I am sceptical. It’s in my nature, so when I became aware yesterday (27 November 2012) of a story of Facebook my scepticism kicked in.
The story came to my attention due to a tweet from Roy Deane’s twitter account (@RockmineInfo), this tweet contained a link to a status update on Facebook, containing a story about Deane’s experience attempting to buy a boat from Whilton Marina.
My initial response to this story was to be appalled that such a thing could happen, it appeared to be a clear case of abuse of process on the part of Whilton Marina.
He states that:
When I saw [nb Manu Tahi], the asking price was £ 19,950. Several weeks after first seeing it, I found it was still available. To me, it offered everything I wanted and above all, it had a good “feel” about it. I’d discounted dozens of other craft and was happy to put an offer on the boat. My first offer was refused but my second accepted – £ 17,950. It had a homely feel to it but was tired and in need of work on the interior which I accepted.
The asking price (£19,950) is consistent with Manu Tahi’s page on Whilton Marinas website, which Deane links to in his status update. It also states on this page that the price has been reduced from £21,950 and that the boat is under offer whether this is by Deane I have no way of knowing.
It’s a 50′ boat from 1978, there’s no mention of overplaying in the advert so it would be fairly safe to assume that some is likely to need to be done and that the boat has been priced accordingly. The inside, as far as I can see from the pictures is as Deane said “a little tired” but there doesn’t appear to be anything startlingly wrong with it. Of course I would never buy a boat from photographs alone so this doesn’t mean much, it just means that if I were looking for a roughly 50′ cruiser stern narrowboat that needed some TLC, this might be one I’d go and see.
At this point Deane has had an offer of £17,950 accepted and has put down a £1000 deposit to secure the vessel subject to survey (so far so good).
I booked a survey with an independent surveyor included in a list provided by Whilton. The surveyor, Craig Allen even said I could be on hand when he looked at the boat. As it would let me see all the problems first hand with an expert safety examiner, I jumped at the chance.
On Monday, 19th November, I met Mr Allen at Whilton. We were unable to start with the hull survey as a crane would using the area adjoining the slipway but as I had travelled down from Perthshire in Scotland, someone at the marina made sure we were able to start on other elements of the survey.
It was an eye-opener. Behind a pleasant enough exterior, a series of major issues needed to be dealt with. The boat failed its survey on several safety issues but also a major insurance one. The hull needed to be re-plated.
I have watched boat surveyors in action on more than one occasion and it is a fascinating procedure, the “hit it with a hammer” school of testing is particularly dramatic. At the end of the survey you get told what the examiner has found and whether or not, in their opinion, the price is a fair one. Before we booked our survey we did a bit of research into the surveyor recommended by the Marina and of course we were there on survey day poking our noses in and generally getting in the way as the potential purchaser is meant to.
With that in mind I started by having a look to see who Craig Allen was: he is listed online as an independent boat surveyor and boat safety scheme examiner. There is no evidence of his company number on his website nor is there any reference to his qualifications. However, a quick search using the Boat Safety Scheme Find an Examiner page pulls up his entry so far so good.
Next step, finding his entry on the International Institute of Marine Surveying’s site. This proves more difficult although I can find Steve Hand MMIRC, the guy who did our survey, with very little difficulty. When I do find Allen I discover that he is listed as SuppIIMS. I know enough about membership of professional bodies to wonder what that means so I go and look at the various different types of membership that are available. It appears that SuppIIMS means Supporting Member of the IIMS a supporting member is defined on their website as:
Individuals having an interest in Marine Surveying and who encourage and approve of the aims of the Institute.
Past, Full or Associate Members who have retired and retain an interest in Marine Surveying and Consultancy, but no longer carry out surveys.
If alarm bells aren’t ringing by now they should be. On the other hand it is fairly normal to ask the marina you’re buying the boat from to recommend a surveyor so the fact that the two surveyor’s listed on Whilton Marinas website are a SuppIIRC and GradIIRC (he’d be the one to go for) is in itself slightly worrying.
Oddly, I wasn’t undaunted [sic] and went back to the marina office to give them an update on the surveyor’s verbal comments. A couple of salesmen gave me a price per foot for re-plating but pointed out they were not necessarily the cheapest and there were other companies who could do the work.
By the end of the week, I had the full survey report and a copy had per my instructions been sent to Whilton. After a couple of days, they put a cost on the safety and insurance work of £ 14,010 inclusive of V.A.T. The surveyor’s Conclusion & Valuation had stated, “Upon completion of all Insurance and boat Safety works, I feel the offer of £ 17,950 to be a reasonable one.”
I find that last sentence quite interesting, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to force the vendor to do the work (which would almost certainly be undertaken at Whilton Marina who have admitted that they are not necessarily the cheapest, and it subsequently turns out couldn’t do it in a time frame suitable to the purchaser) and then stick to the original price. The purchase was “subject to survey” and it failed the survey, this is the moment to either walk away or renegotiate the price based on the results.
