James recently posted a reply to a member asking for advice on CanalWorld forums, accounting how we went about choosing the boat. The forum has been an invaluable source of advice for us and its good to be able to give something back! I'll reproduce it here as an alternative account of our boat buying experiences:
"At the moment, interesting things are happening with the boat market, due to the credit crunch; it is getting harder and harder to get an unsecured personal loan so a marine mortgage might be the way to go. For that, you'll need enough money for a deposit, and a mooring too.
My partner and I have recently bought a boat; here's the process we went through:
-Firstly, we researched. We've got a number of friends who lived aboard, and we had many long chats with them about it. We also stayed on their boat, whilst they were away, to get a feel for boating. I know how cold it can get in an unheated back cabin!
-This pretty much took the place of hiring a boat; we decided that, being practical kind of people who don't mind doing things like emptying portaloos and getting our hands dirty, that we'd be able to tolerate boating life. I see it as a boat first and foremost, and a house second- it's a lot more complicated than a house and you have to think about everything. Electricity doesn't just come out of the sockets, you have to have charged batteries etc; you need to have enough water for a shower etc...
-At the same time, we also looked at the two big waterways magazines, "Canal Boat" and "Waterways World" every month. "Canals and Rivers" has a useful "Brokers" section detailing boats for sale, so that's worth a look for that alone really. We found out about the different types of boats, how boat systems worked, different manufacturers and a lot of different information.
-At about that time, we went to Whilton Marina. Whilton is pretty good for seeing a LOT of different types of boat; you can literally give them your name and address and they'll hand over the keys, and they've got a wide selection of boats. This way, you can actually see for yourself the differences between a 40' boat and a 60' boat, the different types of stern, different layouts inside, and all the rest.
-Having done that, we drew up a specification for the ideal boat for us:
45' long plus- two of us living aboard, so this is the popularly recokoned minimum length for two; ideally 50' +
Reasonably habitable- not an empty shell, but prepared to get a boat with some work that needs doing.
Ideally a trad stern for maximum living space, but the other two types considered.
Fixed double bed- no faffing with making up beds
Solid fuel stove
Space for guests- either space for an air mattress in the saloon, or a futon or fold-up guest bed
Oven, hob, proper galley
Inverter for on-board electrics
Bathroom with shower and cassette/pumpout
Space for books and a study
Engine room- or way of getting at the engine in the dry, so maintenance can be done in the dry even when it's really raining down!
Less than £30,000.
-This seemed like a pretty big ask. There were very few boats out there that had all these features. We found that we could get a long, big boat in poor internal condition, or a nicely fitted out boat that was on the short side.
-When looking at boats, it helps to know the market. There is a finite number of boats available in any price bracket, and it IS possible to know them all!
-We kept a spreadsheet with the details of all the boats that we saw and that were suitable on them, crossing them off as they got sold. We rated each one and always had a few favourites so we could move in quickly!
-We got a shock, seeing that our favourite boat- "Just Maggie II" at Whilton- was featured in "Canal Boat" magazine, so we decided to look seriously for boats a few months earlier than planned.
-Just Maggie turned out to be not exactly ideal, as it needed a LOT of work done to it; so we moved on down the list, viewing boats.
-When viewing a boat, be cautious. If you're seeing it with the buyer there, don't be too positive; if they get the impression that you really like the boat, then they'll be more inflexible when it comes to haggling as they know you want it. Similarly, don't be too negative- they'll be put off.
-It's worth having a thorough look at the boats you like, with a camera and notebook if necessary. A boat that looks ideal on paper can turn out to be not-so-good in real life.
-Look at all the details given. When was the last full survey done? Can you see the results? When was the hull last blacked? When was the engine serviced? Whe did the servicing- the owner's mate Dave down at the garage, or a "proper" certified boatyard? Try and get as much details as possible, and don't be afraid of asking awkward questions. Any genuine seller will be happy to answer them; don't forget, they need the sale! If they're reluctant to answer questions, or are evasive, then that's a sign that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. Conversely, an honest, open owner with no reservations and the ability to put all his or her cards on the table and say, "yes, it was serviced because X, Y and Z was wrong, it's been fine ever since" is an absolute blessing.
-We saw the boat we particularly liked, and made an offer subject to survey the very next day.
-Making an offer is the tricky part. Don't be afraid to make an offer that's lower than the asking price- if the owner doesn't like it, they'll say "no". Haggling is all part and parcel of boat buying. A canny owner will probably have put the boat on the market at a price higher than what they actually expect to get for it; you can expect to knock some money off at least, although it does all depend upon the owner and their situation! If the boat's been on the market for a LONG time, for example, they might be willing to accept a VERY cheeky offer! You never know. The owner will generally have a price that they've worked out, below which it becomes uneconomic to sell the boat. So offers for a boat for sale for £23,000 might actually be accepted at £20,000.
-Having had the offer accepted, the next job was to sort finance. We'd previously had good things from banks and loan providers, but when it came to officially applying for a loan they said "no"- so we got a marine mortgage instead.
-Having had the offer accepted, you need to have the boat out of the water and have a survey done. You look through the lists of surveyors (advertised in the magazines, on the net etc.) and, having got quotes from them, arrange to have them come and look at your boat. You will pay for their time and travel. You'll also have to pay a boatyard to have the boat taken out of the water- surveying is expensive, but it can stop you making an expensive mistake! Better to have a £800 survey to tell you that the boat's rubbish and that you shouldn't buy it at that price, or to show faults that mean you won't continue with the sale, than buying the boat and having the faults come up later!
-Having had the survey done, the surveyor will tell you what they believe the boat to be worth. Hopefully this will tally with what you have offered; you can always negociate further to get the final price.
-Once accepted, you have to transfer the money and paperwork. DOn't forget to sort out licenses and all the other kit and kaboodle that goes with the boat!
And that's it....
Happy boat hunting!
Edited to say: Don't feel shy about using the forums, either! We joined when we were at the same stage as you are now, and I can say that it really does help. There's a lot of knowledge floating round, and obviously different opinions- it can help you to get a far better understanding of the whole process, and to have queries about boats answered. FOr example, we were looking at a few boats which had wooden superstructures on steel hulls. We found out, from the forum, where the problems would be and where to look when examining a boat, to find out the varying pros and cons, and to get more details."