I have been spending time in the market…an actual buyer of an airplane for a project of refurbishment and ?proof of concept? in the marketing of a particular airplane. During this time, I have learned that there are many reasons why it takes a year + to sell a single engine airplane. Whether it is marketing your airplane for sale, IE where are you placing your advertisement, to the presentation and follow up…OH, THERE IS NONE OF THAT GOING ON!
As you probably notice, I capitalized on the ?none of the presentation and follow up? part of the process, because truly, there aren’t many that are doing a very good job on this, INCLUDING BROKERS! I think there is a mentality among the sellers in the market, that we accept the premise that it is going to take a year to sell my airplane, that is the way it is. Do you really want to wait a year or more to sell your airplane…because at the end of the day you won’t be making a difference of maybe $500 in your selling price, and you will have paid for insurance, another inspection, and storage. The question is what do you really want to do here? Try following these instructions, they are based on sound principles that I witness every day in the sales process, and they work!
I think the #1 reason an airplane doesn’t sell, is that it isn’t priced to sell in the market. It is very funny how we price our airplanes: 1) My wife wants a new deck built, the bid came in at $xxxx! 2) I purchased it three years ago, had to conform to an airworthiness directive, three annual inspections, so the asking price is based on the cumulative total I have spent on my airplane! This should be the new definition of INSANE by the way! 3) I saw this mint airplane with a new engine, it was two years older than my airplane, so I priced it to the market! Oh by the way, the engine is due in 400 hours.
Truly, we have to get a grip on what is the value of our airplanes. There is a rating system that is supposed to assist us with that, most owners add 2 or 3 digits to the actual condition of the airplane, and can justify it in their mind only. Do you really want to sell your airplane or not, is the best question that can be asked. How do you know you priced it correctly? The #1 way you can do this, is how many calls have you received, and how many of these people are asking serious ?I am a buyer now? type questions. I think everyone wants to know damage history, compression, etc., but how many are asking ?what is the best way for me to view the airplane?, who can I rely on for a pre-buy inspection? These are questions that tip you off and let you know you have someone that isn’t a rudder kicker, or someone that is calling to REALLY see what price you want for the airplane.
By not pricing the airplane competitively, you will find yourself in the position to only do one thing, and that is continually reducing the price. Back in the days before the Internet, people would shop for cars by driving on the car lot, and we would price the car based on what money we had to buy the car to make the deal. It was a very emotional purchase, based on how many car dealerships and time were you willing to spend on finding the best deal. Today, people go to cars.com, auto-trader.com and other 3rd party sites, and they shop value by going price-mileage-distance. This is no different today for the buyer, so they are watching for the most bang for the buck, and whether you like it or not, you have to conform to the rules…else you are going to own your airplane for a while.
What about advertising the price, is that the strategy? There are two schools on this, the first one being that you get more traffic, so you can identify the buyers and have the opportunity for selling your airplane. You have to be a little better salesperson if you accept this method, and you get a lot of calls with people that are entirely clueless on the actual value of the airplane, so be prepared to be insulted…but that is ok, sales is an educational opportunity. By pricing the airplane in the advertisement, you are establishing a value that people can decide if it is in their price range, and this is typically a more qualified type buyer.
So how do you price the airplane? Simple, price it to sell! That is the objective and goal, RIGHT! You can run Vref numbers, AOPA book values, etc. and still you are going to be behind the market. The so called ?book values? don’t consider how many other airplanes are on the market that are the same type airplane, it is mainly a benchmark of what the airplanes similar to your have sold for, but recently the book values have been so over priced, that this could lead to a certain amount of frustration, because airplanes haven’t been moving, and these airplanes are going down in price, you may have overvalued your price…and once you have that number in your head, it hurts to accept the new reality. Do the ?sniff? test on your airplane, and price it so that if you were a buyer, your airplane would be the #1 consideration out of ALL the other airplanes in your category…all things considered. If you still own your airplane 6 months into the sale, you blew it big time!
