Best Advice from the Financial Times Probate Survey

Best Advice from the Financial Times Probate Survey

A survey on lessons in probate best practice by the Financial Times in mid-2020 revealed some interesting information, which those handling probate asset valuations (including classic motorcycles) should keep firmly in mind when the duty as executor is required.

Maintaining up-to-date records

Perhaps the most important point was to ensure that, when one agrees to be an executor, one should keep up to date with the person who has nominated you to ensure that their will and other key documents – any shareholdings, property deeds, insurance details and all of their bank statements and information on other assets – are readily available in a file for when the worst happens, and that you as their executor are aware of their intentions.

Keeping executors in the loop regarding all financial affairs and changes to documents including the will is an important part of the process but, executors should also make time for their nominees! A friend recalls how his mother pleaded with him to sit and discuss her will for two or more years before she died. He put her off until it was too late, only to find that she had cut his two sisters out of their inheritance. Sorting that out between siblings after the reasons for the decision have died is never going to be pleasant. Knowing that his mother felt that she had to make such a decision was not easy for him, either.

Source Accurate and Reliable Asset Valuations

The survey emphasised the importance of reliable asset valuations, especially in estates worth more than the £325,000 individual inheritance tax threshold. One reader advised that, in their experience, the district valuer may be called in to verify information submitted if it was felt to be unreliable.

The most important thing to remember about a probate valuation is that it should be calculated as a selling price on the day of death. Having the experience to see past asking prices and inflated dealer opinion to know the market trends, adjust the asset value for history and condition and to create a report that HMRC can rely on as accurate and complete is the purpose of my classic and vintage motorcycle probate valuation service. This is particularly true of rare and very vintage motorcycles, where observation data is hard to come by.

Be Aware of Probate Delays

HMRC insists that any inheritance tax owed should be paid by the end of the sixth month after death. However, grant of probate may take up to eight weeks to arrive, so much of the time available will be eaten up by the waiting period.

This makes it even more important to have access to as many documents as possible from the start. Up to seven years of bank statements may be required to check for money given as gifts – or any other gifts dispersed. One man who received a £450,000 cash gift through an offshore account ended up being fined £87,000 in court (via an anonymous tip-off) and came to regret the decision not to advise his father’s executors of the transaction. The executors were not prosecuted but the risk is there.

Solicitors versus Chartered Accountants

Solicitors were given a hard time by some respondents, with many recommendations to use Chartered Accountants in their place. A personal experience with a local probate solicitor was not great and, while that might have been an exceptional case, the process of engaging an accountant rather than a solicitor to assist with probate generated more positive feedback due to lower fees and quicker turnarounds.

The full FT article on probate best practice as advised by private executors is well worth a look. Contact me to discuss my efficient and affordable online probate valuation service for vintage motorcycles and classic cars.

Harley Davidson used motorcycle prices and the Ewan McGregor effect

Harley Davidson used motorcycle prices and the Ewan McGregor effect

In 2004, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman circumnavigated the globe on a pair of BMW R1150 GS Adventure motorcycles. There were actually three bikes: the third was ridden by a cameraman. Starting in London, they rode across Western and Central Europe then on to Ukraine, Western Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Canada, over a cumulative distance of almost 19,000 miles.

The ride was featured in a TV series called Long Way Round. This was shown on Sky and the BBC before being released to two DVD boxed sets including a special edition boxed set for the trip’s anniversary. The adventure increased the awareness of two-wheel globetrotting many times over and inspired countless motorcycle riders to take off around the world on their own two-wheeled adventures.

McGregor wanted to do the trip on BMW motorcycles, while Boorman preferred the specialist off-road and adventure bikes made by KTM. After off-road tests on KTM and BMW machines, McGregor agreed to go for KTMs, but KTM ultimately declined to provide them with promotional bikes out of concern that the team might fail. This turned out to be a bad decision.

BMW then contributed three BMW R1150GS all-terrain motorcycles, which were modified to help the team achieve and document their mission. They were also equipped with cameras, microphones and display/viewfinder screens mounted on the dashboards. A customised GPS with specially mapped waypoints in Mongolia and Siberia was crucial in areas with no roads or signposts.

