"There's enough confidence with buyers and lenders, and values haven't really fallen that much since pre-COVID times," said Haig, whose firm had nearly no buy-sell activity from the end of March to early June. "So the sellers thought they were getting a fair value for businesses. So all parties decided to move ahead."
Erin Kerrigan, managing director of Kerrigan Advisors, a sell-side firm in Irvine, Calif., noted that deals just getting started now will still take several months to close.
"You might not see a pickup in closings until the first quarter of 2021, but we believe deal activity will be back at pre-COVID levels by the end of 2020," Kerrigan said.
All transactions that Kerrigan Advisors was handling when the crisis hit in March were postponed, and talks are resuming, she said. Buyers want to see that the stores are returning to pre-virus levels of sales and service.
"And to the degree that they are, then we're not seeing any discussion really of change in pricing," Kerrigan said.
Haig said his firm's likely closings include a mix of multistore groups and individual dealerships across the country.
Kerrigan Advisors' Blue Sky Report this month showed that in the first quarter, completed buy-sell transactions — both single-store and multiple-store deals — slid 9.3 percent to 49. The first-quarter Haig Report, released last week, said the number of individual dealerships bought and sold plummeted 34 percent to 68.
Even bigger declines are expected for April, May and June.
"The second quarter we expect to be one of the slowest on record," Kerrigan told Automotive News.
Haig predicted the deal tally could fall off 70 percent or more in the second quarter before rebounding for the rest of 2020.
Performance Brokerage Services Inc., a buy-sell firm in Irvine, Calif., closed on 13 transactions in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the firm has closed just three deals.
"March was just a black hole," said Jason Stopnitzky, co-founder of Performance Brokerage. "Everything got delayed and extended, and we lost two deals."
Stopnitzky said his phone didn't ring with prospects for 45 days.
But the calls started again in May, said Jesse Stopnitzky, a partner in the firm and Jason Stopnitzky's brother. Performance Brokerage now has 10 deals expected to close by Aug. 1. Those mostly involve larger groups as the buyers.
Jason Stopnitzky said he's finding deal-making more challenging today than during the Great Recession. His firm handled 28 transactions in 2008 and more than 30 in 2009, he said.
"I feel like I'm working harder to get deals done now than ever before," he said.