How to buy a plane

brien23

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Some people have a knack for that and get real great deals, so what buying tips from those in the know can share with us sheep.
 
For me it was ... buy the parts (a complete kit if you prefer), make what you need to, properly assemble, get sign off, go fly!

If you are talking about buying a certified airplane you need to first figure out what plane fits your mission and then begin learning all you can about that particular model. Find some folks that own the type of plane you are wanting to buy and talk to the A&P guys that do the work on them and get to know the quirks (if any).

Lastly, grease you wallet for easy removal ... :biggrin:
 
Keep looking for a good fit on TAP.
Go fly each one that seems like a good value on paper and by phone.
If it flies well, do a pre-buy.
If it passes pre-buy, buy it.
 
Get a feel for value ranges on Controller, Trade-a-Plane, and Barnstormers. You’ll be able to spot a decent deal after some self-training.

Join a type-club and make/model specific forums. Ask questions. Forum classifieds.

Look for local deals. Local airports and their bulletin boards. Call sleepy municipal airports or fly there. Local EAA chapter meetings or ask their officers who likely have been around and know who owns what and who’s selling. Ask around word-of-mouth.

I found mine late one night on my phone many many pages deep into a Google search on stumbling onto an online classified section of a Salt Lake City newspaper ad. Odd one for sure.

I also found a good real-estate deal one time on a for sale by owner due to a typo that made the $/acre ridiculously over priced by 10x. It was a local ad, not on MLS. It kept bugging me so I called the seller. Ended up being a typo and a misplaced decimal point on the acreage. He said “no wonder I’ve gotten no calls”. I made a deal right then and there.

Point being? Look everywhere you can. That way you beat the odds because not everyone will look everywhere and that effectively reduces demand and buyer competition in those lesser viewed venues.

Also, be nice and serious about your offer and make sure you both agree on inspection related contingencies so that you actually do end up with a fair deal. I know a lot of that had gone out the window in the recent airplane market froth, that now seems to have calmed a bit.

My limited but successful experiences.

Don’t forget to post pics, lol.
 
The first thing is to know what you want. Not only does that encompass the model, but includes age, avionics, and enhancements. Also don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Speak to others in the know. Be patient. Do not discount damage history. I got really good deals on my two purchases. My first was a t182t. I got it for a 100k less than going price at the time because it had "hail damage." This consisted of some small almost imperceptible dings in the leading edge which had no affect on the plane.. my current plane a t206h was flipped and repaired. and got it about 1/3 off going price at the time. Had a thorough prebuy on both...money well spent.

Sti)l I think the best advice is be patient. Both my planes were not my first choice but in retrospect they both turned out to be my best choices.

Also remember the purchase price is only the beginning . Owning a plane leads to a slew of other expenses.
 
Also remember the purchase price is only the beginning . Owning a plane leads to a slew of other expenses.
^^This. Not saying you should just throw around an extra $20K during your initial purchase like "whatevs", but...if the difference between $X and $X+$20K is an "I can afford" vs. "I can't afford" situation...you might need to rethink your initial purchase budget, or whether you're ready for ownership.

I've probably spent at least 5x my initial purchase amount on my plane in the 13 years I've owned it. Somewhere between 25-40% of that total could have been reduced/eliminated had I chosen to "go the cheap route", but even "doing the minimum" I'd have 2-3x my initial purchase price into my plane, and some of that has come in chunks of up to 20%-to-40%-of-purchase-price at a time.
 
Determine what you want, the fewer planes you have to watch the better. Get very fimaliar with Barnstormer, Trade-a-plane and Controller. Check them 2 to 3 times a day. Print out the ad on the planes your interested in, its gets confussing real quick. The great deals go fast, sometimes within a day. Call and get in line quick, most plane sellers are honest people and wont sell a plane out from under you if you are truely showing interest.
 
Biggest thing I found is once you decide on a type of plane,line up your financing and maybe even a pre-buy option(has its limits due to location).Have everything ready because deals will show and sometimes won’t last a day,Ive definitely missed some good deals because of this.Its kinda frustrating when something shows up and you can’t get off work for a week,then poof,it’s gone.Good luck and happy hunting
 
All great advice above.
M2C: Don't sweat it so much that you never buy anything

1) "Great Deals" are a bit exaggerated. You'll hear people when they get a great deal, but you'll not hear them when they don't.

2) There will always be something maybe a little better if you wait XX years. Or you'll never really know. If you hold out for the "best airplane purchase in all history" you'll be too old to fly anymore.

