1.) What’s Your Type?
There are many different types of commercial properties that you can purchase including:
o Retail Space
o Warehouse Facility
o Commercial Condo
o Strip Mall
The first step is clearly defining what type of property you want to purchase and how you want to use it. The following information will help you maximize your investment dollars to get the best possible deal when purchasing your property.
2. Build Equity With Your Investment
Equity is Money
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Building equity is the primary if not the ultimate reason to buy instead of rent a commercial property. Let’s face it. It’s money in the bank. In fact, it’s better than money in the bank because you can’t get the same kind of return on your money when it’s sitting in the bank as opposed to when you’re building equity. Moreover, if you choose the right financing for your commercial real estate purchase, you can not only build equity through ownership, but you can also leverage your capital saving in order to grow your business, hire additional employees, or even purchase an additional location when the time comes.
Owning beats renting because you can sell your investment once you outgrow the space or sell the business. Even if commercial property in your area has not appreciated (which is unlikely), you can recoup your investment by renting out the space once you move out and by selling when the time is right.
If you plan on growing into your building, buy something larger than your current needs, and rent out the extra space until you need it for expansion. This will provide you with steady income that you can use to help pay your mortgage or invest in your business.
3. Calculate Your Savings And Your Potential Profit
Lower Monthly Payments
Consider buying commercial real estate as a savings for your business. Real estate costs are the third largest business expense, behind payroll and taxes. Long loan amortizations mean that your monthly payments could wind up being less than what you would pay for rent, since landlords usually charge more than their monthly loan payment. In other words, owning your own commercial property may actually be more affordable, depending on current market conditions.
Ask your lender to provide you with an analysis of the current market in your area so that you can see which scenario is best for you (renting or buying). The lender should be able to explain your options in detail with examples of monthly rental costs vs. monthly loan payments and the benefits of each.
Analyze the Rent Value
Upon finding a property that peaks your interest, find out the status of the current tenants (if it is a multi-tenant property) in terms of how much rent they are paying. Check the current market to see if the rents are undervalued, meaning below what you can get in the current market. Your realtor or lender should be able to help you figure out how much you could charge for rent and determine how much of a profit you can make each month.
There are many tax advantages to becoming an owner of a commercial property. In most cases, you can deduct part of the value of the building at tax time, as well as improvements you’ve made as depreciation, which can save you more money on your taxes. Buying the property under your business or corporation’s name is also a better tax strategy than under your personal name.
4. Do Your Research
The more you can learn about property types and options, mortgages, financing, zoning and remodeling; the better position you’ll be in to make wise decisions concerning the acquisition of a commercial property.
However, you don’t have to know everything. That’s where putting together a powerful team of professionals proficient in their areas of expertise may be your most important step. Building a team of advisors – people you can trust to steer you in the right direction is critical to your success.
Understand Current Market Conditions
Keep your eyes open for news articles pertaining to the commercial real estate market. Is it “hot” right now? Is it a buyers’ or sellers’ market? What kinds of interest rates are available?
The Internet is a great place to start. Conducting a Google search for “commercial real estate market,” for instance, will give you results that include news and resources for national trends, analytics and market research.
In addition, many realtors, lenders and lawyers across the country offer free and timely articles on their websites that shed light on current commercial real estate trends nationwide. Again, make sure you listen to both sides of the story.
Tap Expert Resources
National market research companies can give you specific information about the area where you’re preparing to locate your business. You can also find information on demographics including the median age, household income, breakdown of ethnicities, and more from censuses available from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Also contact commercial lenders or realtors for additional resources. In looking for help, it’s usually better to talk to a lender or realtor with nationwide experience and up-to-date information than a small-time operation that might not have recent data for you. If the lender/realtor hasn’t gotten updated demographics since 1996, you’ve essentially wasted your time. Also, a lender or realtor that specializes in the type of property you’re looking for will be more likely to have the specific information you need, which will save you time in research.
Study the Current Vacancy Rate
Research what the vacancy rate has been over the past few years for the area you’re taking into consideration. If there seem to be high levels of vacancies, try to find why. Is it a bad neighborhood? Talk to store owners in the immediate area and find out how long they’ve been doing business there. Ask if they have any concerns that you as a potential property owner should know about the area.
