Falling behind on loan obligations isn’t reserved for the middle class. In fact, while most repossession agents are scouring the streets, searching for vehicles with overdue loan payments associated with them, there are a select group of repossession men who set their sights on the biggest ticket items –private jets, helicopters, semi-trucks, yachts, construction equipment, and RVs.
The Players: The Big Names in High End Repo
One of the biggest names in the business, Ken Cage, former bounty hunter and owner of the Orlando-based International Recovery and Remarketing Group, began his repossession firm in 2004, focusing only on high-value asset recoveries. By the time the recession and economic crisis of 2007-08 hit, business for Cage and his partner increased seven-fold. In 2009 alone, International Recovery and Remarketing repossessed nearly 350 airplanes.
Cage said that as the recession took hold, the value of the assets began to grow. In the early years of their business, the average unit was valued at around $40,000. In just a few years, the values were rising at astronomical rates, with average units valued at between $300,000 and $400,000. In one week alone, Cage said they repossessed no less than three helicopters, valued at $3 million, and a $5 million jet.
Called one of the “world’s most sophisticated repo men” by Business Week in 2012, Cage and his associates are called upon to nab some of the highest valued items that have been overleveraged by their owners. In addition to multi-million dollar jets, Cage said he has even repossessed a race horse on one occasion.
The Cut: How Much Do These High End Repo Men Take Home
The take for a high-end repossession? Cage says his standard commission is between 6 and 10 percent of the resale price. Once he grabs the property, he cleans it up, makes any necessary repairs, and sells it to a new buyer. He then gives the proceeds, minus his repossession fee and any related expenses, back to the bank who hired him.
Although the volume of repossessions has declined since the height of the recession, Cage says his company is still deluged with business in the form of higher-value items. In 2007, the value of vehicles repossessed by International Recovery and Remarketing totaled about $16 million; by 2009, the number had increased to an astounding $100 million.
The Job: What High End Repo Men are up Against Every Day
Logistically speaking, Cage says repossession of these luxury items is often easier than cars, as private planes and yachts are usually traceable through the Federal Aviation Administration or through marine records. Cage has a network of people in place who provide him with information, including tug-boat operators, jet terminal crews, dock workers, marine captains, and aircraft pilots.
The work is often dangerous, but never boring. Cage said he repossessed a yacht in the Bahamas once, paying a girl at the marina bar $100 to keep the womanizing owner occupied while he grabbed the yacht and took off.
Cage and his current sidekick, Danny Thompson, have even become celebrities, with the popular Discovery Channel show, Airplane Repo, following their exploits as they recover assets from the United States’ wealthiest 1 percent. Just a few of the characters on this team include Mike Kennedy, a self-proclaimed thrill seeker and ace pilot, Heather Sterzick, a stunt pilot with a military background, and Kevin Lacey, their “cowboy of the sky.” These highly skilled experts help Cage pull off these risky repossessions.
Part detective and part daredevil, high-end repossession agents like Cage hunt down some of the most highly valued toys of the rich and bring them back to the banks financing them. The risk is big but the reward is huge.
How to Become a Repossession Agent: Training and Licensing Requirements
The majority of states do not license repossession agents; however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t state laws that must be followed. As per the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), repossession, regardless of the state in which it takes place, is allowed, provided it is accomplished without committing a breach of the peace.
In some states, repossession laws are more defined. For example, in Colorado, peaceful repossession is allowable; however, the individual contracted to recover the property must be bonded for property damage. In many states, repossession is allowed, only after a “right to cure” letter from the lienholder to the debtor has been sent.
Repossession Redemption Requirements
Repo agents must adhere to the redemption requirements of the state in which they are working. For example, in most states, the debtor has a right to redeem the property by providing full payment of the monies owed and compensating all expenses incurred by the creditor. In California, the debtor has 10 days to redeem the property and may ask for an additional 15 days in writing.
Repossession Liquidation Requirements
Before liquidation of the property takes place, repo agents must ensure they are meeting state requirements for liquidation. For example, in Alaska, repo agents must provide a repossession affidavit, a certified copy of the contract, and the bill of sale. In Texas, a certificate of title with the lien release, an affidavit of repossession, a certified copy of the lien instrument, and a notarized Power of Attorney must be furnished by the repo agent.
Repossession Licensing Requirements
Currently, just 13 states license repossession agents. Among the states that have some type of licensing law in place, specific requirements vary. For example:
- Repossession agents in Washington D.C. must file a surety bond with the Colorado Attorney General.
- Repossession agents in Colorado and Hawaii must be licensed as a collection agency with the Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
- Repossession agents in Maine must be licensed as a debt collector through the Maine Bureau of Consumer Protection.
- Repossession agents in Maryland must possess a collection agency license through the Office of Commission of Financial Regulation.
- Repossession agents in Michigan must hold a collection agency license and be bonded by the Bureau of Consumer Services.
- Repossession agents in Mississippi may need to hold a business license in the city or county out of which they operate.
- Repossession agents in Pennsylvania must be licensed through the Department of Banking and Securities.
- Repossession agents in Oregon are designated as collection agencies and must therefore register with the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
In some states, licensing requirements are more defined.
For example, in California, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services licenses and regulates both repossession agencies and repossession agency qualified managers. The person in active charge of the business is referred to as the qualified manager, and each company must have at least one person designated as such. Qualified managers must meet specific licensing requirements, which include:
- Passing a criminal history check through the DOJ and the FBI (being convicted of a crime is grounds for being denied a license)
- Must be at least 18 years old
- Must achieve a passing score on a written examination
- Must have at least two years of lawful, compensated experience
Florida repossession agents must be licensed through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Repo agents are classified by the Department as:
- Class E License: Recovery Agent
- Class EE License: Recovery Agent Intern
- Class MR License: Manager of a Recovery Center
- Class RI License: Recovery Agent Instructor
In Illinois, repo agents are licensed through the Illinois Commerce Commission. The Commission recognizes the following licenses:
- Class R License: Repossession Agency
- Class RR License: Repossession Agency Branch Office
- Class MR License: Recovery Manager
- Class E Recovery Permit (employee)
- Class EE Recovery Permit (intern)
Repossession agents in Nevada are licensed through the Nevada Private Investigators Licensing Board. To qualify as a repossession agent, individuals must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a citizen of the U.S.
- Have no convictions (felony and crimes or moral turpitude)
- Undergo a criminal history background check through the FBI and Nevada Department of Public Safety
- Possess at least 5 years of repossession experience
- Pass a one-hour written examination consisting of 40 questions
Additional Requirements: CDL, Pilot’s License and Mariner’s License
Individuals interested in high-end repossessions involving aircraft, watercraft, and commercial motor vehicles like semi-trucks must meet the laws regarding proper operating licenses.
Repo agents must ensure that anyone operating these vehicles must achieve proper operating authority through the state’s transportation division of the Federal Aviation Administration, regardless of whether the transportation is intrastate or interstate.
More information on qualifying for a pilot’s license can be found through the Federal Aviation Administration.
More information on qualifying for a commercial driver’s licesne (CDL) can be found through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
More information on qualifying for a mariner’s license at the state or federal level can be found through the US Coast Guard National Maritime Center.