By Kathryne A. Pusch, President & Broker, ConsultKAP, Inc.
Potential clients and prospective business brokers often ask GABB “What are the legal licensing requirements of professionals assisting buyers and sellers of businesses in Georgia?”
As a longtime business broker, former Board Member and President of GABB, RE Instructor, and a member of the Georgia Real Estate Commission’s (GREC) Education Advisory Board, I’d like to answer this question.
Here’s what the law says:
GA Law 520-1-.12 Business Brokerage.
Unless otherwise excepted from licensure requirements by O.C.G.A. Section 43-40-29, a person who brokers the sale of a business must hold an appropriate license issued by the Commission if the sale of the business involves the transfer of any interest (including, but not limited to, leasehold or ownership interest) in real property. A business broker and any of the business broker’s associates who do not hold licenses issued by the Commission may not negotiate or attempt to negotiate or assist in procuring prospects for the sale of a business where:
(a) that sale involves the transfer of any interest in real property,or
(b) where the payment of all or part of a commission or fee to the business broker or any of the business broker’s associates in the sale of a business is contingent upon the transfer of an interest in real estate.
An unlicensed broker may not perform or attempt to perform the acts in the preceding sentence and then secure a person licensed by the Commission to approve that transaction.
Under Georgia law, anyone selling or buying, offering to buy or sell, acquiring prospects to buy or sell or negotiating for the buying or selling of real estate for compensation must be licensed by the GREC. According to section 520.1-.19 of Georgia law, Business Brokers are covered by the same legal requirements as any Real Estate licensee if the sale includes the transfer of any interest in real estate.
While some interpret that to mean you don’t need a real estate license if you are selling a business and not any property (as in dirt or brick & mortar,) in fact, there are few instances in which this is the case.
Active businesses operate out of and occupy premises that are either owned or rented/leased, with the exception of a home-based business. Any business Purchase & Sale contract will contain a contingency that the RE interest (freehold or leasehold) must transfer from the seller to the buyer. (If it does not, the business will not have premises in which to operate after the sale.)
Any third party lenders of the funds to complete the transaction will also require a lease or RE purchase agreement to approve the loan for the business acquisition, which will be a contingency of the sale.
Therefore, anyone who is advertising a non-home-based business for sale listing is offering for sale a business that includes either a leasehold or freehold interest in real estate, whether or not the listing summary/web site ad has a box checked for “Real Estate.” In fact, unlicensed people who sell businesses will NOT check “Real Estate,” despite the fact that there is a business facility owned or leased, because they are NOT LICENSED.
Anyone who is negotiating with sellers and buyers for the purchase and sale of a non- home-based business for sale is involved as a broker in a transaction that includes either a leasehold or freehold interest in real estate. Therefore, that person must have a current Georgia real estate license under Georgia law.
The terms of the real estate purchase or the rent or lease terms (occupancy costs) are always a key factor in business expenses and profits, and therefore a key factor in the investment decision, so it is not possible to negotiate for the purchase and sale of a business without including the real estate factors.
The occupancy of a going concern cannot be separated from the operation of the going concern or from the profits of the going concern on which value of that going concern are based. Business brokers who are unlicensed are operating in violation of Georgia license law, regardless of how they “spin” their advertising.
Business brokers cannot assert that they are not violating license law by claiming that they have an attorney or a licensed broker to “handle” the real estate aspects of a “transaction” because of the above facts related to the inseparability of occupancy from the business going concern which is being offered for sale. The exceptions would be home-based business; non-operating businesses: sale of assets or inventory only from a closed business; or new franchises – sales by a franchisor to a franchisee of a not yet operating unit.
The GABB encourages you to let us know if you come across individuals who are operating as business brokers without the proper licenses. Contact any individual member of the board, or email the entire board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions? Contact Kathryne A Pusch, President & Broker
Member: GREC Education Advisory Board
GA Law 520-1-.12 Business Brokerage.
see also O.C.G.A. §§43-40-1; 43-40-2; 43-40-29; and 43-40-30.
Authority O.C.G.A. Secs. 43-40-2, 43-40-14. History. Original Rule entitled “Examinations” adopted as ER. 520-1-0.1-.12. F. and eff. July 12, 1973, the date of adoption. Amended: Permanent Rule entitled “Licensee’s Duties Upon Surrender, Suspension, or Revocation of License” adopted. F. Dec. 7, 1973; eff. Dec. 27, 1973. Repealed: New Rule of same title adopted. F. June 4, 1980; eff.July 1, 1980, as specified by the Agency. Amended: Authority changed. F. Aug.5, 1982; eff. Nov. 1, 1982, as specified by the Agency. Amended: F. May 9, 1985; eff. July 1, 1985, as specified by the Agency. Repealed: New Rule entitled “Business Brokerage” adopted. F. Nov. 12, 2003; eff. Dec. 2, 2003.Read More
Basically, there are three major negotiation methods.
1. Take it or leave it. A buyer makes an offer or a seller makes a counter-offer – both sides can let the “chips fall where they may.”
2. Split the difference. The buyer and seller, one or the other, or both, decide to split the difference between what the buyer is willing to offer and what the seller is willing to accept. A real oversimplification, but often used.
3. This for that. Both buyer and seller have to find out what is important to each. So many of these important areas are non-monetary and involve personal things such as allowing the owner’s son to continue employment with the firm. The buyer may want to move the business.