Research Commercial Realtors
It’s important to research commercial realtors that specialize in the type of space you’re looking for. Grill the realtor you are considering selecting on the entire purchase process so you know what to expect. Ask how long the process usually takes so that there are no surprises. Check their references and their track record (more on finding a Commercial Realtor in #5).
Examine Experienced Commercial Lenders
Choosing a lender and financing program is just as important as choosing the property. Again, find out the entire process of financing, as well as your different options. Don’t assume that just because you’ve had a relationship with your bank for years that using their financing is the best choice.
Banks don’t always offer the lowest rate for commercial loans, and sometimes have a far longer turnaround than non-bank lenders. Some banks require that you transfer your accounts to them in order to qualify for a loan. Be aware of any stipulations when seeking a bank for a commercial loan.
5. Choose the Right Commercial Realtor
As mentioned before, you need qualified partners to help you with the process of buying commercial property. Start with a terrific commercial realtor.
Some commercial realtors work exclusively with individuals interested in investment properties. Others work with owners/users of commercial real estate, and among those some specialize in property management, which can be an added value to you.
Who Do You Know?
Referrals from trusted sources are usually the best way to find a good commercial realtor.
Set up a meeting with more than one potential commercial realtor. Find out as much as you can about their professional background, education, and experience with your type of property. You can ask for a list of recent transactions to give you an idea of what they deal with on a regular basis, and how many properties they’ve actually sold in the last year or two. And most importantly, ask for client references (testimonials)! Real client feedback is the most effective measure for potential success.
The Right Match
Make sure you choose a realtor that understands your specific needs. If you are a small business, you don’t want to work with a realtor that normally handles multi-million dollar deals. Your project may become less of a priority when that particular realtor gets a bigger commission to worry about.
6. Consider Your Time Frame
If the reason you are looking for commercial property is because your lease is ending, think twice before jumping into a decision you might regret. Finding just the right space, securing financing and going through the process of obtaining a commercial property can take months. If you don’t have that kind of time, you may need to rent month-to-month for now.
Take Your Time
While you may be in a hurry to move into a space, take your time. Buying any kind of property is a major decision, and buying commercial property is even more important for the development and growth of your business. Selecting a property in the wrong area, or a space that doesn’t allow you to grow can hinder your company and even cause it to fail, so plan carefully.
If the realtor or lender gives you an estimate of three months from start to close, plan for longer – just in case. Keep in mind there are many people involved in the process of buying property, from the seller, realtor, lender, appraiser, surveyor, paperwork approvers, secretaries, and more and this process can often take slightly longer.
7. Location, Location, Location
One of the most important factors in considering commercial property is location. If a property is located on a busy corner that is difficult to get to, your business may not do well (in fact, that’s probably why the property is for sale). If you want to operate a dog kennel and the property you’re considering is in a residential area, not only will your business disturb the residents, the zoning laws may prevent you from operating there.
For a retail business, look for areas with high foot traffic that will give you the exposure and increased walk-ins you need to be successful.
If you are looking for an industrial or manufacturing facility, then you can stay out of the retail limelight and buy something in a warehouse district. These areas are usually cheaper than retail space.
Make sure your location has easy access from the road. Look to see if the site is at a difficult intersection. Is there construction going on that seems like it won’t be ending any time soon? On the other hand, what’s the potential once the construction is completed?
Check out the Competition
If you want to open a bistro in a neighborhood that has several bistros, you might want to try somewhere else with less competition. However, a healthy population of restaurants usually means a healthy population of customers.
Know Your Customer
Find out the demographics of the area you’re interested in. If you want to move your sports apparel shop to a new location, you’ll probably want an area with a high percentage of youth and active adults. An urban area with a lot of pedestrian traffic might be better for this kind of retail shop than a suburban area in a retirement community.
8. Free Parking
We’ve all spent time driving around and around looking for a parking spot. It can be very frustrating, especially when you’re running late. Whenever possible, you want a location that has ample parking for your visitors.
If you have a retail store, restaurant, or other high-traffic business, estimate how many customers or visitors you’re likely to have at any given time and consider rejecting any properties that have fewer available parking spaces than your estimates. Again, use your best judgment and consult your realtor.When looking at a commercial property of any type you need to spend time on the financial aspects of the property before you form an opinion about the price that you think that you can achieve. The financial aspects of the property can have a major impact on the price and or the interest of purchasers. The financial aspects of a building or a property can impact the asset for many years and for this reason must be analysed and identified.