3) Get as smart as you can on buying, make the best choice based on the information you have at the time, and go fly.
 
I've only purchased one airplane, but the things I've learned over the years about buying big-ticket items apply to planes as well as houses and cars. Number 1 and number 2 are tied: patience and a willingness to walk away. Number 3 is knowing what you want while also being open minded within a set of parameters. Number 4 is looking everywhere, including the unexpected places where others aren't shopping. Number 5 is having the money arranged and being ready to make an offer and buy quickly when the right opportunity happens.

Now apply those to airplanes...

#1 Take your time. Research options and become knowledgeable. Look at what's available on the market. Run some sample Vref estimates to get a feel for things. Time pressure will lead to bad decisions, so don't let yourself be placed under it. If a seller is trying to coerce you into a quick decision ("I have another buyer coming to see it this afternoon" or "It gets listed on Barnstormers tomorrow"), proceed to #2.

#2 Be willing to walk away. Remember that you don't have to buy a plane at all, so you certainly don't have to buy this one. The seller, on the other hand, does have to sell it; maybe there are more buyers, mayber there aren't, but if you have cash in hand then he's motivated to try to sell it to you. If it isn't what you want, if something feels hinky, if you're being pressured, if you just don't like the seller, whatever: walk. BTW, this is a powerful negotiation tool and should remind you and the seller that you wield some power in negotiations.

#3 Get specific on important requirements but remain open to solutions that meet them. For me, I knew I wanted FFFF - fixed gear, fixed prop, four cylinders, four seats. I also wanted an engine that was mid-time or newer. There are lots of models that meet those basics, and I examined and flew Grummans, Cessnas, Pipers, and Beeches along the way. (After one flight in a 172, I added "low wing" to my list.) Your set of requirements may be different from mine (maybe speed is important, or an autopilot, whatever), but be open to all makes and models that satisfy them and research them.

#4 TAP and Barnstormers are obvious places to look, but don't limit yourself to that. The type clubs have "For Sale" sections on their websites so you should join them, watch those sections, and post about what you're seeking. (I joined two Piper clubs and Beech Aero Club while I was searching.) Be diligent here: I found my plane on POA and BAC simulataneously when the seller had a sale fall through and re-listed his plane. Check out airport bulletin boards. Join your local EAA chapter and your local airport's pilots association (if there is one) and ask around. TALK TO PEOPLE.

#5 When you do settle on a plane and the price looks right and you want to buy, be ready to move. Don't tell the seller, "Let me talk to the finance company and get back to you," lest the next buyer in line take the bird away from you. Start lining up the money now, and also create a boilerplate purchase contract. Talk to insurance companies and get a feel for those costs. Know where you'll keep the plane, hangar or ramp tie-down. Do the best you can ahead of time to get everything in order that could delay a purchase.


Oh, and number 6 - GET LUCKY! ;) (Luck favors those who are patient and diligent.)

Hope all that helps.
 
..start with a large sum of money...

I hired a buyers agent that specialized in the brand and model I wanted. He had inside contacts for planes coming on the market early, and could call on planes during the day when I was working and couldnt. And knew what questions to ask or what to look for. it was 2500 no matter how long it took to find one, half to start and half once I bought something.
 
This is good advice.My biggest problem is I love airplanes and once I start dreaming about a particular one it’s much harder to walk away if a problem comes up
Well, it's a balance too. A problem is almost sure to come up. Knowing if it's a "walk away" problem or not is the trick.

One other useless comment....

I've bought 3 planes and only sold 1. For me, selling was orders of magnitude more difficult than buying was. It's also the only one of the transactions I had any remorse at all over.
 
Well, it's a balance too. A problem is almost sure to come up. Knowing if it's a "walk away" problem or not is the trick.

Agreed, and everyone will have different criteria. It's more a judgment than a hard threshold anyway.

You might recall the Warrior we looked at in south Alabama, where the paint was peeling off the bare aluminum. For me that was a walk-away because it would have to get a $20k+ paint job immediately, which would have wiped out my contingency fund. The Beech I bought also needs new paint (and will get it this spring), but it's not exposing bare metal and so the paint could wait a couple of years while I fixed other things and got ready to pay for paint.

Every situation is a little different.


I've bought 3 planes and only sold 1. For me, selling was orders of magnitude more difficult than buying was.

