I have always bought my vintage, “special cars” from private sellers. For better or worse, I have always believed that you buy the seller and I much prefer the lower-pressure, relational type of deals that come from buying private party vs a dealer.
That said, buying private party is obviously not a foolproof way of safely picking up a 911. While I have found the Porsche community (air-cooled especially) is mainly comprised of honest, passionate owners, it’s like anything else in life. There are for sure unscrupulous sellers out there looking to maximize profit on subpar examples.
So, I thought I would share 3 questions I like to ask early on in the buying process that help me decide whether I have a car worth pursuing or if I’m dealing with a shady seller.
Before I jump into the questions, though, here’s some food for thought.
I recently polled my viewers to see just what kind of experiences they’ve had when buying a Porsche 911 from a private party. Below is what I asked and as you can see, I got a total of 111 responses. While I don’t pretend to be a professional researcher, I do believe this sample size is large enough to have some validity.
Question: If you bought your Porsche 911 from a private party and you think back to your buying experience and the honesty/transparency of the seller, how would you respond to the following?
The seller was honest and the car had zero surprises – 30% of respondents selected this option There were 1 – 2 small “gotchas” but overall I’m happy – 56% of respondents selected this option I got burned and it cost me a lot more to get the car right – 14% of respondents selected this option 111 Votes
So, if poll respondents were being honest (let’s hope they were), then roughly 1 in 3 deals went swimmingly. That’s higher than I would have thought, to be honest. The reason I say this isn’t because I doubt that people have honest intent. It’s just human nature. If someone knows they’re selling their 911, the likelihood of them putting more money into it is just lower.
Regardless, my findings give us ⅔ deals leaving the seller with some level of disappointment. Just more evidence suggesting that developing your skills around interviewing sellers can only be a good thing.
So, here are the questions.
Question #1: “Would you mind telling me your reason for selling?”
This is a no brainer question, right? Asking this is a standard operating procedure, or at least should be, but here’s the insider “sub-tip” for this question:
Ask the question then shut up. Let them talk. Don’t turn it into a conversation. Just be quiet and listen.
What’s the voice inflection like? Genuine? Or are they a little nervous? Too self-assured? The way they tell the story can be just as important as the content.
Also, you’re going to want to re-ask this question much later in the buying process so take detailed notes to refer back to. Basically, you’re going to want to see if the stories line up when you ask them to walk you through it again later on down the line.
Sometimes – and this is a universal truth – if someone is deceitful, they may forget the story they’ve told and details won’t match. Also – and this is something you’ll really, really want to uncover – if the seller is slick and feels like they’re reeling you in, you’ll start to hear “oh yeah, I forgot to mention _____ needs replacing…”
Question #2: “So, will you miss this 911?”
The car I want is the one where it pains the seller to get rid of it. The car that an older owner is selling only because he or she can’t manage the clutch any more due to knee issues, for example.
When you ask this question, you get a feel for whether there was a real emotional connection between the car and the seller. Was the car treasured and cared for, or is it something that was purchased, neglected, then sold to get out from under a lien or to extract some cash to dump into a new BMW?
What your tolerance is for how the car you’re evaluating was viewed by the seller is a very personal decision. For me, I’m strange about this type of thing. I want the car I’m buying to almost have been a member of the family. I want there to have been genuine affection for the car because quite frankly, it will enhance my joy in buying the car (if it checks out) and it also leaves me feeling good about the maintenance history.
Question #3: “If you were going to keep this 911, what else might you do to modify or improve it?”
The answer the seller gives to this question can also reveal how the car has been used and treated.
If the seller tells you that he/she would make track-focused improvements (however light) that tells you the car may have been at a minimum taken to DE events. Not a deal-killer, but if you hear this type of answer and you haven’t heard anything about DE events in the backstory, that could be a yellow flag.
If the seller tells you that he would possibly be replacing suspension bushings or doing a top end in the next 10,000 miles, it could be that he’s potentially aware of some pending maintenance that may have not been disclosed yet. Dig deeper.
In conclusion, the main takeaway here is that you want to dig in – politely, of course – and understand the backstory of a car. It’s a great feeling when the story remains consistent and the seller is honest about the good and the bad. Frankly, when a deal is really GREAT, you may just find you become friends with the seller long after the deal has been done. That’s happened for me.
Along these lines, I love hearing stories from Porsche 911 owners about how they bought their cars and I have done a fair number of Porsche 911 Owner Interview videos. If you’re interested in checking them out, you can find them here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLR0VqbBaNjTNaHMs-01Jco2awk_pe4aP5