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Buying Acquisition Hurdles

February 17, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

Buying a bed and breakfast is a great dream. And as with many dreams, there are challenges. Acquisition hurdles is probably the biggest reason people don't become B&B innkeepers -- they don't have either the financial resources or the flexibility or creativity to make the dream viable enough for a lender to support their plan.

Through my years of being a B&B consultant and Inn Broker I have experienced a variety of people come through my consulting; the individual dreams, the different personalities and backgrounds, and various financial abilities have been amazing to watch β€” and learn from. Most people don't meet all the lender's requirements for giving a loan, though some come close. And sadly many people don't have much of what it takes to get a loan to make their dream turn into reality. The two areas I see most people lacking are their business/professional background and their financial capability.

Lenders will look at your business experience β€” whether you have owned a business before, managed someone else's business, or have worked at a B&B. Having any of these in your background can be important, though not critical in and of themselves. Lenders are most leery of those who have only worked for others and had minimal responsibility or leadership in their job. Having a diverse background and higher education can be helpful if you can show how those skills support your B&B business plan. It's prudent to build a strong background not only to help you get a loan but to also make it easier to succeed as a B&B innkeeper.

One of the most interesting aspects of observing others' dreams is to see how they plan to make it work financially. Reasons I have heard for people wanting to become B&B innkeepers include an easy way for a single parent to work at home to be with their children, a great way for couples to escape the "rat race" and work together at home, and to live in a fabulous home or area so they follow their passion, such a skiing, painting, or stargazing.

Being an innkeeper as a single parent so you can be home with your kids and support them can be a great plan. The challenge is finding a way to balance working the business so it will support you and spending time with your kids so they have the guidance you want them to have (that's a challenge whether you are single or not). Often the biggest challenge I see is that the single parent doesn't have the money to get into a viable B&B or the income to support any negative cash flow that the B&B might have. There has to be an income source to cover all the costs of being a family and running an inn. There may be a way to make this work, but it still takes money to do this because you can't borrow 100 percent of the necessary money.

It's not uncommon for couples to want to get into B&B ownership partially because they want to leave the corporate world, or whatever their current job situation is, so they can work together in the business. One problem is that if they don't have enough money for a mortgage (enough means having the ability to put 30 percent down on the purchase) plus closing costs, money for "ramping up" for their ownership, and six months of operating capital as a cushion. They often just don't have the financial resources that allow for the luxury of completely dropping out of the "corporate world".

If they don't have the financial resources then it's logical that at least one of them, if not both, needs to keep working in the "corporate world" for months or years to provide the cash needed for their new lifestyle. Some feel "where there's a will there's a way"; or you don't have to have lots of money up front β€” but you have to be flexible with your dream to provide for the cash along the way. This is yet another way that flexibility, a key characteristic of successful innkeepers, pays off to help your dream become reality. I now feel, after recessions and 9/11 that having a solid financial footing before getting into the industry is wise.

Or, creativity can step into your goal plan. There are some clever ways to buy a property that can become a bed and breakfast with renovation, long hours, hard work and determination. The dream may not be what you initially envisioned, but you are the one who has to decide what can give in the struggle to make your dream come true.

People wanting to follow a passion and who feel that innkeeping is their solution also have to have the financial resources to make this work. One of the challenges here, presuming this innkeeper-type has the necessary funds, is that if they are following their passion the business of the inn may suffer. By suffer I mean that it's not growing optimally; the occupancy rate and income may be sufficient to pay the bills but probably won't grow enough to support the innkeeper's desired sale price when it’s time to sell. As long as the innkeeper understands the ramifications of their choices they won't be disappointed when they decide to move on to another career and lifestyle.

None of these scenarios is "gospel" or the only way the situation can go. I am pointing these out to illustrate some scenarios I have seen and what happens too often. My goal is to encourage you to follow your dream but to also be reasonable in your approach.

Is acquisition going to be a problem for you? Do you have the financial resources you need to buy the property you want (style and location)? Can you be flexible in what you have to do to make the dream come true? Will creativity come into play for you? How can you make your dream and reality come together so you won't have to jump the acquisition hurdle?




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