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Has the sun faded the "For Sale" sign in your windshield? Are the tires going flat from sitting so long? Are your neighbors beginning to glare at you?

If so, chances are your hope for a quick car sale has expired.
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Vol. 2, No. 4
January 1, 2004

Five Reasons Classic Cars Don't Sell
by The Staff of Automotive Mileposts

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Here are five of the most-common reasons why classic cars don't sell, and what you can do to make it happen.

1. Your car is overpriced
Everyone may have a dream car they would love to own, but to assume your particular car will be someone else's dream car is...well...dreaming. Chances are your car is someone else's dream car, but they have to find it, and they have to be in the market for it. It's true that there is likely a buyer for every car, but the down side is it's usually at the buyer's price, not the sellers. And that is where the heart of the problem lies.

Rarely is a car worth as much to a buyer as it is to the seller. Most sellers have "sweat equity" in their vehicles, they know how much time and effort they've spent on the car, and they feel that should be part of the price. But the fact is, buyers ultimately determine the value of a car, not the seller. A car is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. You can shoot for the moon and stars and hope that it will sell, price it well above other comparable cars in the market, and hope for the best, but if you truly want to sell it, at some point you are going to have to compromise and accept what a buyer thinks it's worth.

Asking too much for a car, especially a classic or special interest one, is the most common reason a car doesn't sell. When you ask an unrealistic price, it sets in motion a process that ultimately works against you. Here's why:

When a car first hits the marketplace, it will be a new listing and people looking for a car will recognize the fact it's just been listed for sale. If the price is too high, and there are no indications you are willing to negotiate, interested collectors and enthusiasts will communicate with each other via chat rooms, mailing lists, and the like regarding your overpriced car, and the fact that you are asking too much for it. This will cause interest in your car to wane, even among buyers who would normally be interested, because they feel like they aren't going to get a good deal.

When you price a car too high, it isn't competing with similar cars any longer, it's competing with cars that are rarer, in better condition, more desirable, or more expensive to start with, and quite often in a different class. For instance, if you are trying to sell a 1965 Lincoln Continental Sedan, and have it priced closer to the more expensive 1965 Lincoln Continental Convertibles, you are no longer competing with similar cars. Convertibles are normally the most desirable, and as such will command higher prices than Sedans. Buyers note that they could buy a Convertible for the same price your Sedan is listed for.

You may eventually sell for your asking price, or close to it, but the longer your car remains on the market, the less likely it is to sell. Buyers will see your car for sale, and ask their friends about it. The friends will tell them, "That car has been for sale for a long time. There must be something else wrong with it since it hasn't sold." People become accustomed to seeing your car for sale, and no longer pay attention to it. Meanwhile, other cars are being listed for sale, possibly at more attractive prices, and since they're new listings and priced competitively, they compete with similar cars and command more attention simply because they're new on the market, and targeted buyers are looking for them.

2. Your car doesn't "show" well
After being on the market for a period of time, your car is no longer as fresh as it was when first offered. The interior has become dusty, the paint and chrome have water spots from the rain or sprinkler system. Grass and dirt has been tracked in, and the carpet is now soiled. Fluid leaks have developed from sitting so long.

You are not as anxious to maintain the car in tip top shape, since it's been for sale for so long, and you feel the energy exerted to constantly keep it showroom new is just not worth it. You lack the enthusiasm you had when you first prepared it to sell.

A seller can control two things regarding selling a car. That's the price and the condition. You cannot control what other cars are selling for, you cannot do anything about supply and demand for your particular model. You can only lower the price to make it more affordable, or improve the condition to make the asking price more realistic.

If the paint is chipped or faded, a fresh paint job may help the car sell, but some buyers would prefer to buy a faded original rather than a shiny fresh repaint. You are alienating potential buyers, as they may dislike the color or worry about the quality and durability of the paint job.

At this point, you're better off spending more time detailing the car than spending lots of money on it. Are the ash trays clean? Are the inserts in the door armrests clean? Do you have stains in the trunk from junk yard parts that were placed there when you were working on the car? Is it missing a piece or two of chrome trim, or is it loud due to a cracked exhaust manifold? How about that cracked steering wheel, or discolored carpeting.