Ok, the second largest sin will be not having photos of your airplane either unavailable, or not even placed in the ad. I was looking at ASO.com and couldn’t understand why less than 25% of the airplanes don’t have a photo in the advertisement. Cost? Just like the dating world, a photo will bring 90% more responses, so lets try and have a few pictures so that you can show off your airplane and let the buyer know what you have got. At this point, I am wondering if ASO is going to make it, they have always been a little arrogant when I have dealt with them, and if it were me running the show, I would have every seller send me photos before they were able to publish an advertisement, I want results above all else and with the Internet, you could make it totally affordable to have these photos!
Speaking of the sins, lets try this one, and that is if I send an e-mail wanting to know more information, could SOMEONE please follow up? I cannot believe how many times I asked a question about an airplane…and heard absolutely nothing back. Do you understand people are busy and the e-mail is a convenient way to keep the process going toward purchase? In sales, emotion is a big part of buying and selling, and if you have someone hot on your airplane, and the next person gets the info back right away, this is the first step in the interest and putting a deal together to move things forward. My question would be, why are you even advertising your airplane if you simply can’t get back to me!!!!
Continuing the sales process, especially when you have a call on your airplane, ask question that will help you qualify your airplane. If you are selling your Cessna 421 and you have someone asking all the pertinent questions of airworthiness, specifications, etc. why don’t you probe with a few questions of your own? If you find out the prospect is a new private pilot that is going to start working on the instrument rating, is this the airplane for them? NO! So how much time should you be spending with copies of log books, providing contact information to a mechanic, etc.? I know it sounds simple, but as a seller, it is your job to be asking a few questions of your own, to really qualify the buyer. If the buyer states he just sold their airplane, and wants something like you have, this is a person I am going to keep in front of me until the airplane is sold.
Which brings me to the brokers out there trying to sell airplanes. Ok, we need to be a little more professional in how we sell airplanes, and bring a service to the table. If I were an aircraft broker, I would be getting listings based on my performance, and that is all about numbers…how many have I sold! I think there are a lot of wanna bees out there, because I have spoken to a few and they simply don’t get it. My recommendation would be go and sell cars for a year, get more experience in putting deals together, and come back to aviation and try it again…you probably will be a superstar! It is your job to market the airplane correctly, which means pricing it and educating the seller on your understanding of the market and why this is what we need to do. If you get an offer, don’t tell me the owner wouldn’t take that offer! An offer is an offer, and for many buyers, it is a starting place to negotiation and gives you the opportunity to have the seller make the decision, not you!
And the biggest sin of it all, the SALES FOLLOW UP! Ok, so we know that aviation buyers have a slower burn time to purchase, which may be 90 days, but typically 45 days or less to a qualified buyer. Whether you are an individual or broker, you need to keep in touch with the buyer, to see what they are thinking. Often, a buyer will tell you what is holding up the deal, and you have a place to work from. For instance, you follow up with an inquiry from a month ago, and the buyer tells you that they are looking at another airplane that is perhaps closer to their location. A simple question would be, ?does it meet your specifications better than my airplane?? if not, then why can’t we put a deal together? It is your job to minimize the risk to the seller, and if you advertised your airplane correctly, you can challenge the buyer with the ?if it isn’t everything I said it would be, I will pay your airfare?. Kind of takes the decision off the table, now you have a strong buyer on yours. Wouldn’t you agree?
I can’t tell you how many times I inquired on an airplane, asked pertinent questions and the airplane was what I wanted, the price was a little off and the seller was convinced it was the right price. 30 days down the line, if the seller still has the airplane (which they still do!), a phone call from the seller would have made me much more willing to perhaps pay a little more than I had originally thought, based on the seller asking me a simple question of why I haven’t bought yet. My answer would have been your asking price doesn’t fit the price/value relationship…so as a seller you have to work with this.
That is how the sales process works, so I am not surprised to see airplanes on the market for over 12 months, frustrating the sellers and essentially wearing them down. If you don’t have the time to sell your airplane, or HATE it, find a good broker/dealer that will handle the transaction for you. A professional will get the best price for your airplane, and it won’t be a year later either, you just have to put in your mind that you really want to sell the airplane, and be willing to take the free market price that it will fetch. If not, don’t give up your hanger lease for the next 36 months!