When you purchased your home, your first impression of the residence was the most important factor in the purchase decision. Car wash operations are a showcase and marketplace for customers, and their appearance produces the same reaction for prospective buyers. Many car wash operators keep their locations in pristine condition and could sell their car wash any day, while other sites appear to need hundreds of thousands of dollars in building improvements and capital equipment repairs. Those that need substantial building repairs and have deferred equipment maintenance issues may realize a lower sale price, if attracting any buyers at all. How should the car wash site be prepared for the sale?
Car wash facilities should be well maintained and cleaned daily. Car washes are in the business of selling “clean.” Maintenance and repair issues are some of the biggest reducers of price in the sale of a car wash property.
If a car wash fails to properly maintain curb appeal, buyers will question its ability to clean cars, too. Keep a site well maintained during the marketing and sales process.
Curbs, gutters, and driveways with cracked, heaved, or shattered surfaces should be repaired or replaced. Replace worn or chipped paint striping. Cut the grass or use a professional lawn service weekly. Pull weeds, old leaves, and trash out of the grassy areas, rocked areas, and shrubbery. Keep grassy areas, trees, and shrubs trimmed and healthy during the growing season. Dead or dying trees or shrubs should be addressed. Site maintenance begins at the curb.
The replacement or repair of damaged curbs, gutters, and driveways should be completed before you begin marketing the site for sale. Sometimes this cannot be achieved due to the time of year the property is marketed and will need to be disclosed to the buyer. Quotes for replacing these items should be in hand for the prospective buyer to review. Do not wait until the prospective buyer has seen the site to begin calling for quotes and conducting repairs.
Signs that are improperly hung, paint that is peeling, burned-out lights, or signs that have been damaged by weather should be promptly fixed. Replace burned-out outdoor lights and lenses and install new lights in dark areas. Barring any code issues, your site should be uniformly lit and devoid of any dark areas that can attract the wrong “customers” to your car wash after hours.
Signage, message boards, and directional instructions should be professionally printed with clear concise lettering and be easily readable at a distance.
Greeters, cashiers, detailers, and other employees should always have an identifiable uniform to communicate to customers that they work for the car wash and are not street people waiting to steal customers’ vehicles. Employees should be clean-shaven and free of grime and body odor that might result, for example, from shoveling the pit. They need to be appropriately dressed (no cut-offs, for example), and able to communicate well with customers.
VACUUM AND DRYER AREA
Hoses and nozzles, shampooers, fragrance machines, and vending machines must be well maintained and operate properly. Replace worn directional and advertising stickers on equipment and vending machines. Replace worn, squeaky bearings and brushes in producers and drive motors. Clean vacuum lines in central vacuum systems, if necessary. Replace filter materials on a regular basis.
CHANGERS AND/ OR CREDIT CARD SYSTEMS
Self-service operators must maintain and upgrade chips on bill changers. Credit card swipes must work and should be cleaned. Credit card processing systems should have hardware and software upgraded to keep up with technologies and processing regulations.
Remove any unnecessary clutter from the office. Spare parts and conveyor transmissions should be removed from the office and properly stored. Fix any paint peeling from the walls and replace broken or discolored ceiling tiles. Repair any non-functioning light fixtures. Make sure heating and cooling systems work.
CUSTOMER WAITING AREA
Gondolas and other merchandiser units, coolers, coffee bar, vending machines, video games, etc. must be clean, well stocked, and appropriate for the operation. A crowded and cluttered lobby area makes fewer sales, as customers may prefer to wait outside, thus reducing the chances for additional sales. Ripped and torn couches, dirty or torn carpeting, broken shades, and non-functioning light fixtures must be addressed. These should be replaced with new commercial grade furnishings, coverings, and/or fixtures.
BAYS AND TUNNELS
Car wash bays and tunnel prep stations should be neatly organized and clean. Any broken high-pressure pumps, prep guns, or hoses should be promptly repaired or replaced and disposed of. High-pressure hoses that are leaking or worn have a poor appearance to the prospective buyer.
All bay systems should be in good working order. Check in-floor hydronic heating systems, and replace or repair cracked or heaved concrete slabs. Address any side brush arms that are lying on the tunnel floor or held back by bungees, straps, or ropes. If the site has broken equipment or shows evidence of not being maintained, the buyer’s perception is that nothing on the site has been maintained. Missing or broken windows or doors must be replaced or repaired. Equipment that cannot be repaired or further maintained due to manufacturing discontinuance or parts not being available must be replaced.
The detail shop area should be neat with chemicals and detailing equipment stored properly when not in use. Be sure the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) binder is present near chemicals. Floors should be clean with no grease. Roll doors must work properly with no squealing wheels or loose tracks.
A clean, clutter-free equipment room is the best. One that has parts taped to the wall, or has pump oil on the floor is a demonstration of an inability to clean up and properly run the operation. Empty soap barrels should be removed from the equipment room and stored appropriately or properly disposed. Use proper chemical-management practices. Have safety gear available in working condition, with rescue and first-aid systems in place. Excess or old parts inventory should not be stored on top of the chemical barrels, mixing tanks, or boilers. Make sure all electrical faceplates are in place on receptacles, switch boxes, or junction boxes.
No loose wiring should be visible anywhere in the facility, including low-voltage control wiring such as controller and telephone wiring.
Plumbing should be in good shape with no leaks. A trickle of water running constantly to the floor drain is a very bad sign of deferred maintenance. Replace any broken or stuck valves or old hydrominders before marketing the property. Perform annual boiler maintenance. Be sure appliances have adequate replacement air and combustion air supply vents and that the automatic vent systems are operating properly. In colder climates, make sure the weep system works properly.
If there is a water softener system, be sure the membrane is working properly and that the dissolved solids are within limits. Charcoal filter units only last a few years; replace them if there are signs of wear or if they fail tests. Reverse osmosis systems should also work properly and have TDS testing supplies available. Water storage tanks and booster pumps should work properly and pressures maintained throughout the system. Test water weekly. Record these test results in the separate water log. All equipment maintenance should be recorded in a maintenance log and be available for the prospective buyer.
Buyers almost always obtain an inspection report on the equipment. The reports are very revealing as to the condition of the equipment. These include pictures and descriptions of the problem and its cause along with a recommended course of correction. If necessary, hire a car wash equipment dealer to inspect and repair the wash before beginning the property marketing process.
A clean, well-maintained car wash property is easier to sell to a prospective buyer, and generally sells for a higher price, than one plagued with problems.
Mark W. Gerhart is a licensed real estate broker in the state of Colorado and focuses exclusively on automotive-use properties, concentrating specifically on car wash property sales.