Buyers should remember this. Buyers sometimes feel like they're powerless in the purchase process, and a skillful seller can make this seem so, but it's almost never the case. Try to learn the seller's motivations and constraints. I'm not suggesting backing him into a corner or trying to rook him, but if you understand his position you can make the deal work for him and make it easy for him to sell to you while still getting what you need.
 
Figure out who is going to work on your new plane before you buy it and have that mechanic do the pre buy and all the work on it.
IMO this the most important thing to a new plane owner unless you are a AP mechanic yourself.
 
Agreed, and everyone will have different criteria. It's more a judgment than a hard threshold anyway.

You might recall the Warrior we looked at in south Alabama, where the paint was peeling off the bare aluminum. For me that was a walk-away because it would have to get a $20k+ paint job immediately, which would have wiped out my contingency fund. The Beech I bought also needs new paint (and will get it this spring), but it's not exposing bare metal and so the paint could wait a couple of years while I fixed other things and got ready to pay for paint.

Every situation is a little different.




Buyers should remember this. Buyers sometimes feel like they're powerless in the purchase process, and a skillful seller can make this seem so, but it's almost never the case. Try to learn the seller's motivations and constraints. I'm not suggesting backing him into a corner or trying to rook him, but if you understand his position you can make the deal work for him and make it easy for him to sell to you while still getting what you need.
This is a good point. Don't be a jerk to your potential seller(s). Look at things from their perspective. I had one buyer that seemed to think I had to sell to him and was a complete jerk about every little thing he perceived wrong with the plane. I had another buyer that was realistic about the issues, and talked to me frankly about them. Guess one flew the plane home? Unless it's a broker, the seller is probably connected to the plane, insulting it is insulting him. It's ok to point out issues, but also point out good things. They will be more likely to be open about other issues that way.
 
Figure out who is going to work on your new plane before you buy it and have that mechanic do the pre buy and all the work on it.
IMO this the most important thing to a new plane owner unless you are AP mechanic yourself.

Good advice, but not always practical if the plane is some distance away from your home base.
 
I'd fly my mechanic to the plane first before I bought it. Pay him to do the pre buy if at all possible.

Not a bad idea if your mechanic is willing. The guy I use has a full-time gig and would have to burn vacation time, so it might be tougher to get him to go.

Situations vary.
 
I forgot to mention, first I would go myself in person to check it out closely to make sure it is the one for me and that it is worth flying someone else out to look at it. Make sure it is worth the investment. Take a ton of close up pictures, maybe your mechanic could suggest what to look for and take pictures of and maybe he won't even have to go himself to look at it if you present some good pictures?
First get all the logs in front of you and your mechanic before making the trip.
The deal would have to be really good for me to buy a plane far away from home. Then I'd wonder why someone closer is not buying it?
 
I forgot to mention, first I would go myself in person to check it out closely to make sure it is the one for me and that it is worth flying someone else out to look at it. Make sure it is worth the investment. Take a ton of close up pictures, maybe your mechanic could suggest what to look for and take pictures of and maybe he won't even have to go himself to look at it if you present some good pictures?
First get all the logs in front of you and your mechanic before making the trip.
The deal would have to be really good for me to buy a plane far away from home. Then I'd wonder why someone closer is not buying it?
At the very least, a thorough review of the logs before spending a lot of money on anything else.
 
I forgot to mention, first I would go myself in person to check it out closely to make sure it is the one for me and that it is worth flying someone else out to look at it. Make sure it is worth the investment. Take a tone of close up pictures, maybe your mechanic could suggest what to look for and take pictures of and maybe he won't even have to go himself to look at it.
First get all the logs in front of you and your mechanic before making the trip.
The deal would have to be really good for me to buy a plane far away from home. Then I'd wonder why someone closer is not buying it?
:yeahthat:

It's a big help if the seller scans the logs, at least the past 10 years or so, and emails them to you or posts them. Savvy will do a logbook review for you for free, and that helped me weed out some dogs without having to travel to see them.
 
And spend 10 bucks first with the FAA and get all the registration info, 337, liens, loan history and owners names since new.
You can get it instantly for 10 bucks. It'll be the cheapest thing you ever spent on a airplane and could save you some money and make you a better informed buyer.
Here is the link. https://aircraft.faa.gov/e.gov/nd/
 
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And spend 10 bucks first with the FAA and get all the registration info, 337, liens, loan history and owners names since new.
You can get it instantly for 10 bucks. It'll be the cheapest thing you ever spent on a airplane and could save you some money and make you a better informed buyer.
Here is the link. https://aircraft.faa.gov/e.gov/nd/
:yeahthat: :yeahthat:

There are companies that will charge you a hundred bucks or so to do a history search on a plane. All they do is get this same thing from the FAA, flip through it, and write you a 3-sentence summary. Do it yourself.
 
