Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Special" Expectations

I love custom guns. I'm a big guy, with long arms, and big hands; most regular guns don't fit me too well. Plus like any other guy,m and any other engineer, I like neat toys.

As a result, I got into customization of guns, and from there into full custom buildups.

Now, as it happens, I participate in a few gun forums; and writing online, I get a lot of gun questions. Since people know I'm into custom guns, one of the more common questions I get is something like:

"I've got this spectacular, beautiful, unique, one of a kind thumpenblitzenboomer that cost me about $5,000. I never got to go on that safari and it's only been fired for sighting in. I need to sell it, what do you think it's worth".

When I tell them "About as much as a used Remchester thumpenblitzenboomer; or maybe if you're lucky and the rifle is really good, a little bit more than a new Remchester", they're flabbergasted.

I keep telling people their high end custom gun is worth exactly what any other used gun of its general type and configuration will get, in its stated condition.

MAYBE, if it's brand new in the box, never been fired except for sighters, in the ideal configuration for that kind of rifle with the BEST parts you can buy, and you find the right buyer; you MIGHT get as much as a new factory gun of equivalent configuration, or maybe a couple hundred more.

For some reason this offends them. Not only do they not believe me, but they get very angry at the thought.

Then they set their price on the thing to what they paid for it... Sometimes more than what they paid for it, because they think somehow it being so great and wonderful, everyone will see its enormous value.

Six months later and three times around on gunbroker; if they sell it at all, it sells for a little bit more than the Remchester.

Considering I've bought and sold, and currently own, more custom pieces than most of these folks would ever think of; that I worked behind a gun counter, that I've done gunsmithing... you think maybe they'd take a little advice...

They're not actually looking for advice of course. What they're looking for is validation that they made a good gun, or that they didn't blow their money; that they "made a good investment".

They're looking for their pride to be validated.

Sorry Charlie, it doesn't work that way. Fine firearms can be an excellent investment, but never for their first owner. He's the one who takes the 50% or more depreciation hit that makes it such a great investment for the second owner.

Even then, it's usually upland game guns in 16ga, or double rifles in safari calibers that end up appreciating in value (because of the buyers in that market), not tactical 1911s, or beanfield rifles.

They just don't see it. They can't. They've got their pride tied up in the gun you see.

Nope. They're all damn sure not only is it worth what they put into it, but actually MORE; because it's "Special" "unique", "one of a kind" etc...


You know what "One of a kind" actually means?

It means that the market for that gun has exactly one person in it, YOU; and you're lucky if you get 1/2 of what you paid selling it to anyone else.

I'm certainly not immune; the difference being, I don't have any expectation of getting anywhere near what I paid for my guns, if I ever sell them (the point being that you don't SELL custom guns, you sell the ones that you DIDN'T have specially made just for you, thus making them worthless to everyone else).

I have an absolutely gorgeous custom 10mm 1911. I LOVE this gun. It was a gift from friends who pooled together to buy it for me. It COST, about $3500 (well, it would have cost that if my friends hadn't wangled a special deal. It actually cost them a fair bit less, but still a pertty damn good bit of money).

It's WORTH, on the market today, if I'm lucky (not that I'd ever sell it) MAYBE $1500. Probably closer to $1200. Basically what you'd get from a very good used Les Baer or Wilson, or a new top line factory gun.

Yost custom Champion: Cost, $2,500, worth... probably $1,200 in 100% condition, and it isnt (it's a daily carry gun. There are dings and scratches etc...). Same as a top end factory gun.

Yost custom defender: Cost $2,200, worth... probably $900... Actually a little bit LESS than a top end factory gun, because custom gun buyers generally don't like officers models (they prefer 5" guns), so you're selling it to someone who's pricing you against a used Kimber.

Full custom AR, 24" custom ultraheavy barrel, LMT forgings, matched and lapped bolt and carrier, Chip McCormick trigger, tubb carrier weight. All Tubb and JP hard parts, ace stock, magpul grip, special hydraulic buffer with a tungsten weight setup ($200 just for the buffer) etc... The gun shoots 1/2 moa at 600 yards.

Cost, about $2500... worth... probably about $1200 if I hunt around for the right buyer, or $1,000 if I want to sell it quickly.

I'm in the middle of a custom 1000 yard rifle buildup. I'm using only the best parts for the job, hand fitted by the best people for the job.

My receiver and bolt alone are $900. The barrel blank (unfinished, unchambered) is $400. The trigger as $300. the bottom metal is $300. The stock is $700. Finishing it will probably run $400. I'll be putting in probably 40 hours of my own labor, plus probably another $500 in various craftsmans work (chambering, crowning, final bedding on the stock etc...).

It's taken me more than two years of saving for this. I haven't had a christmas or birthday present that wasn't related to this gun in that time. My friends and family have given me cash towards the gun instead of presents.

Before we even get into optics, we're talking about $3500 plus invested in the rifle, not including my own time. I have no idea yet what the optics are going to cost me; at least $1500, and maybe as much as $3,000.

When I'm done, I hope to have a rifle that can hit at 1000 yards, at under 1 moa. I think I'll be able to do it (presuming I can keep up my end on the trigger).

Obviously, rifles like this aren't available from the factory. The closest thing would be the Remington custom shops high end tactical rifles, at around $4,000. If I were buying it as a straight up package build from a custom smith I could expect anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000.

So, it's a $4000 gun right? And if I sell it it's $4000?

Sorry, no, not even close.

Even if I never fire it, and sell it new in the box (not a chance in hell by the way. I'm going to die owning this rifle), I'm going to get under $2000 for it. Maybe under $1500.


Because the people who want to buy a custom $4000 rifle, and have the money to buy a custom $4000 rifle, are going to be doing EXACTLY WHAT I DID. What they are NOT going to be doing, is buying it used from the guy who built it for himself.

So you aren't selling it to that market; you're selling to people who are comparing your gun against a factory Remington 700spr, or Weatherby sub-moa. Yes, you'll get a SMALL premium for the premium bits and bobs, but no more than a few hundred dollars.

You buy custom firearms because they are exactly what you want or need, for the job you want to do with them. You buy them for the pleasure of owning a fine piece of craftsmanship. You buy them for the pleasure of getting what you want with no compromises.

You DON'T buy them, thinking you're going to come out ahead, even, or even way down. You don't buy them thinking you're going to sell them at all. That's not the point, and if you do you're deluding yourself, because you'll be lucky to get 1/2 of what you put into it.

At least in money anyway. To me, the additional enjoyment is more than worth it.

Inspired by Tam