Hot Potato and Musical Chairs: The Case for Due Diligence

I was talking to a businessman the other day about an investment he was considering. He is looking at one of those self storage facilities. It seems like an attractive opportunity at the right price. It's fully leased with many longtime tenants for its almost 200 units. It appears to be a relatively simple and stable business model, with relatively few workers, utilities or expenses. The purchaser gets not only the operation but the real estate as well. This seems promising and no red flags jumped out.

However, even though I try to be very practical about risks and expenses, I encouraged him to be very thorough and consider zoning, geotechnical and environmental assessments. Why? Because when you're entering into a merger or acquisition or loan or similar transaction you have to worry about more than your own worries. You have to consider what the next investor, purchaser or lender is going to think or do. In other words, you don't want to get stuck with the hot potato or left standing when the music stops.

For example, I have had a long-time specialty in managing environmental risks and matters for mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and financings. It's clear that when the deal centers around factories, refineries, mines and the like no one is going to question doing extensive due diligence about the potential for chemical contamination to present material hidden or contingent liabilities. But, with less alarming properties and businesses there's often an understandable tendency to want to avoid the expense of environmental studies or tests. Still, if there's a decent chance that these issues will come up down the road anyway, then it is far better to bite the bullet and deal with it upfront, rather than have an issue be unearthed when you're now stuck with problem.

Once I was involved in litigation that arose when the purchaser of a sand and gravel pit later discovered that a previous owner had his trucks collect waste drums on their return trips and then bury them in a corner of the property. This eventually resulted in a multi-million dollar remediation. There's no guarantee that standard environmental investigations would have diagnosed this condition, but it would have been preferable to have made the attempt. And, this can apply to other aspects of a business that can present time bombs, including potential employment, product liability, regulatory compliance and contractual obligation risks.

So, if you are considering investing in new business or property, remember that it's important to worry about the concerns of the other guy, in addition to your own, to avoid getting stuck in the middle.

The Chicago business attorneys of Jeremy A. Gibson & Associates, P.C. are experienced in mergers & acquistions and other due diligence scenarios and are available to meet you in our Chicago, Deerfield and other satellite offices.