We have detailed some of the major aspects of financial concern in a property purchase or sale scenario. Whilst these are not the only categories of activity and concern, they are the major ones in most circumstances.
We recommend that you create a checklist from these items so that your property review and inspection process is suitably enhanced and professional.
The Asset Schedules: The property will contain many fixed and moveable assets. These will normally be detailed on the asset register. A well maintained commercial property will have an up to date asset register for your review. Obtaining the asset register at the early stage of sale consideration is productive as it will tell you in detail what you are selling and later become part of the due diligence process.
Bank and Personal Guarantees: An investment property comprises leases and other documents which support tenant occupancy. A normal leasing process would involve and create some form of guarantee to be provided by the tenant to the landlord for the duration of the lease. It is important that this guarantee has both strength and substance to reimburse the landlord in situations where the tenant defaults under the terms of the lease. At the time of property sale, these guarantee documents should have some form of ability to be transferred or re-issued to the incoming purchaser. This process is called an assignment of the guarantees. You should consult with the landlord’s solicitor to identify the types of guarantees involved and the ease in which this can be achieved at time of sale.
Capital Expenditure: Major items of plant and equipment which are replaced in a commercial property are usually regarded as capital expenditure and are separately itemised for the purposes of taxation and depreciation over a period of time. Taxation laws in your location will stipulate the depreciation terms as they apply to different types of capital expenditure. For example, a computer that is purchased for the building control system will depreciate far quicker than the air handling unit which was purchased for the air conditioning plant. Well maintained property records will include a detailed capital expenditure register and the date at which the capital item was purchased. Purchasers to the property will be interested in the depreciation that this register provides against the cash flow in coming years.
Taxation and GST: Every country and property location has its own unique taxation laws and requirements relating to property and particularly investment property. In the sale process, it is important to understand that these matters have been correctly handled and are up to date. It is sometimes necessary to view the net returns for the property for the last few years that were applied to the taxation statements and lodgement process. You can also seek written confirmation from the owner of the property that all taxation matters are up to date.
Income and Rent Analysis: The income for the property is a reflection of the leases and occupancy licences therein. It is essential to understand that the rent has been collected in accordance with the leases or licences and that all rental matters are up to date. Part of this process will also involve the checking of the rent review profile and the expiry profile of all leases. A property with a volatile leases or leases that are soon to expire is likely to impact the price or the buyer interest. When reviewing tenant occupancy against leases, you should review the original documents and cross reference this to the tenancy schedule and any discussions or information provided by the landlord.
Independent Valuation: Many property owners will obtain a valuation regularly in support of their property financing package. It is not unusual for such valuations to occur annually. Importantly they are done by a qualified and registered valuer. If you view this documentation and take it into account in the pricing process for the property, it is wise to consider the true independence of the valuation when it was done and its relevance to the current market. Some valuations for financing purposes may not be in parity with the existing market conditions. It pays to sometimes seek a true independent valuation at the time of sale or in preparation for sale.
Land tax issues: Property land tax has a direct impact on the investment aspects of commercial real estate. In different locations, the recovery and payment of land tax is impacted uniquely by local legislation. In some circumstances the land tax can or cannot be recovered from the tenants within the property. This will have immediate impact on the bottom line and net return from the property; this then impacts the price. Consulting with the financial adviser for the owner of the property, or the taxation office, will achieve clarity in this taxation impact. Given that most agents and brokers are not taxation experts, you should involve other professional taxation people as appropriate.
Lease disputes: Rarely is there a property that does not have an existing lease dispute or has been impacted by a previous lease dispute. For this reason it pays to question the matters of lease dispute and resolution. If in doubt, seek a copy of correspondence and any subsequent agreement between the appropriate parties. Unresolved lease disputes can jeopardise or slow the process of property sale.
Mortgaged interests: Most commercial real estate properties will have a mortgage of some type to a financier. When a mortgage exists, it is necessary to understand how it will be handled or discharged in the process of sale. The client should consult with the mortgagee to clarify these matters for you. In a situation of distressed properties, the sale of the property may need to realise a particular price before clear title can be achieved.
