Prebuy Showstopper

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“Welcome to SavvyPrebuy, Mark!” Savvy’s technical director Jeff Iskierka posted to the newly-opened prebuy ticket. “ We’re delighted that you have hired us to manage a prebuy examination of this 1949 Stinson 108-3.”

Mark lives in the Pacific Northwest, and this was to be his second Savvy-managed prebuy. The first was for a East Texas-based 1958 Piper PA-22-160 Tri-Pacer with a metal fuselage covering replacing the original fabric. The Tri-Pacer had been idle and out-of-annual for the prior 10 years. When the owner finally decided to sell it, he had it annualed and new paint applied to the exterior. Savvy normally would recommend passing up an airplane like this with a history of extended disuse in an area of high corrosion risk, but Mark really wanted to do a prebuy on it so we consented to arrange one.

Not surprisingly, the Tri-Pacer turned out to be a real “project airplane.” The borescope inspection—which hadn’t been done during the annual but which we always do during any prebuy—revealed seriously corroded cylinders, suggesting that the camshaft and lifters were probably corroded as well. The airframe was also quite rough. After going over the prebuy findings with Savvy account managers Tony Barrell A&P/IA (who performed the preliminary review of the Tri-Pacer’s logbooks) and Dave Pasquale A&P/IA (Savvy’s expert on tube-and-fabric airplanes), Mark wisely decided to walk away from the Pacer and find another purchase candidate.

That candidate turned out to be the 1949 Stinson 108, a 72-year-old airplane based in Atlanta that the seller characterized as being a “creampuff” and his “pride and joy.” While the age of the plane was an obvious concern, the Stinson was being flown regularly which was encouraging.

Just one problem…

“Plane is located at KHMP,” Mark posted to the ticket. “Owner wishes prebuy to be performed at his hangar there.”

“I sure hope the owner is willing to relocate the plane,” replied Jeff. “ Performing a prebuy in the seller’s hangar is a terrible idea. The prebuy needs to be totally independent and not influenced by the seller. We can’t have the owner looking over the prebuy mechanic’s shoulder and breathing down his neck. The plane definitely needs to be moved to an independent shop with Stinson and Franklin engine experience.”

“The owner is adamant regarding where the prebuy is to take place,” Mark said. “He says it has to be in  his hangar at KHMP and in his presence. All my attempts to convince him that we need to ferry it elsewhere for the prebuy were not well received. My sense is that the owner wants to make sure minimal disassembly is performed. He’s very proud of the fact that the Franklin engine drips no oil.”

“I can understand the owner’s concern,” Jeff said. “You can reassure him that we will not permit any maintenance to be done to the aircraft other than cutting open the oil filter and/or removing the oil screens for inspection. We will not authorize correction of any discrepancies found during the prebuy unless and until you take title to the aircraft. We will not allow the prebuy to be logged as an inspection, because once an annual inspection is started the previous one becomes null and void and any airworthiness discrepancies found in that context would leave the owner with an aircraft grounded at a shop that he did not choose, which isn’t fair to the owner. Savvy bends over backwards to ensure that the prebuy is done in a fashion that protects both the seller (owner) and prospective buyer (our client).”

Savvy’s Rules

“After having managed literally thousands upon thousands of prebuys over the past 13 years and having seen just about everything that can possibly go wrong, Savvy has established some very strict rules to ensure that any prebuy that Savvy is involved with is completely independent,” Jeff continued. “This means the prebuy must be conducted by a qualified shop or mechanic who has no prior relationship with the aircraft, the seller or (if applicable) the seller’s broker, and must be done in an environment outside the sphere of influence of the seller or broker. That normally means that the prebuy is never performed at the owner’s home airport, and certainly not in the owner’s hangar or in the shop that has been maintaining the aircraft.”

“Savvy has established these rules to minimize your risk of a bad purchase outcome,” Jeff explained. “In our experience, a seller who balks at a truly independent prebuy likely has something to hide. In addition, the most knowledgeable and qualified mechanics we work with are very busy and understandably reluctant to work in an unfamiliar environment without access to their tools and equipment. That’s why a seller’s refusal to allow the airplane to be moved a reasonable distance to a prebuy shop of the buyer’s choice is a huge red flag for us. We generally define ‘reasonable distance’ as meaning within one-hour’s flying time from the aircraft’s home base.”

