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Deposits With Purchase Agreements - Rules And Guidelines

Deposits With Purchase Agreements

Why do we take a deposit from a buyer when preparing and executing a Purchase Agreement Contract on a sale of a business?

The short, legal answer is that "without consideration a contract is unenforceable". The potential problem is that I negotiate and agree upon a price, terms and conditions to buy a business and sign an agreement with a seller but do not put up a deposit.

Tomorrow the seller changes his mind, doesn't want to sell or finds a buyer who will pay more money. The seller ignores your agreement and decides not to sell or goes on to buyer number 2 and you cannot enforce your original Purchase Agreement because there is no consideration.

How much consideration should I give as deposit?

One dollar can make it enforceable but it will only convince the seller that you as a buyer are not serious. As a broker I like to see a deposit of 5 to 10% of the purchase price.  A minimum amount of $5,000 deposit with the offer. When I do open escrow I like to open with 10% of the purchase price. More on this below.

Are Deposits refundable and when?

In almost every case there are one or more contingencies in the Purchase Agreement.  Until a buyers due diligence is satisfied the deposit should be refundable. Sellers need to cap the time period on due diligence and not let it drag on. After the buyer is satisfied with their due diligence I like them to sign off and remove that contingency.  Thereafter deposits should not be refundable. An exception to this would be if the buyer cannot get approved by the landlord (a good broker should perform his own due diligence on the buyer and pre-qualify them).

Cashing Deposits and Opening Escrow:

I prefer to do the deal in this manner. My Purchase Agreement has buyer and seller authorizing me to hold the buyers deposit un-cashed until opening escrow. I have the buyer perform their due diligence before opening escrow. Once approved I open escrow and deposit their check with the escrow holder.

Return of Deposit to Buyer:

Once their deposit is in escrow and escrow is signed, no escrow company will release the deposit back to the buyer or forfeit it to the seller (even if it states the deposit is non-refundable) without a written cancellation instruction signed by both parties instructing the distribution of the deposit. When the market was in a frenzy a few years ago, many deals were done with a release of a pre-agreed amount of money to the seller upon opening of escrow (this cannot be done on any business with an ABC license). The early release of funds skirted the issue of signing a cancellation agreement later. It is hard to get a buyer to sign a cancellation forfeiting his money at a later time.

With all the above said; I feel it is best for all parties involved to perform due diligence, and remove all possible contingencies before opening escrow. Then once you go to escrow it is a very solid deal.

Lee PetsasAbout The Author: 
Lee Petsas has been selling businesses with UBI Business Brokers in Orange County since 1981. In 1999 he became the Owner and Broker for UBI. He is still active daily in listing and selling businesses. He has been approved multiple times by Courts as an Expert Witness in the area of Business Valuations. You can reach Lee direct at 714-363-0440.


Categories: BizBen Blog Contributor, Business Broker Information, Buying A Business, Deal And Escrow Issues, How To Buy A Business, How To Sell A Business


Comments Regarding This Blog Post


My process for handling good faith purchase deposits is a bit different. As the selling broker, I don't touch the money; but, instead, I use a licensed and bonded escrow agent to deposit the buyer's funds pending the conclusion of due diligence.

A while back, one of our Transworld offices in Florida received a deposit from a buyer for a substantial amount of money. It was drawn on a major bank, with a very legitimate-looking check, from an apparently legitimate account. We assume that the buyer thought the check would be held, un-cashed, during due diligence; but, as specified in writing in the contract, the escrow agent deposited it. Lo and behold, the check was bogus, the account was bogus, and the buying company was bogus! Needless to say, the fraudulent buyer spent some time as an unhappy "guest" of the State of Florida for their criminal activity.

So, I find that the only way to protect the seller from a potentially fraudulent buyer is to obtain a reasonable good faith deposit and have the escrow agent deposit it. In fact, we routinely have the offeror wire the funds to the escrow agent in order to speed up the process, because time kills deals.

Contributor: Business Broker, Northern California

Good article Lee. you've broken down the issues well. Almost without exception, the offer to buy a business includes contingencies. A buyers deposit is fully refundable until those contingencies are met and removed and so this does help a nervous buyer and can frustrate a motivated seller. It provides another reason why having a third party professional can help keep the seller and buyer heading in the right direction during their transaction.


  Helpful Resources To Assist In Selling And Buying California Businesses

Willard Michlin, CPA, Certified Fraud Examiner, Due Diligence Services

Willard Michlin, CPA #106752, offers buyers step by step training & assistance in doing Due Diligence Services when they are thinking of making an offer, or are in process of investigating a business purchase. He helps to determine the actual net profit even when there is cash. Call 800-864-0420.

Diane Boudreau-Tschetter: Escrow And Bulk Sale Services

California Business Escrow, Inc. is a full service independent escrow company serving all of California and has expertise in a wide range of escrows. Our team prides itself on providing an exceptional escrow experience. For more info phone Diane Boudreau-Tschetter at 888-383-3331 or 209-838-1100.

Helen Yoo: Escrow & Bulk Sale Services - Southern California

New Century Escrow, Inc. is a fully licensed & bonded independent escrow company. Over 20 years combined experience in handling bulk escrow transactions. Multi-lingual staff that speaks your language, including Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese. Call Helen Yoo direct at 626-890-1151.

Mark Chatow, Esq.: Legal Services For Buying, Selling Businesses

Mark has a broad range of small business purchase & sale experience from analyzing potential acquisition targets to successfully guiding buyers and sellers through the purchase & sale of small businesses. Mark can assist with contracts, negotiations, legal matters, etc. Reach Mark at 949-478-8393.

Ron Hottes, Broker - Serving LA, Orange, Inland Empire Area

LINK Business is a business brokerage team of 28 highly skilled and seasoned professionals. Our business brokers have over 100 years of cumulative experience & the expertise to help you buy or sell a business in the LA County, Orange, Inland Empire areas. Call Ron for a consultation at 310-539-8300.

Larry Larsen, Broker, Laundry Specialist - Orange, LA Counties

Larry Larsen, Realtor has over thirty years of experience in the sales, ownership, management, and construction of coin laundries. He is a licensed broker active in the sale of coin laundries, a licensed insurance agent specializing in coin laundry insurance. Phone Larry at 714-630-9274.

Janet Carrera - Escrow & Bulk Sale Services - SF Bay Area

Redwood Escrow Services, Inc. is a full service, licensed independent escrow company. We are EAFC Fidelity bonded, fully insured & licensed with the Department of Corporations. Committed to offering our clients the most comprehensive variety of escrow services available. Phone Janet at 510-247-0741.

Peter Siegel, MBA - SBA Loans, Non SBA Financing Assistance

For over 25 years I have provided niche business purchase financial advisory and loan placement services with SBA and Non-SBA Loans, Retirement Plan Conversions, Private Investors, etc. Financing amounts available: $20K to $7MM. Call today to get pre-qualified or receive financing: 866-270-6278.


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