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Small business sales pick up

By Catherine Clifford, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Entrepreneurs trying to sell their businesses seem to have had an easier time of it last year, although they may not have gotten the price they wanted.

The number of U.S. small businesses sold, as reported by business brokers, on online small business marketplace BizBuySell.com increased 3% in 2010 compared to a year earlier, according to an annual report from the San Francisco-based firm.

But the median price of small businesses that sold fell 6.3%, to $150,000 from $160,000 the year prior, according to BizBuySell.

"In 2010, we saw more deals getting done," said Mike Handelsman, group general manager of BizBuySell.com, in a written statement. "One of the key drivers for that growth was that business sellers were more realistic about their business valuations."

Smaller retail shops, restaurants or other service businesses powered much of the sales activity, according to BizBuySell. Manufacturing businesses -- which tend to be more expensive -- weren't sold as often.

"While access to financing for business acquisitions began to loosen up in the second half of 2010, it remains difficult for many business buyers to get the financing necessary to purchase a company," Handelsman said.

That's one reason small businesses sold for less in 2010, he said.

Sales were particularly strong in the fourth quarter, jumping 11% vs. a year earlier. Buyers and sellers could have been motivated by uncertainty about changes in the tax code, according to BizBuySell.com. It wasn't until late mid-December that Congress passed a controversial tax cut bill.

Looking forward, BizBuySell expects more small businesses to be sold in 2011 as the economy recovers and baby boomers look to cash out before retirement.

Banks loosening credit will be key to business sales picking up steam.

"It's very simple," said Handelsman. "When credit is more readily available, the wheels of business succession will start to turn again. Until then, we can expect a moderate recovery in the business-for-sale marketplace."

BizBuySell's 2010 report is based on data from 4568 transactions listed on its site, as reported by business brokers, and does not include businesses sold directly by owners.The site currently lists 45,000 businesses for sale nationwide, ranging from small home-based ventures to larger multimillion-dollar businesses. To top of page

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