Different Types of Sellers We Experienced

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Saturday 24 January 2015

Different Types of Sellers We Experienced

As with any major purchase, since everyone's circumstances, product knowledge and motivations for buying are unique to them, the buying experience will also be unique to them as well. However, we had quite a few ups and downs whilst buying our first motorhome and wanted to share a few thoughts and experiences, especially regarding the different types of motorhome sellers we met along the way. This isn't intended as a comprehensive guide on how to judge people selling motorhomes, since we can only comment on our own experiences and, besides, everyone is different. You just have to make your own judgement as best you can. But here is how it went for us....

Our viewing experiences and checklist
General Experiences
We used phone and email to contact lots of people and businesses selling motorhomes that seemed too fit what we wanted. We tried to be as specific as possible and check as many details as we could before arranging a viewing. By being very picky and asking a lot of questions beforehand we actually only needed a handful of viewings in person before choosing our motorhome (Homer).

The helpfulness, responsiveness and patience of different sellers varied hugely, from people/businesses who never responded at all to people who phoned back within minutes. We got sworn at for trying to double check service history by someone, whilst another offered us a free weekend away in their motorhome as an extended "test drive". There really was no way of knowing from the advert just how helpful someone was going to be. Even the amount of detail in the advert didn't really correlate with how much the seller seemed to know or wanted to help.

In fact, the main thing we learnt was that you just have to make your own judgement as quickly as possible and learn to trust your gut instinct. If you don't get a good feeling for a seller then walk away. There are plenty of other motorhomes for sale, no matter how much you really want the one you're looking at right at that moment.

However, it is also possible to make a few observations, generalisations and warnings....

Small Trade Sellers
When we say "small trade sellers", we mean sellers who makes their living buying and selling used motorhomes but only keep a small number of motorhomes in stock at any one time. This might be a car dealership with a few extra motorhomes on their forecourt, or an individual with space to park a few motorhomes operating independently. They almost certainly don't have a workshop so anything that needs repairing will be done by a third party and any warranty will be purchased from an external company as well. Chances are that there are only one or two people involved so the person we were dealing with was the one who would be keeping the profits from the sale.

Generally speaking we found the smaller trade sellers to be outwardly very friendly and relaxed. It was like they were trying to be your best friend and initially there was no sense of pressure selling. Some small trade sellers were very well informed and clearly loved motorhomes and motorhoming themselves and this showed. These were the best kind and we learned quite a lot about what to look for in a motorhome ourselves just by speaking to these sellers.

However, there were also small trade sellers at the other end of the scale who seemed to know very little and just wanted a sale at all costs (particularly those selling cars and motorhomes). We felt we could normally tell quite quickly on the telephone which sellers really knew their motorhomes. For instance, some of the small trade sellers we spoke to when pushed to be specific could get a little tetchy as though we were expecting too much information. Their opinion seemed to be that "either we wanted it and should take a few risks or we didn't, but stop wasting their time". We tended to avoid these.

The worst experience we had with a small trade seller was in the Midlands with a guy who had a little space at a lockup which he shared with another business. He was friendly, clearly knew his motorhomes and kept his own motorhome parked there as well. Esther drove for 3 hours to be there on a monday afternoon and he gave us her lots of time to ask questions, check things over and see everything working. We took evening to think about it and decided we liked the motorhome enough to make an offer the next morning. He said he'd think about it but never got in touch. When we followed up later that day he said someone else was interested and was offering £500 more and was coming to view the motorhome before the seller would make a decision on our offer. We said we needed to know and so he said if we came down again the next day and put down a deposit it was ours if we would match the other person's offer.  However, he also didn't cancel the viewing of the other interested buyer so when Esther drove 3 hours all the way back to sort out the paperwork, the seller said again he would need to increased the price a further £500. By this point Esther had invested so much time already and had really fallen for this motorhome, she handed over a £300 deposit, subject to a satisfactory RAC inspection as the van was 15 years old which she had agreed on at her first visit, but almost reduced Esther to tears by expressing his view that it was our fault for not just deciding at our first viewing! But to top it all off, minutes later a very angry buyer with cash in his pocket arrived as well after his own 3 hour drive. It was an entirely unnecessary situation caused by the seller not making a decision and being scared of missing a sale. A few days later when the RAC report revealed some serious and dangerous engine faults which would cost over £2000 to rectify and we were strongly encouraged not to buy the motorhome in its current condition without having the work and further checks done, we phoned to discuss the report with the seller. He swore at us down the phone, hung up and never took our calls again keeping our deposit which we were never able to get back!

Based on our experience, our advice would be ask lots of questions, convince yourself they know what they are talking about and avoid putting down a deposit without a written contract of what justifies a refund if the motorhome turns out to be not as described. Just because they are a small business doesn't mean they shouldn't offer a professional service with paperwork and contracts. Trust is fine, until you're the one asking for your money back!

Trade Dealerships 
What we're talking about here are dedicated motorhome dealers who offer both new and used motorhomes. These varied in size from a few dozen to a few hundred motorhomes in stock at any one time. They also usually had a team of sale staff so the person we dealt with wouldn't be keeping all the profit themselves, but would likely be paid commission on any sale and they also probably had their own workshop doing repairs and services etc. Some were big national companies, others were local family owned dealerships.