I was told by Whilton that after commission, the vendor would get £ 2,240. Someone had mentioned that the boat was his pride and joy and as such, news of the work needing undertaken must have been heart-breaking. I really felt for the seller and was prepared to increase my price to cushion the blow slightly. That was how things were left on Sunday.
This is clearly guilt-tripping, the state of the vendors finances and feelings are not, at this point the purchasers problem. It was very nice of Deane to consider raising his offer a little to “cushion the blow slightly” but not good business practice. It could be this admission that caused him to be taken for a ride.
It is now the 25 November.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 27th November I was contacted by Whilton and told that the vendor was not prepared to sell at the agreed price but wanted their original price of £ 20,950. I had already paid a £ 1,000 deposit which is meant to stop gazumping and yet, here I was effectively being gazumped. I countered with a verbal offer of £ 19,495 which a short time later I was told had been accepted.
At this point it becomes clear that Deane really wants this boat and is being taken for a ride. Personally I would have walked away before this, you wouldn’t put up with this kind of behaviour when buying a house or a car. This is not an auction, you’re not supposed to be fighting to pay the most. If the vendor wants more for the boat than it’s worth then so be it. Walk away, you’ve lost £500 but saved a whole lot more.
That was when things took an unexpected turn. A salesman called Robert from Whilton told me that they had bought the boat from the vendor and waived their commission as they would make their money on doing the re-plating work. I was suddenly in a situation where I was no longer able to consider other companies but being forced to accept Whilton’s price and their terms.
This is all very odd, why on earth would anyone from Whilton Marina tell a purchaser this kind of information? Come to that why would the buy the boat and waive the commission when they could have had the commission and the remedial work?
They do buy boats for cash and it is possible that the vendor decided just to hand the boat over because they would get more for it that way, it’s unethical but could be worth the vendors while in the circumstances.
They made it clear that the plating could not be started until late January or February which I had stated was unacceptable. As my plan had always been to have the boat transported to Scotland by road, I saw no problem in taking it to anyone who could do the work. Needless to say I remembered the words of the salesman who had said there were other companies who could re-plate for less.
What is not made clear here is how much Whilton Marina wanted for the boat at this point.
I’m assured by Whilton that these are standard practices which I would love to doubt. Setting that aside however, there is the issue of Whilton buying a boat at a knock-down price based on a survey that I had paid for. I asked if the survey money would be reimbursed as a result but was told they would only ever do a hull survey which would cost £ 250 (not the £ 500 I was charged). My reaction was to ask for that but was told it would not be forthcoming if I decided not to proceed.
This does not seem like standard practice to me either, although Maffi has stated that he thinks he remembers something like this happening before with Whilton Marina I haven’t heard of it. There does seem to be a problem of procrastination here, and of Deane admitting that he could afford to spend more than he’d offered. Had he walked away after the survey and gone looking for another boat there’s a fair chance that Whilton Marina would have acquired the boat for cash on the basis of the survey that Deane had sent to them anyway. The only difference is that Deane wouldn’t have known about it. It also would, no doubt, have popped up on the “recently surveyed” section of their website.
So far, so tragic. But, having read it through a second time and gone to Deane’s twitter feed I suddenly realised there were inconsistencies.
I settled after several months of looking, on a boat called “Manu Tahi” being sold at Whilton Marina[.]
This statement, that he has been looking for a boat for several months doesn’t map with Deane’s Twitter statement on 20 November:
Although to be fair he does post this about an hour later:
That’s just 8 days ago. It is 6 months since he mentioned that his house had been sold though:
So lets assume, for the sake of argument that he has been looking for a boat to “make the ultimate pad” for most of the time that he’s been living between the “rental property” and France.
He also tells us that the survey happened on Monday 19 November, which is the day before he announces on Twitter that he’s looking for a boat.
The third major inconsistency is the claim that the vendor is looking for the original asking price of £20,950. The Wilton Marina page states that it was originally £21,950.
There seem to be gaps in this story. Why did Deane wait so long to confirm the purchase in the first place? Why doesn’t he respond to @ mentions on twitter individually. There were if I remember only two of them in the first place.
So, the survey had actually happened when he tweeted that he had put an offer on a boat and would be re-negotiating subject to survey, was he thinking about going public with this story even then?
If true this is a horrible thing to have happened, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are two sides to every story and that it is unlikely that Whilton Marina will be able to comment on this case.
Incidentally, I have satisfied myself that Roy Deane is a real human being – I can tell you the address of the house he sold in Perthshire (along with the date he sold it and the price he sold it for), his private phone number and the name of the woman who he lived with (though I have no idea of the relationship). I have not spoken to him other than the tweets wanting to know if he’s real or not because it all seemed a little too convenient. Mr Deane if you happen to read this and would be happy to be interviewed then please let me know and I shall contact you using one of the methods above (or possibly your email address).