Selling a classic you’ve cherished for years? Then do yourself a favour and tell prospective buyers exactly how much time you’ve devoted to it
Where have all the private sellers gone? Go through online ads for stuff like E-types, Jensens, Ferraris, Porsches and Rollsroyces and 70% of the ads are trade. It never used to be like this. In the pre-internet age the classifieds fizzed with simple ads from enthusiasts, pleasantly free from hyperbole and model histories cut and pasted out of Wikipedia.
I’m not sure a hobby market dominated by professional sellers is a good thing. Not to mention the control it has on prices. The lower-value market doesn’t have quite the same dealer penetration but even on A35s, A40s and Minis online ads are still near 50% trade. Scary.
Private owners may be hanging on to their classics longer and not churning them so often; and when they do they’re more likely to advertise in more traditional paper media. That said, even in Classic
Cars, something like 40% of the small ads in the back are from dealers.
The elephant in the room is just how much of an effect this professional domination is having on values. Uncomfortable question that, but I think I know the answer.
There’s nothing wrong with buying from dealers but they’re in business to make a profit – the ordinary enthusiast doesn’t need a margin to cover business overheads and can price to sell. But this sea change in market dynamics means that the classic sold by a private seller they’ve owned for ages now carries a desirability premium. It just feels better buying from a fellow enthusiast who’s cherished their car and can tell you everything they’ve done over the years rather than from a trader who bought it from another trader last week.
The bloke with a classic that’s been conscientiously owned for ever is now such a rare and endangered species that the long-term ownership effect has a special value. After all, isn’t that why barn finds make so much money? If you can buy direct from an owner who’s put years of time into the car, you’re looking at something very rare indeed.
But where do you find these silver sellers and their treasured classics? Owners’ clubs, specialist magazines and papers – and, of course, events. There’s always something with a For Sale notice in the window and you can even try a charm offensive with owners and offer to buy. Cutting out the middlemen and going to the heartlands of real enthusiasts may not only get you a lower price but a more genuine car too.
But there may be another reason for the decline of the private seller – they can’t be bothered any more because it’s easier to sell to a dealer or use an auction than sit waiting by the phone. Shame, that. Old boys selling old motors they’ve tinkered with for decades is how this hobby began and gave it a tweedy integrity.
We don’t want it to turn into an online stock exchange dominated by old-car commodity brokers. So if you’re a longterm owner selling up, understand how much extra value your provenance adds, and tell prospective buyers how devoted you’ve been in all those years of care.
You’ll be surprised how quickly your phone will ring.
Quentin reckons it’s worth the effort to seek out long-term private sellers in a dealer-dominated market