BMW also supplied GS motorcycles for the second ride: Long Way Down. The R1200 GS Adventures were kitted out in a similar way. All four bikes are still owned by BMW and have been exhibited many times.

Having owned two very similar GSs – a later twin spark 2005 BMW 1150 GS Adventure and 2007 R1200 GS – to the base models used by Boorman and McGregor, I can testify to great build quality on both. When it comes to used bike prices and residual values, decent build quality gives the bikes an inherent price advantage over lesser bikes from the same market niche.

When one also factors in the higher cost new of BMW motorcycles and consumer perceptions of enhanced badge value, the combined effect on used prices can be significant. While one would probably not claim that McGregor and Boorman’s adventure rides alone have helped preserve strong brand values for GS motorcycles, the effect of the shows on the profile for these bikes and the clear demonstration of their ability to tackle adventures of this scale with few modifications was undeniably positive for used prices.

Anyone who has looked into buying a BMW R1150 GS Adventure knows just how well these bikes hold their money. Mine has not dropped a penny in the four years I have owned it, and this is despite a total production for BMW R1150 GS and GS Adventure models of over 75,000 bikes. This level of supply is usually a killer for residual values for such a niche motorcycle, so the McGregor Effect should not be underestimated.

Ewan McGregor rides electric Harley Davidson

Now McGregor and Boorman are back on two wheels, riding 13,000 miles through South and Central America, en route to Los Angeles. This time, the pair are on electric Harley Davidson motorcycles, so the challenge has been ramped up a bit, both in choosing bikes that seem to be ill-suited to adventure riding and swapping the IC drivetrain to run with electric power instead. The trailer for the series (below) shows all the points would one would expect – range anxiety, dependence on AC infrastructure in less developed countries, weight and style of bike and so on. This all increases the watchability of the ride and, done properly, rubs off well for all those brands who contribute to the adventure.

On the face of it, Harley Davidson is a brand that has not been doing so well in recent years. The parent company is going through a change of direction which has not been greeted with open arms by the traditional Harley Davidson buyer, but then the redirection is focused on finding new buyers and new HD riders. Sending HDs from the tip of South America with a film star and his hooligan mate is a good way to push that idea of “new Harley”.

It wasn’t without its challenges, McGregor admits: “The biggest challenge was charging the bikes. Where do you plug that bike into when you’re in the middle of the Bolivian desert or the Atacama Desert or in Patagonia? There are very few places to do that.

“There’s also a sort of stigma in the bike world; you hear the word hairdryer used in relation to electric motorcycles. But once you’ve ridden one, that all goes away. They’re so fast, they’re noiseless, you really feel the road. It’s a different experience and it’s really cool.”

Harley Davidson electric motorcycle costs

Bennett’s bike channel summed up the issue of prices for electric Harley Davidsons in a recent review of the Harley Davidson Livewire model. “A Harley-Davidson Livewire is going to cost you £28,995 plus on-the-road costs. That’s £10,505 more than Zero’s new SR/F, and roughly £9,000 more than Energica’s Esse Esse 9. £28,995 is enough to buy Ducati Panigale V4 S and a Honda Monkey 125, with a thousand quid in change left over to blow on a 65” 4k Smart TV.

“Of course, it was always going to be wallet unfriendly. The intended audience is presumed to have money and be happy to pay a premium, and, as a sector, EVs are still very much in the early-adopter phase (especially in motorcycling). Harley-Davidson no doubt has an aggressive plan to claw back its investment in EV, and will be ploughing that cash back into new models and continuing R&D. The Livewire is just the first in a long series.”

So here we have a £30k bike at the front of the electric motorcycle revolution that is £10k dearer than similar bikes, runs an Italian rather than a US electric motor and is being sold by a company in fairly dire financial straits. You may think that HD is betting quite a lot on the sales figures of these electric machines and you would probably be right. However, while the technology of the bikes will be outdated in two to three years, the presence of McGregor and Boorman in the marketing material is a plus. Assuming the bikes do well, overcoming the worries on range and riding experience amongst the fairly inert biking fraternity will be another plus.

