An Apologia for Boat Brokers And Some Pretty Good Sailing

I am fighting the urge to wax philosophical about the lot in life that belongs to the beleaguered boat broker. Whereas in the past I might have misunderstood their pain and suffering at the hands of the average boat shopper, I am now in a position where I want to wrap them all up in my arms, pat them gently on their bowed backs, dry their little eyes and say, “I’m sorry for you! Would you like to talk about the possibility of finding an entirely different profession?”. I understand their pain. I feel their pain. We are living their pain because we are trying to sell our own boat. Why are boat brokers in pain? It’s because of people, that’s why. People who don’t know what they want.  And we know this because we have been those people and we have caused pain. And now we are getting our payback.

Watercolor of Moonrise

Watercolor of Moonrise by Alex Kimball

How could this possibly happen, you might be wondering. Isn’t it true that the price of a boat is listed, along with photographs of the boat and at least basic information about the make, model, and year? Doesn’t this guarantee that potential buyers will have some idea of what they are looking at?

If you answered yes, a big  SMACK DOWN for you because that would be logical, and people are anything but logical. Just stop right now with your logical thinking! You are actually more likely to have to show the boat to people who are really looking for a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT KIND OF BOAT. That’s right.


Here are some examples:

  • The person who has $40,000 to spend, but is hoping your $20,000 boat will be just as nice. Because, seriously, people always UNDERvalue their boats. 
  • The person who wants the style of a 1980’s boat at a 1970’s boat price. Again, photos.
  • The person who really wants an outboard engine but comes to look at a boat with an inboard engine. It’s pretty hard to change that.
  • The person who wants to spend $20,000 on a boat, but wants everything on it to be new. (Cue hysterical laughter here.)

A lot of rain in the mountains created tidal striations in the waters of Commencement Bay on a very sunny Labor Day weekend.

It’s becoming clear to us that brokers work much harder for the sale than anyone gives them credit for. It’s a lot of work to sell a boat. We’re sorry to any brokers whose time they feel we wasted. We like meeting people, and we really don’t mind doing boater education. We understand the need to look at a lot of boats since we, too, enjoy that, although we hesitate to waste a broker’s time anymore just to see a boat if we are fairly certain we won’t be making an offer. We’ve learned our lesson there. We don’t even mind showing our boat to people who are just curious because they know we have a blog. I mean, what boat owner doesn’t want to stand around and chew the fat about his boat? Ask us about our batteries! We’ll tell you…We might even take you for a sail.

But this is where our ‘boat broker’ experience ends. Brokers are looking to create relationships with people, knowing they will spend a lot of time up front and might be able to sell a boat later. Brokers have a lot of boats to sell. We, on the other hand, have only one boat to sell. Just one good, solid sailboat with a reliable engine and good sails that is ready to go with no required work on the part of the buyer that we know of.  What’s the problem with that? We wish we knew. We’re looking for one honest to goodness buyer who has done their homework about the kind of boat they want and who will offer a reasonable price for our boat and follow through with the sale. That’s all. Just one. Know anybody?

Cute little gaff rigged sailboat.

Meanwhile as we ponder the more philosophical side of this whole boat selling business, we ask ourselves if it’s worth all the hassle, all the emotional roller coaster riding we’ve had to do lately. We are getting a little bone weary of this whole thing and the idea of just taking this Cal 34 on the first part of our voyage begins to look more and more attractive. It would certainly be cheaper. It’s likely to be pretty uncomfortable sometimes, but, as they say, the ocean passages are only a small part of the whole experience. And it would just be so much easier.

In other news, Mike was commenting yesterday that this has been one of the best years for sailing that he can remember. We’ve had more sunny days, AND more wind than usual. We had two back to back excellent days of sailing on Commencement Bay and when I say ‘sailing’, I mean 6.8 knots on a close reach, all the way to Vashon Island. Woo Hoo!!  On days like that it’s hard to be upset that we still have our boat. It could be worse. We could own a boat that is so heavy it can’t sail out of its own way (in the words of a certain broker we know). Or we could have a project boat that just won’t quit. Oh, the thoughts we are thinking right now. They do go round in circles.

All kinds of interesting boats out on the water this weekend!

If you are looking for the companion blog post to the article on ThreeSheetsNW about the SSS Odyssey, here’s the link for that. We hope you read it because the Sea Scouts is a seriously cool organization.




18 thoughts on “An Apologia for Boat Brokers And Some Pretty Good Sailing

  1. As I was reading your post I thought of an old salesman tactic. Show someone something you know they won’t like before you show them something you’re going to really try to sell. Maybe these brokers are using you as a pitch point against some down the road sale despite your boat and the buyer criteria being out of sync? I don’ t know, I guess I get a little conspiracy theorist sometimes.

    I still can’t believe you guys can’t get the deal closed at a price like that for a 34 foot boat. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.

    • We haven’t looked at boats through a broker in a long time since we can’t put an offer on anything until Moonrise is sold. But I know we’ve been in the position where we just want to look at any boats at all, and probably we’ve wasted people’s time a bit.
      We, too, cannot believe how hard it has been. Must be a reason. We just don’t know what it is.

  2. I can vouch that you like to chew the fat about your boat, and might even take them for a sail! You did that with me! Every time you put up a post, I am hoping for a title that reads something like “Moonrise Sold!”, but alas. It really is a great boat!

    I agree with mike on the great sailing this year, although I have really nothing to compare it to… but I have enjoyed this season immensely, and am going on another trip this weekend. I have learned a LOT from you guys, and through the “school of hard knocks” this summer. Hang in there! Hope to see you around the Marina or the Bay!

    • I wonder why we haven’t seen you out on the water? We do keep our eyes open for you. Glad to hear that you are enjoying your boat! Sounds like you made the right choice.

