Prepare to Sell Your Aircraft By Tapping Local Resources

Word of mouth can be particularly effective in the general aviation market.

Spotting faster, fancier aircraft on the ramp can make pilots long for something new. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

When shopping for an aircraft, pilots typically analyze costs and benefits, and run through numerous checklists to determine which models best suit their needs. Some even consider the resale value of the airplane they plan to buy, especially if they expect to use it for building time toward advanced ratings or as a stepping stone to higher-performance models.

Many of us, however, do not give resale a whole lot of thought when negotiating the best possible purchase agreement. Often we are so excited by the thought of having our own aircraft and no longer having to share with fellow students or flying club members that we forget the day could come when we want to sell.

When that day arrives, we need to think about how to approach the sale and how to use our personal networks and other resources to attract potential buyers. I mentioned personal networks first because I believe they are the best resources many of us have. While advertising your aircraft on aviation sales websites with good photos and a thoughtful, honest description is a good way to get nationwide attention, there also are advantages to marketing locally.

Over the years, I have looked at dozens of aircraft for sale at my home airport and at others nearby. When I was a student, my instructor often would say, “Let’s walk over to the hangars.There’s an airplane for sale that you should see.”

When I began shopping, I asked him, other pilots and local mechanics a lot of questions about different models they had owned or maintained. They were happy to talk and frequently recommended other people with opinions worth considering. And, of course, many knew of airplanes that were for sale, officially and unofficially, and would tell me which ones they thought were “good ones” and which were “dogs.” Typically, they also had the seller’s phone number handy.

I considered several of these aircraft, and while it took me a long time to find the right one, the local search was illuminating. One day my instructor showed me a Mooney M20 that belonged to another former student. She was moving across the country and wanted to sell. The airplane was beautiful, with newer paint and interior. Sitting in it for 10 minutes, however, confirmed that the seating position would not work for me.

With that visit I was able to remove Mooney’s from my wish list, which seemed efficient. The owner eventually changed her mind, took the airplane out west with her, and still was flying it the last time I checked. The other candidates found buyers fairly quickly.

I think that, deep down, pilots want to believe their first airplane can be their last if they do well in the selection process. If you find a high-performance piston single that is much faster than the trainer you flew previously, with enough useful load to carry your family and baggage and sufficient range to reach your favorite vacation spot, what more could you want?

I can think of a few things, like more speed and greater range, to reach that new favorite vacation spot you and your family discovered while flying frequently in your new airplane. How about pressurization, so you can fly higher, faster, and make the most of your recently acquired instrument rating.

We bought our Commander, Annie, from a partnership of three pilots, two of whom were switching to Cirrus SR22s. For a few years, Annie had been fast enough—but not anymore. I spoke with one of the sellers last week and asked him how he liked the Cirrus. He said he misses the Commander’s comfort and handling—which is a polite thing to say—but loves the SR22’s speed. “Now those 500 nm trips seem to go by in no time,” he said. Annie still takes a while to go that far.

We found our airplane online but within a 25-mile search area. If we were to sell it, we would focus again on the local market and try to get it done by word of mouth. But we are not selling, though we understand why many do. Temptation is everywhere.

My wife, sons, and I have been traveling together in Annie for less than six months, and already we cannot stop talking about turboprops. Our airplane is a perfect fit for us, but every time we land at a new destination, without fail, there is a gleaming TBM, Piper M600, or other turbine single on the ramp.

Next come the questions like, “How fast will that one go?”

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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