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Tips On Selling An Aircraft

by Charlie Spence, Aviation Writer and IFA Member

 Maybe you're moving up to another model, maybe you need an aircraft with larger useful load, maybe your flying activities are changing; whatever the reason, you have decided to sell that bird that has been your favorite for all these years. Unless you go at it the right way, there could be a lot of turbulence ahead.

The first time to start thinking about selling your airplane is the day you buy it. That's right. To sell an aircraft with the least hassle is to have everything in order, and that means all the logbooks, certificates, compliance with ADs, maintenance records, warranties, and all else associated with the airplane to be in order. This can be done best by keeping accurate records as the events occur. (You might want to make copies of the records; one to keep in the airplane and the other in a safe place at home.) Some records can be retrieved from the FAA, but that takes time and effort that can be better used in making the sale.

Of course, as a dedicated aviation enthusiast you have been keeping the records in order all along, so your big step now is to get that faithful bird in pristine condition. Nothing whets the appetite of a potential buyer like seeing his or her possible dream machine looking good. Check over the airplane. 

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Remove all the personal items that will not be sold with it.

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See what inexpensive cosmetic repairs you can make: New floor mats? Mend any torn upholstery? 

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Maybe new seals around the fuel caps.

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Are the tires worn?

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Wash and polish the aircraft.

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Bone up on all the numbers about performance, speeds, fuel consumption, etc. because your potential buyer will be asking many questions.

Broker or sell it yourself?

Now that the airplane is ready for sale, you need to decide whether to sell it yourself or have a broker handle it. A broker will relieve you of many of the details, but reduce your net revenue; selling it yourself lets you realize the full sales price, but is fraught with details and pitfalls. Other advantages of selling through a broker are that you get immediate cash and the broker knows the market and current prices.

A word of caution about brokers: deal with only known and reputable firms. Selling used airplanes attracts some of the same kind of characters that populate the used car market. Even before you decide whether to sell to a broker or to do it yourself, you probably will want to know the going prices and how much cash you will give up if a broker is involved.

To be sure you are getting the best price possible, devote some time to studying the current market. Many factors influence the price of an airplane. When manufacturers were producing large numbers of new aircraft and competing for business, used aircraft prices were depressed. The opposite is true today. Production is low and new aircraft are priced out of reach of many persons, which results in inflated prices for used machines. Although the average general aviation aircraft is 32 years old according to Federal Aviation Administration, used aircraft have been appreciating in value. Most are selling far above their original new purchase price.

Wholesale prices usually are of more concern to a dealer than to an individual selling directly, but they are important to the seller trying to determine how best to sell an aircraft. You will want to know the current sales prices for comparable models and the wholesale values. Usually the wholesale price is about 20 percent below the selling price. It can be less depending on the stock the dealer has and the condition of the aircraft. This is the amount of cash that you will give up for the benefits of not trying to find a buyer yourself. (If you plan to sell to a dealer, the suggestions above for preparing your machine for sale still apply.) Prices will vary on the same model and year of manufacture depending on the condition of the aircraft, hours on the airframe and engine, and compliance with ADs.

Look in aviation publications and on the web for aircraft for sale and see what offerings are being made. (Trade-A-Plane and General Aviation News are two publications with large offerings of airplanes, and the more offerings usually the more potential buyers.) If possible, check back issues of the same publications to see the changes in value. Once you have determined the price range of comparable aircraft, realistically set the price you can expect to get. Also, set in mind a figure you will not go below. You can bet your next month's hangar rent that'unless you have set a ridiculously low price'whoever contacts you will offer a figure below your original asking price.

Finding buyers

Publishing giant William Randolph Hearst once said that doing business without advertising is like kissing in the dark, you know what you're doing but nobody else does. So advertise! Advertise by word of mouth by letting all your pilot friends know the bird is for sale. Advertise by notes on the bulletin board where you base the airplane. Advertise by notifying owners' clubs for your make of airplane, i.e. Cessna Pilots, Piper Pilots, etc. Most have web sites that provide ways to contact.

Now, consider advertising publications. Usually your local newspaper will be too expensive and reach a limited number of prospects. Better to broaden your potential prospect list by telling your story in one of the general aviation publications. When preparing your ad, ask yourself how many words it takes to sell an airplane. What would you want to know if you were buying? You are dealing in a multi-thousand dollar sale so invest a few more dollars to completely describe your product. Fully describe the airplane, and, if possible show a photo of it in your advertising. Help the potential buyer to select talking to you instead of to others offering aircraft for sale.

Making the sale

In advertising and in personal contacts, it is vital to be up front with descriptions and deals. If your airplane is not as you have presented it, the potential buyer will quickly discover it. Accentuate the good features, but don't hide the less desirable. Have the file of documents about your airplane available and ready to show'but don't let the potential buyer have them 'to look over for a few days.'

When the phone calls start coming, be alert for the potential scam. Legitimate dealers voluntarily identify themselves. Be wary of those who might offer to connect you with a 'hot prospect' for a fee.

Make arrangements to show the airplane only in daylight hours on days of good weather. If the aircraft is hangared, get it out in the sunshine where it will gleam and where inspection and test flights will be easier. Make sure batteries are fully charged and all equipment is in working order.

Finally, you will need a sales contract. The one you have from the original purchase will be a useful guide. In general, the contract should contain:

  • Full description of the aircraft, including equipment;
  • When, where, and how it will be delivered;
  • Full cost; amount down and specifics of payment of balance;
  • Down payment'escrow company to handle;
  • Aircraft condition'any known defects or non-compliance with Ads;
  • Recourse by seller if payment default;
  • Recourse by buyer if aircraft not as stated.

Because the usual transaction involves multi-thousands of dollars, a well-written sales contract can save the seller and the buyer from the potential of hours of haggling and potential court action. Dollars invested for legal advice on the contract can often save more dollars later in the event of a dispute.

Selling an airplane often involves greater sums than are exchanged in the sale of some houses or other real estate. It demands planning. This has been a few suggestions that can start you thinking about how to make the transaction.