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Getting top dollar for the car you can't afford to leave behind

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Potential buyer 1st Lt. Jeff Laswain, left, talks to seller Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Nolla about his Mazda for sale on the base car lot.

photo by Nick Stubbs

The scene is repeated often at MacDill: A Servicemember receives orders and among the business at hand is selling a vehicle. With time often short and so much to do, the seller is at a real disadvantage but there are some guidelines that can help maximize the price and ensure the deal is done before it is time to ship out.

Advertising outlets are numerous and with the reach of the Internet, there has never been a time when spreading the word to buyers has been easier. But don't overlook the opportunities under your nose. The base sales lot is a ready option and available to anyone on MacDill looking to buy or sell. The fee is $15 to park a car on the lot, which currently is located next to the swimming pool near the Mini Mall. The seller places their contact information and details about the vehicle in the window and waits for a bite. Many cars, trucks, motorcycles and even boats are sold this way and it is a great option for those buying and selling.

"This is a nice tool," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Nolla. "In the past I have sold a boat and now I am looking to sell my car."

Chief Nolla was showing his Mazda RX-8 to 1st Lt. Jeff Laswain, who is looking for something sporty.

"I'm looking," said Lieutenant Laswain, adding he's just starting his search and has to sell his current car before he makes a move.

He likes the convenience of the lot on base. Working at the Flight Simulation Center across the street, he's able to glance at the lot frequently as see "what's new."

"I keep an eye out," he said. "They (cars) come and go."

Ray Dempsey, Auto Hobby Shop manager, said the lot is a great place to sell, or buy. But when time is short and the buyers know it, getting top dollar can be a challenge. Mr. Dempsey's best advice for getting your price: "Clean it up."

"Get it clean inside and out, under the hood and make it cleaner than new," he said. "The cleaner it is the better money you are going to get."

Mike Valdes, used car manager at Bill Currie Ford, frequently works with service members and tells them pretty much the same thing. Making the car presentable is the key to making an impression on buyers.

He said if a person has at least a month before they ship out, they usually can make a deal.

The starting point is checking the value by going online or using a NADA or Kelly Blue Book to find out the average retail price for your make and model. The car should be priced right, particularly if the seller is in a hurry. Also note that the condition of the car should be taken into account. Problems or wear and tear beyond the usual decreases the value, and the pricing guides can help you determine adjustments.

Mr. Valdes recommends advertising, starting with the base newspaper and others in the area. If after two weeks there is no sale, he said it may be time to go to plan "B."

You can always sell the car to a lot or someone like CarMax," said Mr. Valdes. "We buy cars and whenever the car is the same brand the lot sells, and it is in decent shape, they usually are interested in purchasing."

Mr. Valdes cautions that the price is based on the wholesale, which is what lots need in order to make their profit, so it is not the way to "make out" well on the sale. Still worse, if too much money is owed on the car, the wholesale price may not even cover what is owed.

"You can get upside down if you have not had the car long enough," said Mr. Valdes, who added it is important for Servicemembers to be careful when making buying decisions if they think they may have to sell soon.

They key is advertising as quickly as possible once it is learned the car must be sold. Any delay is time and opportunity lost.

Mr. Valdes said sometimes family or friends that remain in the area can be left with the chore of selling a car left behind. Another option is a lot that agrees to sell on consignment. Few provide this service, however, so it would take some checking around to find one. Bill Currie does not sell on consignment.

Mr. Valdes also suggests not overlooking simple "spreading the word." Some sales come just from someone hearing that you have a car for sale but unless you tell as many people as possible, the power of word of mouth is untapped. He said on a military base, putting out the word to the local community should be viewed as an advertising source as well as a source of potential buyers.

As a last resort, Bill Currie buys some cars and Mr. Valdez said the dealership always works closely with service members to try to do "the best we can to help them."

"We and other people in this business know what they (servicemembers) are dealing with these days," said Mr. Valdes. "I think everyone tries to help out now."

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