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Due Diligence Checklists - 10 Things To Investigate When Buying A Business


10 Things to Investigate When Buying A Business

Due diligence checklists are needed by entrepreneurs buying a business so he or she can conduct a careful analysis of any company that seems a good purchase candidate. These checklists also helps the seller know what information to provide.

On the due diligence checklist for proactive business buyers there are:

1. Profit and loss statements and balance sheets describing the company's financial performance represent one of the first things to look at. Older guidelines suggested the buyer get at least a three-year history of income and expenses to determine the degree of profitability, and the list of assets and liabilities to see what changes have been made over the period being reviewed. Because of the recent dips in the economy, it now is recommended that the buyer review five to seven years' of history to gain an idea of the overall financial pattern for the business.

2. Supporting financial documentation to review includes accounts receivables and accounts payables legers, depreciation schedules and related reports. If the buyer requests and seller agrees to a more thorough analysis, the due diligence may include a review of bank records, tax returns, vendor invoices, along with sales and payroll tax filings. Supporting documentation might also include equipment maintenance records and employee files.

3. Premises leases and equipment lease agreements should be reviewed so the buyer understands the lessee responsibilities under those agreements.

4. Additional investigation includes a call to the better business bureau to learn about the company's reputation in the community, and an analysis of account concentration to verify that the business is not relying on just a few customers. Conversations with key employees, major vendors and any landlords will help reveal whether the business has a record of honest dealing and prompt payment of obligations.

5. Are the business permits and licenses valid and up to date? Checking with the issuing agency might be a good idea if there is any question about the authenticity of the documents shown.

6. The list of all assets to be sold to the buyer should be reviewed. It will be referenced shortly before close of escrow. That's when the purchaser should investigate all of the equipment, machinery and other property of the business, to make sure it is in working order, and, if needed, properly registered and inspected.

7. Some detective work on the part of the buyer also is recommended. In the case of a retail business, for example, it's important to "case" the neighborhood to learn how many similar companies are located close enough to the business to be competitors. There usually is no single rule regarding how much competition is too much, so the buyer will need to make a subjective judgment about the possible threat posed by other nearby businesses. The point is to make sure and conduct this part of the due diligence study.

The detective work might include visiting the city's planning department to learn if any dramatic changes are scheduled for the area. More than one buyer has wished he would have done this before buying an enterprise that went out of business shortly afterward, because a large competitor moved into the neighborhood. Or because road or building construction disrupted the auto or foot traffic on which the businesses depended.

8. Industry specific investigation also is recommended. Are new environmental regulations about to make the company's equipment obsolete? Also a problem is out-of-date vending machines that put the business owner at a disadvantage when competing with other businesses using newer vending technology.

Industry specific knowledge also is useful when determining if cost of goods and other business expenses are in line with those of other companies in the business.

9. Right before close of escrow an inventory of all products for resale, as well as parts and supplies should be conducted to make sure the value equals the amount being paid for these assets.

10. Also of concern is that the seller holds clear title to any and all assets of the business being sold, unless disclosed otherwise. The buyer wants no surprises. Since title searches are ordinarily the job of the escrow officer, this aspect of due diligence will likely be covered. But it's a good idea to make sure the escrow holder is experienced at handling business transfers and knows how to do this properly.

Due diligence is a critical step in buying a business and it's important that the process is conducted as thoroughly as possible.

For more info - read more articles and blogs about due-diligence - go to: Due Diligence Articles & Blog Posts

For a list of Due Diligence Advisors & Professionals - go to: Due Diligence Consultants And Advisors

For a list of Discussions regarding due diligence issues brokers and agents have experienced - go to: Due Diligence Discussions

Peter Siegel, MBAAbout This Author: Peter Siegel, MBA (Business Purchase Financing Expert, ProBuy & ProSell Program Advisor) at BizBen (started in 1994, 8000+ California businesses for sale, 500 new & refreshed postings/posts daily) working with business buyers, business owners/sellers, brokers, agents, investors, & advisors). Phone him at 866-270-6278 to discuss strategies regarding buying, selling, (or financing a puchase of) California small to mid-sized businesses.


Categories: BizBen Blog Contributor, Buying A Business, Deal And Escrow Issues, Due Diligence Issues, How To Buy A Business


Comments Regarding This Blog Post


In addition to the BBB, a simple google search of the business name and "complaints" sometimes yields interesting results. Also, while you need to be careful of competitor trolling and leaving complaints, YELP can be a good indication of what the general public thinks. I wouldn't make my decision based upon four reviews, but if they have 100 and 80% are negative, that is cause for further investigation. I certainly wouldn't rule out a business with negative YELP reviews as it might be an opportunity for the buyer to improve the product or service and in doing so, improve the profitability.


To this list I would add:

11. A fully completed Comprehensive Disclosure Statement, signed and dated by the seller. The form we use is three pages long and contains over 50 line items about taxes, legal matters, warranties, liabilities, etc. With this statement, the seller is making a representation of truthfulness, and will be liable for any false answers. The buyer can use the statement to investigate any questionable matters and get further details.

12. An insurance review and a conversation with the current business insurance agent. This will help establish risk exposure and determine if the current insurance (and insurance expense) is sufficient moving forward.

13. Key employees, especially managers, who will be continuing with the business should be thoroughly vetted, particularly checking for any past record of criminal activity or fiduciary malfeasance.

14. A thorough review of all intellectual property, e.g., trade name(s), brand name(s), domain name(s), logo(s), patent(s), copyright(s), to be sure that they are truly proprietary, are enforceable, are current, and are transferable.


For liquor stores and other retail locations, I advise the buyer to call the local police department and speak with the watch commander to see what type of crime there is in the area, and if that particular location has ever been held up. If the location has been held up numerous locations, the buyer may want to see if the seller is willing to pay for bullet proof glass at the register. No business is worth dying for, no matter what the gross sales are, but a smart owner can protect themselves with bright lights, working cameras, and other precautions.


  Helpful Resources To Assist In Selling And Buying California Businesses
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.

Hasan Abdullah, Esq. E-2, Immigration Legal Assistance

I have over 10 years experience with E-2's and immigration issues. E-2's approved for as little as $10,000. Let me assist you with E-2 visa strategies when buying and selling a small to mid-sized California business. Mention BizBen.com for a FREE consultation when phoning me direct at 510-500-1155.

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.

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.

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.

Elizabeth McGovern: Escrow Services - SF Bay Area

McGovern Escrow Services, Inc., is a leading independent escrow company. We are a trusted partner with our clients, assisting them through the tangled bulk sale & liquor license transfer process. We provide attentive, quality & innovative customer service. Phone Elizabeth McGovern at 415-735-3645.

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 805-428-2063.

Brad Steinberg, Broker - Laundromat Specialists

PWS is the leading laundromat broker in California. Since 1968 PWS has brokered over 2,500 laundromat sales. With over 90 employees dedicated to the coin laundry industry, PWS has 18 licensed agents, a 3 person in-house finance department, 10 service technicians and a 20 person parts department.


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