“If we think about it, nearly every notable purchase or sale we’ve been involved with during our lives has evoked a certain level of emotion. Whether it was the purchase of a toy as a child, or our first car or home as a newlywed, we often remember how we felt when the transaction occurred.”
In the sale of a dental practice, the events leading up to the day of transfer can be very emotional for both the buyer and seller. One recent transition I was involved with highlights just how heartfelt a practice transition can be.
Our client, the seller, who’s in his early 70s and in good health, carefully planned for his exit from private practice into retirement. He had his practice and building evaluated, and his CPA and financial advisor reviewed hi plan and determined he was financially able to retire. We listed the practice in the summer with the anticipation that it could take up to one year to find the right buyer. Our client eagerly anticipated a successor and retirement form active practice.
As we usually do, we had an early flurry of interest in the new listing, with one potential buyer showing particularly strong interest that warranted a second site visit to the office. The practice had everything this buyer was looking for with one exception- the facility. On that second visit, the buyer spent time in the doctor’s operators and determined that they would need to be re-equipped in order for the buyer to practice efficiently. It was also determined that, at some point in the not too distant future, the office would need significant remodeling to make it ADA accessible, a considerable expense given the older layout and design of the building. This potential buyer, who had just started his search, decided to pass on the office with the hopes of finding a similar practice in a more modern facility.
Needless to say, our client was disappointed. He really like the potential buyer and thought that he would have been a great fit. It was hard for him to comprehend why his facility, which he custom designed and built in the late 70s and had served him well for so many years, was no longer considered efficient. Within the first two months of listing his practice, he experienced the positive emotions of eagerness and anticipation as well as the negative emotions of rejection and futility.
The buyer also experienced highs and lows. He really wanted this practice but the facility needed more attention that he could afford. Like the seller, he experienced the emotional high of anticipation and the emotional low of futility.
Fast forward to midwinter. After numerous inquiries and presentation of this opportunity, there was still no taker. During this time, on more that occasion the seller indicated to us how motivated he was to sell. The seller was still riding the low of futility with just a glimmer of hope from our words of encouragement.
In early spring, the buyer who had previously shown great interest was now back in the picture. He had looked at everything available on the market in his area and was now convinced that our client’s practice was the best opportunity for him. We put together an offer and presented it to the seller for consideration. The buyer was very excited and we anticipated a sigh of relief and excitement from the seller when he received this offer, but instead we got silence.
As the deadline for the offer to expire approached, with no word or response from the seller, the buyer went from feeling very positive and optimistic and this opportunity to having the negative feeling of rejection in spite of our words of encouragement.
The seller did resurface in the last hour of the offer expiration deadline. He apologized and said he was having trouble letting go. He indicated that he was totally blind-sided by the onslaught of emotions he experienced after reading the offer, and for the first time he faced the reality of retirement. While the prospect of retirement brought him great joy, the reality of not being active in a rewarding career doing important work evoked a great sense of loss in him. He was embarrassed that he behaved as he did because he was always a careful planner, and he thought he had all the bases covered when it came time to retire.
The transfer of a dental practice is a sacred moment. It marks the beginning of one dedicated individual’s career and the culmination of the life’s work of another. The emotional aspects of the sale will always be there; it’s just hard to predict when they’ll show up.