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News: Cars on the Cheap and in a Hurry

'Buy here, pay here' lots growing in popularity

By James Proffitt · February 7th, 2007 · News
  George Graves, who owns 500 Auto Sales in Fairmount, says
Trevor Sears

George Graves, who owns 500 Auto Sales in Fairmount, says "buy here, pay here" dealerships generate lots of repeat customers.

Margie Williams, a 55-year-old Over-the-Rhine grandmother, knows what it's like to be without personal transportation. When she went to a local used car lot several years ago, she didn't own a car at the time -- but she definitely needed one.

A housekeeper at a downtown hotel, Williams didn't want to spend a large sum of money at once, so she did what a growing number of Tristate residents are doing: She chose a "buy here, pay here" lot.

Once the perceived domain of shady salesmen and often cloaked with the aura of seedy pawn shops, "buy here, pay here" has become a popular mode of transportation procurement in recent years. For many, it's the simple fact that, with less-than-perfect credit, they might not qualify for bank financing through conventional used car lots. For others, it's the convenience of weekly or bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments.

There are 14 "buy here, pay here" lots just on Vine Street between Paddock and Galbraith roads, for example. "Buy here, pay here" has developed such a large clientele in the area that Jake Sweeney Automotive Group was recently the first area dealership to enter the market held exclusively by smaller, independent lots.

Mike Thom, sales manager at the East Kemper lot, has been in used cars for more than 10 years, the last four with Jake Sweeney. He helped open the new lot last April and now manages it.

Thom says that offering the "buy here, pay here" lot allows Sweeney to sell perfectly good cars that would normally be sent to auction.

"The trade-ins we receive from the other Sweeney lots are usually better because we know the car's history," he says.

Like most "buy here, pay here" lots, Thom's terms are flexible.

"We set people up with plans that work for them," he says. "We want people to make their payments on time."

Jake Sweeney reports the payments to a credit bureau in hopes of cultivating a future customer for one of the dealership's other lots, because on-time payments improve a person's credit rating.

But most "buy here, pay here" lots don't report to credit agencies. George Graves, who owns and operates 500 Auto Sales with his wife, Colleen, doesn't report to credit agencies. Although their customers won't improve credit scores by buying a car at 500 Auto Sales, they won't hurt their credit scores either if they make a late payment.

The convenience is undeniable. With a downpayment ranging between about $500 and $1,500, recent pay stubs, photo I.D. and proof of residence, it takes about 15 minutes to buy a vehicle from 500 Auto Sales.

Graves, who's been in the used car business for more than 20 years, says his lots receive more repeat customers than any other lot he's managed. Margie Williams is one of those repeat customers. She first bought a Plymouth Voyager minivan several years ago, when she was without a car.

"I had really good luck with that," she says.

More recently she purchased a Ford Taurus, which her daughter drives. Williams drives a Chevy Cavalier. She says she's had her vehicles worked on several times at 500's full-service garage and has been pleased with the work.

Williams says she filled out an application, made a downpayment and drove off with the Voyager -- no problem. They were even able to break down the sales tax and work it into her first few payments.

Although she's never had any difficulties with 500 Auto Sales, some people have: the ones who don't make their payments. Thom says repossessions are common in the auto sales industry but especially in the "buy here, pay here" sector.

Williams has never had that problem.

"If I was going to be late on a payment, I'd call George right away and let him know, and it was no problem," she says.

But some customers, for whatever reason, stop paying or get behind and never call.

"About 35 percent of our cars are repossessed at some point," Graves says.

He says about half of those customers come in and pay the repo fee, $260, to an independent agency and catch up on their payments right away. Graves once repossessed a vehicle from Montgomery, Ala., a car he'd sold in Cincinnati.

While I was talking to Graves, a customer came in with an $80 paycheck.

"Can I use this for my payment?" she asked.

She made her $60 payment, received $20 back and got a spin on a prize wheel: For every on-time payment, customers receive one spin, with prizes ranging from $5 to $60 off their next payments to $25 gas cards. Not huge sums of money, but definitely incentive to make payments on time. ©

To buy a used car at a "buy here, pay here" lot, you'll need:

· Two recent pay stubs

· Proof of address, such as a phone bill or utility bill

· Downpayment

· Driver's license



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