Recently I was having a discussion with a gentleman on the different options for buying a supercar, the benefits of each, the potential negatives, and the costs. Over the years I have bought and sold supercars through official dealers, brokers, independents, at auction, and privately. Each of these have there own positives and negatives. If you were going to plot the options in a graph, one axis would be buyer’s protection and the other axis the premium (spread) between the value received by the seller and the amount paid by the buyer. Not all the points would fall in a straight diagonal line cutting through the center. Ironically the most exciting and potentially expensive venue for acquiring a supercar provides the buyer with the lowest level of protection. In the end, how and where you buy is a personal decision influenced by both availability and your comfort level with the service provided by each of the different options.
Probably the most exciting way to buy any supercar is at one of the marquee auctions. Perhaps the most famous are the festival of auctions that take place during Monterey Car Week, the most prestigious being those put on by Goodings, Bonhams, and RM Sothebys. These auction houses put on a great show with multiple rare cars crossing the auction block. However when looked at from a cold financial perspective, it is a great deal for the auction houses, they pocket a cool 15%-30% fee on each sale (buyer’s premium of 10%-15% plus a seller’s premium 0%-15% depending on the auction house). For the buyer, there is also considerable risk involved. You can not put an auction car through a detailed pre purchase inspection (PPI) so you don’t really know what lurks beneath the well polished skin. For the seller, the advantage is its a fast clean relatively hassle free way of selling a supercar with the hope for some financial upside should a bidding war break out. Even if it should, you will still only see 70-85 cents on the final invoiced amount. For both buyer and seller, this is a high price for a day of excitement, a few glasses of free champagne, and a moment in the spot light. I have sold 2 cars via auction and bought 1. I guess I am a slow learner as none of the experiences were particularly good.
On-Line Auctions are a fairly recent phenomena. The two best known are Bring A Trailer (BAT) in the US, and Collecting Cars in the UK. On-Line auctions have many of the same pros and cons as live auctions with the key benefit to both buyers and sellers of lower fees. In almost all cases, bidders are relying on the seller’s description and pictures to evaluate a car. While I have waste hours trolling throught the listings on both, I have never bought or sold a car on either.
At the other end of the spectrum, but very similar in terms of caveat emptor, is buying via a private sale. By cutting out the middle man, each side should theoretically maximize the value. It is not however without costs, as you should have a pre purchase inspection (PPI) conducted on the car which wil run several hundred dollars a pop. Travel expenses and time need to also be factored in to the total costs of acquisition. In most cases, you will need to see several different cars and perhaps have PPI’s run on at least a few before finalizing a purchase. Depending on the value of the car purchased, once you include the costs of travel and the PPIs, the costs of the “hunt” will add up to 2%-10% of the total acquisition cost. For the experienced hand with time and patience, this is definitely the least expensive acquisition option. However it provides no safety net should anything go wrong and all supercars are highly complex machines with a long reputation for vaporizing even the healthiest bank account balances when something major goes “bang”.
If buying privately is caveat emptor, selling privately is venditor cave. While you do have the potential for maximizing your selling price, your also taking on a series of risk ranging from lost time with “tire kickers” to potential theft on a test drive or payment fraud. Brain damage is another major risk as you are very likely to have to field all sorts of “interesting” questions. Because of all this it’s been years since I tried to sell a car privately. In fact the last time I tried it was quite a few years ago when I made the mistake of putting my Jaguar XJR-15 up for sale publicly. Needless to say, I got a few interesting inquiries of which the majority followed a common theme of a little knowledge can be dangerous. The conversations in the” interesting” batch tended to go as follows:
Buyer: I have been researching and looking at Jaguar Supercars for a couple of years now. I really like the fact that the XJR-15 has both a proper old school supercar V12 and is the first supercar built with a carbon fibre tub. I have been searching and saving for a few years and now think I am ready to buy. From the pictures, your car looks really nice.
SSO: It is.
Buyer: I have been offered another XJR-15 for £80k less than you are asking.
SSO: That’s nice, is it a race or road car.
Buyer: It is a race car.
SSO: Are you planning to use it on the road or race it.
Buyer: I plan on registering it for the road.
SSO: Do you know how much it will cost to convert it to being road legal?
SSO: Before I bought mine, I looked at a couple of race versions and to convert them was going to be around £15k-£20k
SSO: You know that the race versions have a different (6 speed non-syncromesh) gearbox that will be just brutal to try drive on the road. The road versions have a 5 speed synchromesh gearbox.
SSO: Is the car currently running?
Buyer: No it has been stored in a warehouse for the last 15 years.
