June 8, 2012

How to buy a used Spa or Hot Tub

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The thought of buying a new spa or hot tub can be as exciting as it is daunting. On one hand, the idea of getting into soothing hot water bubbling away in your brand new spa or hot tub at the end of a long, stressful day is almost worth ANY amount of money. However, new spas and hot tubs are expensive even a stripped down model. Then, start adding a few options like additional jets to sooth and relax more muscles, and a chiller to cool the water on those warmer days like we have here in Arizona, and a few thousand dollars turns into the price of an entry-level automobile.

What is the solution to getting a good hot tub or spa at a good price? What if you want to buy a model with more options but you don’t have that much money? Did you know you can get what you want at an affordable price? You can if you start looking at used spas and hot tubs.

Used hot tubs and spas can be a very good value and provide years of enjoyment, but there are some risks involved in buying anything that has been used including a spa, jacuzzi, or hot tub. In this article, we will show you how to evaluate a used spa or hot tub so you don’t get soaked.

Before you get too excited and write that check out, or hand a pile of cash over for that used hot tub, there are several things you need to know. We will spend some time going over some of these items in the article, but here are some things to consider:

1 – Is this used hot tub or spa in good working order, or does it need some repair? Repairs can be costly, but they may also be very easy an inexpensive. Like automobiles, hot tubs and spas do need regular maintenance to stay working properly. Finding a used tub that has been well maintained is possible if you spend some time looking around.

2 – When purchasing a used hot tub or spa, you will want to clean and sanitize it prior to your first use. Even if it looks clean, you need to make sure for yourself. It is worth the extra effort to make sure it has been done properly because bacteria that your cannot see that has been breeding in a hot tub or spa for a while, can be harmful.

3 – Do you have a place to put your new spa or hot tub? You need a spot prepared and ready. Are you going to put it on a patio, a concrete slab, a slab of pavers, or pea-sized gravel? To make sure you do not damage your spa or hot tub, it needs to sit level and the base need to be able to support the weight of the spa including the 600-800 gallons of water.

4 – You need to have the proper electrical hook-up. Most spas and hot tubs are hard-wired into a 220 volt box. There are requirements of how far that box needs to be from the spa and there are electrical codes that need to be followed. You will need to hire a licensed electrician to do this for you and it will cost a few hundred dollars for parts and labor. Shop around and find a reputable company before you simply hire the guy with the cheapest bid. Remember, safety first.

5 – You will need to move that hot tub or spa to your home and have it placed in your yard. If you are in or around the Phoenix Metro area here in Arizona, that, of course, is where AZ Clear Choice Spa Movers can come to your rescue. Moving a spa or hot tub requires some skill and know how. You can’t just get 5 of your friends to come lift it for you. The last thing you want to do is damage it before you even get a chance to put water in it.

So, lets get started…

How do I find a good used spa?

One of the best places to start looking is in your local classified ads, or on a website like craigslist, especially if you live in a larger metropolitan area. Spa and hot tub retailers may carry a good used tub from time to time, but they will need to charge you a premium on a used spa so they can make their profit margin. They may also try and point you in the direction of a new model by talking about the benefits of a warranty, the risks of a used tub, and the new luxuries that the “old” spa just does not have. If you do decide to go to a spa or hot tub retailer to look at a used tub, know before you go and don’t fall for those kinds of sales gimmicks.

What is a used spa or hot tub worth?

Well that is the right question and the answer is not always an easy one. There are many thing to consider when it comes to placing a value on a used spa or hot tub. Of course, you will want to start with the age & condition of the unit and what optional features and upgrades it has. Unfortunately, for both the buyer and the seller, spas, hot tubs, and Jacuzzis lose their value rather quickly. Because of this, a seller who paid say $8,000-$10,000 for a top-of-the-line hot tub or spa a couple of years ago may want to sell it for $5,000-$6,000. Buying a hot tub or spa for almost half price might sound good, but you can often find a very nice new spa or hot tub in that price range with a warranty and most of the bells and whistles.

It is important to remember that a used spa or hot tub will probably require some work and reconditioning, even if it is simply to clean and sanitize it. I would suggest you look at several tubs before you make an offer. By doing that, you will start to get a real feel for a good tub when you see it. Don’t insult a seller if you’ve done your homework and their price is too high. Just walk away. After all, either they will eventually lower their price, or they will sell it to an uninformed buyer for what they are asking. Put yourself in the seller’s shoes and decide if you would be happy to sell a used spa or hot tub for top dollar.

What should I look for and what should I avoid?

