Now that we’re sneaking up on driving season, many enthusiasts are pondering a pre-owned Ferrari purchase. I recently experienced a fresh insight into the shopping experience and thought the comparison below would be of interest.
The Ferrari marketplace is a nation-wide bazaar with respect to the post-V-12 models and international when one is considering the vintage examples. In only 32 cities around North America are shoppers able to visit a Ferrari dealership and conveniently examine the wares, so the vast majority of enthusiasts find it necessary to shop dedicated publications and the internet for the car of their dreams. This is actually a good thing, since it allows a consumer to enjoy a much wider array of possibilities and vendors are also aware of this freedom, so competition encourages realistic values in most cases.
In my position as one of those vendors, I have seen many examples of people finding just the right car somewhere over the horizon and most consider the search and the logistics to bring the car home to have been part of the fun. True, it can be time consuming and tends to keep you awake nights with both worry and excitement, but most folks enjoy being among the fortunate few to experience these anxieties. Unfortunately, I have also seen individuals who have been badly abused by the process to both their mental and financial detriment. On a similar vein, a new experience in my routine has recently made me more appreciative of the task facing someone on such a shopping quest, and although involving a different purchase, it seems a very apt parallel.
Myrla and I are shopping for a new home, in order to be closer to the workplace and our on-their-own kids. The process of house shopping is very similar to tracking down that ‘perfect’ Ferrari you’re looking for—much more so than I appreciated a few weeks ago. Let me elaborate: The Sunday newspaper Real Estate section yields grandiose descriptions of homesites rich with verdant foliage, mountainous vistas, city-light nightscapes, congenial neighbors and sketches of houses nestled amid mature evergreens. An eager voyage to these meccas often reveals a different reality. Dusty, windblown acres of dry buffalo grass surround a few brave new homes sitting atop the prairie like pioneering sodbusters.
Poetic license, perhaps, and no doubt some very probable promises for the future in most cases, but we are here-and-now pragmatists unwilling to wait for trees that need stakes and string to keep them rooted upright and kept on looking. Enlisting the aid of a real estate professional eliminated many wasted trips to see unsatisfactory locations and allowed a much more focused search for our criteria. What I was unprepared for, though, was that listings popped up that sounded like exactly what we would like, but after hastily-arranged visits, turned out to disappoint. Yes, the square footage was accurate, the count of beds and baths on the mark and even very detailed specifics were factually true, but somehow, just not right. Yes, it had granite countertops—but they were a goofy color. Yes, it had a great floor plan, but what was that smell? Yes, it backed up to a golf course….and some railroad tracks. You get the idea.
Automobile ads are much briefer that a real estate listing, so unexpected surprises are more likely, although admittedly the number of variables is fewer. I can’t relate the number of times people have told me that they traveled some distance to look at a car, described in the most glowing terms and that seemed to match their criteria perfectly, only to find a terrible disappointment. Let’s look at some of the ways an attractive ad may be hiding some real negatives with this sample:
1983 308GTS, Red, low miles, just serviced, good tires, beautiful Florida
car, books & tools. Divorce; must sell! Call XXX – XXXX
If you had been shopping for such a car, reading this would get you all excited and possibly eager to tie it down. If its local, of course you’ll go to see it. But what if its three states away? What are some of the details that you don’t know, that upon inspection may really disappoint? Let’s examine a few:
‘1983’ has you assume it’s a Quattrovalve model. It probably is, but I have experienced two instances where asking for the vin number revealed it to actually be a 1982 two-valve model. The owners explained that the car had actually been sold new sometime in 1983, and was therefore an ’83 model!
Notice that there is no mention as to whether it is a USA market car or not. These are the years when the gray market was in full swing, and you’d be amazed how many people have one of these and assume it to be fully legitimate. This has a significant impact on the car’s value.
Red; OK, which red? You assume the usual racing red, but there was dark ruby red available at that time or this may be a color-changed green car now in some far-from-Maranello shade of Ford red. Interior? Not mentioned, but most folks are looking for the popular Tan, and when the voice on the phone says “…kind of a light brown” you assume he just doesn’t know the correct terminology. In fact, it may well be the old ‘Tobacco’ color and instantly unappealing.
‘Low miles’ is a very subjective term! Often expressed as “…only 4000 miles per year!” That’s 72,000 total! Notice that the ad didn’t specify what the mileage actually is, and gray-market cars with the obligatory changed speedometer are usually not correct anyway.
‘Just serviced’ frequently translates into a recent oil change and a Sears battery—not the cam-belt job you’re hoping for.
‘Good tires’ is subjective once again and may refer to acceptable tread depth, but on fifteen-year-old tires.
‘Beautiful Florida car’ is once again an eye-of-the-beholder issue, and may be overlooking the typical musty-smelling interior and potential for patched-over rust common to high humidity climes.
I can’t tell you the number of times ‘books & tools’ has described a tattered owner’s manual with the cover missing, no pouch or service books, and a rusty jack and lug wrench…from Sears.
‘Divorce’ implies a motivated seller and a potential bargain, and sometimes it does. I have also occasionally found two names on the title and only one party who wants to sell, resulting in weeks of frustrating negotiating only to find out that one of the lawyers involved has advised his client to not sign anything. (when it does work out, I guarantee the spare keys, books & tools, etc are at the disgruntled party’s house and you’re never going to see ‘em!)
In summation, I just wanted to relate how we all tend to read positive interpretations into the listings we find for things we are looking for, no matter what the item happens to be. I was particularly taken by how surprised I was when pulling up in front of a home I had already seen a photo and detailed description of and immediately seeing things I couldn’t be satisfied with. Either the overall neighborhood ambience was not as expected, or other specifics were as represented but somehow still not what we wanted. So too with auto ads and verbal descriptions over the phone. While a car certainly has no location or floor plan issues or unsavory neighbors, a personal inspection is still a VERY good idea. Subjectively, if I don’t like the way a car smells inside, I lose interest pretty quickly; ditto for some minor, but to me significant, tell-tale signs about how it has been treated.
When considering a car many miles away, your due diligence should include detailed preliminary discussions with the owner about all the things important to you, recognizing that some subjectivity on both sides will be inevitable. Claims of services performed should be backed up by faxes of actual invoices, and a fax of the car’s title certificate is absolutely essential. This gives you a wealth of information, not the least of which is if you are actually talking to all the decision makers! After all this foreplay has been enjoyed, perhaps its time to make a trip, or arrange to hire a local independent appraiser whose impartiality should help to mediate the hyperbole and your own imagined perfection of the specimen.
-- Bill Orth --