Sticker Shock

Most Ferrari market followers would agree that values for Enzo- and Fiat-era Prancing Horses peaked close to the 2014 Monterey auctions and are now off by around 30 percent. Similarly, many Montezemolo-era cars peaked in late 2015 and are now off by the same percentage. In either case, you might never know values were falling if you looked only at asking prices—and the reason is something psychologists call the “entitlement effect.”

From an objective point of view, the value someone attributes to something should not depend on whether they own it or not; in reality, we all know that’s not the case. Hundreds of university experiments have proven that college students, at least, are surprisingly reluctant to trade a coffee mug they had been given for a bar of chocolate they were offered, even though they did not prefer coffee mugs to chocolate when given a straight choice between the two.

Simply put, once someone owns something, they irrationally place a higher value on it compared to an equivalent item—be it a coffee mug, a chocolate bar, or a Ferrari—that is owned by someone else. Comedian George Carlin might have said it best: “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is sh.t and your sh.t is stuff?”

A couple of examples spring to mind. In 2014, a client saw that a 246 GT had sold at Gooding’s Scottsdale for a new high water mark of $473,000. I knew that car well, having sold it in 2006 and having followed its later high-quality restoration at Dugan Enterprises in Oceanside, California.

My client figured his own Dino coupe, which had been in dead storage for decades, was “better” than Gooding’s practically perfect example and therefore worth even more. I pointed out that his car hadn’t been treated to a recent restoration, and instead, due to sitting for many years, almost certainly had frozen brakes, frozen shocks, and perished rubber, needed a massive service and a long list of deferred maintenance issues resolved, and was still wearing its original 40+year-old paint, carpets, and leather, none of which are known for aging well.

I’ll leave out the back and forth that ensued and just say we eventually agreed to disagree. More germain here is the fact that, if that same owner had been presented with the two Dinos side-by-side, there’s no possible way he would have chosen his own as being more valuable—unless, of course, he owned it.

Going a step beyond the endowment effect, behavioral economists describe something called “loss aversion,” which is people’s tendency to value avoiding loss more than acquiring an equivalent gain. In other words, it’s better to not lose $5 than to gain $5. Nowhere is that more evident than in the land of asking prices.

When the market’s rising, everyone piles on to reap the rewards. When the market falls, everyone, including people who should know better, hangs onto their toys to the bitter end and beyond, somehow convinced the falling market doesn’t affect their car. Remember the entitlement effect?

In late 2015, I purchased a nice 550 Maranello for $90,000. After spending around $12,000 on services, I sold it instantly to a dealer for $130,000. That dealer turned around and quickly sold the car to another dealer for $150,000. That dealer then listed the 550 at $175,000 and…nothing. The market peak had passed, and prices were on the way down. When I last looked up that car, its asking price had come down to around $160,000, but by then the market had fallen even further.

Around that same time, in May 2016, I received a 550 Maranello on consignment. It was the same year as the earlier 550 and fully serviced, with better options but more miles. There was no instant sale this time. After several weeks, it finally sold to the only interested buyer for $105,000.

If you as a seller want to know what your Ferrari is really worth, don’t go looking for the highest auction prices or the highest asking price online. Instead, pretend that you’re buying a car that’s just like yours, research the market to figure out how much you would offer for such a car, subtract the usual 5 or 10 percent for haggling, and then factor in a realistic opinion of where the market’s heading. If you’re lucky, your car’s worth that much.

The moral to the story? No matter how much they might wish, sellers do not control the market; buyers control the market. There will always be sellers, and if there are excited buyers they will bid the price up. If the buyers lose interest or see an unfavorable market trend, they tend to sit on their wallets and wait. Unless a seller can convince a buyer that this car is the one he really wants at his price, any rational buyer will defer a decision to see if something better comes along.