Everyone knows that buying a car is a long, time-consuming, and often painful experience. But without a doubt, one of the most frustrating, yet least talked about, aspects of the car buying process is the car selling process. Few of us have the resources or the desire to hang on to our old cars after we buy a new one. So what is the best way to find a buyer for your tenderly-loved (insert vehicle pet-name)?
Here are 10 tips to help you sell Ol’ Sally and get you in your new vehicle fast:
1: Know the market
There is a very robust market for used vehicles. Before you go posting your car in every forum on the internet, take some time to observe the market dynamics at work. Hang out on Craigslist for a week or two and track a couple of similar vehicles: do they sell quickly or does the owner re-post his/her original message every day for two weeks to no avail? How much are other owners selling similar cars for? On average, how much above/below the Kelley Blue Book are owners listing their vehicles for? What about dealerships; at what price point do they have similar vehicles listed? Knowing what’s happening in the marketplace will help you set realistic expectations so that you don’t waste time because you over-valued your car.
2: Expect to negotiate down
The car market is kind of funny. No one expects to buy a car for the advertised price. Almost every buyer will come back with a counteroffer to the price you initially listed. Make sure you factor in this negotiation process so that you are not routinely offended by the counters interested buyers make. The one obvious exception to this is if you state that the price is “firm.” If you do advertise the price as “firm,” you should know that some potential buyers may be turned off by it.
3: Clean it up
Looks matter in just about every aspect of life and buying/selling a car is no different. Buyers looking to purchase a used car directly from the owner often rely heavily on looks to decide if a vehicle is worth purchasing and what a fair price for the vehicle is. It is almost always worth taking the time to thoroughly wash the car, give it a fresh wax job, and doing a deep interior clean – or paying someone to do this for you – before you put the car on the market.
4: Have all of the documentation ready for inspection
Take the time to dig up all of the documents you have for your vehicle. This includes service records, the title, registration, a specifications sheet, and anything else that you would want to see before you buy a vehicle. Also go online and get your vehicle’s CarFax report so that any potential buyer can see what damage the vehicle has sustained over the years. Being upfront and transparent with this information builds a lot of trust with a potential buyer and will often speed up the process.
5: Let them have the car inspected
I think we can all agree that buying a car directly from the owner “as is” entails risk. It is very reasonable for a potential buyer to want to have the car you’re selling inspected by an unbiased mechanic. The potential buyer and the seller must agree who is going to pay for the inspection. Typically the potential buyer pays for the inspection but I have also seen the buyer and seller split the bill.
I have seen a couple of different ways that this inspection process actually happens. The first way is that the buyer designates a mechanic within a reasonable distance from your home and you take the vehicle in for the inspection. It is important to tell the mechanic that this is only an inspection and that you will not be paying for any repairs so that the mechanic doesn’t have any incentive to document negligible issues. The potential buyer then contacts the mechanic directly for his readout of your vehicle.
The other way that I have seen it done, if you trust potential buyers in your area, is for you to hand the keys over to the potential buyer and let them take it to the mechanic for you. The real advantage of doing it this way is that you are not wasting your time sitting at the mechanic every time someone is interested in your vehicle. The obvious downside to this approach is that you are entrusting someone else with your vehicle. Sellers usually mitigate this risk by requiring the potential buyer to leave her/his vehicle with the seller while the buyer gets the car inspected as well as write down the buyer’s drivers license information.
6: Marketing Channels
When you are trying to sell your car you are essentially putting a product out to market. Just like any product in the marketplace, you need to figure out the best way to reach your target audience or else you will end up wasting time. Some free marketing channels out there are Craigslist and Back Page, while moderately priced channels include Cars.com, AutoTrader, and local newspapers. These channels are great but you should always compliment your online and print efforts by letting people in your network know that you are trying to sell your car. It is surprising how many people are either in the market for a car or know someone who is. You should also put a large “For Sale” placard in one or more window that lists your email and/or phone number and the asking price every time you park your car. If you don’t need your car for a few days, consider parking it at an appropriate high-trafficked area.
Of course, if time is tight you can always approach local dealers to see what they’ll give you for your car. You’ll probably get an extremely low offer but it might be worth it to you if you don’t want to deal with selling the car on your own. You can also check out your local CarMax. CarMax has a fairly friendly way of selling your car, so that might be a good option for you as well.
7: Specify the payment terms
However you choose to market your vehicle, always specify the payment terms. Requiring cash or a cashier’s check is perfectly acceptable and offers you the most protection. If you don’t specify the payment terms, do not be surprised when a buyer wants to hand you a personal check or work out a payment plan. This might be acceptable for some sellers but for many it is too risky.
8: Keep buying/selling transactions separate
Many people opt to sell their car to a dealership for the sake of convenience. If you choose to go this route, always negotiate the price you are going to pay for your new car before you negotiate the price of the trade-in. This will enable you to get the best possible deal for both transactions.
9: Be the salesperson you would want to deal with
Just because you are selling a used car doesn’t mean that you should adopt any of the sleazy sales tactics that, unfortunately, so many used car dealerships are so well known for. You should certainly cleanup your vehicle but you should never lie about it when you are speaking to a potential buyer or in your advertisements. Lying can take two forms: it can be the false information that you provide or it can be deliberately withholding information that would likely influence the buyer’s decision to purchase the vehicle at the price point you are selling it at. Not only is this unethical, but it’s also a good way to immediately lose a potential buyer’s trust.
10: Know how to complete the sale
Before you have a buyer ready to hand you cash for your vehicle, do research on all the actions you need to take to complete the sale. Call your local DMV to figure out what paperwork your state requires and how you complete it. Also check with your insurance company and bank so that you and the buyer can have a seamless transaction.