All at sea

Published: Aug 22 , 2013
Author: John McMillan

It is said that the two happiest times in a sailor's life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell their boat. I have a third occasion which beats even these. 

It is also said there are two types of sailors: those who like painting and those who like sailing.  I fall into the latter category; maintenance is boring; sailing is fun.

Having owned my 21 foot daysailer from new for 12 years I reluctantly put in on the market. I say reluctantly because I loved my little boat but I had moved house and was getting less use of it.

After doing some research I established what was a "fair market price" and I put up a For Sale advert in the local harbor where the boat sat on a pontoon mooring.  Within 24 hours the phone rang and a man, let's call him Larry, said he was interested and proceeded to try to haggle the price down.

Now the difference between Larry and me was not that I am a professional negotiator and he is not; it was because there was asymmetric information.  I knew more than he did.

First I pointed out to him the comparable prices of identical boats just 150 miles away in the English Lake District but more importantly I told him that although I was selling the boat, the pontoon mooring was not mine to sell.  The harbor is owned by a local Trust, and only the 65 Trustees have berthing rights.  I am a trustee.  Furthermore there is an extensive waiting list for moorings as there are no other all-tides harbors with pontoon within 30 miles.

So I made him a proposal:  He could buy a partnership in the boat from me at the asking price less £1; he would pay all the running costs and do all the maintenance; and allow me to sail the boat any time I wanted.  In return I would continue my membership of the Harbor Trust and so keep my mooring rights. An agreement was made on those terms.

He is happy because he has a good boat at a fair price - and the pontoon mooring.  I am happy because I get to sail whenever I want without having to do the "painting".

The negotiating lessons are: do your homework; make realistic proposals; and value your concessions in the other party's terms.

John McMillan


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John McMillan
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