I am so suspicious of someone who keeps wanting to buy our van
January 16, 2015 9:06 PM   Subscribe

My Mr and I own a 1994 "Sportsmobile" that is parked all the time next to our drive. It runs and Mr keeps it pretty well maintained. Mr bought it used several years ago. He paid quite a bit for it. We never use it, however...and Mr has expressed to me on occasion that he'd like to just get rid of it. It has a couple of issues that are difficult. (Water leaks into it, for one thing. It is an ongoing problem).

Over the course of the past year a man has come to our door several times to ask if the van is for sale. There are no for sale signs on it, but maybe he has noticed that it never goes anywhere. Here is the thing! Each time he talks to Mr he says he will give us 4 thousand dollars for it. This is what he says and he has never even heard the engine run let alone driven it. This sends up HUGE red flags to me and each time he shows up I tell Mr to say we aren't selling it. (But, of course, Mr really WANTS to believe in this pipe dream!) I am afraid that this guy would just hit us over the head and God knows what else.

We're kind of old...like your Mom and Pop. (64 and 73) I tried to internet search scams involving buying vans out of people's driveways, but I haven't found anything. Doesn't it sound dicey to you?

It obviously would be prudent to sell it. I just want to convince Mr to sell it "conventionally".(I just learned, for example, that there is a Sportsmobile Aficionado forum and maybe we could start there). Being older, I feel kind of vulnerable and I think we should be very cautious! Do you have any good advice for us?
posted by naplesyellow to Work & Money (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you feel weird about it don't engage with the guy. I agree, sell it conventionally. Does $4k even seem ballpark to you? Even if it is, the guy at best wants the inside on a car he especially likes. But if it's really worth that then you could probably get more if there was some interest group for the vehicle.
posted by amanda at 9:12 PM on January 16, 2015

I don't think you have any reason to be nervous here.

A cursory look seems to indicate that these vans remain desirable despite their age. They also are likely to be getting rare especially in decent condition - that's why the guy has been persistent, he doesn't want to miss out on a chance. Engine problems are pretty minor compared to body so if yours has a nice body he is unlikely to care about the engine.

$4000 might turn out to be on the low side for this vehicle.

Your best bet is to take a bunch of pics of the van and post them on the sportsmobile forum that you have found and ask for an honest appraisal of the value.

If you repost what you have posted above you will likely get some reasonable responses (because you come across as very sweet and nice).

Once you have a better idea of value, you could make a counter-offer if that guy shows up again.
posted by davey_darling at 9:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Well, don't accept a check or even a cashier's check for it (those can be faked).

But if he able to pay in cash, I don't see how that could be a scam?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I believe you're over thinking this. He has his reasons for being interested in the Van (I would probably approach you in the same manner if it was a VW Van parked in your driveway). If he's offering a price that is acceptable, draw up an "as is" contract for the sale, accept only cash, and make the deal.
posted by HuronBob at 9:17 PM on January 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

I can't see anything wrong here if the guy offers you cash, and you have the title there. He gives you cash, you give him the title, problem solved.

I wouldn't accept anything but cash, but there's no real way to get scammed with cash on this sort of thing.

You'd be surprised at the cars people will like, come up to you at the gas station and offer you money for, or come to your door for, or whatever. Several friends who have had weird or just kind of junky cars have had that happen. And i think i know someone who actually just sold their car they didn't really want this way.

I looked up this van, and it's a pop top camper. People go CRAZY for those. The obvious one everyone knows is the vanagon/westfalia, but at this point pretty much all of them are popular. Especially if the guys younger, a lot of people buy these to travel seasonally for work or to go to lots of festivals/music festivals and rainbow gathering/oregon county faire type stuff in my neck of the woods. My friend bought one in arkansas and sold it pretty much instantly the moment she got back to seattle and it barely ran.

Personally if you just want it gone, and it turns out this is on the low-ish side of what it's worth(which seems likely to me, my friends who own or have owned these types of vans, ford or dodge, have paid MINIMUM that much for them, they're quite desirable) i'd take it just to not have to deal with the hassle of taking photos, listing it, selling it, etc.

I've definitely known of friends with these to get people coming up to them, just hanging out in the van on the side of the street and go "o my god this van is so cool would you take $SOME-AMOUNT-OF-MONEY for it right now?". Sometimes that amount is surprisingly high, too.

