Buying For The Future

When simple decisions mean thousands of dollars difference in resale value

August 2014 Feature Katie Burke

Last year at the Houseboat Expo, the magazine staff was talking with Sheldon Graber, president of Destination Yachts, about one of our favorite subjects—houseboats. It was a lively conversation until things turned more serious when Graber shared with us one of his most painful houseboat-building experiences.

Graber was building a 70- by 18-foot houseboat for a man who knew exactly what he wanted. Unfortunately, one of the things he was most set on was only including one stateroom.

“As a builder, I wouldn’t be in business very long if I didn’t give a client what they wanted,” said Graber. “But I also have a responsibility to be practical and make sure I use my experiences to guide each customer through the boat-building process.”

Graber explained to his client that the end product of this build would be a boat that would be extremely difficult to resale. People who buy boats with such a large floor plan typically want to sleep more than just two people. But this man was convinced the boat was exclusively for him and his wife and while they wanted to entertain, they weren’t interested in hosting overnight guests.

“Our conversations went around in circles for weeks,” said Graber. “Finally, because he seemed so convinced, I built the boat the way he wanted.”

Now, if we had labeled this story with the headline, “Random Decisions Pay Off,” you would probably assume there was a happy ending. But as it is, this story didn’t end well. When the economy tanked, the man was forced to sell his custom-built houseboat. The fact that it only had one stateroom did make it a difficult sell and in order to attract an interested party, the man had to lower his asking price by thousands of dollars.

“That story, almost more than any other, shapes the way I run my business,” said Graber. “I want my customers to have a boat they love, but one that is also ready for whatever the future brings.”

Planning For the Unknown

Now before you think we’re advocating building a boat entirely based on what you think will sell easily and that’s all you should consider, we’re not. All we’re saying is that this funny thing we call life is pretty unpredictable. For example, when I was in labor with my oldest child, my mom was moping around, saying things like, “Your sister doesn’t ever want to get married and have kids and it makes me sad she’s never going to experience this.”

She had no way of knowing that a little over a year in the future, we would be standing in the hospital room right next door as my sister and her husband welcomed their first beautiful blessing.

On the other hand, I still remember the day my parents bought their dream house in the country. My mom was so excited for the open basement and she was planning on turning it into a play area that was going to be named an amalgamation of all her grandkids names. Ten months later, my mother went to her heavenly home and I doubt anyone has stepped foot in that basement in months.

The point of me telling you all of this is that you should plan for your life, but understand that you don’t know what the future holds.

Looking Ahead

So now that we’ve come to the conclusion that you are going to buy the boat you want, but are planning on approaching it in a practical way, let’s get down to business. I reached out to several houseboat brokers to get their thoughts on buying a boat in the present that’s ready for the future.

“I think it is always important that people get the boat that they want,” says owner Travis Keller. “You should definitely consider future resale value, but should not let that be the deciding factor when choosing options. If you get a boat and only think about what other future buyers will want, you are much less likely to end up with a boat that you truly want.”

Keller also pointed out that sometimes two-story boats can actually be as limiting as something like only having one stateroom because of the extremely high relocation cost. It’s all about the perspective of the buyer. But Keller has some great advice that pulls rank over the layout of your boat.

“A well-cared-for boat will show better and attract more buyers than a boat that has all the ‘right’ features and shows significant signs of neglect,” says Keller. “You might not always want or need the size boat that you are currently in, but if you take good care of the boat, you can always resell it and upgrade or downgrade. A wise man once told me that a four bedroom, two bath houseboat can hold 50, feed 20 and sleep two.” 

Next up is Warren Childers, director of sales for Sunstar Yacht Sales & Brokerage. I asked Warren his thoughts on couples that are downsizing their boat because all of their children have flown the coop for college.

“If they are downsizing to a smaller boat because they can’t physically keep up the work of maintaining a larger vessel, that’s one thing,” says Childers. “If they are downsizing for the purpose of the kids moving away alone, I would remind them of the future possibility of grandchildren. In my opinion, nothing brings a family together and keeps them together like houseboating.”

I also asked Childers what he would say to someone building a boat with a big floor plan that only contained one bedroom.

“I would caution them that resale will be difficult because it will take a special buyer for a boat like that,” he replied. “I would also tell them I would expect the resale value to be low.”

Childers agrees that even above layout, the most important thing for resale value is condition. After keeping your boat well-maintained, picking out a popular floor plan will make your boat easier to sell as well.

“Most people are looking for a four-stateroom, two-bath, side hall floor plan with a separate aft entrance from the master stateroom,” says Childers. “This is probably the hottest floor plan on the market right now and the easiest resale.”

This is exactly what you should consider when you think of buying your next boat. If it’s popular, that means people like it because it’s easy to live with. If you modify your expectations slightly, like opt for a four-bedroom boat instead of a three-bedroom, then your boat will spend less time on the market when you’re ready to upgrade.

After Childers, I picked up the phone to chat with another one of my favorites, Terry Miller from Houseboats Buy Terry.

With Miller, I got right to the point. Instead of hello, I went with, “Terry! What would you say to someone who told you they were building a huge boat that included just one bedroom?”

Without missing a beat, she said, “Don’t do it. Someday, someone is going to have to sell this boat. Even if it’s not you, it might be your kids or grandkids and there is no resale market for that kind of niche boat.”

What great advice and such a good point. It would be so sad to leave your boat to a beloved family member who couldn’t afford the upkeep and then wasn’t able to sell it. That situation would turn a blessing into a burden and no one wants that as part of their legacy.

Miller also offered some thoughts on things to consider when buying.

“People buy with their eyes so avoid glaring colors in your boat,” she said. “There are three popular colors for boats right now and they are black, black and black. A brightly colored boat is the hardest to sell.”

Miller and I also talked about what attracts buyers to a houseboat and she stressed how important eye appeal is.

“If a husband and wife walk aboard a boat and the wife starts commenting on things she wants to change, then it’s best to just turn around and walk out,” says Miller. “You would have to spend too much money on simple cosmetic changes and you will never recoup that investment.”

There you have it folks. Don’t make major concessions on your dream boat based solely on resale value. But do make decisions based on good judgment and take great care of your boat because you never know where life is going to take you. 

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