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Information on the process of selling a business during a divorce from an expert.

Laundromat interior

Mr. Smith owns a few laundromats.  He’s owned them for 15 years.  He’s been married for 19 years.  For a few years now Mr. Smith has thought about selling them.  He’s contacted a couple of business brokers and decided First Choice would be his choice if he decided to sell. 

His wife has filed for a divorce, which forces Mr. Smith’s hand.   He now must decide to sell the laundromats or value them and purchase them from his spouse by pay for half of the value. 

We asked Las Vegas divorce attorney Rock Rocheleau to help us and Mr. smith understand Mr. Smith’s options.  

Nevada is a community property state.  Which means during a divorce all the property and assets acquired during the marriage are valued and divided evenly.   With a business, like a home, the value can be based on an appraisal or allow the home to be sold.  By allowing the business to be sold by a business broker, Mr. Smith is stating the value should be what the market will pay.   This makes for the easiest solution.  But what if Mr. Smith wanted to keep the laundromats?

How Do You Determine the Value of a Business?

There are three main approaches used in determining the value of a business:  These three approaches are used when the business is not actually being sold in the open market. 

  • Market-Based Approach . Compares the business to other similar businesses that have sold.   Using this data, a value is assigned.   Similar to how a home is appraised or valued.   
  • Asset-Based Approach . The tangible assets of the business are given a fair market value and added up.  This is similar to an asset sell of a business except the goodwill of the business or customer base is not considered. 
  • Income-Based Approach . Assesses the present value of the business based future earnings.  This is the most common approach.

My first impression is it would be best for Mr. Smith to hire First Choice Business Brokers to sell the business.  This way there is no guessing at what the proper value is.  But Mr. Smith may want a business to continue running after the divorce.  In that case, the common valuation approaches should be reviewed and the best one chosen.

Market Approach to Valuing a Business

The Market Approach uses similar methods that are used by real estate agents when they determine the value of a property. The sale price of other similar businesses that have been recently sold is compared. The evaluator then assigns a fair market value of the community property business based on the price range of similar businesses.

The problem is in finding businesses that have sold that are truly comparable. The selling price for these businesses may have been influenced by unknown factors, such as:

  • The motivation for the sale
  • Market trends
  • The business sold may have been discounted for some unrevealed reason, so the sale is not truly comparable.
  • Other comparisons may not be accurate, such as the size of the business, the number of employees, and annual profits.
  • Intangible assets, or the lack thereof, may have affected the sale
  • There may have been no such similar businesses sold, forcing the evaluator to look for a broader business niche. For example, a business that specifically sells custom mufflers for eco-friendly vehicles may have to be valuated with a broader vehicle parts market. As a result, these valuations could considerably inflate or devalue the businesses’ actual worth.

Because of all these factors, the Market Approach is far from accurate in dividing the community property business between the two spouses during a divorce.

Asset Approach to Valuing a Business

The asset approach method may work well for businesses that have value based on tangible assets like real estate, equipment, inventory, and accounts receivable. In the asset approach, an appraiser adds up all the assets and subtracts the liabilities.

Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. Most businesses have both tangible and intangible assets. An intangible asset refers to things like intellectual property, business contracts, and goodwill. The Asset Approach does not take these factors into account when assigning a value.

For professional practices whose value relies on these intangible assets, the asset approach is usually not the best valuation method.

Income Approach to Valuing a Business

The Income Approach uses different mathematical approaches based on cash flow. The evaluator reviews the history of the specific business and compares its profits to other similar businesses. Risks of failure are also considered. All these mathematical approaches convert expected future profits into a present-day value.

The downside is that the value is based on a prediction rather than the current standing value. It cannot guarantee the assigned value will match the businesses’ future value. This can leave one or both partners shorted in the long term.

For Mr. Smith he should hire an expert to value the business based on the income approach, while at the same time hiring a business broker to look at what the laundromats would sell for on the open market.   This way Mr. Smith can choose which avenue produces the most money for him and his wife to split.