The rise of bedroom brokerage. Or, “Mum, not now, I’m sending an email!”
‘Ferrari 250 GTO, physical car, all informations.’ Who could resist such an offer? With $75m burning a hole in your pocket, how better to handle the transaction than leaving it to bradley1992 or schumi4ever mailing from a Hotmail account in deepest suburbia. Kidston SA’s newest recruit, car specialist Thomas Berns, describes the modern phenomenon of ‘bedroom brokers’ and their effect on the market.
For years, the route to market for the very best cars has been well-tested and gentlemanly. A well-spoken middle-aged British former racer, trading from a Georgian rectory in the English countryside (or his American/ Swiss/ German counterpart), would carefully thumb through a little black book. “D-type? No, he’s just bought a ‘C’. Comp SWB? Maybe, but only if I can get him out of the GT40, and they’re not easy at the moment with all the replicas. Now, if I can package his GT40 with that DB4 GT we have…”
Years of experience, most likely honed at a mews showroom or auction house, and unparalleled access to VIP clients the world over, have made these men the masters of the car-collecting universe.
Alternatively, there are the auctions, whose star has lost a bit of its shimmer in recent years as the crashing waves of the recent boom in prices have subsided. Think veteran investor Warren Buffet’s advice on ‘tides’ and ‘swimwear’. Nevertheless, for genuine ‘Unobtainium’, a Monterey Week sale will still set the cash registers ringing, wowing the crowds with seriously expensive showmanship that would shame Barnum & Bailey.
The number of really top-grade ‘investor cars’ available for general sale has undeniably shrunk in the past few years and so, too, has the pool of really serious buyers, most of whom have probably owned one/ sold one/ sworn never to have one again/ burnt their fingers on one/ got divorced over one/ broke down in one/ crashed one in embarrassing circumstances.
Skipping breezily by telephone call and email into this highly developed and niche market comes the Bedroom Broker (‘BB’), so named as none of them has an office address or website. They must, therefore, be working from a spare upstairs room. Just an assumption, correct us if we are wrong…
In the Kidston office in Geneva, I’ve witnessed calls and emails on a weekly basis from unknown people offering us the most desirable cars in the world. In fact, there seem to be more now than ever. Most believe they can win the lottery by offering ‘data’ or ‘infos’ on what we’d call ‘air cars’; vehicles that do exist, but aren’t for sale.
After ‘Ferrari 250 GTO’ in the subject line, the first matter addressed is generally the terms on which the BB is willing to trade. They have a buyer/seller and are looking for an introductory fee. Their hoped-for remuneration is modest, as they have low overheads – pizza delivery, mom and pop’s internet – and income supplemented by a weekend job.
The format is usually the same, as are the cars offered. Most of the Ferrari 250 GTOs (‘racing history on application’ and accompanied by a Ferrari red book) are apparently for sale. Every collector is looking for an Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. The strange part is that none of the owners or buyers are working with a known specialist; all seem to be putting total novices on the job.
A well-respected dealer and friend of Kidston SA commented: “Not to sound like an old fart, but I’m missing the days when I’d get an inquiry and would usually instantly either recognise the name, or with minimal effort know it was someone serious…”
Typical ingredients of the BB sales process include a reluctance to mention chassis numbers and a clear lack of control over the authority to offer the car. On the rare occasions where chassis numbers are mentioned, mostly after long discussion and persuasion techniques of which some national secret services would be jealous, the cars offered are certainly not for sale when you reach out to the owner. In many cases, these are friends or clients.
BBs insist they are in direct contact with the seller, then ask for a letter of intent, proof of funds, non-disclosure agreement or all of these instruments. This should raise a red flag as it almost always signals a broker with no authority or control over the car they are proposing. Even if they claim to be mandated by the owner, soon into the call or email exchange it’s clear there’s a seemingly endless chain of other fantasists, none of whom has much power over events.
And what about the always-mentioned ‘informations’? Professional photography? The BB laughs in its face. Properly researched sales literature with rare, hard-to-source period images and factory build sheets? What’s the point, thinks the BB, when I can attach a doctored pdf from an internet fan site with chassis numbers and names blurred out?
We keep a record of the Bedroom Brokers who have crossed our path in recent months and maintain an informal ‘Olympics’ on the wall of the office kitchen. Vying for a medal is the rather aggressive 25-year-old on the lookout for a Tipo 33 Stradale for his client in France, and the lady keen to prove her credentials by claiming friendship with a long-time British 250 GTO owner. Gold will go down to the wire: either an Italian broker advertising a 250 GTO via Facebook or a student selling two 250 GTOs at once.
None of these has any track record of previous dealings in classic automobiles.
To be fair, these are not, generally, attempts to defraud. Nor are they an internet scam. They simply represent a total lack of realism and experience, paired to wishful thinking that it’s possible to make a considerable amount of money by doing very little work and providing no added value whatsoever to a possible transaction.
And while it’s sometimes entertaining to hear the stories people make up to convince you of their legitimacy, it’s a worrying and saddening trend.
On the other hand, it shows that our world still makes people dream, even if it’s for the wrong reasons…
Illustration by Guy Allen for Kidston SA