OPINION – For many, buying a luxury boat represents the pinnacle of achievement and enjoyment.
Just imagine it. In a nice yacht, you can set out to sea on a beautiful day, kick back, and just drift as you watch the sun playing off of the ocean with nothing around you for miles – and do so in style.
It’s a wonderful daydream. However, for Canadian philanthropist Robert Conconi, it was a dream that turned into a nightmare.
Conconi advanced the company Pacific Asian Enterprises (PAE) the jaw-dropping sum of $16 million in cash and trade-in to construct his dream boat named the Aurora.
After years of work, Conconi hoped it would shine like the northern lights. Instead, the results were simply dark and dirty and appalling. And PAE refused to fix the boat’s many problems.
Multiple inspectors agreed with him, so he took PAE to court in California. Even PAE’s own expert Steve D’Antonio found that the Aurora had 179 deficiencies including important safety items that could blow up, electrocute, burn, or otherwise injure passengers.
The 18-month trial ultimately turned on the question of the seaworthiness of Aurora. Since the boat wouldn’t immediately sink, the court didn’t find for Conconi.
Conconi took his lumps, paid court and other costs, and then spent three years having repairs done to Aurora to make into the vessel that he had actually ordered. Then he found that he couldn’t really enjoy it because of all the bad memories and sold it off instead.
There’s an old Latin warning: caveat emptor. “Let the buyer beware.”
The warning shouldn’t simply be for those who want to buy boats but buyers of every possible good or service. Before you give someone your money, it’s useful to ask some questions and do due diligence. Do a little thinking and a little digging.
Ask yourself, “Why should I trust this seller?” And in different words, ask the seller to make the case for that trust. Then go looking. Did what was said to you check out? What did other customers who’ve done business with this firm have to say? Are there any court cases that should raise red flags?
A lot of this information can be got at with a simple Google search. Deeper digging isn’t much harder and more expensive, with the massive databases and background checks currently available. Or you can do something really radical and talk to people you know and get information that has never been captured digitally.
This warning is even truer when you advance a lot of money to a business or contractor to deliver something to you. The more that you have to lay out up front, the more of your money they can take for granted.
If businesses expect you to lay out most of the capital up front, without any product to show for it, that should make you extra suspicious. What’s the risk of flight or embezzlement or simply shoddy work and then shrugs when you ask for this to be made right?
It’s not fun to think about such things. But if more people thought about it, fewer would get taken. The law can be a remedy sometimes, but only in some. And even then, few people truly end up being made whole.
They lose time, sleep, money, and the sense that the world is as it should be. Don’t let that happen to you.
Alexander Martinez is a former journalist and commentator