There are a lot of stereotypes about used car salesman and our experience of large motorhome dealerships, sadly, seemed to confirm some of them! We always felt a little more pressured from the outset whether we were on the phone or viewing in person, although this could have just been our perception and response to the much smoother delivery of a professional salesperson working to a "script".

On the plus side, they almost all knew what they were talking about since they did this job day in day out. Also, any obvious problems or faults with the motorhome they could usually put right in their in-house workshops before driving the motorhome away. In fact, they all tended to emphasise strongly the benefits of the 'thorough checks' already done by the in-house workshop and the benefits of their extensive warranties that were confidently offered. Also, we did find that, despite the selling treatment, they did give us plenty of space and time when we asked for it. We did even put down a deposit once to give us thinking time and unlike the small trade dealer we got it back as per the agreement after a specified time. Essentially as a big dealership it wasn't worth the bad publicity for them if they'd try and twist out of a deal.

However, on the down side, there was a definite sense of just wanting to get us to sign their pre-printed and very detailed contracts as soon as possible and commit ourselves to the purchase. It was often hard to keep track of just what was being offered and what wasn't as the salespeople smoothly "put together" a deal for us. It would have been so easy to sign and commit but there were so many details being brushed over.

For example, at one dealership close to Banbury we arrived having found something we liked the look of online and it seemed to fit the description fairly well, although a bit more internal wear and tear than we'd hoped for. The sales person we met was very smooth and relaxed, answering all our questions on the motorhome confidently. After a good test drive we discussed warranties and some pre-purchase work we wanted doing since it was 16 years old and there were a few things we tested that didn't work. We tentatively agreed a price for the 'package' and went to the office to do the paperwork and to check the documents. It was here the 'package' started to unwind. Firstly the "full service history" we'd been told all about turned out to be a folder of appliance manuals. There were only 2 service receipts for the last 16 years, which the salesperson tried to explain away as it having "been serviced by a mate of the previous owner", even offering to phone the previous owner who he described as "very friendly and reliable". Then as we dug deeper into what the warranty actually covered and the work we thought we'd agreed it seemed there was less and less substance to the offer. Eventually, after hearing several versions of events (which changed each time we asked) we walked away.

Basically, we found that dealerships charge a premium price for the motorhomes on their forecourt. In the £10,000 - 20,000 price bracket that we focused on motorhomes were often at least £2000 - 4000 more expensive than the private sale equivalents. Essentially this was the "fee" the dealership added on to the price after taking used motorhomes in part exchange. However, in return for this premium we did feel reassured to be dealing with an established business that cared about their reputation. We did feel they were more likely to be able to deliver on their promises and warranties and less likely to disappear overnight. However, as easy as they made it to sign the contract and commit, we found it vital to check everything with a fine tooth comb beforehand. Every time we dug a bit deeper (e.g. "tell me again exactly what the warranty doesn't cover") there were often inconsistencies that made us nervous. As with small trade dealerships, we found it vital to be very thorough.

Private Sellers
Although we never thought we would, we did end up buying from a private seller in the end. When we first started looking we just thought it would be too risky. In a private sale we knew we'd have absolutely no comeback if the motorhome fell to pieces on its first drive! Once we drove it away it was ours with no right of refund and we just found that very scary. There was no consumer protection as with small or large dealerships where you can still go to Trading Standards if necessary.

Private sellers were perhaps the most diverse group we interacted with. Some sellers knew and loved their motorhome and could tell us everything about them. Others didn't have a clue. They'd bought it from a dealer, didn't like it so much and just wanted it gone. (Some took hours telling us their own buying experiences!)

We did find private viewings a bit more nervewracking since we were meeting the people on their own territory which we always found a little daunting (just like viewing a house). But the people we went to visit were always very welcoming and well organised with all of the paperwork ready and waiting. They also gave us plenty of time on our own in the motorhome to get a feel for it. In fact, we spent 2 hours on our own in the motorhome we bought before saying yes just getting a sense of what it might be like to live in it and to go through a checklist we'd made after reading some buying guides.

The pitfalls of private sales are pretty obvious and similar to buying a car. As I mentioned above there was no comeback if major problems happened, even a few days after the sale, and we also felt we had to be really careful to verify the seller was who they said they were and had the legal right to sell the motorhome. It did feel a little awkward asking to see the V5 and some ID but it's the only way to check someone owns the motorhome they're trying to sell you! (which is why we felt it was vital to meet at the address on the V5).

In the end we overcame our nerves when we met a very patient and helpful couple selling their ten year old motorhome. They allowed us to have an RAC mechanical inspection done and an independent habitation check (both of which were well worth it) to reassure ourselves that there were no obvious and imminent faults we had missed and we put down the money. We did the bank transfer payment on the day we arrived to collect the motorhome and once they verified the money was in their account we set off into the sunset in our first very own motorhome.

As first time motorhome buyers we started out without really having a clue what to expect from the whole buying experience and were pretty terrified of "getting it wrong". Our biggest fear was probably that we'd buy a motorhome that had a big, obvious and expensive problem that we should have spotted if only we'd known a little more.

However, the reality of buying a motorhome, whilst it was stressful at times with a few low points caused by unhelpful and unsavoury characters, was mostly a great learning experience. Through asking lots of questions, often repeating the same questions over and over again, we found out a lot about motorhomes, what to look for and what we wanted to suit our lifestyle.

The result seems to have turned out OK so far...

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