The first thing to look for is a spa or hot tub that looks nice and almost new. I have seen many used spa and hot tubs that looked as though they were right from the factory. A clean spa that looks nice has a better chance of being well maintained then a spa that looks it’s age. Of course, you need to look deeper. I would never buy a used spa or hot tub that was not connected and working when I went out to evaluate it. OK, so if it looked new and they were willing to take $250, maybe. I will ask the seller to set the heat to high, usually it should run at about 104 degrees, so I can verify the heater is working. If the spa or hot tub is connected and running, it is much easier to see if there are jets that need to be replaces, blower or heater elements that are not working, or if the tub has any major leaks. Then, after you have verified that everything is working, take your time and look underneath the hood so to speak.

Evaluating the shell, the cabinet, the controls and the pipes.

Most of the high quality hot tubs and spas today have cabinets made of plastic that looks like wood. These new cabinets are resistant to fading and sun rot, they are very low maintenance, they are not affected by moisture, and they will look great for years to come. Older spa and hot tubs had side made from wood panels. Wood needs more attention and care and will deteriorate in not maintained properly. If you are looking at a used model that has wood cabinets, make sure the wood is sound and solid. It is worth asking the seller if you can remove several of the panels and check the condition form the inside. The nice thing about wood is with a little sanding and refinishing you can make weathered wood look like new.

After you have seen the spa running and heating the water, and you’ve seen the air bubbling from every jet, you now need to look closely with everything turned off. Look at every inch of the shell and be especially mindful of anything that looks like a crack, a blistered or a warp in the shell. Some tiny cracks can be repaired, but major crack will mean endless problems. Also, look at every water jet and reach in to make sure they spin or move if they are supposed to. In Arizona, the summer heat can quickly warp a shell and freeze up jets in an empty spa. Those repairs can be costly to fix. You are better off to walk away and look at another unit then to think you can simply fix these items even if everything else look good.

Take a look at the control panel and ask the seller to show you how everything works. Run through the process a few times to make sure the controls do what they are supposed to do. Again, I would never buy a tub that was not connected and working. Just because you can hear a motor running does not mean it is doing what it should do when the spa is full of water. Is the water heating? Are the jets blowing? Do the other features work? Does the waterfall work if it has one? Have the seller demonstrate everything.

Now we need to look inside the cabinet at the pipes. This will also let you know if the seller simply made the outside look good for your visit, or if the spa or hot tub has really been well maintained. Inside the cabinet you will see many PVC and plastic pipes, a motor or two, a heating element and possibly even a chiller. Some if the thing I look for is puddles of water in the cabinet. This is a good indication of a leak. There will be moisture inside the cabinet, but too much to where it puddles inside should be a red flag to you.

I also look to see if there are any signs of critters living in the cabinet. I am not talking about the occasional spiderweb or cricket. I mean look for signs of mice, rats, snakes, or other animals that might like to call a spa or hot tub home. Mice and rats will chew up the sprayed foam that covers the underside of the acryllic shell and use it for nesting material. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to take any of those kinds of pets home with me. If there is very much foam that has collected in the bottom of the cabinet, I would walk away.

If a spa or hot tub has been stored for very much time drained and empty, I would look twice as close for a couple of reasons. Over time, spas and hot tubs will fall apart faster when they are not in use rather then when they are being used. Wiring will break down, leaks will form due to heat buildup, the sun can play havoc on the shell, and residual water in the pipes can stagnate and corrode the internal parts of the unit. I will always ask if the spa has been stored and if so for what period of time. If it has, I will ask the seller to hook it up, fill it with water and run it for at least 24 hours before I am willing to go out and look at it. If a seller is not willing to do those things, I would walk away. After all, would you buy a car without starting it up and driving it around the block?

The last item to look at is the cover. I would like to find a hot tub or spa with a cover in good or great condition. The are chemicals we offer to our customers that can restore the luster and shine to a cover in good condition. (As a side note, I would never use Armor All on my spa cover.) However, a cover in lees then ideal condition would not be a deal breaker for me as long as everything else looked good. Covers really will need to be replaced from time to time. Passing up a good deal on a hot tub or spa in great condition because the cover was a little worn is like passing up a great deal on a used car because it needs new tires. All cars will eventually need new tires, and all spas and hot tubs will eventually need a new cover. By the way, we can order you a new custom-made cover and deliver it to you if you live in the greater Phoenix area. Call us for a quote.

The bottom line is shopping for a used spa or hot tub can be worth the effort with a little research and a little homework. Know before you go and don’t get soaked!

In another post, we will talk about the cost of common spa and hot tub repairs. Take a look at our other posts and let us know what you think.