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Buying a B&B: Beginning Your Homework and Search

January 13, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

Buying a bed and breakfast isn't an easy task. If it were just a matter of searching real estate listings you'd have an easier time of it, but there's more to B&B buying than that. Hiring a B&B broker is a good start, but education is vital too.

The first thing you want to do is take at least one class to find out about the business. There are numerous classes across the country. The people at PAII, the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, track some of the available educational opportunities; http://www.paii.org is the place to go for that information. Taking classes also looks good on your "Innkeeper Resume".

Next, grab all the books on opening and operating a B&B you can find; use my list of Recommended Reading at http://www.TheBandBLady.com/reading.html to help you find these books. Enjoy the information repetition and contradictions. These resources will give lots of opinions on how to go about being an innkeeper.

Join PAII and your local/state B&B association. PAII has a various newsletter options for your educational purposes. Attend state/regional B&B conferences and PAII's annual conference to start networking with innkeepers, meeting the vendors, and getting up-to-date and personal information about the industry. Take various steps in your B&B education -- it's important to a wise B&B purchase.

You should always be trying to remove the rose-colored glasses that keep so many from seeing the reality of the business. Always test your theory that innkeeping is the right career and lifestyle for you. I remember years ago talking to B&B buyers about their anticipate B&B. They were excited about the authenticity of the old property, including the shared baths. I pointed out that Americans don't like sharing baths and they'd be better off adding bathrooms, even if it meant removing guestrooms. I couldn't get their rose-colored glasses off. I couldn't get them to see the business wisdom of private baths. They didn't make a successful go of their bed and breakfast.

Work in a B&B or take an internship. There's nothing like first-hand experience to show you what it's like and help you see your role as an innkeeper. However, don't make the assumption that working at an inn is the same as owning one; it's most of the picture, but not all of it. For those of you relying on a loan, working at an inn improves your resume for loan officers and investors.

The next two steps are somewhat interchangeable: hire a B&B Broker and/or consultant, and start searching the internet and magazines that specialize in B&B real estate for B&B inns that fit your requirements. These steps are interchangeable because they can really happen at the same time. You want expert guidance as you get serious about buying a B&B and you want to participate by helping to turn over as many stones as you can.

Most of the inns for sale aren't listed by B&B Brokers and most listing agents don't know enough about selling a B&B to take all the right steps. Furthermore, most listing agents promote their B&B inn listing locally only. Those factors combine to reducing your chance of finding most of the inns that are for sale on the internet or in a B&B magazine listing of inns for sale. A B&B broker knows the inns for sale and can guide you to the best choices for your situation.

Be cautious about starting your search to soon because the market will change before you actually buy. That said, I do see the early research as a way of helping you test your theories on size, price, location, and style. The better prepared you are, and the more you understand your wants, needs and abilities, the more readily you will be able to find your ideal B&B to buy. Finding the right property isn't the hardest part of buying a B&B (though it can be challenging), it's the details that follow that are hard. Having a professional will ease the process.

That professional will take the shape of a B&B Broker and/or a B&B consultant. If you can find a B&B Broker in the area you have honed in on -- or even in the state, you are a lucky buyer indeed. There aren't that many B&B Brokers in the U.S. to help you so there are large expanses of the country where you won't find B&B-expert help. That's when you turn to a B&B consultant who can work with a local real estate agent to help you with your purchase.

As you search for your dream B&B you will encounter numerous attitudes about sharing information with you. Be prepared to either share your personal financial picture with the seller, or their agent, have a lender letter saying your are qualified for a specified purchase price, and/or to sign a non-disclosure agreement (make sure that agreement covers the team of processionals you hire to work with you). But even then you may not be able to get the financial information you need to help you decided if the B&B you are considering is viable for you.

This is a good time for me to point out that innkeepers who are selling their inns are emotionally tied to their inn. Be sensitive and respectful of the seller. Where sensitivity and respect are demonstrated the seller reflects that back, most of the time, and friendships often start. You want and need the seller's training before you are on your own. You also want the their assistance after you take over ownership — assistance including a refresher on something they said during training, information that didn't come up during training, and even innsitting. Don't blow your chances at some of the best help you'll ever get by being disrespectful. If the deal isn't good for one of you, it's not good for either of you.

There's lots of homework to do before you buy a bed and breakfast. Let a professional help you. Help yourself through education. Your research will make you a better buyer and innkeeper.




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