Houseboating by its very nature is a boutique industry. I mean, it’s all right there in the name: “house” and “boat.” Or at least, where those two words converge. Everyone needs a house (or apartment, or flat, or duplex, or domicile), but not everyone needs a boat. On top of that, the people who need a boat that’s also a house are even fewer. Now, we could argue about whether anyone “needs” anything versus what anyone “wants,” but that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that houseboats can be a hard sell. What’s a broker to do?
We spoke with some of the top brokers in the industry to get a feel for what makes them tick. We asked about their ups and downs of 2015 (literally and figuratively), their predictions/hopes for this 2016, and some of their secrets for selling a boat. (But not all their secrets; that would be unfair.)
As they looked to the past, pretty much everyone agreed that it had been a good year, devoid of the big problems that can plague the industry. In fact, the consensus was that it had been a good year for selling! Terry Miller of Houseboats Buy Terry said that all of their brokers sold through their inventory and are looking for more boats to sell. Brian Abner from Buyaboat.net echoed this sentiment.
“With the lake levels being back up, and the houseboat market being the way it is right now, used boats have really taken off for us,” said Brian. “With people being back at the lake, we’ve had more boat sales this year than we have in the last four years. There weren’t really any downs this year. But it’s been so slow since 2007 with the lake levels being down, that it’s been up.”
Travis Keller of YourNewBoat observed that “all price and size ranges were selling, including some of the larger/more expensive houseboats, which had previously been slow moving. However, this was only true for houseboats that were priced in accordance with the market; if something is overpriced it will continue to sit without offers. Even if the seller is willing to take less or negotiate, it must be priced right to attract an offer.”
Pretty much everyone agreed that higher-end models drew more interest than in years past.
Wes Wise of Middle Tennessee Houseboat and Yacht Sales said, “Higher-end boats have been good. You can tell that the economy is strengthening people’s ability to purchase larger luxury items. Fuel costs remain low, and as they do, it gives people more disposable income.”
Scott Evans of Coast to Coast Yacht Sales said, “It has been a great year. Inventory is low and that’s good, and 2016 looks to continue in the same direction.”
As they gazed into their crystal balls, each broker had varying predictions, although they all foresee good business.
Warren Childers from Sunstar Yacht Sales & Brokerage said, “Due to the aging, pre-owned inventory, I hope to see new boat sales grow stronger in 2016. There has not been any real volume of new houseboats built since 2008. Even those pre-owned boats that are still in good shape are getting some age on them.”
Wes feels the same way and added, “As boats sell, we need more boats to replace them. We have a pretty good inventory in our company, but the fleet of boats is aging since the recession, which closed 60 to 70 percent of the manufacturers, especially in the Kentucky area. There may be some new boat opportunities on the horizon. Eventually, there’s going to have to be some new boats built.”
Ken Vance from Elite Boat Sales commented that prices have reached a sort of equilibrium that they hadn’t seen previously, which most of the other brokers agreed with.
“I have seen last year and this year a leveling off of the prices of boats,” said Ken. “I have not seen a drastic drop in values the last two years like we saw in the previous four to five years, nor have I seen the price go up that much, but have seen a leveling of the values. Also, I have seen the gap narrow between the asking price and actual selling price, as long as the original asking price was not too much inflated to begin with.”
Brian noticed one particular trend in the industry that we at the magazine have had the good fortune to pick up on and feature: refurbishing older boats.
They Work Hard For The Money
“I think you’re going to see more and more people buying used boats and refurbishing those,” predicted Brian. “With the new boat market being what it is, people are looking for that 16-foot wide by 70-, 75-foot range, and you can find those for a relatively inexpensive price right now just because they’re not wanting to spend $500,000 on a boat. They can spend $150,000 to 200,000 on a boat, remodel it, and spend five to 10 years on it. We have more boats available this year than we’ve had in a long time, therefore there’s more to choose from.”
There are just some things that you leave to a professional: plumbing, police work, monster hunting, ghost busting, selling a house, and, you guessed it, buying and selling a boat.
A houseboat broker has many more tools at his disposal than us common folk. Travis said, “A Yacht Broker Association of America (YBAA) Member Broker, like YourNewBoat, utilizes the Boat Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which means that our entire inventory is available for co-brokerage among other professional brokers. Allowing for co-brokerage dramatically increases the pool of potential buyers and the opportunity for a sale.”
Terry added, “There are many details in buying and selling, and since we have been doing it for over 21 years, we have seen many different scenarios and have an answer to any question. As a broker we make selling or buying a boat look easy, which is what our goal is.”
According to Wes, “There’s really no reason to sell a boat yourself. Most people don’t sell their house themselves. Not to say that some people aren’t successful at that, but if you don’t sell your house yourself, you sure don’t want to sell your boat yourself. It’s a complex industry and a complex product.”
Warren noted that in the age of the Internet, it’s a little more complicated to stay abreast of the goings-on of the industry.
“With the tech savvy generation coming of age and buying boats, I have to stay involved in technology if I am going to reach this market,” said Warren. “Studies show that over 90 percent of those buying boats will research online before even making a phone call. The majority of boat sales are no longer from people walking the docks and seeing for sale signs on the boat.”
That said, Ken believes that it is still vital for the broker to be involved in the sale—for the benefit of the buyer and the seller.
“I think there is a definite advantage of having a full-time broker on site and available at all times,” said Ken. “I think a big key is to make sure that the broker is representing both the buyer and seller, in order to assure both parties that what they want will be achieved.”
Go Forth And Reap
All in all, it sounds like the industry is in a good place, whether you’re buying or selling. And for Pete’s sake, use a broker! They’ve been doing this for a long time and know how to get everyone the best possible deal. The 2015 year was a good one and 2016 continues to look just as promising. So go out there, buy a boat, and create some memories.