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By David Nichols - Austin, Texas - USA

The Surveyor

A good surveyor is critical in a deal like this. He's paid to find what is wrong with the boat; that's his number one job. The surveyor I hired for the Nimble 30 found the hull saturated with water. This was a serious problem and had it been overlooked my dream boat would have become an H P Lovecraft nightmare. This is something to be avoided at all costs and why a good surveyor is so important.

The surveyor is paid to find all the problems with the prospective boat and then write a report of his  findings. This report is not only critical for the buyer (me) but it's critical for the insurance company that will insure the boat. No insurance company is going to insure a boat without a survey and (this is very important) they won't accept just any old survey. That means I (the buyer) needed to find a surveyor recognized by the insurance company or I would be forced to pay for yet another survey in order to have the boat insured by that company.

This isn't as daunting as it would seem. As it turns out there are two organizations that accredit marine surveyors; NAMS (National Association of Marine Surveyors) and SAMS (Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors). Members of these organizations have to meet strict requirements to belong so finding a surveyor that is an active member with either or both of these organizations is a good start. But I did learn that there are levels within SAMS and NAMS. There are Associate Members and fully accredited members. I wanted to find a fully accredited surveyor.

I found it even less daunting when I discovered the recommended surveyors section of the BoatUS website. I found the whole section very helpful and used it as a resource. My thinking was anyone on the page would be good and I would have to trust to a certain amount of luck to get the best.

One thing I did not want to do under any circumstances was use a surveyor recommended by the seller or his agent. My surveyor needed to work for me and protect my interests. While using someone recommended by the seller or his agent might be OK it would muddy the water unnecessarily and there would be the potential for a conflict of interest.

I did my homework on line to find a surveyor to best represent my interests. I looked at a number of websites of the surveyors recommended on the BoatUS site and finally settled on Tom Laskey with Laskey Marine Services. As it turned out it was a good choice. It wasn't the least expensive choice but I wasn't trying to find the cheapest, I wanted the best.

I called Tom and explained that I was buying a boat and I needed a Condition and Value Survey. Once again I found myself coordinating everyone's social calendar to find a date that worked for everyone involved. This meant not only the owner, the broker, and the surveyor but also a yard to haul the boat out of the water for the hull inspection.

Finding a yard proved to be somewhat of a challenge. Real Estate had become so expensive that many of the yards had been forced out and the property had become Condos. The owner of the boat managed to track down a yard by John's Pass, 2 hours south on the inter-coastal waterway. I made a call to Snug Harbor Marina, got the rate for the haul out, which was very reasonable, and managed to get everyone's calendar matched with the yard's schedule. Unfortunately this meant another few days sitting in the motel watch nothing on 147 channels of TV.

At this point I was slowly hemorrhaging money and there was nothing I could do to expedite the buying process. Gene and I had moved to an extended stay motel with a kitchenette which allowed us to not have to eat out three meals a day but I was still hemorrhaging, just more slowly than before.

When the day for the survey arrived Gene and I got to the boat early so we could empty all the lockers and make sure Tom had easy access to ALL the boat. This is important because an unscrupulous owner can hide a major flaw under gear.

I was encouraged as we pulled gear from the lockers because it looked like a new boat. This helped calm some of my anxiety. The experience with the Nimble 30 was still very fresh on my mind and I didn't want to see this deal blow up as well.
For the next two hours Tom covered the inside of the boat and engine. He finished that part of the survey as we arrived at Snug Harbor Marina. Getting into Snug Harbor had a tense moment or two as we slid across a couple of sand bars but we managed to push on over both.
The haul out thankfully had no tense moments and quick check of the hull showed no blistering, none at all. This was another relief because a severe case of pox would have been a deal killer. Everything was looking bright and shinny until the prop shaft and cutless bearing.
The cutless bearing was the source of the vibration that had caught the attention of Gene and me on the day of the sea trails. The cutless bearing needed to be replaced even though the boat was supposed to have a new cutless bearing.

Now I was faced with a dilemma; did I walk away from the deal because the owner didn't want to replace the cutless bearing at his expense or did I bite the bullet and take the hit.

The good news was I could have the work done while the boat was out of the water and not have to pay for a second haul out, a savings of several hundred dollars, but the bad news was I wouldn't get to see the full written report from the surveyor.

Also, I didn't have a couple of hours to make a decision because the yard needed the lift in about 15 minutes. So I huddled with Tom and asked the big question, "Did this boat have anything wrong with it that would be a deal killer?" I had hoped for a nice straight forward answer but that wasn't to be. The answer I got was a little vague so I rephrased the question, "Is there anything major wrong with the boat?" Again, Tom was reluctant to give a yes or no answer without a review of his notes so I rephrased the question once more, "If I were a good friend, did you see anything in the course of your survey that raised a red flag and would cause you to say 'you might not want to buy this boat' ?" The answer I finally got was, "I didn't see red flags but that doesn't mean there isn't a red flag there somewhere."

Not exactly what I wanted but now I had a bit more vague information than before. So, riding on a wing and a prayer I stepped off the gang plank and committed to buying the boat. I made a deal with Randy, the owner of Snug Harbor, to do the work at a very reasonable cost and watched the hemorrhage rate go way up.

At this point I might have asked myself if I would ever stop bleeding money but of course I knew the answer to that question without ever having to ask it. My only worry was; is the hemorrhage rate going to exceed what I thought was acceptable and doable?

I think it's important to note here that everybody I dealt with in this deal and the deal with the Nimble 30 had a great deal of integrity. The deal with the Nimble was a bit different because I was dealing directly with the individual seller and not through a broker. Actually this can be the norm if the boat being purchased is in the 20 to 30 thousand dollars range or less. There's just not enough money involved to make it worth the broker's time.

Is it better to deal with a broker or an individual? I didn't find one to be better than the other, just different. Certainly I was more on my own when I dealt directly with the seller. I had to write up the offer to buy contract on my own. This isn't as bad as it sounds. I was just very careful to stipulate in clear language that the earnest money would be returned if the boat failed the survey. As it turned out this was something I was very glad I put in the contract.

I did find that dealing with the seller directly is simpler if you are in the same state. Title and money transfers can be a bit tricky across state lines and checking to see if the title is clear and unencumbered is easier if a broker is evolved.

There is kind of a quirky aspect of dealing with brokers that I discovered. One of the boats I was looking at was listed with a brokerage and I found myself dealing with the seller's broker, who it turns out would also be representing me. In my mind this was a conflict of interest but apparently this is standard procedure. Of course I could get a broker of my own, which is what I did with this deal, and his fee comes out of the seller's broker's commission.

Honestly I think this is the best way to approach these deals. I was certainly happy about my broker handling all the money and title transfers. The money in particular because once a wire transfer is done…it IS done and if you don't have everything you need like title and all the necessary documents it can quickly cascade into tragedy.

But in this case there was no tragedy and my broker and his company made everything easy. Let me just say that as far as I can see in these deals, nothing is easy. There is always a hiccup or a speed bump but I didn't have to solve it, my broker did. And every day I was glad that was the case.

Finally, as Gene and I motored away from Snug Harbor Valora was mine. It was a done deal. I say Valora was mine but who owns who is always a question in these deals. In any case I had possession
of her and I was her new caretaker.

Next Time: The Trip Home


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