Though we cannot currently compare pre- and post- McGregor residual values for electric Harley Davidson motorcycles, previous experience with big GS models which sold like proverbial hotcakes after riding around the world with Ewan McGregor in the saddle could be a big feather in the cap for sales figures. Volume sales are not the best protection for residual values, but it is a way for manufactirers to sell more bikes and make more margin and develop more new bikes with more affordable prices.

Ultimately, the market will decide where the prices for used electric motorcycles end up, but sticking them on TV for several weeks ahead of the release of a big selling box set may prove to have been a very canny move by the Harley-Davidson marketing team.

Selling Bikes: BMW R1100R sold on eBay

Selling Bikes: BMW R1100R sold on eBay

Although I love to sell and my career has taken me through selling all sorts of things, I don’t particularly like selling my own bikes. I buy old bikes to ride, repair and enjoy them, but occasionally one just ends up with too many motorcycles and a few have to be sold to make room for more. I sold one of my BMW R1100R models on eBay in the depths of winter last year. Here’s some information on that one.

First registered on June 6, 1997, the bike had good history. I had serviced it the previous year. At the time of selling, I owned seven other BMWs and all were underused: this one had covered just 220 miles since it was serviced and I would prefer it to be used and enjoyed, so I prepped it for an MOT with a new steering head bearing and all the usual checks and adjustments and it was sold ready to ride away with a year’s test. 

I’d bought the bike from Geoff, a pastor down in Sussex. He had owned it for several years but was selling to pay for some work on the church and the adjoining family house. I spent an enjoyable morning with the family when I bought the bike and it had a great vibe about it. My use of this bike had centred on riding out with my daughter while she was riding a Piaggio 50 to college and back: a thirty-mile round trip. I had done quite a few miles with her over twelve months, building her road sense in the run up to doing he car driving test.

The torquey engine makes the R100R huge fun to ride. This bike was sold with the BMW touring luggage panniers not seen in these photos. All the cases, seat lock and ignition worked with one key (there were also two spares).

BMW R1100R Specification and Equipment

Finished in Dolphin Blue Metallic, the paintwork was all original and in decent condition. Non-servo ABS was fitted and worked fine. The bike also had factory-fitted two-stage heated grips, which work very effectively, complimenting the ABS to make these bikes an ideal winter ride to keep expensive summer bikes off the salty roads.

Older oilheads are a great introduction to BMW flat twins for not a lot of money. R1100Rs ride very well. They are a beautiful fit for my size and shape: the seat height is highly adjustable, the brakes and suspension are excellent and that punchy, fuel-injected engine is a joy to use. I think these bikes are amongst the best blend of classic riding qualities with modern-day conveniences that the airhead models don’t have.

Service History

The bike benefitted from many new parts, including a new rear shock absorber at 42k miles and a new clutch at 52k miles. A replacement transmission from a low-mileage 1100R had been fitted and the gearchange was excellent. Both tyres were in as-new condition – Dunlop Supermaxx up front and Bridgestone BT023 in the rear – and the brake discs and pads front and rear were also nearly new.

The service book was stamped up to 35k miles, after which it was home serviced by keen owners, with receipts showing some help from experts on more involved jobs like the clutch fit and gearbox swap, changing the throttle cable (43k) and balancing the throttle bodies. As I enjoy working on my bikes, I carried out quite a bit of work including repairing the common ignition switch wiring faults and going through the loom to find any other issues, a full fuel tank rebuild including later fuel pump and new filter, new air filter, changing the dash bulbs and fitting new BMW hand grips.

Some signs of age were inevitable, including the usual BMW corrosion to powder-coated engine parts, which any oilhead owner will be familiar with. Irrespective of the cosmetics, the bike was a very usable vintage BMW in good mechanical order at a sensible price. It would make a fun commuter, great base for a classic scrambler or a just winter weekend fun bike to keep a newer machine safely tucked up indoors, away from the salty roads.  

The bike sold online and was collected by a friend of mine who delivered the bike to its new owner. eBay is a good place to sell bikes. This one went for £1700 and was just about the cheapest R1100R I have seen in recent months. I was happy to pass it on to a good new home.

