It's a hot, gusty summer evening, and I'm leaning over the hood of a car in the parking lot of a suburban Target store. I've got my checkbook in hand, and my big deal is going down.
Standing next to me is the sales agent — my personal shopper, so to speak — who had the keys to the perfect used car, which he'd found after a one-month search. Before signing the papers that transferred the ownership, I checked the tread on the tires, inspected the paint job, and discussed the terms of the extended warranty. We were finished in a matter of minutes.
Buying a car doesn't get much easier than this. That's why I much prefer a car professional working on my behalf rather than beating the bushes and wheeling and dealing on my own.
It's an approach worth considering if you're looking for a youth-friendly car for a high-schooler or college student before school starts up again.
I've now carried out this cash-for-keys trade-out three times with the very same sales agent in the very same parking lot.
Admittedly, my driving needs are pretty simple — give me something safe, reliable and economical, preferably with leather seats and a sunroof (but not if those features will be deal-killers). In my most recent purchase, I added two more stipulations: something with four-wheel drive that would also be an upgrade from the family minivan.
Turning your car shopping over to a third party — be it a car broker, wholesale buying clubs like Costco and Sam's Club, or a sales agent like the one I used, who's licensed through a car dealership — isn't for the consumer who likes to negotiate with salespeople and troll the car lots. But if you're lacking time or patience for the hunt, these shopping options have a lot to offer.
From my experiences and from stories shared by others, I'm fairly convinced that personal car shoppers can secure a better price from what you'd pay the dealer or the neighbor down the street. They can sift through all the model options quickly, and most importantly, they typically have access to auto auctions, where hundreds of used cars are up for bid. You might also get a hand in unloading your old car.
But much of what these services provide is convenience, and some peace of mind that you're getting a good deal.
I found my sales agent through a word-of-mouth recommendation. Searching the Internet for car brokers will turn up names, although I recommend checking online for any consumer feedback.
Before hiring someone, ask about the fees or commissions for the service. Is there a flat fee or hourly rate? Is the person paid whether their search is successful or not? Also, make sure the person is licensed to buy and sell cars in your state.
You'll save time and money by giving the car shopper clear instructions on the models you're interested in, the features that are must-haves, the time frame you're working under, and the amount you're willing to pay, including taxes.
Finally, be prepared to walk away if the car is not quite what you wanted or the price is over your budget. There will always be other cars and other opportunities.