An explosion of brokerage activity in late 2020 resulted in December becoming the second strongest single month for brokerage sales since 2009, according to BOAT Pro data. The month racked up a total of 57 sales, eclipsing the 42 recorded in December 2019 and the 38 recorded in 2018. The only month that has recorded a stronger sales performance since 2009 was May 2017, which recorded a total of 59 sales. In fact, figures show that the second half of 2020 was the best six months for brokerage sales since 2009, while the fourth quarter of the year was also the best on record.
Superyacht sales surge sees 2020 break brokerage records
A total of 246 yachts were sold from July to December, eclipsing the 198 sold during the same period in 2019 and 205 sold in the latter half of 2018. When looking at the year as a whole, 2020 managed to outperform 2019 with a total of 409 sales against 406.
The fact that more brokerage boats were sold in 2020 compared to 2019 is remarkable given the weakness of the market at the start of the pandemic. In March, April and May 2020, just 62 superyachts changed hands, well down on 2019's figure of 112 and 2018's 129. However, the market roared back in the second half to set new records for superyacht sales.
“It went quite quiet and then the last six months from July there was a real uptick, especially over the last quarter when we saw a significant level of activity,” says Burgess head of sales Richard Lambert.
Ocean Independence sales director Toby Maclaurin points to the month of September as a key turning point. “That’s when we thought something quite special was happening in the market,” he says. “We were all slightly holding our breath.”
Lambert suggests the brief easing of coronavirus restrictions seen in the latter half of 2020 gave people a chance to inspect yachts, spurring activity. Fraser chief executive Raphael Sauleau agrees that “there was a strong stream of activity that picked up as soon as lockdown was lifted and that explained the sales increase.”
Brokers added that clients were simply looking for some freedom after various lockdowns. “We’re all slightly tired of being told what to do and there’s no greater freedom than the navigation of the seas,” Maclaurin says, adding that clients having more time on their hands was also a contributing factor to the sales surge.
Fraser boss Sauleau says that the lockdowns "really made us think about life and spending more time with loved ones. If you were thinking about buying a yacht before the pandemic then in 2020 you were buying a yacht.” Superyacht director at Denison Yachting Ben Farnborough agrees that the lures of "being at sea, spending time with family and escaping" were key in the sales increase at the end of the year.
Given travel restrictions, brokers were forced to adapt sales methods in 2020, relying heavily on digital marketing and video conferencing. Virtual tours and sea trials allowed brokers to take yachts directly to clients. “The pandemic clearly demonstrated to people that they don’t need to travel so much to see boats before buying them,” Sauleau says. “It doesn’t make sense to travel to see six different boats if brokers can bring the boats to you.”
US-based brokerage house Denison Yachting also "doubled down" on digital marketing "to make it as easy as possible for clients to engage in yacht purchases", according to Farnborough.
But what accounts for the stunning sales figures recorded in the month of December? Maclaurin reflects that "ten years ago, December was considered to be a very quiet month." This has been "slowly changing over time", he says, in a shift that was "amplified" in December 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
The stellar sales performance has called into question the necessity of international boat shows, according to brokers. “In September, we knew there was going to be no Cannes or Monaco yacht show and we were wondering how this was going to affect the market,” Maclaurin says. The result, he adds, “has made us look at boat shows in a different way. I think the whole concept of a yacht show needs to be revisited and rediscussed with our clients.”
Sauleau, who as well as heading up Fraser is also the current president LYBRA, says he is "reviewing why so many boat shows are necessary and the format of the shows.”
The strong sales performance has continued into 2021, and brokers are optimistic the run will continue. “I think we’re going to see a similar story as we move into this year and the easing of coronavirus restrictions,” Lambert says. “The amount of enquiries and transactions is encouraging”.
Ocean Independence's Maclaurin sounds one note of caution. “If I had a concern,” he says, “it’s for quality brokerage yachts in the 40-50 metre range but that will keep prices quite strong.” Farnborough agrees that "inventory in most size and price ranges is tight", but adds "that is to be expected after so many yachts sold at the end of 2020 and demand remaining high." Sauleau agrees there is “pressure” on inventory but isn’t worried yet. “It’s still a very sensible market,” he says.
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