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Mar 10 2013

Buying an Airplane in Canada, Part 3: Negotiations

After a few months spent, you should be already well versed in the aviation owners’ lingo, can easily spot the runout engines and rusty airframes, are not scared by homebuilts and owner-maintained aircraft, and have a fairly short but solid wish list of the planes-to-have on your mind.

You’ve been chatting with the vendors on the phone and maybe even flew some of their planes dual, and these birds appear to be overall ok, except for the price asked.

Look, all these vendors used to be buyers. They’ve made their share of mistakes and purchased something that did not work for them in the long run – but not before they either ruined the plane by incompetence, or wasted tons of money attempting to fix the consequences of mishandling. Maybe you were lucky to stumble across a really capable and knowing owner selling due to some unrelated reasons, but that should be considered as sheer luck.

So when buying something another person doesn’t wish to keep, be fierce.

Stay nice and smile, but don’t forget to question every little thing. Why was this plane on the market for so long? Why, despite all that money invested, the owner doesn’t want it anymore? How expensive was the maintenance, and due to which pain-points? How much would you have to spend to bring this bird home and make it fly?

There are a lot of people who’d stay firm alleging that their airplane “needs nothing”, or otherwise attempt to downplay the obvious gaps detected. Well, leave them on the market for some time more – until they either soften a bit, or be lucky sell their stuff tricking someone less cautious.

Have you flown the plane dual with the seller? That could be a scary experience on its own right, but if you survive, it can bring legitimate opportunities to talk about the overstressed gear and chipped prop, if not the busted wing edges. The worst is the pilot, the better he thinks about himself – but after you’ve flown with him you’d know better.

You may have heard a statement about the plane “always hangared” – but Internet remembers everything, so mention these photos of 1987 where the plane is posing on far corner tie-downs, covered with tall grass – wouldn’t that be a valid reason to slash the asking price?

Fabric in “excellent condition, recovered in ‘poly-reu-than’ 40 years ago by an AME” – is it really that good? Forget about the punch test joke, think how would it feel if the ancient rotten rag would start separating in flight, while your woman or your kid is sitting next to you… still feel like giving it a shot? Or would rather include a punishing recovery and repaint requirement as a reason to cut down the asking price?

Talking about people lying, don’t forget the legal details. Ownership is a big story, as Transport Canada requires a bill of sale to be signed by the same person to which an aircraft is registered. I’ve faced dozens of cases when a nice otherwise sale fell through because at the last moment we’ve “discovered” that a guy who’s selling the plane had it registered to some other person elsewhere (in two occasions the actual owners were not human, but legal entities – a museum and a private company).

So be very meticulous and particulars about the paperwork – you’ll notice that many a vendor would sound easy and relaxed about it, especially folks from rural areas, but that doesn’t mean you are not going to step on a mine when the airplane would become your own, and government folks will come for you to pay for the previous owner’s negligence.

Sometimes the job may just sound fishy – during the actual face to face talk the owner would skip details, push too much on the emotions, etc. That may feel intuitive, and you should trust your intuition – too much excitement can easily be a cover-up attempt. Journey logs don’t lie, though they still can be missing lots of important details. Just look at the whole picture – the plane, the documents, and the owner – are they all an open book to you, with no questions to ask?

If they’re not, either walk away or start cutting off the asking price with no mercy! In my experience, almost every initially suggested price could’ve been reduced by 10-15%, and many by 20-30%. I am not kidding, there is that much dirt involved in covering the actual reason to sell by a desperate owner. Only few may get stubborn and let their airplanes rot at the tie-downs. Too bad for them…

Another word of advice: Bring your friends in. Some of them may be more knowledgeable than you, or have more experience with particular airplane, or be better negotiators. Even playing a good cop – bad cop game may work out nicely and destroy the attempt to trick you into the sale using emotional pressure. Besides, your buddy may spot something you’ve overlooked just being busy with lots of things to check out.

And finally, there’s never too late to dump the deal. Even if you’ve done a solid thousand mile trip for a final checkout, but discovered something that makes you feel uneasy… drop it. Have a clause in your letter of intentions, stating clearly that the deal would not be signed unless you agreed upon it as per the personal inspection.

Found something wrong last moment? Point your finger and ask if that could be fixed now? If it can’t, make a decision – walk away, or press the owner to pay for that – so you’d either cover the future pain, or don’t waste anything more.

I know it all sounds cruel, but trust me – it’s so much better to be cruel and safe, than sit at your home base, looking at your new toy with bitter realization that you’ve just been generously owned by the seller, with no way back…