Airplane Selling Prices
I have just gotten back into flying after a 25 year layoff. I have SEL, MEL, Instrument, and commercial ratings, and have been a CFII - obviously now expired. My question is this. Where can I find how much airplanes are actually selling for compared to the asking prices I see in the publications? I'm talking mostly single engine piston planes, but if the right multi-engine deal came along, I would have to think really hard on it.
15 Replies
If you are an AOPA member go to their vref aircraft evaluation app. Between this app and trade a plane you can get a good picture of what everything is selling for. 
 Vref is so outdated. Not even close to accurate. It is missing so much current equipment and upgrades it’s not even funny. I became an AOPA member because of Vref. Extremely disappointed. Also became a member because they said they were going to fight the ECI AD after the fact and they have done nothing. Will not be renewing...

Vref or the AOPA pricing tool are just guides to see what the 'range' of an aircraft might be.  The way I would approach finding and airplane is to first define the mission.  Most people don't do this.  Do I need an all weather airplane - IFR and Deice?  Am I going to take 1 or 2 people or 4?  What is the range and carrying load?  All this matters.  Then - you can use one of the online tools to get an idea of what might suit your needs and price range.  Once that is done -the hard part begins.
To find the right aircraft you have to kiss a lot of frogs or kick a lot of tires.  I assist my customers acting as a buyer agent and doing quick 'desktop' appraisals of aircraft they or I find that meets their criteria.  A desktop appraisal is really a market valuation to see if the aircraft is advertised at a reasonably close to market value and if not do we want to contact the seller and start the negotiation.  You do this for a number of aircraft until you find a seller who is better aligned with the market and you have an aircraft that suits your mission.  Then comes the offer, contract, appraisal and pre-buy to closing.  I do this with a dozen or so clients a year and the results have been very satisfactory.  In spite of the fact the AOPA and EAA both put out 'standard' contracts, there are a lot of clauses you want to add to protect yourself.

You are always going to wonder if you paid too much for an aircraft if you didn't get it appraised prior to purchase.


Ron Herold
-Ronald L. Herold, Ph.D., NSCA, MEII
Senior Certified Aircraft Appraiser
USPAP Qualified
Sustaining Member – Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association
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AOPA Lifetime Member
(703) 573-2222

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Neil Lynch
2 Posts
With respect to AOPA VREF, I found it is comfortably close for to value the better aircraft with all systems in good order.

As a buyer, I use VREF as a guideline, then assess what it would cost to bring an airplane to that condition.  I do the math, explain how I arrived at my offer, and stay close to it.  As an A&P, I have a cost buffer for a fully functional airplane at or below VREF.  If I pay more than my offer, I am upside down.

As a seller, I keep my airplanes in.good working order. If I get between 90% and 100% of VREF, I am satisfied.  I readily recognize a baseless low-ball offer.

if I get 95% or better, I pay for the gremlins that may surface before they get the airplane home.  My expectation is the buyer has a fully functional airplane when the get home for VREF.  If they beat me up one the price, then they are on their own.

prices are seasonal.  Now is the time to buy.  High end airlanes are less subject to seasonal pricing.

As Ron Herold noted above, define your mission (needs) first. Most people don't and end up with a satisfactory aircraft, but not the one they really wish they had. As far as Vref goes, it has good and bad points. It seems to value aircraft less than 15 years old fairly accurately, but older than that usually means older - but still very functional - equipment and here Vref gets lost. When you get into the 40+ age group, Vref is completely lost. It has no understanding of restoration values, or STCs that have improved performance or durability.

Unless you're looking at relatively recent vintage aircraft, Vref is usually a waste of time.

If you're looking into more mature birds, consider joining a type group like Cessna Pilots or Bonanza Pilots or Navion Aircraft Owners. There are some very deep pools of knowledge there and owners/operators who are more than happy to help.

Again, as Ron wrote above, you're going to get to kiss a lot of pigs and kick a lot of tires. I spent over 2 years actively looking for my bird, made offers on two, took a bus trip from Arkansas to Washington state and back to do a prebuy that failed, and finally found mine through an acquaintance made in the Navion Owners group. Been a happy owner ever since, but now it is becoming time to sell.

I've been buying and selling airplanes for the past 42 years but now only do buyer representation. Based on my experience, I would offer the following:

1) JetNet and Amstat are excellent pricing tools for the turbine aircraft market but, in my opinion, there is nothing accurate whatsoever about any aircraft pricing tool currently available on the market for piston aircraft.

2) A piston aircraft is worth what a buyer is willing to pay... the trick is to find an aircraft that provides the Buyer with an "exit strategy."

3) Ron Herold is correct... you need to define your mission profile before you do anything else. Feel free to use our Mission Profile form ( and we'll tell you what aircraft best meets your use and budget needs.

4) Of the 30 plus piston aircraft I've purchased for clients in 2018, acquisition prices ranged 24-40 percent less than advertised asking prices with the average asking price discount just over 30%.

5) If you find an aircraft listed online by an "aircraft broker," the aircraft is probably overpriced. Look for an airplane owned by the person actually selling it and search the FAA records for the aircraft N number to determine how long the owner has owned the airplane. If it's been owned for less than a year, and undergone improvements in that year, it's probably a flip and you should probably pass.

6) NEVER EVER purchase a used airplane with partial or incomplete logbooks.

Please remember that the aircraft brokerage industry is both unregulated and unlicensed. Unless you find a broker that specializes in a particular aircraft (we sell Bonanzas, Barons and Twin Comanches), the broker will know neither the aircraft nor the market... and you need both. Good luck!

Randy J. Africano
I agree with Ron and Randy on defining your mission.  I would try to narrow down my choices of aircraft to one or two manufacturers. For example, lets say you were looking at a Cirrus or a Bonanza. I would join their owners association and read as much as I could online so that I have more knowledge of the type. Then find a buyers agent that is an expert in your desired aircraft. Consider that a buyers agent has been on the buyers side of numerous aircraft and has experience with a lot of good and bad.  He is going weed through problem planes quickly and find reasonable aircraft that you should pursue. I'm not an agent, but I would certainly use one if I was in the market.
I’m surprised no one mention  It’s a great source.  That together with trade-a-plane should give you a good sense of value.  I just looked up the VREF of my 1974/Cherokee 180 which came in at $56k.  In May I bought 1/4 share and paid a little less.  My aircraft has a recently installed Garmin 430w and a Garmin GTX 330es ADS-B in/out.  
     A couple of things I forgot to mention was the implications of the upcoming (virtually) mandatory ADS-B OUT and Jeppesen's recent announcement that they will quit making data available for the Apollo/UPSSAT/Garmin GX series GPS/NAV/COM units. After June you will be challenged to fly direct or execute any GPS approaches with the Garmin GX series when they kill their data service. No one else has stepped up to take that over so we're entering uncertain times.
     ADS-B OUT is almost required in 11 months if you plan on flying into just about any serious controlled airspace. If you're considering an aircraft for cross-country and it doesn't already have ADS-B then keep in mind you'll be spending some money, and not have use of your aircraft for a while, to get that upgrade done. Don't discount the cost or the inconvenience of having to do either of these upgrades almost immediately. Spend a few more dollars now and don't consider the "I can get it done for 1/2 price" suggestions you're bound to hear.
Find something that is being offered up on ebay and watch it till it sells.
That will give you a vague idea of what they actually sell for instead of the asking price.