Although aircraft buying mania usually peaks in the spring, in the last month I've noticed a higher-than-usual number of buying-related questions. Let me mention a half-dozen of the most commonly overlooked buying problems — and opportunities.
Written purchase agreement use is on the rise, and that's good. In most cases, buyers and sellers are comfortable with the amount of detail in the agreement, but lately I've seen some intricate agreements covering every conceivable maintenance condition or term; some of these are worthy of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks. One example: "Price of aircraft shall be on a sliding scale based on an average minimum compression reading (when warm) of 62/80 in all cylinders...." In this agreement, I almost expected to see a requirement that the logbooks be reviewed by a United Nations commission.
Of course, even a simple written agreement is better than no agreement at all, but more is not always better. In some cases, buyer and seller can simply agree on unilateral acceptance by the buyer after the prepurchase inspection. If you need help in drafting an agreement, I can provide you with the name of an attorney in your area.
For sellers, I suggest cooperating with a timely prepurchase inspection. If the potential buyer isn't satisfied, then there's been little time lost in attempts to sell the aircraft. After all, if it's priced right and honestly advertised, it's going to sell quickly anyway, right?
A title search is a must-have item, even if you know the aircraft owner well. But I'm seeing cases where hundreds of dollars are spent on all types of inspections and maintenance searches, only to have a title "concern" arise at the last minute. Early in the process get an inexpensive title search done ($45 for AOPA members through AOPA Title and Escrow). AOPA Title and Escrow offers title "fix" services, but some time is always required.
Aircraft type clubs are wonderful resources for potential buyers. There are type clubs for all common aircraft and many not-so-common ones. They offer important tips and cautions for specific models of aircraft and provide real-world, practical views of owners. The only problem I've noted is that buyers tend to join type clubs after a purchase, rather than before. For the best benefit, join a type club early. A complete list of type clubs is available in the front pages of AOPA's Airport Directory, as well as on the AOPA Web page.
Financing aircraft has always been a challenge, but a deal offering 90 percent financing for 15 years — unheard of a few years ago — is becoming quite popular these days. Members who don't want to pull money from their high-performance investments can do well with these types of loans. Naturally, you'll want to look around for the best deal and be certain that there is no penalty for early payoff. The AOPA Aircraft Financing Program through MBNA America offers a discount for AOPA members and takes care of much of the purchasing paperwork.
Incidentally, used aircraft prices have continued to show good appreciation in most categories. Many weekends, I tell my wife that I'll be at the hangar, "managing our investments, dear."
Upgrade early, preferably before you buy, and preserve your cash flow. By arranging for your avionics upgrades, paint, interior improvements, and aircraft mods before you sign on the dotted line, you can roll the cost into your loan. Many members tell me that they arrange with MBNA to hold the improvement money in escrow, pending satisfactory completion of the upgrades. It makes it easier to fly away in the airplane of your dreams.
And the sixth aircraft purchasing point is…the one you haven't called to ask me about yet. My fellow aviation technical specialists and I are at your service. Happy flying!
AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672). Among other services: "type specific" information packets on more than a hundred different aircraft, free to AOPA members.
AOPA Online on the World Wide Web (www.aopa.org) is a user-friendly avenue to many of the information services AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation offer, including numerous free downloadable booklets on various aspects of aircraft purchasing.
AOPA and Air Safety Foundation booklets are available, some free and others for a nominal shipping and handling charge, by calling 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).
One of AOPA's premier member benefits is the team of dedicated pilots and instructors who interact one-on-one with members. Together, they own 11 aircraft and have more than 53,000 hours accumulated over 321 years in aviation. Any member can reach the specialists by calling 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), or through AOPA's World Wide Web site (www.aopa.org).