the customer thinks things through.”

Perhaps the most important type of research is nailing down how you are going to use the boat. Will you be day cruising? Fishing? Enjoying water sports? How about cruising or overnighting? You may want a boat that can multitask, such as a center console, which makes for an effective day-cruising and fishing platform.

Your choices should be narrowed based on functionality, but make sure you know what you like aesthetically, too, says Constantinos K. Constantinou, CEO of Greenline North America, which offers a line of cruising boats with hybrid propulsion. “You have to like the look of the boat, and then I would move on to studying the boat, the builder and the dealer to find out who they are and what kind of reputation they have. See what kind of level of support you will get in the buying process and after, when you own the boat. These are important elements.”

You should also familiarize yourself with the prices of the boats you are interested in. An increasing number of manufacturers offer online tools to choose options and calculate costs. Brokerage websites also can be helpful for getting a handle on prices.

But look at more than just the price tag, says Constantinou. “Look at the boat’s quality and the quality of the brand,” he says. “A lot of people are lured by price only, and that is a very short-term view of the buying decision. It is a big part of the decision, but should be only one of the big factors in your decision.”

Before you board your first boat, develop a list of questions for the dealer or manufacturer, or make a chart for recording which boats have the features and attributes you want. As you look at the boats during the show, take notes, photos and video. And there’s no substitute for sticking your head into the bilge. Don’t simply walk through the boat. Sit in the seats, open the hatches, stretch out on the bunks, walk the side decks, climb into the engine room.

“People should be paying attention to the seating, fuel capacity, grab rails, accessibility to the engine compartment, the running gear and more. All these things are important,” says Frederiksen. “People have to be careful to not get nonchalant about these things. If [the builder] is sweating the details to get all these things right, chances are it is going to be a good boat.”

The recovering economy will have an effect on boat prices and the willingness of manufacturers and dealers to negotiate on price, says Constantinou. “People can expect everyone out there to be motivated to sell. However, they should not expect the level of motivation or urgency of a few years ago just because there is no excess inventory out there,” says Constantinou, who got his start in the industry as the owner of a Sea Ray dealership. “People are going to get a fair price because everyone understands they need to deliver value. They are not going to be getting stuff for free, though.”

A few years ago, during the depths of the Great Recession and as it eased, there was an abundance of new and used boats on the market. “There were some incredible deals out there,” says Constantinou. “That market has dried up, for the most part.”

Jack Ellis, managing director of Info-Link, which tracks boat sales, agrees. “It’s clear that good-quality, late-model-year preowned boats are hard to come by,” says Ellis, who found this out firsthand when he was looking to buy a late-model Scout. “This is only going to get harder since there are fewer late-model-year inventory boats available.”

It will behoove buyers to consider every avenue of research. For instance, get up to speed on boat-buying trends. “If a market segment is doing well and there is limited inventory, be prepared to react quickly — assuming the seller is asking a fair price — because there are probably plenty more buyers looking for the same boat,” says Ellis.

October 2014 issue