What’s Most Important to You When Looking To Purchase A Practice ? Part IV

This is part four of my five part blog on “What’s most important to YOU when looking to purchase a practice ? In case you missed part I, there’s a great thread on www.dentaltown.com asking this question and it got a lot of great feedback from people with different perspectives. As a reminder, I won’t be telling what SHOULD be important to you, that’s for each doctor do decide and prioritize for themselves. I’m just giving you some food for thought as you contemplate purchasing a practice.

Part I and II revolved around the revenue and expense portion of the practices cash flow and assessing the asking price and practice performance while part III addressed the people issues related to a practice purchase.

In part IV we’ll address the location and facilities aspect of a practice you’re looking to purchase.

Likely the most important part of the “location and facilities” aspect of the purchase is the demographics of the area followed by the actual location of the space. So what does that mean ?
When we talk about the demographics of the area of the practice we’re wondering if the area is a good area to maintain a dental practice. What’s the competition like ? Is it saturated with other dentists ? Is it a growing area for the foreseeable future ? Or is it a declining area where people (potential patients) are leaving & moving away ? What about the patient demographics ? Is it mainly white or blue collar ? What about the average annual household income ? What about the age demographics ? Is it primarily a retirement type community ? Or an area with younger families ? Is it an area you’re going to live in ? Do you want to practice in the same area you live in ? These are some of the demographics questions you need to learn about when you’re looking at a practice purchase and there are companies that specialize in compiling demographic reports for prospective buyers.

Then we move to the specific location of the practice. Is it right on the street, maybe a main street with a ton of vehicle traffic ? Or maybe in or next to a popular strip mall or shopping center with a ton of foot traffic ? Or, is it “off” the road, maybe tucked back behind several buildings with no vehicle or foot traffic visibility ? Is it in a medical/dental complex with other medicaldental professionals ? These are issues that will likely determine how accessible you are or how easy you are to find. Signage also comes into play here. The actual space itself may not be as visible as you’d like, however, maybe you have great signage that fronts a heavily traveled road OR maybe you’re on a heavily travelled road among a lot of other businesses but due to signage restrictions the space isn’t easily identifiable as a dental office ? These are issues that a prospective buyer needs to consider when they are looking at a practice and during the office visit.

What about the specific space? Has it been kept in great condition or is it run down? Is it an older building that may require a lot of repairs and maintenance or a newer building that may not be high maintenance? How’s the square footage ? Does it fit your needs ? If not, will the space allow for expansion if the practice grows ? Do you see yourself in this space for at least 15+ years ?
You also need to know if the space is leased or owned. If the space is leased you’ll want to get a copy of the lease agreement and have your attorney andor lease negotiator review it to see if it’ll be a roadblock to buying the practice. If it’s owned by the seller you’ll want to know if the real estate is for sale & if not, when would it be available. If it is owned by the seller and they’re not ready to sell you’ll need to address the lease issues as well AND make sure you’re fully protected under the lease since the landlord is also the owner of the dental practice. The last thing you want are lease default provisions that make it easy for the landlord to throw you out and regain the dental practice. If the space is for sale you’ll have to decide IF you want to buy it at the same time as you buy the practice. If not, you’ll want provisions in the agreements that give you certain rights so you can own the property if & when you want.

Now we move inside the space. We talked about the “building” but what about what’s inside? How many operatories are there? Are there enough ? How’s the actual space, is it large enough? What about the layout ? Does it have/allow good patient flow throughout the space? How’s the technology? Is it current or outdated? What about the dental equipment? Is it brand new, almost new, mostly old, or so old it needs immediate replacement? What about the furniture and décor? Is it “fresh” or is it from the 1970s with old, dark wood paneling?
You may need more than one office visit to know all you need to know about the space as one of those office visits will likely be to do a chart review/audit which can take some time. One thing we recommend is when you do visit the office and if you do visit it more than once, you should take to opportunity to video tape/record your office tour and replay it several times to make sure you know all there is to know about the space, furniture, equipment and décor.

Lastly, you’ll want to understand the office hours that are currently in use and whether or not you can increase office hours based upon the community. For example, if you’re in the middle of a city where most of the “population” is there only from 9-5, Monday thru Fridays, then expanding into evening or weekend hours may not be beneficial. However, if you’re in a more rural area, maybe around schools, early morning, evening and weekend hours may be more valuable to you than the middle of the day hours. You’ll have to decide what you want now and in the future.
Many prospective buyers initially overlook the importance of the space, location and area and start out focusing on the financials of the practice. Instead, it may make sense to understand the area first, then when you’ve identified practices for sale in the area, do a drive by of the specific location and get some firsthand knowledge of where it is and what it looks like form the outside. If that all checks out then it may make sense to gather specific practice information to continue your pursuit of possible ownership.

Part V of this series, the last part will focus on some of the other issues that prospective buyers may find important about buying a dental practice.

Written by Tim Lott, CPA, CVA. Send your questions to tlott@dentalcpas.com.

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