SSO: Is the car in this country?
Buyer: No I will need to import it.
SSO: You will need to pay import duty duty and potentially VAT then.
Buyer: I hadn’t thought of that.
SSO: Does it start?
Buyer: No, I have been told it just needs a bit of work.
SSO: A friend bought a similar car and he is now going into his 3rd year of restoration on it.
Buyer: That sounds expensive.
SSO: It is, you might want to budget around £100k to get started on that.
Buyer: Anything else?
SSO: You will also need to replace the fuel cell and it will need new tyres.
Buyer: How much will that cost?
SSO: Plan on £10k for the fuel cell and £2k for the tyres. It will take you about a year to get the fuel cell manufactured.
Buyer: That seems expensive.
SSO: Not really, about the same as what you would need to spend on a Ferrari F40.
Buyer: Maybe I should buy an F40.
SSO: They are around the £600k range now.
Buyer: They have really gone up in value.
SSO: So my XJR-15 seems like a bargain then.
Buyer: Yeah it does.
SSO: So are you interested it my XJR-15.
Buyer: I need to check with my wife again, this sounds like it is going to be more than I thought.
SSO: Good luck
Shortly after a few of these type discussions, I commissioned a professional to sell the Jaguar XJR-15 on my behalf. However I did recently run across a new business in Australia – Summon which is basically a concierge selling service. The basic premise is that Summon takes all the hassle out of selling privately and their fee is less than what it would cost you to use other channels. This type of approach would certainly make selling privately much more personally platable.
Buying via a Brokers falls somewhere in the middle between a Private Sale and purchasing at an Independent dealer. In return for a set fee normally charged to the seller, the broker acts as advertiser, matchmaker, arbitrator, and facilitator. Two of the better known are Simon Kidston & Mike Sheehan. Both have been in the business for several decades and work on a worldwide basis. Each broker has his own fee structure, but 7.5% is a common average. Two things to keep in mind when buying via a broker, the purchase is still a private sale between the buyer and seller. Should anything go terribly wrong, your legal options for recourse are limited. The buyer will still need to have a pre purchase inspection carried out by an independent mechanic. Should a long and potentially expensive list of issues emerge form the PPI, the broker will facilitate the negotiations between buyer and seller in terms of who bears what financial responsibility. A brokers livelihood is based on their reputation so they normally only deal in top quality cars with known histories. If a particular car is not in great shape, they will normally be very clear on what the issues are. Using a broker can save the time and expense of finding the right car yourself. I have sold two cars using this route and both transactions went very smoothly.
Independent dealers span a huge range from the supercar specialist to the used car lot that ended up with a single Ferrari, McLaren, or Lamborghini acquired at a bankruptcy auction. I would not recommend touching the latter. Most of the inventory at an Independent dealer will be consignment stock. Most outfits work on percentages which tend to range from 10-15%. While many specialist independents have their own workshops, a full pre purchase inspection by an outside independent mechanic is still highly recommended. At a minimum it will provide peace of mind and negotiating ammunition. Buying through an Independent dealer will provide at least a minimum level of guarantee by law depending on the country. One advantage over a broker is that a full service independent will be able to provide on-going maintenance support post purchase. Having a great mechanic who knows your car intimately is always a plus. Many times the same independent dealer will shepherd a supercar thought several owners. The downside on independents is it can be very difficult to get a read on their financial health. When selling this is critical as there have been a few horrendous situations where independents have sold cars given to them on a commission basis, never paid out the cars owners, declared bankruptcy, and then disappeared. While I have bought several supercars via independents, I have only sold one using this channel and the independent I used for the sale had been around for several decades.
Buying any supercar at an official dealer clearly provides the highest level of security. This of course comes at a price. I would estimate the mark up on most used supercar sitting in a dealer’s showroom at 15-20%. Every car an official supercar dealer sells comes with at least a limited guarantee. Unlike other options, it is unlikely that they will allow for an independent mechanic to come in for a pre purchase inspection. In addition, official dealers tend not to be willing to negotiate as much on price. With the larger number of cliental they tend to have, you are more a number than a name unless you have built up a longer term relationship. The official dealer client hierarchy starts with the multiple new car buyers at the top and the one off used car buyers at the bottom. However you will be getting a car in excellent mechanical condition along with the peace of mind that a warrantee provides. In the last several years, all the cars I have parted with have gone back through an official dealer as part exchanges against new cars that I was acquiring. It was just quick and easy.
In the end, every acquisition and sale will have costs related to it. There is no single “best” option. It comes down to a personal decision based on cost, a risk assessment, time, and experience.
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