Finding the right airplane

I know I want a Mooney M20K 231. Now the search narrows.

And this now becomes a waiting and watching game.

Pause:Lets get one thing out of the way very quickly; There aren't any bargans to swoop on! I mentioned it in passing before, but it bears repeating. My experience and the experience of many others shows that the price you are going to pay is very driven by the value of the aircraft. There are no suprises, no Bonanza that someone finds in their garage and puts up for sale for $5,000 because they don't know the value.

Value is easy to gauge, there are many resources to do it, and people use them when they sell their bird.

This means you do not want to stress over searching for a super-bargin and swooping on it before it slips away from you, watching the postings like a hawk. There aren't any. If it looks like a super-bargin, then it's got hidden, or not so hidden, issues.

The beauty of federally registered aircraft is that you don't have to believe me, you can find it yourself. Go to ASO and search on your favorite model of aircraft. Find one with a price that is way below others of the same type. Then go to MyAirlanes interface to the FAA and NTSB databases, enter that tail number, and see what you get. Often, an incident in the airplane's past (gear up landing was the most prevalent one for Mooneys) is driving the price down.

Or it could be a lack of avionics, a very high time engine, or hidden issues. Again, there are no unusual bargains in used airplanes, if you see something $30,000 less than it's peers with no apparent reason beware!

And one more thing on that issue. I mentioned this before but it bears repeating:

If they don't list the tail number, don't even consider it!

You'll see them. No tail/serial number, great price. Look at the picture, and you'll be suprised that you can't even make out the tail nmber in the photo. Stay away. You don't see these often, but you will see them.

BTW, this means overall. Some folks forget to write the tail number in the ad, but it is clearly visible in the photos.

Note: I've had one broker contact me since this has been on the web to tell me that one reason why he does not include tail numbers in his ads is because he does not want a potential buyer going around him (since you can find the owner in the FAA register) and making a deal without him being involved and not getting his percentage. He's doing the marketing and handling sales inquiries, so he deserves his cut.
I agree with him about his time and marketing efforts having value. But I still want to see a tail number when I'm shopping around so I can check history before I even start thinking about a particular aircraft, and I recommend you do also. If the broker and the seller have such a tenuous relationship that the seller would cut the broker out of the deal is a business matter between the two of them.

And now a Great Recession tip: It's early 2010 and we're still climbing out of a cyclic economic downturn. "Oh" you think,"That must mean there are some great bargins on airplanes from people who lost their shirt in the stock market and need to shed luxuries!"

Not so fast. If someone is getting rid of an airplane because s/he lost her/his shirt in the market collapse, how distressed is the airplane? Often the precious owner held on and long as they could, but in that holding on maintenance tasks got defered, upgrades got missed, all in the hopes that I'll fix that when the market turns! And they might, but it hasn't turned yet. So be very careful with those bargins also, make sure the last annual was complete, and ask (you can always ask) what maint. items were defered at the last anniual.

What are you looking for, then? There are significant variations that do make sense, in airplane prices, and that's the fun of shopping for an airplane.Experience shows that same aircraft, same model year, can vary by $30,000-$50,000. What is that variance?

Gear and time, and that what you're looking for.

What do you want to trade off? Hmmm, this one has a new Garmin 430 stack, it's $20,000 more than this one. But this one has 1,000 less hours on the engine. Do I trade off new avionics installed in the bird for an engine I won't have to spend $20,000 overhauling for at least 5 years? This one is $10,000 more, but look at that leather interior! Gosh, might be worth it!

And so on. So many variable to play against each other! When you start from the premise that all the airplanes you're looking at are airworthy, then it really comes down to the details. Pick a color. Pick an airframe/engine time. Decide if you want the good avionics when you buy it, or live with what it has, or you'll buy yourself..

So I watched for a few months. Watched all the 231s come on the market, checked the prices vs. the equipment. Looked at the colors and interiors. And looked at one other thing that you might not think of, the distance. I live in California, and a plane in Florida might be great, but bump up the price a few thousand doallars because I have to travel to see it. Minor, but it all adds up.
Narrowed my list. I wanted a low-time airframe and powerplant, decent avionics. That's about it. Less than $140,000, which means none of the 430 equipped Mooneys, probably no speedbrakes or turbo modifications. This list narrowed to about 4 airplanes across the country.
Happened to fly down to Scottsdale for a weekend vacation where one of the potentials was. The picture showed a somewhat odd green paint job. As I was taxiing my rental Archer to parking, I passed the airplane. Ewwwwwww, who on earth would have wanted leprachaun green and lime green? OK, so if I buy that one that's immediately $10,000 for a paint job, forget it. One off the list.

One of the others was in Kansas, one in Florida, and one in California. There was one other interesting one in California, but he had done a gear-up landing, so I was leery. All three of the remaining were pretty equal.

So I flew up to Lakeport to look at the other California bird. N3636H. Low time (in the low 2000 hours), only 500 hours on a factory remanufactured engine. OK 1980s avionics with an HSI. Interior faded but in good shape. Exterior recent paint and glass. Looked closely for airframe ripples and the like, nothing out of the ordinary. $112,000, well within the budget.

Looks like a winner!
Buying it Back questions or comments: email me