Phillip Berman

Phillip Berman is the president of The Multihull Company and a lifetime catamaran sailor and racer. He grew up racing Hobie Cats in California in the late 1960's and published his first book on catamaran racing at the age of seventeen. Called MULTIHULL RACING THE HOBIE CATS, it was published by Sea  ...more



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Phil Berman's Market Update

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The recent plunge of the Euro over the past three months has shaken up the catamaran market in a manner similar to the sudden rise of the Euro to the dollar in the early 2000's. Here are the consequences to sellers and buyers.


As a result of the global financial crisis that persisted from 2008 to 2011 very few new catamarans were built compared to the volumes built prior to the GFC. As such the inventory of late model catamarans is quite limited, particularly in North America. This is especially so for the high demand owner version catamarans between 40 and 50 feet which have not seen charter use.

During the GFC the American dollar was terribly weak to the Australian dollar, the Euro, and the Brazilian Reles. As a global brokerage firm we therefore sold a great many of our choice catamarans to people from these (then) strong currency nations. Aussie's, in particular, were feasting on the 40 to 50 foot owner version catamarans being sold by those with far weaker currencies during the GFC.

With the recent slide of the Euro and Australian currency to the U.S. Dollar these sellers finally have boats that are attractively priced compared to Dollar or Pound sellers. Back in the GFC, the last place on earth to get a good deal on a used catamaran was Australia, New Zealand or Europe. Now, a non VAT paid or non-Tax paid yacht in Australia or New Zealand might just start to look attractive again on a global basis. Note: VAT or GST tax is of no value at all to a buyer who doesn't need it. So those who forked over 15% to 20% to comply with local tax demands will have to sell to someone who values it or needs it. The concept of a 20% tax on a catamaran being "value additive" I will leave to my more politically minded friends!

At present many Euro seller catamarans are becoming better values for dollar buyers. This in turn has naturally led to a shift of focus for bargain oriented American buyers to consider yachts for sale by Europeans in either the Med or Caribbean. This is especially the case for larger, more costly catamarans, where the percentages of the savings far offset the cost of delivery or the logistics of managing a sale in Europe or some other distant location.

It is all very much deja vu for us here at The Multihull Company. We well recall the many catamarans we purchased for our American and Canadian buyers in the French islands and the Med prior to the sudden rise of the Euro in 2002.

Sadly, the challenges of these offshore purchases for our North American buyers are even greater than they were in the past for those seeking the sought after owner version catamarans built after 2008 - there just are not that many of them for sale and a great many of them were snatched up by Aussies and Europeans during the GFC. If this means looking for something in Europe the tasks and challenges grow considerably due to the near total lack of consistent professional standards for yacht sales found in most of the European countries.


If you are an American or dollar seller you are now in a more challenged situation than you were four or five months ago. I am very sorry to break this news to you, but suddenly foreign sellers are competitive again and the price of your catamaran will be measured to some extent against the global market. If someone sitting on the internet sees a Lagoon 440 for sale in Greece that is priced $75,000 less than a similar year and condition model in Florida it will make them think twice on what the boat in Florida is really worth, even if they want it in Florida. (To put a number on it, figure it is 5K more to survey the boat in Greece, 20K for delivery, and another 1K or so for typically more complex documentation. So the boat in Greece is technically a 50K or so better deal, give or take.)

In short, if you are a dollar seller you will probably find yourself having to lower your price a bit to sell your catamaran if the need arises. That said, your boat is still worth more than a similar European boat because it is delivered, duty paid, and can be surveyed, financed, and shown more easily to North American buyers. It is just a question of how much more a buyer is prepared to pay for these assets. Certainly on the very costly cats, over 500K and beyond, the deals get ever more attractive for the intrepid buyer.


