Archive for » May 25th, 2017«

The case for using a compatible yacht broker

When Arv and I bought our current boat and sold our old one, we were fortunate to work with two fine, upstanding and congenial San Diego yacht brokers.

Dea Allen, now with South Coast Yachts, hung in with us for two years, helping us identify the boat we wanted, locating not-quite-on-the-market boats, setting up cross-country searches and nursing us through two failed offers and one that finally went through. Mike Hallmark of Hallmark Yachts assisted us through a long, painful sales period (during the worst of the Great Recession) and helped us through a plotting strategy, before finally securing a sale. We’re still friends with both and recommend them gladly.

Yacht brokers often get a bad rap because of the misdeeds of a sleazy few. Until we started our boat search, I was a little naïve in assuming that most brokers were like Dea, Mike and the many other reputable professionals I’d known around SoCal.

Then we encountered a few scuzzbags that left me gasping in disbelief at their dishonesty and lack of ethics. There was the Florida broker who, when we called to confirm our appointment, tried to cut Dea out of her commission – not that we would have bought his run-down rust bucket. He was one of several who disapproved of female brokers and seemingly female buyers too. Fortunately the listing broker for the boat we bought was helpful, responsive and professional.

In my last column, I urged boat buyers not to let anyone talk them into buying anything. While we’ve all encountered over-zealous salespeople, that comment was inspired by the scumball behavior of the broker representing the buyer of our old Hatteras. The day we completed the sale, the buyer hesitated signing the documents. His broker stuck his finger in his face, as if hypnotizing him, and ordered him to sign as we watched in shock.

But why bother with a broker in this era of easy internet searches?

A good yacht broker knows and understands the market and can represent your interests while saving you enormous time in identifying boats that meet your needs, yet avoid the duds. Most responsible brokers have tales of discouraging customers from buying a specific boat, because they knew it was the wrong boat and the client would later have buyer’s remorse. Professionals want to ensure the boat is a comfortable fit; their customers remain happy and will return to buy another boat.

Look for a licensed broker; only California and Florida require licensing. Ask friends for recommendations and talk to many brokers when you’re looking for someone to help you make a major purchase. Boat shows offer great opportunities to interview brokers. Find someone who’s compatible and listens to what you say, asks questions, understands your wants, needs and budget and is willing to look beyond their immediate inventory to find you the right boat.

Buying a boat is a complicated purchase with many significant layers beyond the immediate sale. A competent broker can assist you in arranging surveys, repairs, financing, dockage and other marine services.

When selling a boat, a knowledgeable broker can help you price it realistically to sell quickly – and tell you when/if you need to drop the price. Your broker can help you “polish,” stage and photograph your boat for sale, write appealing descriptions as well as list and advertise it in the most appropriate places to attract buyers – plus show it, screen buyers and handle the sales paperwork.

Choosing a competent, honest and compatible broker can save you time, money and grief. But do your research before making your selection – and always watch for red flags.

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Palm Harbor boat dealer facing litany of complaints of bad deals

PALM HARBOR — With an aging father sick in the hospital and a son just graduating high school, Andrew Kashella, in between jobs, knew what he had to do.

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His 21½-foot Sea-Pro, the first boat he has ever owned, had to go. Hearing Gulf Coast Boat Sales on U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor stored vessels for free while they worked a sale, Kashella said he had the business collect the boat from his rented slip at Speckled Trout Marina in January.

Gulf Coast Boat Sales manager James Laden told him in March the boat had sold, and he’d receive his 85 percent share of the $14,499 deal once the buyer’s check cleared. Two months later, Kashella hasn’t seen a penny.

When he stopped by the business on May 2 to investigate, Kashella said he got no answers about his money. Scouring the yard, he saw his boat wasn’t there either.

“This whole time I’m thinking I can use the money to get my son squared away at college,” Kashella said. “I didn’t really have any other choice but to trust (them). They looked me in the eye and lied.”

About 20 customers have filed complaints with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in the past month about Gulf Coast Boat Sales, prompting an investigation by the county’s Consumer Protection office. Some, like Kashella, sold boats through the business and never got paid. Others were never given legal documents for vessels they bought and paid for, according to sheriff’s office incident reports.

Robert DiMarco, 40, told investigators he paid Gulf Coast Boat Sales $27,862 for a Stott Craft he never received. After contacting the manufacturer, DiMarco was told the boat had been built but Gulf Coast Boat Sales had never paid the company, according to an incident report.

Gulf Coast Boat Sales owner John Hartnett and Laden did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A sign on the window of the locked-up business states the business is “restructuring” and refers all questions to the law offices of Berkowitz Myer. The attorneys also did not return calls for comment from the Tampa Bay Times.

According to Pinellas County Consumer Protection operations manager Doug Templeton, Gulf Coast Boat Sales had nine fraud complaints that were resolved through the county last year. Templeton said his office has three open complaints and is working to get them resolved through mediation.

If that is not successful, Templeton said the case could be referred to the state attorney’s office as a criminal complaint.

“Was this bad business practice, or was it criminal intent?” Templeton said. “That’s what we have to find out.”

Hartnett has been sued directly, or through his business, five times since 2013 for a variety of deals gone wrong, according to court records. All, except the most recent, were ultimately dismissed.

On May 15, Thomas Pepin of Tampa sued Gulf Coast Boat Sales, alleging he paid a deposit of $83,500 for a 26-foot custom boat that turned out to have serious structural problems. The business stopped returning Pepin’s calls and did not return his deposit when they failed to negotiate a deal for another vessel, according to the lawsuit.

Templeton, whose staff of 13 handled 1,100 cases last year and has about 20 percent on average classified as criminal investigations, said the record of an offender can be considered in an investigation.

“When you start getting complaints and nobody is getting their money back, that could go to our criminal section,” he said.

Ted Thomas, 61, of Belleair, said he has hired attorney Brad Hissing after paying Gulf Coast Boat Sales $19,271 for a Stott Craft that’s never been delivered.

After being told his boat would be ready May 1 and “getting the runaround” on the phone, he said he drove to the business on May 12 to find the gate locked and his dreams dashed.

Thomas said he and his wife, Dawn, had been saving to buy a boat since moving from Seattle five years ago.

“I’m not a rich man, so $20,000 is huge to me,” Thomas said.

Thomas still works part time as a radiological technologist, while his wife works as a respiratory therapist. His dream was to have a boat parked in his driveway that the couple could enjoy for their years of work, but now he’s just left feeling “swindled.”

“I just feel like I was robbed and taken advantage of. I do have some culpability. I was a little too trusting.

Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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