Another thing to note about not even really having seen it run, parts for these vans are SO CHEAP. Friends have used them as tour vans, or just had camper ones. You can go to a junkyard and get an entire engine for peanuts if you need it. $4000 may very well be the base value of a marginal one of these with all the pieces in place, even if it doesn't run perfectly, and this guy may know this.(he might have also scoped in the windows and checked the mileage, etc)
posted by emptythought at 9:18 PM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

When I bought my first new car 8 years ago, I had people I'd never seen before but apparently drove down my street all the time knocking on my door every day for a week asking if I was selling my 15-year-old Jeep and wanting to leave their number for when I was ready. They just wanted it, nothing weird about it.

If you put an ad in the paper and this guy called to buy it, how would that be any different? Anybody could "knock you over the head". If you want to get rid of the van, and $4000 is an acceptable price, sell him the van.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:21 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make him meet you at your bank with the cash. Do the transfer there. Deposit the cash immediately.

Lots of cameras at the bank. If he doesn't show, it was a scam.

PS. Have a friend with you if you really feel that vulnerable. I totally get it.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 PM on January 16, 2015 [25 favorites]

People buy houses this way. People buy cars all the time. If you wanna sell it, sell it. If you don't, don't. Due diligence either way.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:58 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've offered to buy someone's old camper van out of their driveway. Sometimes you just see a vehicle that says 'C'mon, let's ditch your dead-end job and hit the open road, like Steinbeck and Huck Finn!" I figured, if they were anxious to get rid of it, they might give me a good price on it, if not, well, no skin off my nose.
posted by The otter lady at 10:05 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't think anything nefarious is going on. I ride bikes with a bunch of outdoorsy off-the-grid types and they all obsess over Westfalia VW vans and Sportsmobile vans. Like, every mountain biker dude I know wants to own one of those and if they saw nice ones sitting unused on the side of a house, I wouldn't put it past them to knock on the door and ask.

$4k seems pretty cheap for a running Sportsmobile though, I would guess it's worth double that.
posted by mathowie at 10:07 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have been your mister creeper. I wanted a motorcycle a dude had in his side-yard, collecting dust for a few years. It wasn't super rare, but rare enough that it was nice to know where one actually was instead of hunting around online for it.

Every couple months, I'd be driving past, and I'd see the dude working on his yard and offer him some cash for the bike. He declined each time (he was a bit of a hoarder…lots of motorcycles kicking around). In reality; I just wanted the bike and was willing to pay a pretty fair price for it in its condition.

But yeah, I'm with mathowie, $4k is a bit low for that particular vehicle, even with the leaks…especially if you're taking care of it otherwise.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2015

Here, have a look at what others are going for....

adhuntr.com Sportsmobile
posted by Sintram at 10:28 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Doesn't it sound dicey to you?

No. Not at all.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:56 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I'll sell it at $20,000"
posted by Cuspidx at 11:01 PM on January 16, 2015

SportsMobiles have a wide following, and they hold their value well on the used market. 4000 would be a screaming good deal, and the buyer is hoping that you'll go soft in the head and just give it away without researching what it is worth.

Contact SportsMobile directly: they sell used vehicles, I think by consignment.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:03 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, checkout this site, depending on condition and mileage, diesel vs. 350ci, and apparently some other stuff (4x4, options, addons), it's worth like at least double what he's offering. Some go for well over $50K!
posted by rhizome at 11:22 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had someone do the same to me several times over many months. My little SUV was just what he wanted for his daughter, he could see I looked after it and that it was in good nick, lady owner blah blah. I wasn't ready to sell at first, but a year later, I was, so yeah, he came and paid me cash, brought the transfer forms. It saved a lot of hassle and I knew he was keen so there was no haggling or anything. I'd say it's a good opportunity - do your research first and counter his offer if his current one seems on the low side.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:38 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

My sister has a '67 Mustang convertible. She used to drive it as her primary vehicle. This one guy, who happened to be an FBI agent would see her around town and press his card on her and beg her to sell it to him.

People who are into these vehicles are THAT into them.

So do some research, get a valuation that's fair, and then sell it for cash. Do the transaction at the bank, during banking hours and have a notary there notarize all the documents.