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I bought a 2005 Ducati Monster 800 S i.e.

I bought a 2005 Ducati Monster 800 S i.e.

I added a 2005 Ducati Monster 800 S i.e. to the stable last week. I owned a very late carbed 750 Monster a few years back, which was a lovely bike to ride but it suffered from chronic carb icing, was a little low on straight line grunt and had also been used in London and stored on the street, so condition was not great.

I have ridden a few bigger Monsters – both air- and water-cooled – and came close to buying an S4 once upon a time, but really they are a bit too front heavy and the air-cooled bikes feel ‘more proper’. I think the 900 is a little heavy also, so the short lived injected 800 has a reputation as the sweet spot in terms of weight vs power amongst anoraks.

Anyway, about ten years ago, a seed was sown to find an 800. Like Ferraris, most Monsters are sold in resale red. The Metallic Blue bikes used in the press shots were made in very small numbers – just 5 of the 88 bikes that came to the UK were finished in blue. I love that look, so an 800 Monster in Blue has been on my list for a very long time.

Looking on and off for several years, I recently found one of the five: a two owner example with 12k miles, engine paint a bit scruffy as it lived on the street for a bit (like all old Monsters really) but wearing a pair of Remus cans and a Power Commander. Also had a pair of rare Monster panniers matched to the bike.

Negotiating and buying the bike was not straightforward. The price was a little high given the condition, plus it was up in the wilds of Scotland, so I set a max price and made the guy an offer. Patience paid off and a month later we agreed a deal. I paid a deposit and booked a courier to collect.

He got there at 8pm in the evening and then it turned out that the seller’s bank would not accept incoming transfers from any of my banks after 6:30 at night. It took some convincing but, after doing the transfers and sending him screenshots, the guy released the bike to the courier, his bank sorted the transfer issues the next day and all was good. The little blue Ducati arrived with me a week ago.

I’ve been tied up with valuation work on several court cases for weeks, so left the bike in the garage and set my first ride as a reward. I finally shipped my last report yesterday, so wheeled out the Ducati for a late evening ride. It did not disappoint! Beautiful pickup with the Power Commander watching over things and such a sweet power to weight ratio.

I’ve bought some adjustable Showas for the front and the cosmetic bits can wait until winter. My mission for the rest of the summer is to wear out the old tyres and just enjoy being back on a Monster. Good times 👍🏻

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Ducati Paul Smart 1000 LE sells in Las Vegas

Ducati Paul Smart 1000 LE sells in Las Vegas

As a long-time motorcyclist and classic bike enthusiast, I love all classic bikes, but if I had to pick one to look at for the rest of my life, it would probably be the Ducati Paul Smart 1000 LE.

This beautiful bike was unveiled to commemorate Smart’s famous victory in the 1972 Imola 200 event, riding a 750 Desmo that would go on to become the 750SS. Before the event, Smart admitted to being dismissive of Ducati, regarding the brand as a manufacturer of out of date single-cylinder machines. All that would change.

At the time of the Imola 200, he was racing in the US but not earning enough to live on. When his wife called and said Ducati wanted him to ride for the factory in the Imola 200, it was a no brainer to jump on a plane to Italy. The story of the weekend is excellent and well worth reading: Smart eventually won the race and got to keep his bike. The victory was a key moment in Ducati’s transformation into a high performance brand for the modern era and kicked off a long association between Smart and Ducati.

About the Ducati Paul Smart 1000 LE

First offered to the market in 2005, the Paul Smart LE was based on Ducati’s trusty air-cooled 1000DS twin. Designed by the famous Pierre Terblanche, the bikes were incredibly stylish and completely unique. However, the styling was not for everyone and the bikes lasted for just a few years until production ceased in 2010.

Just 2000 Paul Smart Ducatis were built and they are now highly desirable. My friend Chris had one, which I coveted deeply. He rode all over Europe and back to Ducati factory. He describes it as a physically painful but emotionally rewarding experience! Good examples currently fetch up to twenty thousand pounds and have therefore sailed beyond my financial reach, but if prices ever begin to fall again, I will have to find a way to get one.