While all this was going on, Savvy account manager Dave Pasquale A&P/IA was busy looking for a Stinson expert in the Atlanta area who was qualified to do a thorough prebuy examination of the Stinson. After several tries, he finally found two good possibilities in the Atlanta area, one at KRYY and one at 8GA9—both quite close to KHMP—and recommended that Mark get the seller to agree to have the airplane ferried to one of those shops for the prebuy exam.

Things Go Downhill

“The owner emailed last night to say that his schedule is much more flexible on weekends than during the week, because he spends a lot of time on the road during the week,” Mark posted. “I take it that he is hinting that he wants the prebuy done during a weekend when he can be present in his hangar.”

“Can this seller make it any harder to buy his plane?” said Jeff.

“This is sounding worse and worse,” Dave added. “Most mechanics work during the week. Adding a requirement of working on the weekend to the requirement that the prebuy be done in the seller’s hangar with the seller breathing down the mechanic’s neck will make it virtually impossible for Savvy to arrange an independent prebuy by a qualified technician. This sounds to me like a showstopper. Does this guy really want to sell this airplane?”

“I am just the messenger,” Mark said.

“Mark, we do things the way we do them in order to reduce your risk of a bad purchase outcome as much as humanly possible,” Jeff said. “The more we deviate from this process, the less control we can exert over the prebuy exam and the less confidence we can have in the prebuy findings. We think it’s in your best interests to persuade the seller to do things this way. If the seller won’t budge, we have no choice but to advise you to walk away from this airplane and find another purchase candidate.”

“I don’t hold much hope for moving him from doing the prebuy in the seller’s hangar where he wants it,” said Mark. “Every attempt has been met with stern rebuke. Jeff, I am a fairly skeptical person when it comes to things like this, so I share a degree of your caution, I absolutely do. However, if I put myself in the owner’s shoes for the moment and look at it from his viewpoint, I don’t see that he is being difficult—just a very busy guy trying to run a business who has an airplane for sale and little time available for facilitating the sale.”

Mark was now making excuses for the seller, and that forced Jeff’s hand…

“I am not going to let Savvy get involved in a weekend prebuy in the seller’s hangar under the seller’s supervision,” Jeff told Mark. “You are certainly entitled to decide to proceed under this seller’s unreasonable constraints, but if you do, Savvy must back away and disengage. You paid us to manage this prebuy for you, but since we can’t do so in good conscience under those circumstances, I will immediately issue you a full refund of the fee you paid Savvy and terminate Savvy’s involvement. I really dislike doing this, but the situation leaves me no choice.”

“I wish you the best of luck with your purchase of this airplane,” Jeff concluded. “I genuinely hope it turns out to be the cream puff that the seller has represented it to be.”

The market for pre-owned GA airplanes is hotter than a pistol right now. Planes are changing hands at a rate we’ve not seen in recent memory. Most buyers find candidates to purchase on one of the online aircraft listing sites like Aircraft Shopper OnlineControllerTrade-A-Plane, and Barnstormers. As a result, they often find promising purchase candidates located thousands of miles away, making it difficult for them to arrange a good prebuy.

We’ve managed thousands of prebuys over the past decade, but our prebuy business has literally exploded over the past 18 months.

Every prebuy is different, and each presents its unique challenges. We try to be flexible to accommodate the seller while protecting our client (the prospective buyer). But one principle that we consider absolutely inviolate is that the prebuy must always be done in a fashion that is totally independent of the seller’s influence. That’s why we insist that the seller agree to allow the prebuy to be done by a qualified shop or mechanic of the buyer’s choice within a reasonable distance (no more than one-hour flying-time radius) of the aircraft’s home base. We always try to take the airplane far enough away from home base to ensure that the prebuy is completely outside the seller’s sphere of influence.

We do this to protect our client, the buyer. If the seller won’t agree to this, we counsel our client to walk away and find another airplane to buy. Usually, our clients gratefully accept our advice. In the few cases where they don’t—as was the case with Mark—we step away and refund the fee that the client paid us.

You bought a plane to fly it, not stress over maintenance.

At Savvy Aviation, we believe you shouldn’t have to navigate the complexities of aircraft maintenance alone. And you definitely shouldn’t be surprised when your shop’s invoice arrives.

Savvy Aviation isn’t a maintenance shop – we empower you with the knowledge and expert consultation you need to be in control of your own maintenance events – so your shop takes directives (not gives them). Whatever your maintenance needs, Savvy has a perfect plan for you: