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Commercial Real Estate

Sale-Leaseback deals are on the rise – writer debut



erica ramusNote from the editor: please welcome our newest writer, Erica Ramus to the Agent Genius family. Erica is the Broker/Owner of Realty Executives in Pottsville, PA and teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill. Erica is the founder of Schuylkill Living magazine and has a strong background in publishing and marketing.

Erica is a veteran blogger who has been writing about residential real estate, but she makes her debut as a commercial real estate writer here on Agent Genius because of her innovative mindset in an industry unwilling to change. We look forward to learning a great deal from Erica, please welcome her in comments!

A bad market

3367543094_470e356692The commercial market is in the toilet. That’s not my analysis–that’s the word straight from “expert sources” such as CNN and The New York Times’ real estate section.  Building owners who thought they were holding crown jewels just a few years ago now may be sitting on white elephants. (See Lani Rosales’ article America’s ten worst commercial real estate deal busts.)

Properties that would have been snapped up by investors in a few months at the peak of the real estate boom are now sitting there, waiting for someone to just LOOK at them.

In my small part of rural America, the statistics mirror the rest of the country: we sold half as many commercial properties here in northeastern Pennsylvania (Q1) than we did in 2005’s first quarter, and the dollar volume was also less than half 2005’s numbers.

What property owners have to do:

Commercial property owners must be patient — or get creative — to sell their properties in 2010.

One trend I see is an increase in Sale-Leaseback deals. When I teach real estate licensing, students stutter over this concept at first. Why sell a building if you don’t want to move? Why not just continue paying the mortgage? Why would anyone want to SELL and then pay RENT to a landlord?

This concept is hard to wrap your mind around since many people think the benefit in owning a property is, well, in OWNING it. To be the building’s OWNER (and not merely a tenant) is what everyone should aspire to, right?

Here’s how it works:

Not necessarily. In many cases the owner needs cash. Perhaps business is down, and they could afford to pay the mortgage. But they could use a chunk of cash even more! Maybe they need to upgrade equipment. Or they just don’t want the overhead of a mortgage plus building maintenance/upkeep. Perhaps they just need to pull cash out of the property for another purpose. It doesn’t matter why the owner wants to sell.

If the seller also wants to STAY in the property as a tenant, a sale-leaseback deal would accomplish his goal. He gets a lump sum (assuming there is any left after any mortgages are paid off). He stays in the building, with no maintenance or ownership issues. Capital is freed up to do whatever he wants with it.

An investor buys the building, and has a built-in tenant from day one. Normally the seller agrees to a long-term lease. The rent will be dependent on the area’s prevailing rental rates, the seller’s credit rating, the length of the lease, and the investor’s desired rate of return.

We rarely saw many of these in the flying high days of easy sales. Sellers just put a sign on the property and (at least in our area) out-of-town investors would swoop in and pick up the commercial deals.

Those times are now referred to as “the Good Old Days” — and they are long gone. In 2010 we have to think outside the box to get some of these properties sold.

Photo courtesy of amagill on

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

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  1. BawldGuy

    April 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Amen Sister! You’re a welcome addition here. Good luck.

  2. Benn Rosales

    April 8, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Erica, so grateful to have you here finally. I love when common sense truth is spoken to power. I wonder sometimes is it pride, stupidity, the bank, or what is it that stops creativity from happening in commercial. OR maybe they are creative and we’re just not seeing it. All I’m reading from most in the commercial or even REITs is ego- it’s difficult to feel sorry for ego.

  3. Matt Stigliano

    April 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Erica – Nice to see some Pottsville flavor in AgentGenius. Every time I see your name, I was always wish I was holding a Yuengling. There are some things I don’t miss about PA.

    I never quite thought about the sale-leaseback being a way forward. It does make sense the way you lay it out, although I have to wonder how many owners would love to sell, but know they won’t get what they need out of the sale (in terms of cash).

    I’m no commercial expert, but I do know that when BawldGuy gives you an amen, you must be onto something.

    Look forward to learning more about commercial real estate, especially from a PA writer.

    Did you hear that Bill Lublin? There’s more people from PA working their way into AgentGenius – our takeover should be complete on schedule.

  4. Missy

    April 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Hey girl, welcome to Agent Genius. Glad to have you and your experience on board.

  5. Erica Ramus

    April 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks for the welcome, BawldGuy, Benn and Missy.

    Matt–If a heavy rectangular box comes via UPS, don’t shake it before opening.

  6. Ken Brand

    April 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Sharing how “stuff” gets done, sweet. Cheers & Welcome.

  7. Austin Homes For Sale

    April 9, 2010 at 3:05 am

    I have to wonder how many owners would love to sell, but know they won’t get what they need out of the sale. i was wondering also??

