Editor’s Note: Peter Pelland is the CEO of Pelland Advertising, a company that he founded in 1980 that has been serving the family camping industry for nearly 40 years. His company specializes in building fully responsive websites, along with producing a full range of four-color process print advertising, for clients from coast to coast. Learn more about Pelland Advertising at www.pelland.com.
It was a couple of years ago when I last wrote on the topic of preparing to sell your campground. Needless to say, since then there has been a buying and selling frenzy. Everybody is aware of the sellers’ market in residential real estate thanks to regular coverage on the nightly news, where buyers have often paid premiums to purchase properties that have been on the market for just a matter of days.
As a campground owner, you are no doubt fully aware that the market for campgrounds and RV parks has gotten hotter than hot. Are you doing everything necessary to prepare for that eventual real estate closing?
Particularly if you watch any of the countless reality TV shows involved with the selling of residential real estate that are broadcast on cable networks such as HGTV, Dabl, Discovery Home or DIY Network, you realize that there is a growing industry these days involved with staging homes in order to maximize selling prices and minimize listing periods.
Staging experts work to improve the many visual aspects that help a property look its best, including cleaning, removing clutter, arranging furniture, bringing in rented furnishings, doing some basic landscaping and power washing, enhancing lighting, painting, and otherwise enhancing that all-important first impression. Learning from the examples within that programming, it should be clear that if you would like to maximize the selling price of your park, it is not time to defer general maintenance, prune your advertising budget or let your park’s overall reputation suffer.
From the marketing perspective that is part of my day-to-day work, I am frequently called upon to design new websites for park owners who would like to maximize the selling price of their property, and just as frequently called upon to design new websites for new owners who have purchased a park (typically at a lower price than the property would have otherwise commanded) with an ineffective online presence. This is the common scenario that applies when a campground is being sold to new owners who plan to continue running the park in a similar (but presumably more profitable) manner.
In other instances, corporate buyers come in with either entirely new plans for the operation of the park or with the intention of totally reinventing the use of real estate. In these instances, spending money on improvements that will be of little or no value under the property’s new use profile will not lead to returns on investments at the time of closing. Not knowing in advance what a new owner might have planned, particularly at a time when new concepts are evolving on a continual basis, the best approach is to keep your property as well maintained as possible in order to maximize its “curb appeal” and first impressions in the eyes of potential buyers, irrespective of their intended long-term use.
Regardless of the type of buyer and the intended future use of the property, it is also necessary that the business’s accounting be fully transparent and in order. You will also not want to wait until the last minute to address any “red flag” issues that could either kill the sale or cause the sales negotiation process to drag on needlessly. These might include things like an abandoned underground storage tank, a septic system that does not meet current standards and requirements, wetlands remediation, and other potential environmental issues.
The Big Intangible Issues
When it comes to running a business these days, there is a tangible “brick and mortar” presence and there is also an intangible online presence. When you are selling a business, you are selling both, and it amazes me how frequently closing attorneys fail to address the extremely important online aspects. I have routinely encountered instances where the new owner of a campground, sometimes a year or two after the closing, suddenly faces the rude awakening that the campground’s website is not registered in his company’s name. Usually, this discovery occurs when it is time to renew, transfer or make changes to the registration or hosting services.
In many instances, it turns out that the domain name registration is still in the name of the previous owner. If you have not maintained a friendly relationship with the previous owner, if the registration references an email account that the previous owner can no longer access or if the previous owner is deceased, you will have a problem on your hands. In even worse instances, the domain name registration might be in the name of a former webmaster or friend of the previous owner. That person might take a vindictive or otherwise unprofessional attitude or could have gone out of business or is impossible to locate. In perhaps a worst-case scenario, the domain name could have been registered by a “yellow pages” type of company that always intended to maintain its ownership from day one.
It is time to research all of this prior to the closing, resolving any potential pitfalls and being prepared to transfer ownership to the buyer without any complications. What applies to the domain name registration also applies to your website itself and any associated email addresses. You want to be sure that your webmaster does not think that he owns your website or that there are any unpaid fees that need to be resolved. You also want to take measures in advance to separate any business-related and personal email accounts that might be associated with your domain.
If you have used a single account for both business and personal email correspondence, the new owner is going to understandably expect access to any and all business-related correspondence. At the same time, you want to protect your privacy and see that any personal correspondence is not transferred over to the new owner and prying eyes. It might very well be time to both clear out personal messages and to set up a new and separate account for your personal use. A word of caution: I have seen many instances where a new owner assures a former owner that he or she may continue using a personal domain-based email account. In every instance, the new owner will recognize the fault in that logic and reverse that decision in very short order. Don’t count on this any more than you would expect the new owner to allow you to keep your own set of keys for the front office.
The bottom line is that you might be ready to realize the sale of your park sooner than you had ever imagined. Take the necessary measures so you can jump on the opportunity when it arises.