How Transparent is the Yacht Market?

Posted: 25th June 2019 | Written by: Jonathan Browne

JB portrait2

I am a sales broker and I have been for many years - I now sell new production and semi-custom production yachts but the same principles apply. It will come as no surprise to any of you that I advocate appointing a broker to help you with buying a new or pre-owned boat/yacht. The reason is simple, it's what we do. We listen; we try to understand the factors that are important or even mandatory in a buying decision.

I spend a good deal of my time talking to owners, charter brokers, sales brokers, buyers and sellers. I also go to shows, pop-up events and broker open days, looking around boats which are both on and off market. I learn a lot by talking to potential clients; but a yacht’s shortcomings and strong points mean different things to different people.  

The yacht must meet and hopefully exceeding their expectations. When I buy a car I know what my expectations are with regard to build quality, reliability, speed, handling, economy and space. The same should be true when choosing a yacht. Do I expect to get a two seater settee in the back of a Porsche 911? No. In the back of a Volvo XC90, probably yes.

Broker Vs Owners Rep 

A surveyor I know approached me in the summer of 2018 telling me a client had appointed him to find a motor yacht around 45m, sub 500 GT with five staterooms, new or recently built with a budget of €16-22,000,000. I fervently started my research; I was keen to provide a good selection of 2016-2019 yachts from the likes of Codecasa, Heesen, RossiNavi, Benetti , the Italian Sea Group, CRN and some Turkish one-off builds.

Myba Genoa 2

It is not for me to judge what he wants but, at this stage, to provide all the relevant options available to him. It was at the point of arranging the viewings that the captain and owners rep were introduced to me. I did not think anything of it and the four of us set off to look at some suitable yachts. It was over dinner that evening in Viareggio that all three demanded a substantial commission. They already had a plan, which was to re-introduce the buyer through a third party broker and their commission was to be paid by that broker. I was taken aback to say the least!

We had been leaning towards a yacht that was completed a year ago but was still owned by the shipyard. Often with new build yachts the commission paid by the shipyard is less than is paid by a private seller. When the notion of lower commission was understood, they quickly crossed the yacht off the list. The hybrid yachts were also crossed off because the captain didn’t like them , despite having little or no experience of them.

They seemed insistent on chasing down the least desirable of all the yachts which was a one-off Turkish built yacht with dubious ownership status and lacking in certification, but known to the surveyor. In the meantime I had found them two excellent off-market yachts at reasonable prices, both from thoroughbred yards with impeccable service records. The equally well known owners did not want the yachts to be openly marketed, although they already had their eyes on larger vessels.

Boats horizon Plage Salis6 

I could see this was going to end badly, one way or another. Referral fees are one thing, but this was truly unethical.  I am happy to pay referral fees but it should never conflict with the best interests of the buyer. In this case the buyer would have been so badly compromised by his team of trusted advisers that I decided to walk away.

Broker Vs Internet

The Internet is without doubt a marvellous tool and the best medium for advertising yachts. However, not all the inventory is online and the buyer is reliant on the description, specifications and photographs provided by the broker/captain/owners rep. There is VERY little by way of candid descriptions and some of the narrative is plainly trite although, I must confess, it’s difficult to keep coming up with original words.  “Well-appointed yacht in excellent condition, two knowledgeable owners from new and looked after by a dedicated crew – a good use of space, must be seen.”  I think all boats ought to be seen...

Brokers are to blame - yes, me too! Both in sales and charter we don’t do nearly enough and I am determined to change that. Clients’ Internet browsing habits have changed – we used to ‘sell the enquiry’ by putting out enough ‘teasers’ to generate a lead. But buyers are bored with that now – they want to make informed decisions and avoid wasting their time or the broker’s.

I have clients who are busy – when they go and see their dentist they do not spend half an hour finding out how tall their 12 year old son is or how the family is getting on. They want to get on with the purpose of their visit. The same applies with their broker. OK, we can discuss the weather, and I have German clients who indulge me because they know I’m British.

JB Cannes Boat Show

More typically an enquiry from an existing client is a WhatsApp message or a call completely out of the blue: “Jonathan, am interested in M/Y Yolanda, 36m in Greece, what’s it like, how many hours? “ 

When I respond, it is brief and factual: “I spoke to broker, interior refit done in 2017, needs exterior paint, had 10-year class survey this year, 7,000 hours, both Gen sets replaced 2018 – they had an offer of € 5.6 turned down (allegedly) in February, not much activity since; I have emailed you the spec and photos, she looks good; I was on it at Cannes in 2016, it had a very good crew at that time.” 

Based on that information, I am more likely to get my client on a plane to Athens than by sending him a load of high-res photos of models smiling and drinking rosé. BUT if they are interested enough to get on a plane then they will want to know more; a lot more. So the shipyard NaviCantiere (made up name), who are they? Where are they? They know only that it is an Italian yard. What else have they built? When was it established? MY Yolanda’s hull was built at the shipyard or in Fano/Poland/Turkey and towed around? The previous owner/s used it how? Private or charter or a mixture? Where is it/was it flagged?  Details of the refit with photographs, service and class documents and crew profiles?

Needless to say, the lack of good information ordinarily available to clients is lamentable and it needs to change; we do not need more of the same. Of course not all yachts for sale are promoted on the open market. Of the eight yachts I proposed to the owner’s rep and his band of merry men, only five were advertised for sale online, so the market is not as transparent as you might think. Either way, considering the market in which we operate, it’s high time we had better resources for sellers, brokers and clients.

Jonathan is a yacht broker with ABYS Yachting in Antibes, South of France. As well as access to the worldwide market of pre-owned yachts, ABYS is also an award winning Ferretti Group distributer – Ferretti, Pershing, Riva, Custom Line, CRN.

You can contact Jonathan on +33 (0)6 23 76 18 84
Or email jonathan@abys-yachting.com.

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