  3. This is precisely why our plans for Ceol Mor include a Viking funereal on her for Mark when the time comes. I don’t get it either. So many folks say they want a bargain priced, sturdy, ready to go boat and yet Moonrise is still unsold and the comments from people looking for exactly what Moonrise offers continues.
    Only thing I can figure is that people are silly and they often SAY they want to go cruising/sailing but when it comes down to it, what they really want is the fantasy.

    • I do think there is an element of truth in the ‘fantasy’ aspect of boat shopping. I know we’ve certainly been guilty of that ourselves. When it comes down to it, the fantasy is a lot easier to entertain than putting money on the table. I like your idea of having a boat until a Viking funeral is required. So much of us is invested in our boats, it makes good sense to plan to hold on to a boat that satisfies you on lots of levels.

  4. As a real estate agent plus a person trying to sell our house … boy, do I feel your pain! I have very accurate pictures of our house, and we’ve had a lot of people look at it … only to say they didn’t like this or that … which were clearly shown in the pictures. Ugh!

    Trying to also make a living at this can be tough sometimes. There’s tons of wasted time and no loyalty. We have a saying in the real estate business that’s all too true … “Buyers are liars”.

    Best of luck … to both of us! =)

    • Maybe it’s the same with boats and houses: you have to get the right ‘feeling’ and that’s hard to do with photos. We’ll keep fingers crossed for each other!
      I’ve seen your photos of your house, and it looks like a great house. I know you guys have worked extra hard on getting it ready. Hope you get through this hurricane season without trauma this year!

  5. Sold my house in Seattle in 1 day this spring with multiple offers, sold my old chevy truck on CL in a couple hours; yet my boat has been for sale on CL for almost a year now. Good luck to all

    • Wow! So you know the pain. Real estate market in Seattle never did get as bad as other places. I think we could sell our house here pretty fast when we get ready. Maybe your boat will find a buyer soon, too.

  6. Interesting comments. I have been a buyer and a seller of multiple boats, both with the assistance of a broker and without. Most recently I was a buyer, so I would offer that the experience can go either way.

    Ads for boats in “bristol condition” and “meticulously maintained” that turn out to be covered in mold and have rotten sails, unstable rigging and decks that leak waterfalls. “Motivated” sellers that don’t call back for days or don’t know anything about their own boat. Brokers who are only interested in your budget rather than helping you find what you are looking for. Sellers that suddenly decide to sail to Hawaii a few days after an accepted offer. All things I experienced. I was very near deciding not to purchase anything at all before I found that magical combination of reliable seller information, an informed and helpful broker and a skilled professional surveyor.

    Just another point of view…..

    • Yes, it certainly can. We’ve had our boat listed with two brokers who did the best they could, showed the boat often. But I think what it comes down to is whether the boat has the right ‘feel’ for the buyer. I can say with certainty that we are responsive sellers who go out of our way to accommodate buyers. We generally enjoy meeting them, even if they don’t buy our boat. It’s nice when all things come together as you describe.

  7. I think the great winds are telling you to keep this boat and sail it into the sunset. All boats are uncomfortable when the $**t hits the fan. The best boat it the boat you know the best. Your boat is a great boat or you would not have chosen it to begin with… IMHO

    • Yes, we do have a great boat. It is possible that you are completely right about this. If the winds don’t blow differently for us by the end of this boating season, I believe the decision will have been made.

      • For the boat buyer these days, there is just too many choices. That’s code for “glut” of reasonably good boats of all ages and although boat generations offer some innovations, the newer boats appear to offer less offshore comfort than previous generations. My thinking about an offshore boat is that the emphasis on heavy cruisers is sort of obsolete if one uses advanced communications and a weather advisory/routing service. If you travel during the right seasons and advisable routes, you should get advance warning of storms and can deviate to minimize impact. The current boat buying season is probably over except for extreme bargain hunters and if you buy a new boat, you will be spending $$ and time building confidence. You need almost nothing to high tail it to San Diego where you can rest and get your boat fitted out for extended offshore. IMHO & best wishes

        • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am encouraged by the number of experienced people who think taking our Cal would be a great idea. The thought of all the money we would save by doing that is pretty tempting, to be sure, not to mention it’s a boat we know well. We are going to look at a boat down in Astoria, hopefully this weekend, and try to work a trade plus cash deal with the owner. Maybe it will work, maybe not. At this point, I am not too worried about it and will take whatever the universe throws at us and just run with it. If this season closes and we haven’t moved forward with a sale, then let the refitting of Moonrise begin.

  8. I can’t believe how hard it is for you to sell Moonrise. We have a friend here who has the exact same boat, paid $8k for it and it probably needs at least $30k in work. Yours for $20k is a STEAL!!!!!!!!

    Seeing how hard it’s been for you to sell Moonrise is to me kind of a sign. The writing is pretty much on the wall. You don’t have to do much refit, you know the boat and it sails well. I have done such much work on our boat that at this point if we had a Cal 34 we would just go for it.

    You have to start somewhere. Maybe you sail it down to Mexico then try to sell it if you really want another boat. You could try selling it in the Southern Cali market, and find yourself a dream boat there too.


    • I think Mark’s point, above, is really true. There are a lot of boats around here, and many of them are sort of like our Cal: older models, some better kept than others. Mike is still of the mind that we need to sell. I think I’ve just determined that whatever happens happens. At least with Moonrise, the costs are pretty much known up front. If we were younger it would be easier to think about taking her. Being in our 50’s I think makes a difference in terms of how much discomfort at sea we are willing to tolerate. But who knows? At least at this point I am willing to entertain such a venture, where as this time last year there would have been no way.

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