Want to sell your plane? Be prepared to dance


If you plan to sell your airplane in this market, be prepared to dance.

You’ll probably have to two-step, twist, boogie and maybe try some new routines before you’ll get that plane sold. And it won’t be the romantic experience you were looking for.

Love is not in the air in the airplane market of today. Buyers rule and they act more like a divorcing spouse than a brother of the feather.

It took me all summer to sell an attractively priced light-sport aircraft and come through with some skin left.

Friends with standard category aircraft that can’t be flown under light-sport rules have fared worse. They are taking offers they couldn’t have imagined not long ago. Pretty soon we’ll all be trading aircraft, boats, RVs and houses with no money changing hands.

Here’s a few of the interesting characters out there.

“I’ve Just Got To Have It.”

Do you know this person? You get a call in the middle of the night because he’s just seen your ad and he’s already emotionally connected with the aircraft. It fulfills a life-long desire and he’s passionate to be its next owner. He’s talking about dropping everything and rushing up to see it.

Don’t get your hopes up despite the heavy breathing. Passion cools quickly. My bet is one more phone call and that’s the last you’ll hear from him because that’s all it will take for him to realize how far away you really are and how tough it’s going to be to find time and money to get there.

The Chatter Upper

“Tell me all about your (fill in the model).” No matter how much detail about background, condition, performance and history you put in your ad, nobody seems to read it. The caller acts like the small book you wrote was too difficult to comprehend, so he’s got to speak to you in person about it.

Oh well, the FAA says you must be English proficient to be licensed. Hearing from the horse’s mouth is fine, but at least ask questions that supplement the existing material. Why waste people’s time going over the same thing?

“I’ll be coming through your area…”

This is a tire kicker for sure. Some people are professional lookers. Others harbor the real desire to purchase something like you’ve got but will probably never get around to it for various reasons. In both cases they just can’t deny themselves the chance to drop in on you and take up your time, which, after all, is free, right? I draw the line when these folks want a demo flight.

“My Partners Say They’ll Do Whatever I Want.”

Those partners are either crazy or this guy’s lying. Few people are going to spend several thousand dollars without seeing, feeling and sampling the product. Full disclosure: I did it once.

“We’ll Want A Fresh Annual And Oil Analysis.”

If you’re close to annual time it might be a good idea to do the annual. Perhaps oil analysis would help your sales case. But more often than not buyers and sellers will accommodate each other by combining a pre-purchase inspection with an annual and work out a cost sharing arrangement in cases like this. What burns up sellers is a looker who starts making demands before he shows the money.

Unreasonable Expectations

Get used to them in this market. People want perfection from used aircraft. They want a $100,000 plane for $30,000. They want you to deliver it, guarantee it and fix everything that might go wrong in the next five years. They want you to transition them into it for free if you’re an instructor.

The plane I just sold was a taildragger. One guy wanted a freebie tailwheel endorsement. I was waiting for him to demand that I pay for the gas.

You’ll end up dancing around the the ad wording when the calls stop, the FAA paperwork nightmare if it’s an old airplane, the misconceptions in the marketplace about your particular airframe and engine, the paint job quality, the delivery costs, and whether the potential buyer would really like this model or not.

This market is a very long way from any I have ever seen and I’ve bought and sold 20 airplanes in my flying career, all for my own personal and business use.

So, be prepared to dance, and don’t be surprised if the music goes on a long time.


  1. Jon says

    I have a friend whos husband died and she has 2 plans now a CirrusN49WF sr22 turbo 2007 and a Cirrus 2005 N55ICD can someone tell me what I need to sell them she would like to get 600,000 for the both of them and will give me commision if I am able to sell them so any advice would be helpfull she doesnt have the energy being a 80 year old women to deal with selling all toys he huband has purchased over the years and I would like to help her if I can. advice from a professonal would be very kind thank you
    email enoch77@gmail.com

  2. says

    I agree 100% I’ve bought and sold several planes since 1972.I was an auto dealer for 30+yrs before I retired. I recently put anew engine in my C-182 r/g thought it would help sell it.I’m only getting a few calls,I’ve never herd so many off the wall questions.,or seen so many tire kickers!

    • says

      Hi John; As a former dealer principal also, the “car”, has a greater need than the airplane.
      Questions like: What’s the maximum ground speed; Vgpne??? been there – done that!

  3. Anonymous says

    I see guys complaining about lack of buyers for their old airplanes. Well, lower the price. There are newer airplanes on the market nowadays. You may like that old Taylorcraft or Stinson but for younger pilot Cirrus could be the dream airplane and your favorite one may look just like another ancient airframe that belongs in a museum.

      • Keith says

        “Well, son, heel brakes are things you find on airplanes that you can buy for a tenth of what they’re asking for that Cirrus, and that you can fly for twenty-five bucks an hour . . .”