If you are selling a boat in any currency other than the dollar, lucky you, provided you can find an American buyer and are wise enough to price your boat competitively. European yacht sales, however, have slumped enormously due to the weak economies of the Eurozone. While you may not have lowered the price of your boat one penny in dollar terms to get her sold over the past four months your boat has gotten a lot cheaper for the American. The American buyer is strong and flush with cash right now and ready to enjoy his retirement. That said, the reality is, your boats were overpriced by as much as 20% percent during the recession to begin with so you are now simply becoming competitive again. If you think this is your chance to raise your price you are not thinking intelligently. I note that in the past month we have sold two used Catana 58 catamarans for European and Aussie sellers. In years past these boats were always far overpriced by European sellers and very hard to sell.


Because there was so little new inventory from 2008 to 2012 new boats sales are making a strong comeback in North America. The strength in the market is in the upper end right now, with buyers purchasing cats over $600,000, particularly owner version models from 40 to 50 feet and luxury cats over 60 feet. The market is also very strong for cats under $350,000.

Europeans' new boats will now be a bit less costly to purchase for Americans, but in the end new boat prices are tied to global currencies and procurement costs and many of these are in dollars, such as resin prices. I anticipate European builders will be able to lower their dollar export pricing in the area of 10% percent in dollar terms if conditions remain the same - Euro at 110 to the dollar.  Bear in mind, however, that European labor and overhead costs will always be higher than any place on earth, save Australia and Switzerland!  At present European new boat sales remain weak in terms of domestic consumption. As such European builders must strongly rely on US markets to sustain production. The recent size and strength of US boat shows is a clear example of this. The Miami Boat Show of 2015 was a very different show from that of 2011. I believe the volume of new catamarans on display has increased by as much as 40 percent in the past two to three years.


Harkening back to the years when my company purchased many yachts in Europe and The French islands of the Caribbean all of the same old complications remain. These are:

1. Contracts really must be done in Euros or Pounds to appease the concerns of the European seller, forcing the currency risk on the American buyer. It is for this reason we manage escrow accounts in all major foreign currencies.

2. Many of the yachts in Greece, Spain, France or Turkey, etc., are owned in lease programs and the deletion and documentation process is more complex and difficult and demands a far higher level of due diligence and leads to a longer closing process.

3. Finding good, competent surveyors is hard in many parts of Europe and the French islands and an American buyer will need an English survey to secure finance or insurance. British surveyors are often the best option but vary a great deal in skill and quality.

4. Most US lenders will not lend on a boat outside of US waters or will demand that it return to the US within two months of closing. While it is mind boggling and goofy - you could, after all, close in the US and sail to Antarctica the next day - these are the geniuses who got us into the financial crisis in the first place so we should not, after all, expect too much from them.

5. Many offshore yachts are held in complex corporate structures to avoid paying high VAT taxes so the documentation and title closing process is more time consuming and difficult and requires more care.

6. Any yacht that strikes your fancy in Europe must be sold for at least $25,000 less if you intend to bring it to North America, as this will account for the higher survey, haul-out, and delivery costs associated with a purchase in Europe.

7. If you arrive in North America with a European built catamaran be prepared to post a bond and pay a total importation charge of 1.7% of the value of the boat when you import her.


During the past when European boats were a good value a great many North Americans placed deposits in offshore brokerage accounts in countries with unlicensed agents in countries that did not require a dedicated escrow account. Thefts were rampant. Several brokers were thrown in jail in St. Martin just a few years ago. Over the past ten years the number of so-called yacht brokerage companies has proliferated due to the advent of websites that allow brokers to market yachts without a single qualification, training or any verification of their professional status. I believe the horror stories of stolen deposits, botched title transfers, and unhappy transactions will proliferate in the months ahead for unwary consumers.

My advice, as always, is to seek out a professional company with licensed, bonded, and regulated brokers with a reputation for integrity and professionalism and vast experience in the complexities of offshore yacht sales. Whether you work with my company or another, deposit your money safely in a dedicated escrow account and find yourself a top notch broker and company that operates to the highest standards or the risks to you will magnify greatly on an offshore purchase.

Good look and fair sailing,

Phil Berman


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