You’ve heard about building time-leveraged income streams. But what if you could instead insert yourself into an income stream that’s already happening?
That’s exactly what Hannah Ingram did at the ripe old age of 22. A real estate agent by day, she bought a cash-flowing car wash with seller financing and no money out of pocket.
Today, Hannah’s business generates thousands of dollars in profit every month, all for just a few hours of work every week.
Tune in to this Side Hustle Show interview to learn:
- How to go shopping for cash flow near you
- what Hannah has done to improve the business after she took over
- how much work is actually required
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Why Buy an Existing Business?
Hannah has always had one goal in mind: financial freedom. She thought the key to that lay in real estate investing, so she dropped out of college and got her real estate license.
The problem was she only had about $2k in the bank at the time. “I’m over here trying to make moves, but everything requires money,” she said.
Hannah knew she had to find a way around that, and she got the push she needed after coming across a Warren Buffet quote that said, “If you don’t find a way to make money in your sleep, you will work until you die.”
That quote hit her like a ton of bricks, so she sat down and tried to figure out what she could do to make passive income. “I was like, ‘What businesses are actually making money?’”
The answer was car washes, laundromats, and storage unit facilities. Those were the three that Hannah tried to acquire.
Where Did You Look for Businesses for Sale?
She also did driving for dollars — a real estate technique where investors drive through towns and neighborhoods, looking for properties that seem to be vacant.
Hannah specifically looked for properties that appeared run-down. She’d slide a note with her number under the door, asking if the owner would be interested in selling the property.
What Went into the Due Diligence Phase?
It was through one of those searches that Hannah came across the car wash she’d later buy. It was in the same town as her, and it had just hit the market.
Here’s what she did prior to buying the business:
- Evaluated the location
- Inspected the property
- Reviewed the financials
Reviewing the financials was especially important for Hannah because she didn’t want to buy a business that was losing money.
She also looked at the car wash’s potential to earn more. For example, the owners at the time were paying some $200 per month on radio ads. Hannah knew she could just cut that out and spend about $20 per month on Facebook ads.
Acquiring the Car Wash
After conducting due diligence, Hannah negotiated with the sellers to buy the car wash for $140k. That price included the land, the building, and the business equipment.
Even with only $2k in savings, Hannah was confident she had a number of financing options at her disposal because of her real estate background.
She decided to use seller financing — an agreement where the buyer agrees to pay the seller’s monthly loan installments, rather than taking out their own loan from a bank, credit union, or other financial institution.
Hannah said the sellers readily agreed to the financing method, mostly because they already had a motive. “They did not want [the car wash] anymore. They got it passed down. They didn’t want it to begin with, really, from what I could tell.”
Other factors that helped seal the deal include:
- Fast turnaround time – Hannah offered to take the car wash off of the sellers’ hands in just two weeks.
- No more capital gains tax – With Hannah paying down on the loan, she cut down on the capital gains tax that the sellers had to pay.
- No closing process – The sellers wanted out, so they were more than happy not to go through the meticulous 60-day closing process.
- Monthly income – The sellers still earned money from the car wash every month, even after Hannah had acquired it.
Did You Have a Backup Plan?
The car wash was earning $2-3k per month before Hannah took over.
But because she was on the hook for $140k, she had to have backup plans in case the market tanked or a big car wash set up shop in town.
She thought of two:
- Set up storage units – Hannah had some land with the car wash, so she figured she could set up storage units that she could rent out.
- Sell the business to an automotive shop – If worse came to worst, Hannah would sell the car wash to an automotive shop, which would likely make good use of the wash bays.
Any Red Flags When Buying a Business?
Hannah offers The Passive Playbook — an online course to help entrepreneurs acquire and run their own self-serve car washes and laundromats.
As part of that course, she teaches her students red flags to watch out for when shopping for businesses on platforms like LoopNet.com.
Two common red flags are:
- The owner won’t show their financials – You can’t make a sound business decision if the owner isn’t transparent about their financials. “I don’t want to do business with anybody like that. I would walk,” Hannah said.
- The owner doesn’t take care of business equipment – Hannah recommends getting a feel of how the owner takes care of their business. That has two benefits:
- 1) As the next owner, you want to know that the business is in decent shape, i.e., that it won’t fall apart once you acquire it.