        • says

          Correct; and you can buy a Chey Vega or Ford Pinto (complete with abestos suit and fire extinguisher) for about 1/10th of 1% (or less) of a “pre-owned Lexus – but get this; news flash, Keith; the Lexus gets BETTER gas mileage than any of those Big Three 4 cylinder classic junks – DAD!

          • Keith says

            So, how many hundreds of thousands of miles do you have to drive before the gas you save makes up for the money you would spend for the Lexus, compared to a 1970 Mustang? πŸ˜‰

          • Anonymous says

            People who were looking for function first and style/beauty/comfort third or fourth are dying out. People expect nice things nowadays. You can say all you want about cheap 1970s car but you would not get many buyers. Would you buy horse buggy from 1890? It is even more economical than that 1970s car.

  4. Keith says

    I’ve got a beautiful Stits Playboy that I’ve been trying to sell for a year at a bargain price (aerobatics for under 10 grand!). It’s been on Barnstormers a couple of times.

    The results: half a dozen tire kickers, another couple who made plans to come see it (causing me to cancel my own plans) then never showed, and one guy who took most of a day to do an inspection — with a supposed A&P, who didn’t know that a primer only works when the fuel is on.

    The one offer I got was for about half the value of a run-out engine (much less a C85 with only 578 SMOH — and the whole airplane it’s hung on).

    The plane is still in my hangar, and when the weather gets better, I’ll get it current on inspection and put it back on Barnstormers. Fortunately, I can wait until someone serious comes along, so I don’t have a lot of dancing to worry about.

    • says

      Keith; It’s simply a BUYERS market for pre 80’s lower performance/or specialty birds like your Stits. Your second paragraph summed it up well – a lot of smoke and “rudder kickers”! Is the bargain your (subjective ) idea – or really the SELLING price of several comparative models? And if it’s NOT priced right to sell – then its not really for sale!

      • Keith says

        I dunno, Rod, do you consider a 9+/9- classic aerobatic plane overpriced at $9,900? Why don’t you show me the comparable planes and comparable prices?

        Have you priced low-time C85 engines lately?

        • says

          BOTTOM LINE; Keith; I understand your “logic”, and yes, somewhat agree. However, DEMAND dictates “selling price”, be it an airplane, boat or classic Mustang! Basically, If the ONLY offer you have for your bird is say 50% of book /vref “retail”, if they’re is such a thing, then that’s what its worth. That said, your acceptance or refusal is at your discretion. Don’ t you think they’re a lot more buyers for 2008 Toyota Camry’s than the Mustang classic’s? If NO one needs or wants it – “price” is irrelevant!

          • Keith says

            You implied that the price was too high, but now are dodging the question.

            Aren’t you the same guy who was saying how the Flycatcher should have replaced the 150? You thought that a $175,000 plane with serious design issues and suffering from factory recalls would win out over a <$20,000 plane with superior capabilities, more carrying space and a 60-year record of excellence . . ? REALLY??? If you want to talk "overpriced," there's your example.

  5. walter hake says

    I tried to sell my vintage Taylorcraft and gave up for now. I have decided i will not talk to buyers who do not have experience in type, it is a waist of time. It may take me years to sell a good plane.

  6. Tom says

    Who cares about sales “dance” matters,
    When one puts it all in perspective,
    It’s the third class medical mad hatters,
    And the FAA sleep apnea detectives.

    • Anonymous says

      You are going offtopic here. If selling or buying is not in your perspective then just try not to write. Please.

      • Mike says

        I disagree, Mr. Anon,
        Perhaps not stated clearly, but Tom has a point.
        Losing medicals, fear of losing a medical, potential more stringent medicals, and SI hassles clearly have had a negative effect on the aircraft market, and probably will into the foreseeable future.

  7. Rich says

    Hold on to your hats,
    Pressure your congressman and senators to support the legislation introduced by senators Rokita and Graves to do away with the 3rd class medical.
    When that happens your 172s and Cherokees are gonna jump in value.
    Pay attention.

    • says

      Rich; let me see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying that do to a “medical issue’. present owners of 50+ year old C-172’s/Cherokees, etc is the REASON they’re NOT flying them? What % of the pilot (private/3rd class medical holder) population falls in this category – 2-5% possibly? And THAT is going to make a dent in the value (appreciation) of these relics? On a personal note – what part of the “12 step program” are you at?

      • Keith says

        No, what he’s saying is that there are a lot of people who aren’t flying because of the 3rd Class who WILL fly once it’s no longer an obstacle. These new and returning pilots will be be looking at older “Chevy class” planes such as 172s and Cherokees more than at newer planes which cost several times as much, especially once the Part 23 changes come through.

