While in Scottsdale for the auctions, a friend of mine asked a question—actually two questions—that I have received more than a few times: When is the best time to buy collector car, and, conversely, when is the best time to sell that car?
Now, obviously, these two questions are more than a bit hypothetical, as for some people the easy answers, in no particular order are, “Never,” “Now,” and “Whenever I feel like it.”
It’s also worth noting right up front that timing is hardly everything. The savvy buyer or seller spends their time looking and researching market examples, those cars that are listed for sale, have sold or have been auctioned. They take into account general market conditions and specific trends for their model. Demographics come into play, and don’t forget, a car that is “hot” in January can be cooling off just a few months later.
OK, Dave, but how about my question? Hagerty data show that in today’s always-on classic car market, pretty much any time is a good time to sell. The in-person auctions, no surprise, remain seasonal, largely because so many of them happen in January. But online auctions are a steady drip all year long. So are private sales—which represent the vast majority of the classic car market.
As is often the case, top-line data doesn't tell the whole story. In this case, we're looking at country-wide data. If you live in the northern part of it, you might see salt and snowflakes outside your window right now and wonder what the heck we're talking about. Indeed, “driving season” in the cold-weather states is still buying and selling season. Looking for a collector car when snowflakes are flying might give you a big advantage over waiting for the first days of warm weather.
Many years ago, a gentleman I worked for started making a new round of “is your car still for sale” phone calls in early January, counting on Christmas bills arriving, and serving as a way to focus sellers on his low-ball offer. He had a standard line that he would use after delivering his offer, something along the line of “I’ll buy your car in the snow, why wait until spring to sell it?” This ploy often worked, and he scored some major deals. It’s also worth noting that a lot of people hung up on him seconds after making his offer. These days, the hang-up rate might be higher. It's always sunny somewhere and, thanks to the power of online marketplaces, even a seller in, say, Wisconsin, now has access to buyers in Texas.
When selling your car, a few tips to mention. As noted above, warm weather is the best time to attract the most attention to your car. I always tell my clients who are thinking of selling their car to take photos of the car on a clear or cloudy day, but never, if they can avoid it, in the snow or rain. A professional photographer (or a skilled or lucky amateur) will be able to make some cars look great in the snow, but most snow photos are of poor quality. Make a professional looking file, or even a printed book of your receipts and history of your car, along with perhaps photos from the car’s restoration. Keep the car as clean as possible (unless it’s a barn find) and always keep it clean when selling it.
When it comes right down to it, the best time to buy a collector car is when you have done your homework, when you have the cash (or loan) lined up, and when you are damn good and ready. Remember, the buyer is in the catbird seat, and to some extent, you make the rules. It always makes sense to be polite, explain your reasoning, and don’t insult the seller about his car. It might not be perfect, but why insult the seller? At that point it can become personal, and that can end negotiations quickly. Be nice, unless the seller has become hostile.
Selling a car? Much of the same as above applies. If you like the cash more than the car, it’s time to let it go. Be honest and forthright, show the buyers the positives and the not-so positives of your car. If you are not getting the call or emails, consider dropping the price, or increasing the sites where your car can become more visible. Selling can happen overnight, or it can take many months, in some rare cases even years. If you need the cash fast, selling to a dealer can be helpful. Make a few calls, but don’t shop the car to everyone. The collector car world is big, but people in the hobby and business have a habit of talking to each other.