- 2) You can use the current state of the business as a bargaining chip during negotiations.
Pro tip: If the owner is hesitant to show you their financials, Hannah says you can offer to sign a non-disclosure agreement for their peace of mind.
Your First Moves After Taking Over
Even though the car wash was earning $2-3k a month, it needed some sprucing up.
So, Hannah set aside 10% of what the business made each month and used that for renovations. Here’s everything she did:
- Redid the logo and signage
- Improved old equipment, such as vacuum hoses and foam brushes
- Added credit card readers
- Fixed on-site vending machines
- Installed 8 new security cameras
Anything on the Marketing Front?
Hannah implemented the following marketing strategies to revitalize the car wash:
- Add the business to Google – The car wash wasn’t even on Google, so Hannah made a page for it and asked customers to leave a review there. She knew the importance of making a good first impression when it came to reviews, so she kept the place spotless and made sure everything was in working order.
- Get on Instagram – Hannah made an Instagram account for the car wash and posted there regularly.
- Set up Facebook ads – Hannah would spend $25-50 on Facebook ads, targeting prospective customers within a 10-mile radius. In her ads, she’d made sure to mention that her car wash had credit card readers — something that her only competitor in town didn’t have.
- Do giveaways – Hannah would run giveaways, with prizes ranging from gift cards to a free car wash.
Hannah is also considering offering a subscription service to keep customers coming back.
What’s a Typical Day Look Like?
Hannah still does real estate by day, but it turns out that running a car wash on top of that isn’t really difficult.
“When I get the time to go down there, that’s when I go down there. Whether that’s in the morning, at night, or middle of the day, it really doesn’t matter,” Hannah says.
She spends no more than 20-30 minutes a day at the car wash doing things like taking out the trash and cleaning the wash bays. On rainy days, though, she’s out of there in 10 minutes.
Hannah would also empty the money machine during her stops and drive down to the bank with 4-5 buckets of coins.
Detractors might say Hannah bought herself a job, not a business. But if she’s earning $5k each month in exchange for 30 minutes of work a day, that comes out to $300/hr.
Buying the Car Wash from the Sellers
Just last fall, Hannah finally had enough money and credit to get a traditional bank loan and buy the car wash from the previous owners.
She had a two-year balloon (a type of real estate loan structured so that the last payment is much larger than prior payments) with a contract for deed (a legal agreement for the sale of property between a buyer and seller without going to a mortgage lender).
Hannah says the bank treats the balloon as a refinance (refi), so she refi-ed the property last November into her LLC.
She then rolled her credit card readers into the loan. Her loan went from $140k to $150k, which meant her loan payment came out to about $1,200 a month whereas her monthly mortgage payment was $780.83 plus interest on the existing car wash loan.
You can get three-, four-, or five-year balloons, but Hannah says she wanted to do a two-year balloon because lenders usually want to see at least two years of income.
Once the two years are up, you can get the business refinanced into your personal name or the name of your LLC. Once it’s in your name, i.e., the deed has your name on it, you can borrow against it and cash out the equity. “It’s yours to do whatever you want,” Hannah said.
What Happens if You Travel?
When Hannah is sick or has travel arrangements, she pays a friend to take care of the car wash for her.
Sometimes, she’ll also post an ad on Facebook groups or Indeed.
“It’s very easy to find someone out there because it doesn’t really require a skill set to take care of a car wash,” Hannah told me.
Any Surprises Along the Way?
Hannah thought maintenance was going to be her biggest challenge.
She said she had gone into the mechanical room the day after she closed the car wash and felt overwhelmed just looking at everything.
So, she called up the local car wash mechanic who the previous owners and her competitor used, and asked him to show her how everything worked. She would diligently take notes and watch the mechanic work anytime he fixed something.
“Now, there’s not much that I can’t fix down there by myself,” Hannah said.
What’s Next for You?
Hannah has been trying to put storage units on the land that came with the car wash, but she’s quickly finding the task to be a totally different beast than just buying something.
She’s also focused on helping other people get in on the self-serve car wash and laundromat business with her online course, The Passive Playbook.
Hannah’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation
Links and Resources
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