|By JAY N. MILLER
For The Patriot Ledger
Potential boat buyers have been peeking into the area's dealers this spring, although the long cold spring has kept the overall numbers down a bit. One aspect of the market that is overflowing with inventory as a result is the used boat category. Since most second-and-third time buyers have a trade in when they buy a new vessel, local boatyards and marinas always have a ready stock of used craft.
‘‘I'd say the business as a whole has seen an upsurge over the past few years as more people get into boating,'' said Ed Lofgren, owner of 3A Marine in Hingham. ‘‘The buying season is usually at its peak from February to July, but this year's prolonged wet and cold weather has meant there is still a tremendous amount of people waiting to buy. People are still in winter mode, delaying their decisions about buying a boat for the summer.''
‘‘We have a lot of select listings,'' said Karen Noonan, Sales manager at Hewitt's Cove Marina in Hingham. ‘‘We've seen a lot of buyers moving up into bigger and better boats. We also have seen a strong market overall - our results from this February's Boston Boat Show were the best in the past four years. That all means more and more trades, with more used boats on the market. People buying a new boat will naturally trade in their current boat to get as much money as they can. The whole selling market has picked up since February, and despite our long winter the numbers have been very good.''
Of course, getting a deal is one of the prime motivations for buying used boat, rather than a brand new model. That can be a mixed blessing, but smart shoppers can often save thousands with a late-model used craft.
‘‘Traditionally used boats hold their value pretty well,'' Lofgren said. ‘‘They hold value much better than autos, for example. When you find a good, well-maintained two or three year old boat, people are often amazed that the price is not that much different than for a new boat. That leads some to spend the extra five or 10 thousand dollars for a new boat. But used boats are always a big part of the business, and right now the market is extra strong.''
‘‘One big point to remember is that boat values level off after the third year,'' Noonan said. ‘‘The first year is the biggest depreciation hit, and the second year is close behind, but by the third year, it does level off. First time buyers, especially, are much more prone to buying a used boat, both because it is a smaller initial investment, and they are also not sure they'll stay in boating for a lot of years.''
Most of the local marinas and boatyards deal with recreational boaters, but Lofgren said 3A does see the occasional professional fisherman stop in for a used bargain, too.
‘‘I'd say the majority, up to 98 percent of our business, is recreational boaters,'' he said, ‘‘but we do see occasional commercial buyers in the used market.''
Lofgren also added that the bigger used boats face another hurdle that slows sales.
‘‘The lack of slips and moorings, from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, has a definite impact on the used boat business,'' he noted. ‘‘We have five or six cruisers in here now, taken in trade, and the reason people are wary is that buyers can't find anywhere to moor ships 30 foot and up.''
It is evident that every year's new models have some new and unique features, just as every year's autos have something a bit different than the previous year's. That serves to feed the new boat market, and also works against the used boats that might be outmoded within a few years, but for boats within a certain age range, the differences might not offset the savings. It is, finally, one of those decisions that the buyers themselves must make.
‘‘The boats over the past few years are much the same,'' Lofgren said, ‘‘but there have been some startling developments in marine power over the last few years - the new outboard motors are really a step forward. The Evinrude E-Tech is one example, a motor built so that you don't have to lift the cover to service it for three years. It's a two-stroke, fuel-injected engine that is more environmentally friendly than the four stroke engines, and also more reliable. So that's one factor that works in favor of new boats - the new direct-injection engines. They can simply feel the used boats have outdated technology.''
‘‘We've found that fairly current used boats are the most popular,'' Noonan said. ‘‘Boats with low hours of operation, in good condition, with good name recognition. Buyers are not afraid to get into a used boat if they know it is a quality product, that has been well maintained and serviced properly.''
Used boats, again like used cars, have varying warranties and guarantees.
‘‘People expect to be taken care of, and if they deal with a reputable dealer they should be all set,'' said Lofgren. ‘‘Warranties for used boats are not an issue for that reason. Most of our business is from either repeat customers, or referrals from customers, so it is in our best interest to make them happy.
Financing continues to be attractive, although there are some wrinkles in that for used buyers to know about.
‘‘Within a five-year range - buying boats up to five years old - rates don't vary too much,'' Lofgren added, ‘‘although rates are a bit higher overall than for new boats. With boats beyond 10-12 years old, banks want to make it a personal loan, which is a higher rate.'' ''
‘‘We have what I'd call a temporary surplus of used boats,'' said Lofgren. ‘‘I think we'll sell most of them by July 4.''
Copyright 2005 The Patriot Ledger