Beware of this Buyer

One of the most difficult challenges facing the seller of a small business is finding a qualified buyer.

The key word in the preceding statement is “qualified.”

Potential buyers are easy to find, but they don’t become buyers unless a closing takes place. There are a lot of lookers around, and they are adept at draining a great deal of unrecoverable time and emotional energy from a seller.

One of the biggest advantages to working with a knowledgeable business broker is that a professional is experienced in winnowing out these tire kickers to find those few, qualified prospects. This is one of the most valuable services a broker may provide to a seller.

If you’re attempting to sell your company without a broker’s assistance, here are some warning signs to keep in mind.

  • The buyer is taking his time in order to find the “perfect” business.

o A prospect who is gainfully employed (notably for a larger corporation in a managerial role) has time on his side. He may be in love with the idea of being his own boss, but may never leave the security and familiarity of the paycheck and career he currently enjoys.

o The buyer may be taking his time because he’s incapable of making such a large, possibly life-altering, decision. Many more individuals than one might imagine fall into this category. A potential buyer may think he is ready for such a challenge, but once faced with actually choosing, finds himself paralyzed.

o If a buyer has been searching for six months or longer, he may have expectations that are impossible to fulfill.


  • The buyer has no financing. Although this seems obvious, a buyer might be quick to assure the seller he has the means to obtain cash, and sometimes a seller wants to believe he has indeed found a qualified buyer. Be cautious if the buyer:

o will need financing (unless it’s based on the equity in his home), especially if the buyer has not even approached an outside lender

o has no available cash to pay for closing costs or a down payment

o claims to have a wealthy relative or friend who will be financing the deal, particularly if you have yet to meet this affluent individual


  • The buyer’s spouse is not present during meetings or is completely unsupportive of the venture.


  • The buyer is immersed in detail too early in the process. He may be asking too many questions, especially relating to insignificant details; he may act as though he knows far more than you as the seller; or he may take a copious amount of notes at every meeting.


A savvy business broker will also cite buyer red flags of a more personal nature, such as being very young (late teens or early 20s) or too close to the typical retirement age. Brokers often mention if an individual has lived in the geographical area for quite some time, but is still a renter instead of a homeowner, it might give a seller reason to take notice.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, and some buyers who exhibit these tendencies may turn out to be very well-qualified. However, these characteristics do represent consistent trends in our industry. If your prospect starts to fit the profile of a tire kicker, you may find it prudent to evaluate the time and energy you are expending, as well as the information you are sharing, with this individual.