Now is the time to buy a boat

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If you're thinking of buying a new or used boat in the next couple years, you might want to think sooner rather than later if you can pull it off. The reason? This is a very good time to buy in terms of price and value.

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Demand is way off, and dealers and builders are working aggressively to reduce their inventories in order to cut costs. With new boats, the best deals will be found on older inventory - 2007 and 2008 model years. There were even some new 2006 production boats popping up this summer, but those are few and far between, if not gone.

There should be no shortage of 2009 models at both the fall shows and in dealer showrooms. Given the economic storm that all of us have been weathering, you won't find the usual number of new 2010 model introductions this fall. Boatbuilders across the board cut production dramatically during the last year, which also affected new-boat development. Some of the new 2010 models debuting at the fall shows are the result of projects started before the recession.

The used-boat market also is a buyer's market these days. The asking price for brokerage boats is down on average about 20 percent from what it was a couple years ago. Even more in Florida and California. Some say the market is at a 10-year low.

Believe me, there are plenty of motivated sellers out there in both the new and used markets. But as a buyer, you also have to be realistic. My sense is that prices are bottoming. And remember, once the older inventory is gone, it's gone - and so are those prices. As with the stock market, it's tough to time and pick the bottom with precision.

Boat shows are not only good places to start the buying process, but also to do research on specific models, features, options, prices and more. By doing thorough walkthroughs of several boats, you can compare and contrast competing brands in real time, taking notes and photographs of what you like and what you don't care for. Take your time. Ask questions. Be persistent. Someone will have the answers.

Bring a knowledgeable friend and involve your significant other in the process, too. Try and keep your emotions in check as much as possible. You want to view these boats and assess their pros and cons with a careful, critical and dispassionate eye.

Lie on the berths and sit on the seats. Walk forward on the side decks. Do you feel comfortable? Are there enough hand-holds in the right places? What's the access like to the machinery and components? Can you reach the items that require regular service and replacement? And on and on. You know the drill.

If you're buying used, work with a good broker; the Yacht Brokers Association of America (www.ybaa.org) and several other groups set ethical standards and good business practices.

Ask around and hire a good surveyor. And new or used, make sure you put the vessel through a disciplined sea trial in realistic conditions.

My advice: Be picky, buy quality, and factor in resale when comparing prices. And keep this in mind, too: If the price for a larger boat in a lesser brand family is the same as it is for a smaller one from a builder with a reputation for quality and resale, I'd seriously consider the smaller boat. You might be happier in the long run.

For more from Bill Sisson, click here.