At this point, you’ve found a plane you want to buy, and you have the funding lined up. You could just pay the list price, but it’s likely that a brief negotiation can save you at least a few percent on the sales price. If you hate haggling, don’t worry! It’s not so painful with this process, and it will save you a meaningful amount of money.

Marshalling information

To have any chance of coming out ahead in the negotiation, you need to have as much information as possible. When buying a plane, the key pieces of information are how much the plane is worth, how much you’re willing to pay, and how much the seller is willing to take.

Determining how much you’re willing to pay is easy, since you should have determined that fact long ago.

Evaluating the plane’s cost is also relatively straightforward. Start by using AOPA’s vref tool. The “as configured” number is your starting point. Next, adjust it based on any upcoming costs. For instance, a Skyhawk that had an annual 1 month ago is worth about $700 more than a Skyhawk that had an annual 11 months ago. A plane with an ADS-B out transponder is worth a few thousand dollars more than an identical plane without ADS-B since the plane without will need to be upgraded before 2020. The number you end up with for the plane’s value should be the list price +/- 20%. If the difference is much bigger, that suggests that you and the seller have a very different sense of the plane’s value. This does not bode well.

Obviously, you can’t know the exact minimum the seller will accept, but you can guess. If the seller financed the plane, you’ll know the lien value from the title search. That number is almost certainly a hard floor. Unless something happened to the plane, the owner will expect to be able to pay off their loan. It’s worth asking the seller why they’re selling, and doing a bit of research about them. Unless you have reason to think the seller is motivated, they will probably demand something close to the plane’s value.

If all three numbers are within ~15% of each other, the deal will probably go through. Now you just need to try tipping the scales in your favor. If you’re not used to negotiating, have no fear! The seller fully expects you to make a counter offer and is planning on some back and forth. Their feelings will not be hurt, and it will not be awkward. Before getting on the phone, decide on your opening offer. This should be the plane’s value, minus any plausible adjustments you can come up with. Upcoming inspections, obvious avionics upgrades, shoddy interior or exterior are all sensible reasons to expect a price reduction. So, your opening negotiation salvo will probably go something like this:

“Hello Seller. N1234 seems like a good fit for me. However, I would need to redo the interior soon since it still has the stock velour from the 70s. I’d also need to hire a ferry pilot. Because of those upcoming expenses, I was thinking about $X”

Where things go from there depends on the seller. They will probably make a counter offer somewhere between the list price and your offer. Alternatively, they might offer something besides a price adjustment. For instance, in our example, the seller might point out that some people love velour and offer to deliver the plane. It all comes back to your price ceiling. If you get the price to come down a bit but it’s still over your ceiling, then politely decline. If the price is below your ceiling then you accept, and you’re going to buy a plane!