Bonhams offered this 2006 Ducati Paul Smart 1000 LE at its Las Vegas sale in January 2020. Frame no. ZDM1WABP16B001646 was offered in its original crate as an unused and highly desirable Limited Edition model. The wide estimate of £19-25,000 suggests some uncertainty on behalf of the vendors but no doubt this was always going to sell for over £20k. In the end, the unused Paul Smart sold for £21,256 including the buyer’s premium, closer to the low estimate than the high.

The value of this bike could be said to be in its unused condition, but if we think of it as buying a highly desirable brand-new Ducati Limited Edition ready to be used and enjoyed for just £21,000, that is a very good buy. Whether one uses it or keeps it in the crate, it will remain a joy to behold. I think I would use it and keep it in the living room.

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Pre-War British motorcycle valuation: 1939 Ariel Red Hunter

Pre-War British motorcycle valuation: 1939 Ariel Red Hunter

I gave some pre-sale valuation feedback on an interesting bike over the weekend: a 1939 Ariel VH500 Red Hunter. Raced with some success in the 1950s/60s, the bike had been modified to make it lighter using well manufactured alloy parts and the engine had also been modified to lift compression and deliver a bit more power. The bike was presented in very good order: unrestored with wonderful patina.

About Ariel Motorcycles

Ariel is an interesting manufacturer from a valuation point of view. Founded in 1870, the company grew from cycle manufacturing to unveiling its first motorised cycles in 1902 and went on to produce some very innovative motorbikes. The Ariel design team included two legends of British motorcycle history: Edward Turner and Valentine Page. Both progressed to greater things and their work for Ariel has gone down in history.

Ariel was run by Jack Sangster and his success with Turner’s 1930 Ariel Square Four and the later VH500 Red Hunter allowed him to buy the Triumph motorcycle company in 1936. He later sold both companies to BSA (the Birmingham Small Arms company) and took a seat on the BSA board. He eventually took over full chairmanship of the BSA group.

While BSA continued to manufacture Ariel motorcycles through the 1950s and 60s, the bikes were fairly drab in comparison to the pre-war machines. Most of the Red Hunters seen for sale nowadays are 1950s BSA examples and, while they do command a reasonable value, they are nothing like as stylish as the pre-war Ariels.

A 1939 VH500 Ariel Red Hunter is pretty unique: most would have been manufactured shortly before war broke out. We can safely say that production in 1939 was low, so this is a rare survivor. It is difficult to find many examples of 1939 VH500s online – let alone bikes that are actually for sale or have sold.

Ariel motorcycle valuation and investment

Pre-war bikes are sought after by collectors. A VH500 with well documented and pretty successful historic race history is a rare thing and that counts for a great deal when it comes to desirability. TT bikes of this era are extremely desirable and that classic bike cachet of ‘a dangerous time but living for the moment’ will certainly have an impact on the value of other race machines from the period. The Ariel brand also enjoys a vibrant following, supported by Draganfly and the Ariel Club Slovakia and cult followings like this can often throw up quite a lot of interest.

Looking at sales, there is some evidence to suggest that the brand is currently undervalued versus other pre-war manufacturers. Auction prices for an apparently original and complete light restoration base starting circa £5k in Sept 2015 up to £9k for a very nice example located in France a few years later. Not huge numbers for pre-war runners.

Old race stories and unfakeable patina often appeals to collectors, so I stuck my neck out a bit and put my low estimate circa £9k. The history and archive appeal to me says it might top out well ahead of that but that is a little bit of guesssswork bassed on previous sales and we don’t know how coronavirus will put people off paying record prices for an uncertain investment opportunity. A lot of these bikes change hands behind closed doors and true data is hard to come by.

If I was sending this bike to auction with fully documented race history and period photos etc, I would be keeping my fingers crossed for a winning bid somewhere around £10.5 – 12k. It is important to play up the history to bring out the serious race bike collectors and people who see Ariel as one of the opportunities for long term investment. I am probably in that group somewhere.

Library photo from Wikipedia shared under CC licence

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