My plane was owned by 3-4 different dealers before it was sold to a private owner.
Twice since I owned my plane I requested it on a CD to make sure my mechanic is filing 337s for STC parts we put on it.
I will include the CDs with my logs when I go to sell.
 
1) Spend 18 months searching ads, airport bulletin boards, talking to other airmen, etc., and going to see and test fly planes.
2) Finally stumble across suitable plane.
3) Write large check.
Pretty much....I will add:
4) be patient
5) paint doesn't make the airplane fly: look for a well-maintained engine and airframe. C+ paint is not a big deal.
 
C+ paint is not a big deal.

Agreed, but I did walk away from an F paint job. The paint was only a few years old, but the paint shop didn't do the proper prep and the paint was peeling down to bare aluminum all over the plane. It would soon have corrosion issues without correcting it. Priced paint jobs lately? Hoo boy.....
 
Also remember the purchase price is only the beginning . Owning a plane leads to a slew of other expenses.
Yeap.

If you are financing, have your financing approved. Get approval for more than you need, you don't have to borrow the entire amount.

Have deposit money already at an escrow service (I use AeroSpace Reports).

The point of these being, you are ready to purchase NOW. I got my plane for an offer under the asking price, but another full price offer came in. But I was ready to place the deposit that day and close as soon as the prebuy was done. From listing to closing was 10 days for me.

When shopping, a high time engine, with the appropriate price, is not a bad thing. You can make sure it gets overhauled properly at a good shop.

Better to have close to the avionics you want instead of having them installed. You can spend more than you can buy a nice plane for on avionics.

But, first thing is to define your mission and decide on very short list of candidates, then hit the sales sites every day. My plane was listed in the morning, and I placed an offer around lunchtime.
 
You have to study the market to be able to act quickly and quasi-intelligently in the market. Frankly, you need to set aside a lot of due diligence and be willing to "sniff condition" in the moment, and be willing to accept the financial penalty of getting it wrong. Generally I'll buy at such a price that I can accept an engine MOH as an unforeseen expense and still come out ahead. It also means I've bought plenty of twins where I paid X, invested X, and then sold for X for a loss of that same aggravating X -- it took a few of those to get better calibrated about it :)

My best deals have been estate-sale related (both Barons, interestingly), but I've also seen outliers appear in odd places like barnstormers, ebay, craigslist even. Airport flyers that I see near the men's room are either silly high or silly reasonable, and I've called on a few of those. You have to be able to interpret some genuinely terrible advertisements or know the friend of the friend of the friend who died to understand it was a beloved and adored object that is now a widow's problem that you can relieve with a checkbook.

I've also been in the center of some really intricate horse-trades that ended up netting a "great deal" when all the work was done. Knowing multiple dudes who are all vaguely dissatisfied with their plane helps setup some matchmakings

The next 2-door super musketeer that I see for 40k is getting bought sight unseen by me, though. I regret not acting on that one last year. :)
 
The next 2-door super musketeer that I see for 40k is getting bought sight unseen by me, though. I regret not acting on that one last year. :)

Good idea, but also watch for the B-23 Musketeer Custom IIIs. Basically a 1-door Sundowner with the 180hp Lycoming. They’re sleepers; great planes under appreciated by the market.
 
Good idea, but also watch for the B-23 Musketeer Custom IIIs. Basically a 1-door Sundowner with the 180hp Lycoming. They’re sleepers; great planes under appreciated by the market.

You rock one of those, yeah? How's the useful load?

Our 1-door super had 1100 or 1200# which was insane. My sundowner was 850 or so and I found it pretty marginal with the giant fuel tanks, so that has kept me from looking closer at the earlier 23s, and right out of the sports.
 
You rock one of those, yeah? How's the useful load?

Our 1-door super had 1100 or 1200# which was insane. My sundowner was 850 or so and I found it pretty marginal with the giant fuel tanks, so that has kept me from looking closer at the earlier 23s, and right out of the sports.

986lbs useful load. Paid $24k for it in mid-2021. Around 122 knots TAS, which I think is actually a bit better than the SD. The 180hp engine is exactly what the mouse needed all along.
 
Find a plane.
Seriously. I've been looking since September, and all I find is junk.
Very expensive junk.
 
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