Hurricane boats still on auction block

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National Liquidators is selling boats ‘as-is’ and warns that there will be unanticipated expenses

National Liquidators is selling boats ‘as-is’ and warns that there will be unanticipated expenses

Buyer beware, but also be aware that a slew of boats damaged in last summer’s hurricanes still are on the auction block.

National Liquidators of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a major boat recovery and auction company, has salvaged more than 300 boats since last summer, mostly in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Those that were so badly damaged that the repairs would have cost more than their insured value were turned over to the insurer and now are on the National Liquidators Web site, www.yachtauctions.com. The company is selling them for insurers “as-is” in weekly online auctions.

“We caution people before they decide to bid on one of the boats: Get a surveyor,” says Will Gassen, manager of Liquidators’ Mandeville, La., salvage and storage operation. “They’ll tell you what it will cost to fix it up. Then double that. It’s not the rosy picture everyone envisions.”

Fixing up a hurricane-damaged boat involves a lot of hard work and a lot of unanticipated expenses, agrees Bob Toney, National Liquidators president. For example, many prospective buyers don’t consider the transport fee for the boat and the crane fee to get it on and off the trailer. “You can buy a boat from us in a salvage auction for a couple thousand dollars, and it could cost you $8,000 to get it home,” he says. National Liquidators encourages bidders to talk to a sales representative before they bid so they get the whole story on what it will cost if they submit the winning bid.

Last summer’s hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Wilma knocked an estimated 50,000 boats out of commission. Bulk salvors recovered most of those boats, many of which wound up on the National Liquidators Web site. Toney says prices of hurricane-damaged boats appear to be inching down as more come on the market. “Basic economics says there’s got to be a glut,” he says. “There are only so many people who can fix up so many boats.”

He says that early on several big institutional buyers bought most of the boats available at auction. They resold them sometimes as-is, but usually with some major repairs completed and many more still to be done. Boats typically wind up at boatyards, where they’re fixed up and resold. Only 15 to 20 percent are bought by people who fix them up for themselves.

National Liquidators specializes in auctioning repossessed boats for banks but also does auction work for insurers, especially after hurricanes. It hired its own salvage teams to go in behind the bulk salvors to do more-specialized hurricane-related boat salvage jobs. The most challenging involved five boats stacked on top of each other between two three-story New Orleans apartment buildings. The preparation alone took 10 days.

Toney says the company completed its salvage operations in early March and hoped to have all its Mandeville boats auctioned off by the end of April. It still had more than 100 boats for auction in Fort Lauderdale. For those tempted to bid, he warns that the insurer has judged that the repairs required to get one of these boats back on the water are too costly.

“By the end of the day, it’s a lot of very hard work to get it back to the point of operating it,” he says.