How to haggle: Buying or selling a used motorcycle

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I don’t haggle much any more when I sell a bike. 

I usually set a firm price. (Advertised as such, and a bit on the low side to compensate for the inflexibility.) If someone shows up and tries to dicker, I turn around and walk back into the shop and get back to working on whatever bike is on the table at the time.

That method has its flaws, of course, but I have a good idea what my old Harley stuff is worth and what I can get for it. Now when I’m buying bikes, the story’s a bit different. I ain’t paying more than I have to. I got a wife and kid who both like to eat, and I’m more than happy to keep my wallet in my pocket. I like to dicker. Is that fair, to sell firm and haggle when I buy? Absolutely not. But “fair” is where you sell a pig. Life ain't fair. (And I’d haggle the price of the pig, too.)

I’m no pro, but I have some ideas about how to play the game.

Tips for buyers

Know what you’re buying. I can get about a million crashed-up Ninja 250s if I jump on my local craigslist. However, if I’m in the mood for a mint Honda CBX, the pool of available candidates shrinks quite a bit. If you want a first-year Honda CB750, guess what? They were only made for one year. When you're buying a very particular bike, supply is finite. You can be picky if you want, but expect to pay for that privilege. On the other hand, if you just need any old beater, the world is your oyster. You can afford to take a harder line with sellers.

Be serious. Read that as “have cash.” Except for a seller moving a very new bike, most sellers are not going to wait around for you to figure out financing or wait for a paycheck. Showing up helps, too. Your low offer looks a lot more serious when you’re standing in front of the bike and have an envelope of money in your hand. Haggling over the phone rarely makes sense, except to find out if a seller is willing to deal or not.

Look serious, too. Show up in a truck with tie-downs or have a buddy give you a lift if you plan to ride the bike home. Back that truck right up the driveway, bed-first. Showing you're serious and ready to buy will often give a seller second thoughts about letting you walk away over a few measly bucks.

This affords you the opportunity to tell the seller, “Look, I know you can get more than what I am offering for this bike, and you do, too. But I’m here in your driveway, with ratchet straps and a wallet full of dough. You can help me roll this bike up the ramp, or show it to 50 more tire-kickers from craigslist.”

See if there are any extras. Most serious bike owners will have at least a couple of oil filters and some take-off parts for the bike they’re selling. You know the seller ain’t gonna need ‘em, so see if he'll sweeten the deal by including them in the sale.

...especially the manual. This is a good buying strategy for two reasons. First, you get a manual. That’s a good thing to have. Secondly, if the owner was wrenching on his own scoot, you can tell a bit about his level of skill by his manual, or lack thereof. No manual? The work might not be so hot. Clymer or Haynes manual? Better. Expensive factory service manual? Now we’re talking. Multiple manuals? Get your wallet out.

Buy the bike, not the story. “It’ll run with a carb clean.” Sure it will. And once it does, the only thing louder than the rod knock will be your groan of frustration. If you’re buying a bike that won’t run, haggle the price down as far as you can and treat it like a lotto ticket.

Buy in bulk. If you are into old bikes, a companion parts bike can often be had for a song if you’re willing to clean out someone’s garage lock, stock, and barrel (and if you’ve got the extra cheddar).

Go as low as you think you can without offending the seller. You can always come up, price-wise. Hell, you can come right up to or over the asking price. But you can never go back down. That said, don’t be an ass. Very few people are going to sell you their $9,800 bike for a cool two grand. Discretion is key here.

used motorcycle for saleKelley Blue Book does not buy motorcycles. Book values can be a good anchor price, but they are not always indicative of market price. Some sellers are dreamers, but some genuinely don’t realize that street price and book price can be worlds apart. If you think the seller just hasn't come to grips with reality yet, offer to leave your name and number in case he changes his mind.

Two-pocket your cash. When I buy, I have my cash spread out all over my body. It’s hard to play the “This is all the cash I have!” card if you pull out a huge wad.

Some bikes are supposed to be expensive. If a significant other is forcing a sale, often a bike will be listed for a sky-high price that will never come down, so the seller can appease his better half without actually getting rid of the bike.

But buying is only half of the transaction.

Tips for sellers

Know the value of modifications. Some people will pay extra for your super-sweet custom pipe. To others, it represents a flaw; a deviation from OEM. Regardless of the value you place on your modifications, recognize that the closer a bike is to stock, the more it will (generally) be worth. If you're a farklehound who has outfitted your bike with a long list of aftermarket accessories, recognize that although you may think they improve the bike, most buyers will have a different idea of perfection. In almost all cases, you can get more money by removing easily removed accessories and selling them separately. Model-specific items, such as an aftermarket seat, windscreen, luggage, etc., can usually be sold easily on an online forum dedicated to that model.

Expect low offers. The person buying your bike doesn’t hate you or your bike. He’s just trying to save a buck or two. Divorce your emotions from the offer and point out things that make your bike worth your asking price. Even if it’s a great deal, recognize that for most people in this country, a motorcycle is a luxury, not a necessity.

Understand how KBB works. If you head over to their website, you’ll see two prices: trade-in and retail. Trade-in price is self-explanatory. However, “retail” is the price that a shop will charge after reconditioning and inspecting the bike. If you don’t have a shingle outside with your shop name on it, you should probably not expect that amount of money for your motorcycle. Also, if your bike is old, rare, or heavily modified, recognize that "book value" is no longer applicable.

Stick to your guns. Especially if a buyer has shown up and appears serious, let’s be honest: he or she wants what you got. I wouldn’t hold completely firm, but you also don’t need to give your bike away. Especially if you’re not selling an easy-to-find bike, it’s OK to let a buyer walk away.

Offer your labor. More than once, I’ve sold a bike contingent upon replacing tires. I don’t like working on a bike any more than the next guy, but if I can free up shop space and tuck a few bills in my pocket for an hour’s worth of time, so be it. Remember, this whole bargaining thing is a process where you want money and the buyer wants a bike. Offering your time and handiwork humanizes the process a bit.

The sticking point: Test rides

buying a used bikeWe've had readers ask about how to handle the sticky issue of test rides. This always seems to be a weird, awkward conversation, but it doesn't have to be.

Here's what I would tell both parties is this process: haggle, pay, then test ride. That way no one gets burnt.

If you come to a mutually agreeable price and the sale is contingent on the test ride, no one is in a bad position. The buyer hands over the cash, the seller keeps it in case there is a mishap, and the paperwork doesn’t get signed until absolutely necessary at the very end. If the buyer is satisfied, the deal closes. If the buyer finds something he doesn't like and brings back the bike unharmed, the seller returns the cash. (The only time I deviate from this process is when I'm selling a jockey-shift bike. Then I tell folks they can test-ride mine if they show up on a handshift bike of their own.)

Oh yeah, one final piece of advice: Buy low and sell high!

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