Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Blue Chip Real Estate
One segment of the industry where prices never drop.
All real estate market participants, whether homeowners or investors, look at their purchases as an investment. Whether they feel it is the home of their dreams or a place that will generate a good rental income, property owners want to be able to sell it for more than they paid for. Preferably, for a lot more. It is next to impossible to be wrong in times of price appreciation, as markets all over North America have shown these past few years. During market expansions, buyers typically exhibit the ‘King Midas Syndrome’: like the famous mythological king, in fact, they all display that miraculous ability of being able to turn anything they touch into gold.
When markets hit a snag, however, property purchasers will have to be more selective about what they choose to buy. One segment of the real estate industry which is often overlooked by investors and yet is possibly the most lucrative, involves the purchase and sale of small free-standing professional office buildings. In the industry, we refer to it as ‘Blue Chip Real Estate’. The definition is borrowed from the Stock Market, since Blue Chip Real Estate is the general description of interests in land that are well established, with stable earnings and no extensive liabilities – just like Blue Chip Stocks.
Small professional office buildings are typically leased to established professionals business entities such as proprietorships, partnerships, incorporated firms or any combination of the above, as well as to top tenants such as banks. They are valued by investors seeking safety and stability, though prices are usually high. Typically, Blue Chip real estate holdings are perceived to offer reliable returns, high yield and low risk. Additionally, most of them are strategically located adjacent to residential neighbourhoods, yet in commercially-zoned strips.
Small professional office buildings are sought after by a variety of professionals, especially in the medical industry, for the amenities they offer, which enhance their practice and professional images. For instance, many of these buildings are built with ancillary storage or utility space that can be used for a variety of reasons, provide rooftop or basement HVAC systems, or even nicely appointed consultation rooms in which clients and audiences will be more relaxed and potentially more receptive to presenters.
What makes small professional office buildings so particularly prized by investors is the fact that there is a shortage of them. As they offer more and better facilities, construction is typically more expensive than normal. The plus side of things is that market values of free-standing professional office buildings never fall, because there are not that many and they are always in high demand – specifically because tenants almost never leave.
In addition to generate highly reliable rental income, landlords usually take advantage of other important benefits, all of which are paid for by tenants.
Property Taxes and Utilities
Property taxes are typically higher than the norm but, as in all commercial tenancies, they are apportioned to and paid for by the individual tenants. Care must be exercised to be accurate in the measurements of common areas and passageways, so that a proper apportionment of property taxes can be made among tenants. In some instances, landlords are entitled to estimate the taxes payable for the subsequent calendar year, and to require tenants to pay the estimate in advance, provided that when the actual amount of taxes is known, tenants shall be invoiced by the Landlord.
Operating Costs refer to the total of all expenses, costs and outlays of every nature incurred in the maintenance, repair, operation, insuring and management of the building all calculated in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Operating Costs include cleaning and janitorial, all utilities in the interior and exterior of the building, security, window cleaning, insurance required to be carried by the Landlord, repairs and replacements to the building, heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning if provided, outdoor maintenance including landscaping and snow removal, replacement of light bulbs and fixtures, telephone and other utilities, service contracts with independent contractors, supplies, legal or management fees and disbursements, federal sales tax on rent or similar taxes such as the Goods and Services Tax (in Canada), and all other expenses paid or payable in connection with the operation of the Premises and maintenance of the building.
In addition to be responsible for payment of the pro-rata share of the landlord’s insurance, tenants must carry their own comprehensive general public liability insurance (including bodily injury, death and property damage) on an occurrence basis, with respect to the business carried out in or from the premises and the tenant’s use and occupancy thereof. Such insurance must contain a waiver by the insurer of subrogation against the landlord or shall include the landlord as a named insured, and shall protect the landlord in respect of claims by the tenants.
Furthermore, the tenant must carry insurance in respect of fire and other such perils covering the tenant’s trade fixtures, furniture and the equipment, all leasehold improvements of the tenant and plate glass, and which insurance shall contain a waiver by the insurer of subrogation against the landlord or shall include the landlord as a named insured, and shall provide that any proceeds recoverable in the event of loss to leasehold improvements shall be payable to the landlord.
Unless stipulated otherwise, tenants bear all costs of alterations and improvements to the premises, and any and all such alterations and improvements, once completed, will become property of the landlord. Whereas free rent or free leasehold improvements are frequent in the leasing of average commercial, retail or industrial space, when it comes to small professional office buildings any such incentives or inducements to lease are unheard of.
The average size of this type of holdings is in the 10,000 to 15,000 square foot range, two or three stories in elevation and private, gated parking. As practically all expenses are paid for by tenants, capitalization rates are typically very high. The capitalization rate is the return an investor requires for investing in a property, so as to receive the annual flow of net operating income. Small free-standing professional office building have price tags ranging from CAD $1.5 million to CAD $2.5 million depending on the area, and cap rates as high as 20 percent per annum. Real property annual appreciation has been a steady 8 to 10 percent per annum over the past ten years. This means that a property that sells today for CAD $2 million would have sold for approximately CAD $750,000 in 1996.
Real Estate Chronicle