Like Sands Through The Hourglass …

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What does the iconic intro to Days of Our Lives, one of the longest-running programs in TV history, have to do with selling airplanes? Well, we’re glad you asked.


The plight of those poor pieces of soap opera sand, as they struggle desperately for the chance to be the next through the bottleneck, should be a familiar feeling to many disillusioned business jet sellers.


Of course, the fate of those little grains is out of their control. Sequence is basically determined by starting position – Last In, Last Out. It’s pretty hard for them to jump the queue. Not necessarily so with business jets. Some sell quickly; others languish on the market forever. The question is why?


We took a sample of 331 large cabin business jet transactions that closed within the past year. The average time on market was 283 days. But that number obscures the fact that many aircraft sold in a lot less time; in fact, almost half sold in less than 180 days. That’s not exactly overnight, but certainly better.

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So what causes this distribution of fortune? We argue that time on market – to the degree it can be affected – is partially a function of how well the seller accepts and promotes the relative value of their aircraft. It’s not purely a case of randomness and luck. To put it another way: maybe we can’t beat the market, but we may be able to beat the guy next to us.


One way to measure this idea is to compare the actual sales price to the asking price at time of sale. The data set reveals that 60% of these aircraft were sold within 10% of their asking price. Almost 85% were sold within 15% of their asking price.


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If we drill a bit deeper, another trend emerges: 54% of aircraft that were on the market over 180 days sold within 10% of their asking price. For aircraft that were on the market less than 180 days – that number jumps to 71%. In other words, you can catch fish faster with better bait. And faster equals more money. With markets trending down at 5+ % per quarter, a fair deal today will seem like a unicorn tomorrow.


Priced within 10% of fair value – that’s The Zone we want to be in as a seller.


The takeaway here is straightforward. Buyers seek the best value, and sellers who correctly handicap the competitive landscape, and adjust accordingly, improve their chances immensely. While this seems obvious, it’s easier said than done.


Let’s take a look at current inventory for an anonymous large-cabin business jet. We’ve measured current market value, as estimated by theJetWatch, against the current asking price, for each aircraft:

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Five out of eighteen aircraft (17%) are priced within The Zone. Another 4 are on the periphery between 85% and 90% of fair value. But fully half the market is effectively priced out of contention, according to historical probabilities. Also, notice how this chart fits a pretty normal distribution. We tend to see this pattern repeat itself – generally, no more than 15% to 20% of any given market is priced in The Zone. Those sellers are driving the bus.


This particular market has been generating about 1 sale per month on an annualized basis. That means, on average, we can expect 6 sales in the next 180 days. Any bets on which of these columns those sales will most likely come from?


While many dispute the importance of asking prices, we think the data speaks for itself. Every serious seller is “motivated” to be the “next to sell” (at least in their own mind). But asking price is a pretty powerful way of quantifying ambition.


Buyers are attracted to shiny objects. They don’t want to waste their time with an unrealistic seller. And a lot of people are simply uncomfortable making an offer millions of dollars below a seller’s expectations. They would rather head in a more sympathetic direction, and asking prices are pretty good indicators of what that direction is.


All of this is predicated on a keen understanding of relative value – that’s the essential starting point. And while this can sometimes be difficult to know, it is critical to benchmark your aircraft, and expectations, against the others. If you can’t honestly identify your value proposition as being in the top tier, you can bet the buyers won’t either.


Last word – no magic bullets here. There is no such thing as a foolproof strategy for selling your business jet. Rather, this is an exercise in doing what’s possible to maximize your chances. Markets can seize completely for extended periods, during which time it’s extremely difficult to “create” a buyer with price alone.


But unlike Sands Through The Hourglass, at least we have some tools at our disposal, expensive as they may be.