Questions you will be asked when buying a yacht

20 January 2015 • Written by Alex Scott
Today brokers will only sell yachts to qualified buyers, who will often use specialised finance deals.

When buying a yacht, there are dozens of factors that need to be taken into account in order to effectively negotiate the purchase and closing process. Along the way, experts will assist the yacht buyer in every facet of the endeavour and in doing so will ask a lot of questions. Here, they share why these questions matter.

Getting started

‘Sometimes a buyer knows right from the start the exact boat he or she wants and it is just a matter of finding it,’ says broker Wes Sanford of Northrop & Johnson. ‘Typically [though], buyers need some guidance to refine their searches: power or sail, new or used, style of boat, length of boat, construction of the hull and so on.’

After the obvious question about the type of yacht, the next question is about the purchase budget, which also serves as an opportunity for the broker to educate the client about variables that affect the value of boats.

‘I will also ask the owner about his or her operating budget,’ says Sanford. ‘I have to factor in the annual expenses of each boat to make sure I show clients boats that will meet their target expenses. There can be significant variations in operating costs, even within an identical size range.’

Once a fiscal foundation has been established, the next question is how does the owner plan to use the boat? Activities, geographic plans, amenities, toys, level of service all factor into this.

‘For example, if a client says to me, “I want to do lots of fishing and diving in the Bahamas,” then I know we are looking for a shallow-draft boat with a cockpit and swim platform,’ says Sanford. ‘If a client tells me he wants formal service and a meticulously maintained boat, I know that the crew quarters needs to accommodate enough crew for that level of service.’

The final piece of the puzzle before the fun begins is determining the timeline. Some buyers are willing to wait for the right boat, this means they can consider building a boat or holding out until just the right boat comes along.

If a buyer is looking to get a boat right away, then the broker may have to guide that buyer through making some compromises to expedite the process.

Show me the money

Financing adds another layer of queries. Lisa Verbit’s specialty at Bank of America’s Marine Division is financing for boats valued over $1.4 million. She explains, ‘The first question I am going to ask is, “What boat are you buying?” I’ll want to know the build, the year, the size. This is essential information I need in determining my ability to finance the purchase.

‘Next, I am going to ask for the purchase price of the yacht and how much of that price they want to finance,’ she says. Although Verbit says there are some exceptions, a 70 to 75 per cent limit for financing is typical.

‘Once I know these details, I ask when they plan to take delivery,’ says Verbit. The date of delivery sets the expectations for turnaround and tells Verbit how quickly the terms need to come together. She cautions buyers, ‘With a short window, I have less flexibility, so we like to see a reasonable timeframe to determine the best terms.’

Before a loan can be approved, Verbit says there are ‘customer requirements.’ Everyone involved in the sale and closing process ultimately wants the same thing: a happy client. She borrows a line from Jerry Maguire and says, ‘I need you to help me help you.’

To make the process run smoothly, she needs a complete financial package that includes the ability to identify the ownership entities and flag state – something typically worked out with a maritime attorney.

Purchasing a yacht is closer to buying a business, or a piece of real estate, than a vehicle.

Crossing Ts and dotting Is

As a buyer zeros in on a specific boat, the initial steps towards closing often begin during due diligence. A maritime attorney will be a valuable ally for assisting the buyer in selecting the best ownership structure (such as an offshore company or trust) and registration for his or her yacht.

‘The first question I ask the buyer is, “What do you want to do with your yacht?”,’ says Danielle Butler, a maritime attorney with Fowler White Burnett. ‘In order to make decisions about the ownership structure and the best flag state for registry, I have to know about the boat itself.

‘Then I ask how the owner plans on using the boat, which includes whether they want to charter the boat, where they want to take the boat, what kind of crew they plan on having as well as a number of other issues, which helps me narrow down the best possible plan for them.’

Because a buyer’s nationality can affect the purchase process, brokers typically have that information already. ‘If for some reason I do not already know the buyer’s nationality, I am going to ask,’ Butler says. ‘Nationality not only has the potential to dictate where a boat must be sold and closed, but nationality also helps me determine the best avenue for ownership structure and registry.’

Butler says she will also ask about the buyer’s residency and where he or she owns and operates businesses: ‘Depending on where the owner resides or does business, there could be potential tax consequences, which should also be taken into consideration.’

Owner nationality – and the related tax, legal and crew implications – as well as use intentions are important factors for flag state selection.

‘We’ll take a look at all the information and help the owner choose the best ownership structure,’ says Butler. ‘We’ll discuss whether it makes sense for the boat to be a personal or a corporate-owned asset for the buyer.

‘The ownership structure needs to be consistent with the buyer’s estate, so I often ask about estate planning at this point to ensure that the new asset is effectively captured in the estate.’

Covering Your Assets

As a yacht is a substantial financial investment, you’d be remiss to ignore the need for insurance.

Nancy Poppe with insurance company Willis says, ‘Once I know the essential information about the boat, build, year, length, etc., I am going to ask the owner what their intended use for the boat is going to be both in the near term and long term.’

Details like geography, crew nationality, flag state and even whether the boat will be managed or not will all have some role in composing coverage.

Next, Poppe says she’ll try to get a feel for her clients’ insurance habits. ‘I want to know what they’ll need to sleep at night, which lets me know how much coverage to offer.’

Additional variables that come into play from this perspective are whether the boat will have any ambitious plans like exploration or participation in research.

Tenders and toys need to be considered as well, says Spencer Lloyd of Frank Crystal & Company, as they can have an impact on the yacht’s insurance. And the tender will need its own coverage. ‘So would amenities like submarines or ground transportation, like a car or motorcycle,’ Poppe adds.

One question from the insurer that can surprise an owner is ‘Who is your captain?’

The insurers will want to see your captain’s CV and prior claims history. Although not common, an insurer may decline coverage for a captain if the captain’s work history and credentials do not meet certain criteria appropriate for the boat. The same is true for additional licensed officers.

The insurance company may also ask about the nationality make-up of your captain and crew in order to determine rates.

Bon Voyage

There are many decisions to be made during the purchase and closing process. In helping a buyer navigate the voyage to ownership, experts are going to ask lots of questions. But with the right team creating the right management strategy, the journey will be one of smooth sailing, leaving just one question… where to go first?

Originally published: July 2012.

Jeff Brown

Superyacht Media

Bugsy Gedlek

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