Caveat Emptor

Buyer Beware

FSF Staff November 2, 2012

I recently purchased a pre-owned boat from a private seller. After nearly $2,000 in repairs, summer is over and my family has yet to enjoy a single afternoon on the water. While I purchased the boat in “as-is” condition, the seller shook my hand and promised he would help if any mechanical issues developed. Now he won’t even return my call. Any advice? – Jon Hapner

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Sorry Charlie. Not to make light of the situation, but you’re beat pal. “As-is” condition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as a buyer you should enter such deals with your eyes wide open.

If a serious defect becomes apparent after the sales transaction has been finalized you have no recourse against the seller. Federal and state laws absolve sellers from all liability in “as is” transactions. Buying from a private seller can equal substantial savings and there are certainly good deals out there to be had, but be warned that these transactions can be very risky. Although private deals are fairly informal, consider it a lesson learned and never again make the mistake of relying on a handshake or promise. Make sure you get the precise terms and conditions of any sales agreement in writing because private sellers are not held to as high a standard as professional boat dealers. Even then, once you seal the deal the boat and any mechanical issues that come along with it are solely your responsibility.

While purchasing a pre-owned boat from a dealer may seem like a more sound solution there are a few things you should be aware of. A pre-owned boat sitting on a lot could be a trade-in, or it may be on consignment. With trade-ins, dealers sometimes offer a 30- or 60-day warranty, but coverage is often limited to parts. Owners have to pay for all labor costs. Unless specific warranty terms and conditions are in writing it’s unlikely you will get much help, so don’t put any faith in oral agreements.

In the case of a consignment, know that the dealer represents the seller’s interests, and while sellers must disclose information about defects that influence the value, use or safety of the boat, they don’t have to volunteer information about less dramatic issues unless they are specifically asked. Because boat salesmen don’t know the history of the boat and only earn a small commission on the transaction, consignments are typically sold in “as-is” condition.

Don’t get the wrong impression because the majority of used boat dealers are reputable and you shouldn’t think otherwise. Shady characters making false promises rarely make it for long in this industry. Taking that into consideration, it’s always a good idea to ask for references.

For peace of mind, regardless if you’re considering the purchase of a pre-owned boat from a private seller or from a used boat dealer, a third party marine survey is essential. A survey can identify strucutral damage and needed repairs. The seller or dealer may agree to make those repairs before the transaction is finalized. If so, put the precise details of the contingency in writing!

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