Fall boat show guide: Prices can’t go down forever

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Power

By Chris Landry

Consumers can expect unprecedented deals at this fall's boat shows, particularly on leftover 2008 and 2009 models, according to manufacturers and dealers.

"Prices have never been lower, frankly," says Jim Krueger, vice president of operations for Mainship Corp., of Millville, N.J. "Dealers are carrying the high financing costs for the boats, so rather than paying the financing company, they're passing those savings along to the customer."

When that inventory is gone, however, the bargains will be, too. "Dealers cannot continue to sell boats at these prices and stay in business," says Krueger. "So these boats that are in the field, now is the time to grab them."

Consumers should realize that prices have hit rock bottom, says Clute C. Ely, president of Boatworks Yacht Sales in Rowayton, Conn., a dealership for Grand Banks, Jupiter, Blue Star, Cabo and Hatteras. "Probably the most difficult thing for the potential buyer today is not to get greedy," says Ely. "You might be saying, 'Oh, that was the lowest price I've seen for the boat I want, so I have to beat that.' That's just not going to be true. Prices cannot go down forever."

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The best strategy, he says, is to be open, and don't try to play games with salespeople. "People smell blood in the water and try to skirt around the edges. You're not going to get anywhere with that," he says.

Ely will have several yachts at the Newport, R.I., Norwalk, Conn., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shows, including the 2009 Cabo 40 Zeus with joystick helm control.

Once manufacturers begin producing more new models, prices will go up somewhat because costs for raw materials, utilities and insurance continue to rise, says Peter Frederiksen, director of communications for Viking Yachts, of New Gretna, N.J. "Once the existing inventory is picked over, you may not be able to get the boat you want at the same price," says Frederiksen. "Basically, today's sale will appear like a bargain tomorrow." (Viking will introduce the 76 Convertible at the Fort Lauderdale show.)

There will be fewer new-model-year boats this fall compared to previous years, but well-known builders such as Grady-White, Boston Whaler, Mainship and Sabre will make their presence known on the show circuit with new models.

Sail

By Dieter Loibner

Several U.S. builders were out of the gate early with new sailboat models this year, hoping to hit the sweet spot with boats between 29 and 45 feet.

Bass Harbor, Maine, builder Morris Yachts, for example, brought out its M29 daysailer, and Newport, R.I.-based J/Boats introduced the J/95 shoal-draft daysailer and the J/97 racer/cruiser. On the cruising side, Island Packet, of Largo, Fla., rolled out the 36-foot Estero at the same time Woodland Hills, Calif., builder Catalina launched the new 445 cruiser.

The big European builders won't be far behind.

"There won't be a huge uptick in sales this fall, but we want to be big and bold and send an important message to the market," says Paul Fenn, who handles U.S. sales for French builder Jeanneau. Jeanneau plans to bring eight boats to the U.S. Sailboat Show Oct. 8-12 in Annapolis, Md., including three new models.

"Nobody will be in a rush to buy just yet," Fenn says, but he believes now is the time to lay the groundwork for a successful 2010.

The impact of the recession on various manufacturers will, to some extent, be evident in their show displays. "Large production builders must deal with large inventories, and there will be bargains," says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre Yachts in South Casco, Maine. "But it's a different story at the higher end, where inventories are much smaller and prices are holding up well."

Collins says people in the market for a semicustom sailboat can take advantage of available production capacity and order their dreamboats for guaranteed spring delivery.

Beneteau - one of the world's largest sailboat builders - will bring the new First 40 to Annapolis and hopes to debut the Beneteau 58 in February at the Miami show.

J/Boats has added two new boats to its lineup - the J/97 racer/cruiser and the J/95 shoal-draft twin-rudder daysailer. The company also is updating the J/100 with a retractable bowsprit. And it hopes to entice current owners to use a new design service to optimize their J/Boat sailboats.

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The consensus among vendors is that it's still a buyer's market, but nobody should expect bargain-basement prices across the board, especially with higher-end boats. Instead, manufacturers will pare back standard equipment lists to reduce base prices.

To prevent buyers' remorse, veteran sales executives remind customers to look past the price tag and be selective because in the end, they say, you still get what you pay for.

Used

By Dieter Loibner

Fall could be a great time to buy a used boat, say brokerage executives. "This is a 10-year low in the used-boat market," says Chet Pawlowicz, president of Martin Bird & Associates, an Annapolis, Md., yacht brokerage. "The bottom has fallen out. I have never seen it this low.

"Customers need to realize that asking prices are approximately 20 percent lower than they were only two years ago, and many sellers will not go any lower," says the veteran of 30-plus years in the boat business. "They'd rather hold on to their boats."

What sort of negotiating bandwidth can a used-boat shopper expect, with asking prices already near historic lows? "One of our broker/dealers in California tracks the differential between the asking and sales prices of used J/105s," says Jeff Johnstone, president of J/Boats in Newport, R.I. "Historically, sale prices averaged around 95 percent of asking prices. Now we are at 90 or 91 percent."

Quality boats with limited production runs will retain their value better than models that flood the used-boat market, brokers say. Popular boats can be problematic for sellers, because there are so many of them out there, and someone inevitably bails out and drops the price.

But a seller's nightmare could be a buyer's dream. "Low asking prices mean higher values," Pawlowicz says. "Large selection means more choice. If someone wants a boat, he'll get a boat."

"People who know boats and have the patience and skill to negotiate can get very good deals," says Klaus Kutz, a broker for Passage Yachts in Alameda, Calif."

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Glenn Walters of Eastern Yacht Sales in Portsmouth, R.I., concurs. "There is some pent-up demand in the market, and now is a great time to get the right boat for the right price."

Experienced boaters who know what they want can find gems, brokers say, provided they are patient and do their homework. Walters sees a "resurgence of sail," while the powerboat business is not as robust, "except for smaller boats."

Some brokers report seasonal shifts in the return of their customers. "We had a very good second quarter," says Kathy Jordan of Jordan Yachts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "But it has been slower since then because [of] hurricane season, and insurance companies have increased rates."

For in-depth coverage, see the October issue of Soundings magazine.