        • says

          ” a lot of people” – do you have some hard statistics (evidence) to valid your claim? Again, I would be more convinced with factual data (not subjective opinion) to reinforce this. I certainly agree that a number of pilots – mostly “aged’ , would return, or start flying from “day on” as new students, but frankly, I think your over estimating this group! Yes, I also agree that a somewhat peak in “older” aircraft purchases may result, but certainly not in any large volume that would increase “asking” prices by more than say 10-15%

          • Keith says

            Do you have any hard statistics (evidence) to validate your claim that prices would only go up by 10% – 15%, or anything to explain why you don’t consider that to be a “jump” . . ?

  8. Kent Misegades says

    One odd thing – some planes are holding their value well. I have been looking for a Citabria 7GCBC for the past two years, not too seriously, just watching what comes across Barnstormers. Most are in the $38K-$45K range and prices are pretty steady. Run out engines and old fabric lower the price only a few thousand, but people are asking $60K or more for low time engines and new fabric. It is a pretty versatile airplane, and the 7GCBC has decent acro capabilities plus runs on cheaper mogas. Still, I do not see the drop in prices I would have expected, judging from other planes.

  9. Ed Seaton says

    I speak for the buyer.Beware buyers,there is people out there that is trying to sell Airplanes that should be in the junk yard.I have went to look at Airplanes that is advertise to be your dream Airplane.Airplanes that would of been dangerous to fly.Airplanes that would of been illegal to fly.I could go on and on about the bad experiences i have had looking for a good Airplane to buy.There is some good ones but take some one with you that has your interest at heart.

  10. Jim Hausch says

    @ Author: Hey! I resemble those remarks! πŸ˜‰

    In all seriousness, I spend a lot of time reviewing ads, but I think I’ve only actually talked with or emailed a seller 3-4 times in 2-3 years. I am in constant data gathering mode in the hopes of pulling the trigger one day.

    I do feel for sellers who have to put up with this stuff. When I am truly ready – the cash will be in escrow, a contract will be ready, and my offer will be near the asking price with clear indication of what items will either be seller’s responsibility or deducted from the seller’s price, and how the inspection will be handled. We’ll see what happens…

    @Rod Beck – I have just skimmed your blog, but I look forward to reading more.

  11. Kent Misegades says

    This is a refreshing change from all the Polly Anna stories from the other aviation media outlets. Adults can handle the truth, and it is not pretty in this regard. Our airports are full of tired old spam cans that are rarely flown. Even if a buyer finds one cheap, he’ll have sticker shock when it goes through its first annual, which is why I would never buy an airplane without having my trusted mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection of it first. A professional buyer should do this, too. I would not consider any airplane that can not operate on mogas – avgas is already too expensive for my budget and will be gone or $20/gallon in a few years anyway. Young pilots do not want an airplane that has 30s technology, which describes probably half of the airplanes on the market. The economy, despite the Polly Annas in the media, is in the dump and 2014 will likely be worse, with Obamacare costs equaling a second mortgage for many people. Ask marina owners and boat sellers – they are dealing with the same problems. A friend of mine owns a boat motor repair shop – people bring him boats on trailers and ask him to take them – for nothing – as they can not find a buyer.

    • Keith says

      Dunno about where you fly, but around here there are a lot more young pilots who own “airplanes with 30s technology” than who own more modern planes. The school at a nearby airport has a Decathlon which is booked solid for weeks in advance, by young pilots who either want to learn aerobatics or want to get their tailwheel endorsement.

  12. says

    Do you want to advertise it or SELL it?
    See; “How to sell your airplane fast”, at our blog/web-site, get-aviation.com May 18th, 2013. Mike and I have sold over 200 aircraft of various makes/models since the early 70’s Good luck – and don’t expect to much SERIOUS traffic unless PRICED right!

  13. DEPILOT says

    Selling airplanes nowadays is no fun at all. I have a Piper Cherokee for sale now and only got two nibbles in response to my ads…neither of which resulted in anyone actually looking at the airplane.
    I helped to sell an airplane last summer for a friend whose husband had passed away. It took me from February until July before that one sold, and that sold for $10,000 less than the widow was hoping for.
    I am not looking forward to this round at all. And it’s January, not exactly the best time to be selling an airplane anyway!

  14. Anonymous says

    Isn’t sale of every large used item similar to this? This is the reason why professionals exist. If you do not have stomach for “dancing” then leave it to professionals.

    • says

      Anonymous; I don’t know you (I don’t think so), but I’m beginning to LIKE you and your candid replies! Where have you been – “Why hell, now that I can fly an airplane, “I can do anything BETTER than you”, no you can’t; YES I can, YES I can , YES I can” !
      As you said; leave it to the professionals! Now your not really Elvis coming back, are you?

  15. John says

    Bill Wilson,
    This story is so ‘right on’ that I thought I wrote it myself. I too have owned and sold about the same number of airplanes and changed birds every few years. While I am not ready to sell the one I have now (owned 7 years) I am getting older and concerned about its complexity and thinking about it. I hate to think of the day I have to go to the DANCE.

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