But no, guys who are nuts about certain vehicles being persistent about wanting to buy one in good condition are common as dirt.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:05 AM on January 17, 2015

Some guys bought my crappy old Honda accord and all they did was turn it on. They didn't even drive it. But they paid cash so...

Yeah I agree this sounds fine, just do your research to make sure you're getting a good price.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:40 AM on January 17, 2015

If you decide to sell the van to him, and you're still feeling a little iffy, I suggest going to the courthouse 10 days after the sale to make sure that he transferred the title, and if he didn't, to force the transfer. Otherwise, he could commit crimes, drive illegally, etc. in a car under your name. Lets not talk about how I learned this lesson...
posted by hannahelastic at 6:00 AM on January 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a pretty strong market for full-size conversion vans like yours. Especially with people intending to convert them for hauling wheelchair-bound individuals. So, no, it isn't odd at all the guy really wants to buy it.

If you two really don't want it anymore, tell the guy to show up next time with $4000 cash and it's his. Done and done.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on January 17, 2015

And here's the NADA web page on Sportsmobiles. I can't tell if $4000 is a fair price or not, it would vary with mileage, features, and so on. But I think this thread has assembled a number of good resources you can use to ascertain a good & fair price.

We're used to going out and finding things that we want to buy. Occassionaly, people will contact us, hoping to sell us something. Someone approaching us, offering to buy something we own, is rather rare, so I understand your suspicion. It would be a good idea to have a 'buddy' with you if you decide to sell. But - this fellow who's been asking is almost certainly on the up-and-up. If this fellow coming to the door was a Bad Guy, he probably would have simply stolen the vehicle by now.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:54 AM on January 17, 2015

I might buy your van sight unseen for $4k -- even if it doesn't run and has water leaks, at that price I'd be willing to bet I could fix it up and either keep it or sell it for a profit. And I've totally done what you are describing, running after someone in a parking lot and telling them to call me if they ever wanted to sell their truck.

So I don't think there is anything automatically sketchy about it, although if this guy in particular pushes your "uh oh, weird and creepy" buttons then he might be bad news. That price sounds like a bit less than the van is probably worth, but at the same time if it needs serious work (like the water leak problem, which is going to mean interior issues and maybe rust problems) then it isn't going to be worth nearly as much as a vehicle that doesn't have those issues and $4k might even be too high for it as-is.

There are enough forums and for-sale sections devoted to Sportsmobiles that it should be easy to get an idea of what the van is worth and go from there. If $4k is fair then take the cash and call it a day; if the value is higher than get it listed on the specialized sites and laugh your way to the bank.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:24 AM on January 17, 2015

Similar to what mathowie said, this type of car is incredibly popular among climbers, who go on months-long road trips. In another life, I'd be one of them.
posted by Dashy at 7:31 AM on January 17, 2015

Doesn't it sound dicey to you?

It sounds dicey to you purely because the concept of buying a car that hasn't been explicitly advertised for sale is alien to you. No big deal, but it's a very real thing. Desirable vans/cars that are advertised go for competitive money and are hard to find, so people that are smart or can restore/improve/fix the vehicles themselves will scout areas for vehicles that specifically aren't advertised and try their luck. Look at it from his perspective - there are vans all over the internet selling for $8-11,000, but there's one "Just SAT there, rotting!" outside a house around the corner from him. It must be chewing at him that it isn't getting even getting used when he wants it so bad.

The only possibly 'dicey' thing about it is that with the minimal research done here, it seems the offer is high enough to sound like a lot to the potential seller, but quite likely a pretty low ball offer. But.... that's not dicey, that's negotiation and starting low on the guy's side. He's just trying to get a good deal, just like anyone else buying a car - he's hoping (quite rightly) that you don't know what these vans are worth.

