I bought my business in 2012 from a friend who had been trying to sell it for a year. I paid 50% down and made monthly payments to him for the remainder. What I received was equipment, training and a very old van. The best thing I received was a few hundred loyal customers who were strong believers in the low moisture cleaning system we use.
A business consultant/friend told me that the rule of thumb for valuing a business to sell is to total the last three years of income (after taking out expenses). So, if the business brought in $150,000 a year for three years and had $50,000 in expenses each year, the business would be valued at and offered for $300,000. That's much more than I paid. I can't imagine getting that for my business, but who knows?
It's sad to see carpet cleaners retire and let their business dwindle to nothing when they could sell it. I'd buy a business if only for the customers.
A mentor of mine said the best way to sell a business like mine would be to hire a motivated person who wants to work his way up to being the owner, similar to a house - rent with option to buy. Part of his/her compensation would be an increasing stake in the business. I haven't pursued it, but it seems like a workable plan. I would love to see a plan like this drawn up on paper.