When it came time to list the selling price, it was hard making my hands type such a large number: $129,000.
I had sold a lot of cars before, but never for that much. Of course, this wasn't just any car. It was a 2001 Ferrari 550 Maranello, that had belonged to one of the executives at Edmunds. Now it was my job to turn it back into cash. Along the way, I hoped I would find out how selling such an exotic car was different from the way I had handled other, more utilitarian vehicles. And given that this is Los Angeles, home of movie stars and moguls, we were curious to see what kind of buyers might come out of hiding to snap up a black Ferrari with a brash Tubi exhaust system and only 5,000 miles on the odo.
Getting It Ready To Sell
The first step was to make sure all the ownership papers and service records were in order. The executive showed me the additional things he was including with the car, such as the stock wheels (he had upgraded to HRE 540R wheels with Ferrari logo caps), the custom-made car cover and the authentic Ferrari tool kit (bound in hand-stitched leather, no less). I also decided it was very important for me to test-drive the 550 so I would have some firsthand knowledge of what I was selling.
With those issues settled, the next question facing us was how to set the asking price.
Pricing an Exotic Car
In most cases I would tell people selling a car to use the True Market ValueSM used car appraiser on Edmunds.com. Our site lists the Ferrari and all the options, but it doesn't provide pricing (because there is so little sales data to draw on). Instead, I turned to listings of recent Ferraris in all the ads I could find. Additionally, I consulted a book called the Sports Car Market which put the value at $125,000. Other listings on Autotrader.com and Cars.com showed asking prices that ranged from $190,000-$235,000.
Some consider the final word on pricing to come from the Ferrari Market Letter, which has many listings on its Web site. Again, the prices were all over the place, and it was difficult to make accurate comparisons. I kept finding listings and showing them to the owner. Armed with his knowledge of Ferraris, he dismissed many of these cars for being the wrong color, overpriced or having potential problems like being European versions that were brought into the U.S. The latter could run into trouble with U.S. emissions tests.
Ultimately, we decided to set the price at $129,000 with the idea that after negotiations, we would close at $125,000. I gathered some photos, had the owner write up a description and then posted the ads on Ferrari Market Letter and Cars.com. Along with a detailed description of the car and options, we wrote: "An immaculate 550 with no 'stories.'"
The Ferrari's owner had suggested that I put "no stories" in the ad to show that we had nothing to hide — there were no extenuating circumstances, no liens, no accidents or strange modifications that needed to be explained away with a story.
Once the ad was posted, we did the same as most people in Hollywood; we waited for the phone to ring.
Experience has taught me that buyers will call only if the car's price is in the right ballpark. With this in mind, I was pleased when only a few days later I got an e-mail from the Cars.com ad. I called the number listed and spoke with a gentleman named Robert Bono. I was happy to learn that he lived in West Los Angeles near our offices in Santa Monica. He came over and we took the Ferrari out into the California sunshine so he could inspect it. He declined my offer of a test-drive, saying that he would do that later if he was really serious.
Robert seemed a little concerned about the paint quality, saying that he detected small flecks embedded in the top layer. He also found two very small imperfections in the body which might have been door dings. A few days later he made an offer for $115,000. I discussed the offer with the owner and he said he wanted to see what other offers we got before we responded. I called Robert, thanked him for the offer and told him we would be in touch.
For the next three weeks I continued to get phone calls about the Ferrari. We heard from several dealers who wanted to sell it for us. And we heard from other places, such as the DuPont Registry, which wanted to advertise it for us. In some cases, even small classified ads in such high-end Web sites could cost $600. Since I was getting some calls from the Cars.com ad, I decided to forgo pricier venues for the time being.
One prospective buyer called from Wisconsin, asked all kinds of questions about the car and promised he would be back in touch. That was the last time I heard from him. Another Los Angeleno called and scoffed at our asking price. "He'll be lucky to get $115,000 for that thing," he snarled. He said he was "very interested" but "not at that price." I was to hear from him several times before the deal was done.
I finally did buy another ad in www.globalautosports.com which brought an entertaining offer. The owner of a gallery asked if we were "interested in doing a partial cash and partial trade with European antique furniture for your Ferrari. I own an antique gallery in West Hollywood, California, and specialize in 19th-century French antique furniture, paintings, tapestries, carpets and accessories."
We declined that kind offer.
After about a month, I decided it was time to get back in touch with Robert. We had never formally responded to his offer so I e-mailed him and said that we were dropping the price $4,000 and the car could be his for $125,000. He replied that he was willing to pay $120,000 — providing he could test-drive it first.
Closing the Deal
Early on, I had given Robert all the service records to inspect. He had contacted the dealership where the Ferrari had been worked on and this seemed to answer his concerns about the Ferrari's mechanical condition. He was still unsure about the paint condition. However, the owner worked with him and it was eventually decided that the flecks could be rubbed out with the right kind of rubbing compound. We accepted his offer and closed the deal at $120,000.
Robert, who manages an internationally known brokerage firm in West Los Angeles, informed us that he would be paying for the Ferrari in cash. We accepted his cashier's check, signed the title over to him, and the deal was done. It was less hassle than selling a four-year-old Ford Focus.
Advice From a Pro
Several days after the sale, I got a call from Terry Godbout, a broker in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who specializes in buying Ferraris for his clients. I told him our 550 was sold but asked him what advice he had to offer when selling exotics.
"If you want the car to go away, you have to be realistic about the price," he said. "So many people hear that their cousin once sold such-and-such a car at a certain price and they think they will, too."
Godbout said that it's also very important to take a good set of pictures to accompany the ad. Specifically, he said to take a front three-quarter shot, a low front shot (to show any stone chips), a shot of the driver seat to show any wear, and a shot of the dashboard, which can sometimes split with age. Finally, "put the camera on the ground, point it up and take a flash shot to show the undercarriage," Godbout said. "But avoid overkill — eight to 10 images are plenty."
He also recommended that you check the Carfax so you know what information potential buyers will be viewing.
As far as eBay goes, Godbout considered it "a mixed bag." He said, "I've heard of so many cars that are misrepresented. People assume they are clean because there are a lot of pictures. But that's not the case."
Reflecting on our experience, we felt that selling the Ferrari was a little easier than we thought it would be. That's probably because we were, as Godbout had recommended, "realistic about the price." We also had a good car that had been well cared for and had no "stories" we had to tell to explain away unpleasant details. On top of that, we were also rather lucky. Roll all those things together and it was a win-win situation for both the seller and buyer.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.