So. Do your research - getting it appraised on the site mentioned above that aficionados hang out on is a good idea, and if the guy comes back don't say "it's not for sale" say "We'd like to sell it, but $4K is not nearly what it's worth (you could add this is why you refused each time, which may strengthen your resolve in his eyes), but we'd take $X,ooo cash". From the initial look around I'd say that I'd probably ask $8K cash and maybe take $7K to save me the hassle of even researching it properly or advertising it if he turned up again, but it's safer to get it appraised to some extent.
posted by Brockles at 7:55 AM on January 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's not just for months-long road trips; there is also a market for local uses. At my job, the mechanics often volunteer to work double shifts. Instead of going home, about a half dozen of them keep their vans in the parking lot, with a small generator running the air conditioner over night. If they can sleep on site, they can work more shifts and get more overtime pay. And their job is Mechanic so they can fix anything.
posted by CathyG at 8:00 AM on January 17, 2015

Some people just have a love for certain vehicles, especially older ones that are hard to come by in good condition. People came up to me several times when I drove a GMC Jimmy, saying if I ever wanted to sell, call them.
posted by lizbunny at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2015

Thank you all! I knew I could count on you. Your answers have really helped us sort this out! I am grateful to you!
posted by naplesyellow at 10:18 AM on January 17, 2015

It does not sound any dicier than the guy is hoping to get the van he wants for a really good deal because the owners don't want to take the time to research what it is worth. Lots of good ideas for that up thread.

PLEASE stop saying that you are vulnerable because you are old. Its freaking me out. My hubby and I are only a few years off your ages. No way are we old. I mean it, NO WAY. Its in your head. Both your vulnerability and your age. Case in point; instead of feeling threatened into selling the van to this guy, you did your research on line with a trusted community. See... not vulnerable. Trust me, you are not old either.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:05 PM on January 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

"I'll sell it at $20,000"

I'd advise you not to do this. You can advertise it on Craigslist for more and see if you get some bites, but really, it's just taking up space in front, and isn't $4000 better than a poke in the eye?

I have a girlfriend whose place looks like a dump. She kept saying how much all the old caddys and trucks were worth, but it just looks like shit, with weeds grown up around and oil leaking. She's had anaphylactic shock from wasps nesting in the engine compartment and stinging her, a vet bill from a horse running into a mirror, and her running vehicle was deteriorating because she couldn't put it into the carport.

She finally had a fella come by with cash and take just one of the trucks. Being able to look out the living room window and see across the street inspired her to get rid of a caddy for a couple hundred more, and now she can park in the carport. Some fella came over wanting her '53 pickup, and she made a deal that he would build her a horse shed and work on her fences.

Yeah, maybe she could have gotten more for the damn things, but at least now her life is better. All the men I know are moaning how she should have held out for more for the '53, but why? It was nothing to her, and now she's got a shed and decent fences--something she's always wanted and desperately needed. Win-win!

I'm with WalkerWestridge. Mr. BlueHorse and I are 66 and 60 respectively. We are NOT OLD! You may have slowed down a bit, but you sound like you've got all your marbles. People above have suggestions on how to cover yourself and be safe. Sell the damn thing and take a vacation! You'll feel younger instantly.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:49 PM on January 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

For some in-demand vehicles, there is a very limited active market. Good examples get snapped up as soon as they are offered, or sold private party without ever being advertised. The stuff that you find listed online is usually bad examples or is overpriced.

That kind of market leads to your situation. This guy wants to buy it privately before it goes on the market, if you decide to sell.
posted by smackfu at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me, it sounds like it's likely legit and he regularly passes your home for some reason. (Lives nearby, works nearby, has friends or relatives nearby.) Or, he could have passed by once, and noticed your van, really wants it, and decided to come by every once and a while and check and see if it was for sale. (Since a car that's mostly just sitting outside and going nowhere does tend to get a FOR SALE sign put on it sooner or later.)

To protect yourself, meet him at your bank, have him pay cash, have a teller verify that the cash is real, deposit it immediately, and ensure that you notify your state promptly that you no longer own the vehicle. Fill out all sale details properly, yadda yadda yadda.

So in other words - if you don't have plans for it - sell it and enjoy the money! Just be safe about it.
posted by stormyteal at 5:11 PM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

These days, if someone offers to buy a car in your front yard/driveway, with or without a for sale sign, it's usually legit. The market for 20-ish year old cars/SUV's/Urban Assault Vehicles has exploded in the last five or so years.

Anecdotally, my mother drives my Dad's old '95 Subaru wagon around town with approximately 120,000 miles on it. It has a tiny bit of rust. Since she goes to the local co-op, she regularly gets offers of $3-4000 on the spot. The Cash for Clunkers thing destroyed the used car market around here.

Your Sportsmobile is something they're not really making much of anymore, and there's value inherent in that. If it were me, I'd ask for $6k, and negotiate down from there.

Good Luck.
posted by Sphinx at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

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