  8. Austin Homes For Sale

    April 9, 2010 at 3:06 am

    nice article Great Job

  9. property to rent

    April 9, 2010 at 3:19 am

    I never quite thought about the sale-leaseback being a way forward. It does make sense the way you lay it out, although I have to wonder how many owners would love to sell, but know they won’t get what they need out of the sale

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Commercial Real Estate

Pace of commercial real estate improvement is slowing

(Commercial Real Estate) The commercial real estate sector has improved substantially since the economy crashed, but is now showing signs of slowing, but data does not indicate lost ground.



commercial real estate

commercial real estate

Commercial real estate outlook is positive

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) quarterly forecast, commercial real estate is continuing to improve, but the pace is slowing.

Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said that fundamentals are still on an uptrend. “Growth in commercial real estate sectors continues at a moderate pace from a very slow pace of absorption, despite job additions to the economy. Companies appear hesitant to add new space,” he said.

“Office demand is expected to see only slow and gradual improvement,” Dr. Yun added. “Demand for retail space is benefiting from improved household wealth, while industrial real estate is stable with increasing international trade, which requires warehouse space. Of course, the apartment market fundamentals are the strongest, as nearly all of the new household formation in the past 10 years has come from renters, and not homeowners.”

Forecasting the future

Overall, national vacancy rates in the coming year are forecast to drop 0.2 percentage point in the office sector (the sector with the worst vacancy rates) to 15.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015.

Vacancy rates are projected to fall 0.1 point in industrial to 8.9 percent, and 0.3 point for retail real estate to 9.9 percent.

With rising apartment construction, the average multifamily vacancy rate will edge up 0.1 percent to 4.1 percent, but this sector continues to experience the tightest availability and strongest rent growth of all the commercial sectors.

Rental rates for various sectors

Office rents are projected to increase 2.3 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent next year. Net absorption of office space in the U.S., which includes the leasing of new space coming on the market as well as space in existing properties, is likely to total 44.6 million square feet this year and 50.0 million in 2015.

Annual industrial rents should rise 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2015. Net absorption of industrial space nationally is seen at 106.1 million square feet in 2014 and 110.6 million next year.

Average retail rents are forecast to rise 2.0 percent in 2014 and 2.3 percent next year. Net absorption of retail space is likely to total 14.6 million square feet this year and 20.9 million in 2015.

Average apartment rents are projected to rise 4.3 percent this year and 3.5 percent in 2015. Multifamily net absorption is expected to total 204,900 units in 2014 and 112,500 next year.

Regional performance varies

The markets with the lowest office vacancy rates in the first quarter are New York City, with a vacancy rate of 9.5 percent; Washington, D.C., at 10.2 percent; Little Rock, Ark., 11.6 percent; Birmingham, Ala., 12.7 percent; and San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn., at 12.8 percent each.

The areas with the lowest industrial vacancy rates currently are Orange County, Calif., with a vacancy rate of 3.7 percent; Los Angeles, 3.8 percent; Miami, 5.8 percent; Seattle at 5.9 percent; and San Riverside/Bernardino, Calif., at 6.1 percent.

Markets with the lowest retail vacancy rates include San Francisco, at 3.1 percent; Fairfield County, Conn., 3.8 percent; Long Island, N.Y., 4.8 percent; San Jose, Calif., 5.2 percent; and Northern New Jersey and Orange County, Calif., at 5.3 percent each.

Areas with the lowest multifamily vacancy rates currently are New Haven, Conn., at 2.1 percent; Minneapolis and New York City, 2.3 percent; and Oakland-East Bay, Calif., and San Diego, at 2.5 percent each.

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Commercial Real Estate

Should you buy or lease office space? 5 questions to consider

When considering whether you should lease your office space or buy, an industry expert outlines the questions you should ask yourself.



office leadership

office leadership

Should you buy or lease an office space?

Many people set up shop and lease office space, assuming this is their best, and often only option, but there are some instances where buying office space is a better option. Many blindly make this decision based on a gut feeling, and we’re not saying that is a bad thing, we’re saying that in addition to that instinct, these five questions should be asked when considering whether you should lease or buy an office space.

Stan Snipes, senior advisor, Sperry Van Ness Investec Realty of Nashville notes that the two options depend on several variables, as he outlines below:

1. Is your business well-established?

If your business is still in the startup phase, I rarely recommend buying. During the next 5 to 10 years you’ll experience employee count fluctuations, client and customer oscillations and even business direction and strategy adjustments. That is, you’ll need to be flexible, not tied to a certain space. Additionally, any leftover capital should most likely be recycled back into your budding startup. You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin.

The only exception that applies some of the time — not every time — is if your startup is in the technology space. Oftentimes tech employees can work remotely, or the technology is automated and won’t require more employees in the future. Additionally, clients of many tech startups can successfully access the company’s offering without visiting a physical office space.

2. Will you endanger your business with a property purchase?

Yes, buying can be a great investment and add a source of revenue, but even well-established business owners need to think about the stress that buying a property can put on their bottom line. Oftentimes your time and money is best spent on what you do best, running your enterprise. If buying means you won’t be able to focus essential resources to your first priority, your business, then you might want to hold off on buying.

