"The demand is at an all time high": Tom Roberts and the state of the current market

Written by Francesca Webster

Tom Roberts, yacht broker with IYC’s Mayfair office in London, started out his career at the Oyster yacht brokerage in Suffolk. He has spent his life sailing, competitively racing yachts and even joining the Formula Two powerboat racing scene in 2015. His knowledge of the market and passion for the industry shine through the screen as we converse over Zoom.Tom Roberts yacht brokerPlease introduce yourself and explain your background in the industry:

I grew up sailing on the Norfolk Broads, but it is not just sailing for me, I began powerboat racing in Grand Prix boats in 2015 and that really showed me life in the motor boat industry which I really enjoyed. Jonathan Beckett, now CEO of Burgess, helped me start out as a yacht broker, he lived next to my parents in Suffolk and was instrumental in the beginning of my career nearly 20 years ago.Tom Roberts yacht brokerSo, I started at Fox Yachts as a sales broker in Suffolk, selling Beneteau’s and other sailing yachts. Back then it was part of the Oyster Group, and I was there for three years and then moved to Oyster in 2007, where I was a broker until 2020. I was based in the Ipswich office, selling the full range of Oysters, new and used, and then started with IYC in December 2020. Tom Roberts yacht brokerYou are an accomplished yachtsman, how do you think that this has helped you in your work as a yacht broker?

The racing side of things has certainly helped, you deal with all kinds of people, wanting cruisers or yachts that can perform, and it is definitely important to know exactly how a yacht works, and how to get the most out of it. The ability to sail and race particularly, really helps me to engage with clients and to understand what kind of vessel they are looking for and when clients want to talk about the technical specifications. At Oyster we took clients out for sail trials ourselves, selling the yacht while we were sailing it – that was a really good experience. 

How has the transition been from Oyster to IYC, and taking a step back from the sailing side of the industry? 

For me it has been really easy. I’ve always had a fascination with motor boats, my parents had an Albatross and I always loved classic motor yachts. I took a Sunseeker across the Crinan Canal in Scotland and it really piqued my interest. I think because I’ve been sailing all my life, I really appreciate the motor boat side of the industry. 

At Oyster, most of the sales were generated from our own website. In the superyacht industry, where you don’t only represent one builder, along with digital leads you have to go out and find your own listings and nurture leads from client relationships. I am seeing that fall into place at the moment which is really fantastic. Oyster 675There is a lot of talk about a boom in the industry at the moment, how has it been starting out at IYC during such a busy time?

It has been a great time to start, I have some fantastic listings, such as the Royal Huisman Billy Budd, and Nativa the Arzana Navi sailing yacht, and though it has been a bit slower in the U.K. in terms of sales, the charter side of the industry has been flat out. We have a large worldwide client base for the London Office, we are situated in Mayfair, so right in the heart of the British superyacht market. 

The trouble everyone has at the moment is that there is no inventory out there, and a real shortage of good, unlisted boats. We are lucky at IYC because we have loyal customers, who come to us again and again, and we really see that, even in the time that I have been at the brokerage.Billy Budd II yacht sailing What do you think the future holds for the market?

I think September is going to see a big change in yacht ownership, with people looking forward to next year and selling on the yachts they bought for the 2020 and 2021 Mediterranean seasons. People are most likely sorted now for this summer, but as the season tails off, yachts will be returning to the market, so yes September is going to be a busy time in the marketplace. 

Explorer style yachts have seen a real surge and that has definitely been impacted by the pandemic; people want to be more isolated, and travel further afield. Generally the most popular yachts right now are in the 40 to 50 metre range, and I don't see that changing in the coming year. Nativa yacht sailingPhoto: IYCWe recently did an interview with the team at Arcadia who suggested that in the current climate, clients are more inclined to buy yachts that are already constructed, either on spec or used, rather than constructing new builds - are you seeing or expecting this pattern?

The most sellable items at the moment are used or spec built yachts which are ready to go. People really don’t want to wait, which is something the pandemic seems to have really brought on – people want to be out at sea with their families, in a safe environment. Working as we do now, people can work from anywhere, you don’t need to be in the office 24/7, and that has really changed the way people perceive their time, if you can work from your yacht, why wouldn’t you?

At Oyster we also found that often people preferred to buy older models as opposed to new build yachts, because of the lengthy lead times of new vessels. Buying used yachts and then refitting them to your own specifications can be a great option for owners.

Most of all, I think we are all looking forward to getting back to the yacht shows, seeing each other in person and doing what we do best. Though there has been a lot of chatter in lockdown about the value of the boat shows, I do think they are important, but we don't need to be spending the amounts of money that we used to spend on them.

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