Brokers say bartering is a good answer to the swoons in both the marine and real estate markets
Sluggish sales have spurred an uptick in bartering — real estate for boats. Michel Servant, a Montreal real estate developer, is looking to trade his 700-acre hobby ranch and 150 head of buffalo in New Brunswick, Canada, for a $1.5 million to $2 million expedition trawler. “Money is scarce,” says Servant, 52. “People want to hold on to it.”
For owners of big assets, trades enable them to move out of one and into another with minimum reliance on cash. Servant envisions taking the bluewater passagemaker to Panama, where he does a lot of his work. “I would just love to cruise Central America and the Caribbean, maybe even cross the pond someday,” he says.
“He has received three offers so far,” says yacht broker Bob Crow, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Generation Marine (www.generationmarine.com), who represents Servant. One is a “spectacular three-year-old Bertram sportfish,” a 60-footer. The other two are luxury motoryachts. But Servant is holding out for a high-end trawler, maybe a Nordhavn, Marlow or Fleming. “A Nordhavn 63 is my dream boat,” he says.
Servant says Seawind Buffalo Ranch (www.seawindbuffalo.com), his 20-year-old hobby ranch near the coastal town of Bouctouche, is self-supporting. It produces buffalo meat for market and is a tourist destination for three months in the summer, drawing visitors with “chuckwagon safaris” and a buffalo museum. The woods on the property are populated by bear, moose and deer, and a 2,500-square-foot house produces rental income.
Crow says bartering makes a lot of sense in this market. “You’ve got people with too big a real estate portfolio,” he says. Bartering is one way for them to trim it down.
One of Crow’s clients, a private lender who wound up with a flood of foreclosed properties on his hands, traded two of them for luxury motor-yachts. He kept one for himself, and he is selling the other. “I’ve got a whole bunch of real estate offers on my desk,” Crow says.
He won’t even try to find boat trades for residential condominiums. There’s little interest in condos, Crow says. Demand for commercial property, properly zoned and ready to develop when the economy improves, is much higher. That kind of real estate is starting to move.
For those stuck with a surfeit of real estate, boat prices are right for a trade, Crow says. The asking price for big luxury yachts is running about 25 percent below what it was a year or two ago, and the actual selling price often is even more deeply discounted than that. A $4 million boat can be had for $2.7 million, he says.
Yachts cost money to store, maintain and use, and they depreciate. If an owner can’t afford the boat anymore, a trade may look very attractive, especially if it’s for real estate that is producing income and is likely to appreciate one day.
The ranch presents some problems as a trade, Crow says. Few people know the bison business, and most aren’t familiar with the economics of owning agricultural land in Canada. Servant knows it will take time to find a match.
The Internet is awash in boat-for-land offers. One, from New Zealand on LuvMyBoat.com, offers a $90,000 steel-hulled 42-foot offshore sailboat in a trade for land, and elicited this response: “Where would you consider to trade land at? I have land in Oman 12 km from Masaraiah [sic], ‘the blue city’ near the beach.”
Yet most barters are far less exotic. The basic vanilla deal typically involves the trade of a luxury yacht for an undeveloped or underdeveloped commercial tract. At GoSwap.org, some owners offer to trade boats for homes or home sites. The Web site carries more than 5,000 listings a month, 95 percent of them offering real estate swaps. But some also offer yachts, planes and RVs in exchange for land or some other asset. Those who list on the site usually are “stuck” with big-ticket items they can’t sell and want to move into a different asset, says GoSwap.org’s owner, Sergi Naumov, of St. Augustine, Fla. “That’s why doing an exchange makes sense right now,” says Naumov.
Naumov says his site has “grown tremendously” in the last three years. Listings cost $20 for three months, $30 for a year, and a search engine links traders. Traders must be patient and flexible, Naumov says. “If you’ve got your mind set on a very particular neighborhood [for a home or land] or a particular make and model and year [of boat], then the deal is probably not going to happen,” he says. Barterers must be ready to adjust their sights to what’s available and must be willing to wait while others decide whether to take in a trade something that isn’t exactly what they had in mind. “You have to be open-minded,” he says.
Mark McCoy, a restaurateur from Cumberland, Md., put his 2000 Silverton motoryacht, a 35-footer with just 160 hours on it, on GoSwap.org, and in six weeks it had drawn two nibbles. He wants to trade the yacht for a vacation condo in Florida, where the condominium market has been seriously depressed. “I’m fishing around,” he says. “This is my first experience at this.” McCoy says summers in the restaurant business are really busy for him, so he rarely gets to use his boat. Meanwhile, he pays for storage and maintenance.
Dave Miller and his wife have been living aboard their 1982 Jack Hargrave-designed Atlantic 44 for the last three years. They cruised the East Coast on it, shipped it to the West Coast, and cruised the Pacific Northwest. Now they’re living aboard at the Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle. Miller, a middle school computer teacher and technology support specialist, says they’ve enjoyed cruising and living on the boat. “It has been awesome,” he says.
But they have a 6-month-old baby now and his wife was laid off from her job at a non-profit organization, so they’re looking to trade the coastal cruiser for a Seattle condo. Miller says the big financial benefit for them will be a 30-year mortgage on the condo versus the 15-year mortgage on the boat. They need to trim back their monthly mortgage payments.
“We’ve had a few offers,” says Miller. However, all but one of the condos was too pricey. The one they could afford — overlooking Vashon Island — was very nice but a little too far to drive to work. Still, they’re considering that offer, “staying hopeful” and looking at alternatives — chartering the boat, renting it out. “We’re looking at all kinds of options,” he says.
Naumov says a party to a swap doesn’t have to own an asset outright to trade it. If a swapper owes money on a boat he’s trading for land and the land is free of debt, he must be able to qualify for a loan and pay the landowner what’s owed on the boat. Then the landowner can pay off the debt on the boat he is taking in trade. Both parties may have to take out loans if both assets are mortgaged. Each pays off the other’s debt.
The plus side
Naumov says trades can benefit both parties in several ways.
• They unload an asset they haven’t been able to sell and acquire a new asset they’ve been wanting, but couldn’t afford until they sold their old one. Or they unload an asset that costs them money to keep (a boat) in exchange for one that produces income (real estate), provided the property is reasonably priced.
• If they have to finance the purchase of their new asset, it is easier to qualify for a loan because the asset they trade away is no longer considered part of their portfolio on the day of the closing. The parties sell their assets to each other in a simultaneous closing so existing loans are paid off and new financing obtained — all on the same day.
• Trading simplifies life changes. For instance, homeowners typically must sell a house, then rent one while they search for a new home or for a boat to live aboard. Trading moves a homeowner directly from their old house to a new one — or to their liveaboard boat.
• The buyer is in the driver’s seat in this economy, so when an owner sells a boat it often is at a price well below the appraised value. In a trade, buyer and seller are likely in the same boat, so to speak — trying to unload an asset in a difficult market — and are more likely to agree on values closer to their appraisals.
GoSwap.org lists among its recent trades a 2003 49-foot Meridian pilothouse yacht and a 51-foot Endeavor sloop. “I can easily imagine a lot of boats out there and not a lot of takers,” says Servant. He hopes the owner of one of those boats will think hard about swapping it for a herd of buffalo and take up ranching.
“There are incredible opportunities right now,” says Crow.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.