Evaluating the Seller as much as the Practice | Is it a Good Dental Practice to Buy?

In the practice purchase process, I sometimes talk about your “team,” the other people involved in the transition. The accountant, lawyer, banker, maybe even me if I’m lucky. But there’s someone else to consider: the seller.

How you connect with the selling doctor can be a huge indication of how the transition will go and how you can anticipate your integration into the office post-sale may be. 

You don’t need to be best friends with the seller, but you should mesh well together in a couple of ways: seriousness about the sale and clinical cohesion.

Are they serious about the sale?

Whether you found your office using mailers, a broker website, or your own network, you need to make sure the seller is serious about the sale.

Are they serious about wanting to retire? Or do they like the idea of a fat check, less stress, and job stability?

So many times I’ve seen a seller ask top dollar for his practice and require that the buyer keep him as an associate for 5-10 years. 

These sellers are usually a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. One day they’re telling you all the things you want to hear…

“You’re the exact person I want to care for my patients,” “I want to be out in 90 days,” “How can I help move this along?”

Then another day they’re dragging their feet while hemming and hawing and saying things like:

“I just want to make sure this is right for both of us,” “Well maybe you should just come on as an associate for a bit before we proceed,” “I think it would be easier for you if I stayed on for a few years.”

This is the type of language that may set off some warning lights that the transition is likely going to take longer than you anticipated or may — in the worst cases — be an example of the seller’s dishonesty.

Now, don’t go assuming the seller is insincere if they mention staying on for a short time. Many sellers in fact are serious about retiring but the thought of it is just as daunting to them as practice ownership is to you. 

Many sellers ask to stay on for about a year as an associate. In my experience, once they’ve gotten a taste of retirement, they have a much easier time letting go and are ready to leave within six months. 

Plus, if you two do “fit,” then this could be a great mentorship opportunity.

Clinical Cohesion

Other than gauging a seller’s sincerity to predict transition flow and ultimate success, you can also look at your treatment philosophy. 

If the seller is staying on as an associate for a (short) time, will you two be in sync clinically or will it make you want to say “Bye-bye-bye” out of ethical necessity?

It can be a hurdle for you as a new owner to get your team on the same page as you regarding clinical diagnosis and treatment. The seller may be underdiagnosing periodontal treatment and now you have to have an awkward conversation with your hygienist about mistreated patients.

Patients may also have an issue hearing that the new doctor recommends $1,200 worth of treatment when Dr. Oldman said “looks great” every six months. To them, whether it’s true or not, they’ve trusted Dr. Oldman to catch anything and trusts his knowledge of their oral history. Now to them it seems like Dr. Young just wants their money. 

Ultimately, a good fit of personalities, transitions goals, and treatment approaches ensures a drama free transition into retirement for the seller and into ownership for you. Plus, if the seller really does like you as a person and trusts you as a clinician, he may be willing to take a little less for the practice knowing that you are the perfect fit for his practice. I’ve seen it plenty of times before!