Just yesterday I received a call from an innkeeper with whom I have had a relationship who was considering selling his inn, a 7 room bed and breakfast inn in a nearby state. Just what we do! Thanks for the call! We opened up a dialog about the inn, its size, its location, discussed the process, and then I suggested he send me a copy of his 2010 and 2011 financials. You would have thought I was asking for his FBC (first born child). “I just will not get into the hassles of trying to explain my financials and business with ANYBODY. Just sell my inn!” He was adamant and fixed in his stubbornness.
My antennae went up like a dog’s ears at suppertime. After failing to convince him that this is an important step to understanding the revenue and net operating income of the inn (to help establish its value), we closed our conversation that perhaps the best way to sell his property is as a residence through the local MLS system since a buyer would never be able to get a commercial loan on that property without the bank seeing the financials. He was satisfied with that…I guess.
But the point is trust. I lost trust with him. Was he cheating the IRS and did not want to let anybody discover it? Were his numbers so poor that I would be trying to sell his inn only on its potential? Does he even have records? All kinds of distrustful thoughts went through my head. I hope all them are wrong. If a seller, perhaps even unwittingly, withholds information from a buyer, trust is jeopardized, and with the limited number of buyers and the huge inventory of inns for sale, buyers will look elsewhere. Building Buyer/Seller trust is critical. So how is it done?
Like a good Boy Scout…Be Prepared!
- Having complete and accurate records (including taxes…they will be scrutinized during a buyer’s due diligence period)
- Track occupancy by month from year to year. A buyer wants to see the seasonal nature of the inn (especially to understand what happens in the slow season).
- Have a complete Inclusion/Exclusion list of the furniture and fixtures will transfer with the property and what will go with the sellers.
- For a smaller inn, have a property condition disclosure (available from any real estate agent) prepared. This is required in many states anyway.
- For larger inns, consider a Seller’s Inspection completed BEFORE a buyer’s inspector finds any defects (and they WILL find the problems!), This inspection demonstrates full disclosure of the condition of the inn, provides a report accuracy defense in the event the buyer’s inspector overinflates the seriousness of a deficiency, and leads to a corrective plan to defuse emotions and begin negotiations.
- Keep your gift certificate log current
- Open and honest conversations about marketing, buyer’s opportunities, and full disclosure.
When Marilyn and I were looking for our inn long ago (the Dead Sea was only sick back then), the owner of one of our candidate inns pulled me aside and said “Don’t worry about the numbers, Scott. I put two kids through college on this inn!”. We left never to return. If he was willing to cheat the IRS, he was willing to cheat us.
Innkeepers…think about the “surprises” that made YOU angry when you bought your inn. We’ve all been there. Think like the buyer of your inn. What roadblocks can be removed now to build Trust and not jeopardize the chances of a timely and financially rewarding transfer.
Anybody have any trust surprises when you bought your inn? We would love to hear about them and what could have been done differently. Scott