Step back and take an honest, thorough look at the car. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Make notes of areas that need attention. Even a car in need of a total restoration is worthy of a thorough clean up. Put the loose parts back on the car, vacuum the carpeting, even if it's faded or worn thin in spots. Clean the glass, make it sparkle even if it's scratched. Polish the chrome and shiny trim, inside and out. Even pitted pieces look better when the surface rust and dirt are removed. If the car appears to have been tended to, it will greatly improve its marketability.

3. Your car is in a bad location
If you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, it is difficult for buyers who live in major areas to see your car. American cars in Canada are less likely to sell to someone in the United States, due to the geographical distance involved, and the process of buying in Canada and bringing to the United States.

Even if you're close to a major metropolitan area, if the car is tucked away in an old barn or parked in the middle of a muddy field somewhere, it's less likely to be given as much consideration as a car parked in someone's garage or driveway in town.

If you were to take two duplicate cars, in identical condition with the same options, and place one for sale in Los Angeles, California and the other for sale in Ulmer, Iowa (it's located in the west-central part of the state), chances are the Los Angeles car will sell quicker, and for a higher price, simply because it's more accessible to buyers. Unless you're prepared to take the car to a major metropolitan area, your asking price needs to be adjusted downward if the car is in a remote location, or if buyers are going to need to go out of their way to see it. You have to overcome the difficulty of getting to the car to see it.

The best way to compensate for a bad location is to lower the price of the car, or offer an incentive to interested buyers. Perhaps you agree to pay part of their travelling costs to see the car, or drive to a nearby town in the car so they can see it instead of driving all the way out to your place. Perhaps you could pick them up and even put them up for the night if travelling distances are great. If you're in a remote location, and it seems a great many collector cars are, you have to be more accommodating than your big city neighbors.

4. Your car is suffering from strong competition or economic conditions
You've likely heard the terms "buyer's market" and "seller's market." In a seller's market, supply is usually limited, cars for sale have little competition, and sell quickly, usually for the asking price or better.

In a buyer's market, there are lots of cars for sale to choose from, which creates a lot of competition for buyers. As a result, sales slow since buyers have more to look at and consider, and prices drop in order to increase chances of selling quicker.

If the market is flat, chances are you won't get top dollar for your car, and while odds are you won't have to discount the price significantly, be prepared to wait a while for the right buyer. If the selling price is your main consideration, it's best to wait until market conditions improve before attempting to sell your car.

5. Your car isn't being marketed properly
Some people will have luck placing an ad in a local paper, sticking a "For Sale" sign in the window, and either driving the car around town or parking it in a high visibility area. Others will do well by placing ads in old car publications, posting notices in chat rooms and on mailing lists, and by word of mouth through classic car clubs and functions.

Your best chance for a quick sale at an acceptable price is to cover all bases. Make sure your car is listed on the Internet, as more and more classic and collector cars are being sold on the Internet today. Make sure the car is listed on a site that specifically attracts viewers interested in your particular car. This is called targeted advertising. If you don't, your car will be lost in hundreds or thousands of listings, and the attention span of potential buyers can be very short. You don't want your car to be buried on the site, among lots of other competing cars, as a great many buyers will never see it due to the sheer volume of cars being offered.

Focus on what makes your car special, what makes it stand apart from other similar cars. If your 1965 Lincoln Continental Sedan has the rare individual front seats and console option, as well as the rare speed control option, you better make sure that's highlighted in the listing.

Good photographs help as well. Take as many as you can, and make sure to show off the rare options or specific areas that are in exceptionally good condition on your car, but normally aren't on that make or model. If rusty rear quarters are almost always a concern, and your car is pristine in this area, you want some good, clear, close up photos of the rear quarters!

If you address these five areas, you will greatly improve your chances of selling your car for the best price possible in the shortest amount of time.

Copyright © 2004 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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