Operational expenditure: The running of a commercial property will involve the operational expenditure attributed to running costs. Most of properties of particular types in the same location will have similar operational expenditure. If however a property has excessive operational expenditure which is above the averages in the area, then the property is likely to be difficult to sell. Most purchasers of properties understand the averages of property expenditure deemed to be realistic for each property. This also says that real estate agents and brokers should be well aware of the expenditure averages and analysis process that should apply in this situation. Operational expenditure is analysed on the basis of $’s per m2 or $’s per ft2 (depending on your location, monetary base, and country)
Statutory charges: These are commonly referred to as rates and taxes. These will involve matters such as water rates, land tax, council rates, and any other form of charge which is raised by the statutory bodies. Importantly the charges so raised must be analysed for parity to similar properties in the same region. Part of the rating process involves a statutory valuation of the land on which the building and property is located. Whilst some property owners like to think that their valuation is high and justifiable (and therefore gives substance to the sale price of the property), it is this valuation that is the foundation for the charging and payment of statutory charges. The astute property investor will always question this statutory valuation undertaken by rating bodies in an endeavour to restrict or lessen the amount of statutory rates and charges paid each year.
Rent reviews: A significant concern in the sale of a property is the size and stability of future rent reviews. It is the rent reviews which will underpin the cash flow and hence the attractiveness of the property to purchasers. It is essential that the real estate broker or agent read all of the leases, before any assessment of price or method of sale is given. It is quite possible that the rent reviews projected and detailed in the leases can either hinder or attract purchasers to the property.
Rent arrears: Existing rent arrears should be identified with the owner of a property. Any matters of associated legal pursuit should also be identified. It is possible that the property has had a history of rent arrears and instability. Look for these matters and question the cash flow stability. A history of financial performance from the property over the last few years is the best way to achieve this.
Current building budget: This will involve a budget of income and expenditure as it applies to the building currently in the existing financial year. A good building budget will be written and supported by sound property strategy, projections, and controls. At the time of any potential property sale, it is important to understand that the current financial performance is in line with the expected building budget. If there are any shortcomings or overflows, it is necessary to clarify the reasons for such. If you do not do this, the purchaser of the property will.
The side agreements or deeds: Property occupancy and usage can involve supplementary side agreements and deeds. This can be with tenants or neighbouring properties. Documents of this nature will have impact in the sale even though they may not be registered on the title of the property that you are to sell. Documents of this nature will usually be supported by aspects of common law. If in any such arrangements exist, you must seek further detail and clarity as to how they will be handled at the time of sale. One of the common events here is the existence of rental incentives provided to tenants at the commencement of the lease. When these situations exist, the most common method of resolve is the discharging of the arrangement by the landlord prior to settlement. This can become a term of the contract.
Sinking funds: It is not uncommon for sinking funds to exist on larger properties. The fund is essentially established to set aside money to cover the cost of major items of repairs and maintenance. This would not normally include items of a capital nature. As an example, sinking funds may be used to cover the cost of painting the exterior of a large building such as a shopping centre every five years. If a sinking fund exists, it is important to understand how it will be handled at the time of sale. Consultation with the client’s solicitor and accountant is essential to the process.
Taxation depreciation schedules: The property will have a taxation depreciation schedule. When correctly maintained, these schedules have the ability to lessen the net property income in forthcoming years. This is an immediate taxation benefit to the purchaser of the property who will assume the depreciation schedule as part of the sale and settlement. As the broker or agent in the sale you should check the existence of such documentation and identify what benefits it brings to the sale process. A well constructed and detailed depreciation schedule will make the property sale more attractive.
Short term leases: Many properties have short term leases or casual occupancy active at any point in time. It is vital to know the mechanism under which this occupancy occurs and how it will be terminated. You do not want a short-term occupancy to jeopardise the stability and processes of the sale.
Un-documented lease occupancy: Some may call this a casual lease; however a casual lease can create concern and uncertainty in the process of sale. Some tenants may claim a long-term occupancy from the existence of a previous casual lease arrangement with the landlord. Claims of this type must naturally satisfy the requirements of law to be sustained or upheld by the courts; however you should be cautious in such circumstances given that it can slow down or even jeopardise the sale process.
Warranties and guarantees: When properties are constructed, the normal process of warranties and performance guarantees apply from the construction process. At the time of sale, you need to know if any such matters apply or exist. Copy of the documentation is essential. Further to this, in an existing building where recent fit out activity has created newly constructed premises, it is likely that warranties and guarantees exist for the tenancy construction. These will transfer to the new owner of the property in most circumstances however the documentation to allow this to occur must be suitably constructed. This is a matter for the solicitor acting for the client.