Further, because commercial real estate can be a great investment, business owners are sometimes so eager to get in the game that they sell off portions of their business to finance the purchase. This is a bad idea. You should not let real estate decisions determine how you run your business. You’ve worked long and hard to build a successful company — don’t give it away. Another deal with always come along.

3. Do you have heavy, difficult-to-move equipment?

If you have machinery or specialized equipment that make it difficult for you to move, buying may be a great option for you. Two primary reasons: 1.) Lugging dense equipment from leased space to leased space is annoying, cumbersome and costly.

Plus, you increase the chances of damaging it every time you move. 2.) When a landlord knows it’s difficult for you to relocate, he or she is holding the cards when it’s time to renew your lease. If your lease doesn’t have a stipulation to remediate this, leasing office space will cost you more money than it should. More often than not, buying a custom space for your specialized equipment is the way to go.

4. Does your location affect employees or clients?

If attracting and maintaining top-notch employees means securing office space in your city’s prime business district, finding the perfect space to buy may be difficult. Why? Prime business districts usually have lower vacancy rates, which typically means higher prices plus fewer properties to choose from. Anytime you’re limited to a narrow location, you risk not landing the best deal. This doesn’t mean don’t buy, just understand what you’re up against from the onset.

The other issue you may face in buying location-specific space is when your customers or clients depend on your position for convenience. This is a challenge when and if your city’s submarkets are in transition. The trendy spot of the last five years, may not be in vogue five years from now. A lease allows flexibility to move where your customer and clients need you to be.

5. Are you prepared to be a landlord?

There’s a lot of maintenance that goes along with owning a building. Will you have the ability to hire a maintenance crew or will you tend the bathrooms, burnt out light bulbs and overflowing trash bins yourself?

Furthermore, many landlords have easy access to financing that could benefit you in the form of a tenant improvement package. Even though you may have capital to buy your building, can you afford to build it out the way you want to? The cost of ownership is sometimes underestimated. Make sure you’ve considered all of the possible expenses that go along with buying your office space.

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Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate improving modestly, little change to come

As commercial real estate improves across all sectors, the gains have been modest and NAR predicts they will continue to inch forward.





Commercial real estate sector is improving

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) quarterly commercial real estate forecast, commercial real estate is improving modestly, with little change seen for the near future. Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s Chief Economist said in a statement, “Jobs are the key driver for commercial real estate, and the accumulation of 7 million net new jobs from the low point a few years ago is steadily showing up as demand for leasing and purchases of properties,” he said. “But the difficulty of accessing loans remains a hindrance to a faster recovery.”

NAR reports that leasing activity rose 2.0 percent in the third quarter compared to the second, and sales levels are higher than a year ago.

Yun said there have been some shifts in commercial purchases. “Investors have been looking for better yields, and have found good potential in smaller commercial properties, notably in secondary and tertiary markets. Sales of commercial properties costing less than $2.5 million in the third quarter were 11 percent above a year ago, while prices for smaller properties were 4 percent above the third quarter of 2012.”

Commercial investment in properties costing more than $2.5 million rose 26 percent from a year ago, while prices for large properties were 9 percent above the third quarter of 2012.

National vacancy rates over the coming year are forecast to decline 0.2 percentage point in the office market, 0.6 point in industrial, and 0.5 point for retail real estate. The average multifamily vacancy rate will edge up 0.1 percent, but that sector continues to see the tightest availability and biggest rent increases.

Retail vacancy rates should be going down

Retail vacancy rates are forecast to decline from 10.4 percent in the fourth quarter of this year to 9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Average retail rents should increase 1.4 percent in 2013 and 2.2 percent next year. Net absorption of retail space is projected at 11.0 million square feet in 2013 and 18.1 million next year.

Multifamily construction will meet demand

Multifamily Markets
The apartment rental market – multifamily housing – is likely to see vacancy rates edge up 0.1 percentage point from 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter to 4.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, with new construction helping to meet higher demand. Average apartment rents are forecast to rise 4.0 percent this year and 4.3 percent in 2014. Multifamily net absorption is projected to total 239,400 units in 2013 and 211,300 next year.

Office rents should be going up

Vacancy rates in the office sector are expected to decline from a projected 15.6 percent in the fourth quarter to 15.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Office rents should increase 2.4 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2014. Net absorption of office space in the U.S., which includes the leasing of new space coming on the market as well as space in existing properties, is seen at 32.2 million square feet this year and 46.1 million in 2014.

Industrial vacancies on the decline

Industrial vacancy rates are likely to fall from 9.2 percent in the fourth quarter of this year to 8.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Annual industrial rents are expected to rise 2.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2014. Net absorption of industrial space nationally is anticipated at 97.0 million square feet in 2013 and 104.9 million next year.

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