There is an old adage that advises, “Never negotiate your own deal!”
The first thing both sides have to decide on is who will represent them. Will they have their attorney, their intermediary or will they go it alone? Intermediaries are a good choice for a seller. They have done it before, are good advocates for their side and they understand the company and the seller.
How do the parties get together in a win-win negotiation? The first step is for both sides to work with their advisors to settle on the price and deal structure positions. Both sides should be able to present their side of these issues. Which is more important – price or terms, or non-monetary items?
Information is vital to a buyer. Buyers should keep in mind that the seller knows more about the business than he or she does. Both buyer and seller need to anticipate what is important to the other and keep that in mind when discussing the deal. Buyer and seller should do due diligence on each other. Both buyer and seller must be able to walk away from a deal that is just not going to work.
Bob Woolf, the famous sports agent said in his book, Friendly Persuasion: My Life as a Negotiator, “I never think of negotiating against anyone. I work with people to come to an agreement. Deals are put together.”
Due diligence is generally considered an activity that takes place as part of the selling process. It might be wise to take a look at the business from a buyer’s perspective in performing due diligence as part of an annual review of the business. Performing due diligence does two things: (1) It provides a valuable assessment of the business by company management, and (2) It offers the company an accurate profile of itself, just in case the decision is made to sell, or an acquirer suddenly appears at the door.
This process, when performed by a serious acquirer, is generally broken down into five basic areas:
• Marketing due diligence
• Financial due diligence
• Legal due diligence
• Environmental due diligence
• Management/Employee due diligence
It has been said that many company officers/CEOs have never taken a look at the broad picture of their industry; in other words, they know their customers, but not their industry. For example, here are just a few questions concerning the market that due diligence will help answer:
• What is the size of the market?
• Who are the industry leaders?
• Does the product or service have a life cycle?
• Who are the customers/clients, and what is the relationship?
• What’s the downside and the upside of the product/service? What is the risk and potential?
Two important questions have to be answered before getting down to the basics of the financials: (1) Do the numbers really work? and (2) Are the seller’s claims supported by the figures? If the answer to both is yes, the following should be carefully reviewed:
• The accounts receivables
• The accounts payable
• The inventory
Are contracts and agreements current? Are products patented, if necessary? How about copyrights and trademarks? What is the current status of any litigation? Are there any possible law suits on the horizon? What would an astute attorney representing a buyer want to see and would it be acceptable?
Not too long ago this area would have been a non-issue. Not any more! Current governmental guidelines can levy responsibility regarding environmental issues that existed prior to the current occupancy or ownership of the real estate. Possible acquirers – and lenders – are really “gun-shy” about these types of problems.
What employment agreements are in force? What family members are on the payroll? Who are the key people? In other words, who does what, why, and how much are they paid?
The company should have a clear program covering how their products are handled from raw material to “out the door.” Service companies should also have a program covering how services are delivered from initial customer contact through delivery of the services.
The question is, do you give your company a “physical” now, or do you wait until someone else does it for you – with a lot riding on the line?
Bob Smith of HealthMarkets.com will be the breakfast sponsor.
The Georgia Association of Business Brokers (GABB) maintains a website that lists hundreds of businesses and franchises for sale throughout Georgia in a variety of fields, including automotive, business services, child care, cleaning, construction, electronics equipment, fitness, flooring, floral, food, gas stations, landscaping, manufacturing, medical, shipping, restaurants, retail, security, signs, and businesses related to the internet.
According to GABB President Greg DeFoor, selling a business is a complicated process with multiple steps and a lot of moving pieces. “Our broker members are licensed business brokers, whereas everyone in the industry may not be properly licensed,” said DeFoor, who owns DeFoor Business Services, Inc. “GABB members benefit from continuing education, networking, promotion of professionalism and ethics in the industry, research tools, and forms prepared by a team of attorneys specifically for our association.”
“We are the go-to organization for business sales and acquisitions as a result of our dedication to the profession and our members being among the best in the state at what we do,” said DeFoor. “Our members have represented probably over a thousand transactions, and we have a dedicated membership of business brokers, lenders, attorneys and other professionals to assist business buyers and sellers at every step of the process. We work behind the scenes and go mostly unnoticed, but we’re an integral part of Georgia’s business community.”
For more information about GABB, email email@example.com or call 404-374-3990.
Meeting dates for 2016 are planned for June 28, July 26, Aug. 30, Sept. 27, Oct. 25, and Nov. 29, with a May 17 conference.
Important questions to ask when looking at a business…or preparing to have your business looked at by prospective buyers.
• What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Does it include real estate? Are some of the machines leased instead of owned?
• What assets are not earning money? Perhaps these assets should be sold off.
• What is proprietary? Formulations, patents, software, etc.?
• What is their competitive advantage? A certain niche, superior marketing or better manufacturing.
• What is the barrier of entry? Capital, low labor, tight relationships.
• What about employment agreements/non-competes? Has the seller failed to secure these agreements from key employees?
• How does one grow the business? Maybe it can’t be grown.
• How much working capital does one need to run the business?
• What is the depth of management and how dependent is the business on the owner/manager?
• How is the financial reporting undertaken and recorded and how does management adjust the business accordingly?