Proptech in 2019 & Electronic Contracts

What-Is-Proptech-and-Which-Players-You-Should-Follow-in-Asia-1440x564_cProptech” is a new term that stands for property technology. It encompasses all types of technology used in commercial and residential real estate, from chatbots used by Realtors®  on their websites to smart devices to control property functions, such as building access, to software used to analyze and manage a property, tenant relations and leases.

The Proptech industry has seen accelerated growth in the past few years growing from $4 Billion to almost $8 Billion, and advancements continue to be made in many areas.

At the same time, the laws around the use of these technologies continue to develop as law makers craft regulations around the incorporation of new technologies in real estate. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the use of electronic signatures and contracts.

The first and most fundamental question is this: Are electronic contracts valid?

The UN Model Law on Electronic Contracts was first adopted in 1996 and has been embraced by most jurisdictions in the Western World. Generally speaking, electronic contracts are valid where there is an explicit offer and acceptance to the contract. One notable exception as it pertains to real estate is when the contract must be registered. For example, electronic signatures and contracts are valid on leases that are not registered in the land titles office and on purchase and sale documents (including offers and counter offers). However, to register the transaction on title requires original signed documents rather than an electronic signature.

There are other instances where electronic contracts are not valid, such as wills, powers of attorney, certain business and financial documents, etc. so it is best to consult with your lawyer to determine your use of electronic contracts and signatures.

Is there a requirement to maintain electronic data for a certain time period?

Since electronic contracts are often viewed the same as paper contracts, the retention guidelines for electronic contracts (and electronic signatures) would be the same. Therefore, it is important to ensure proper back-up and retention of all electronic documents, and the keepers of these documents must be aware of the retention requirements.

The best practices for using electronic contracts and signatures include:

  • an explicit understanding and prior notification between the parties that an electronic contract and electronic signatures (“e-signatures”) will be used.
  • That all privacy regulations are upheld regarding the contract and the gathering of e-signatures, and
  • maintaining accurate records concerning the use of the contracts.

How does all this apply in commercial real estate?

Obviously, the convenience of being able to conduct a wide variety of activities and transactions electronically can speed a transaction. The use of electronic signatures also means that the parties are no longer desk-bound. They can conclude a transaction anywhere, and at any time.

One frequent downside inherent in electronic contracts is that they are not tactile.  Many times the contract is misfiled, deleted or simply forgotten since it can easily reside inside an email or a misnamed computer file.  On less sophisticated systems, such as stand-alone computers, laptops and mobile devices, system failures or upgrades and result in the complete data loss of the contract.

Large organizations, such as landlords and occupiers with multiple locations, may have entire departments dedicated to the retention, management, and safekeeping of all their contracts, including electronic contracts.

Entrepreneurs and smaller operations, such as many tenants, often do not have these types of systems and policies in place, and are at a greater risk of losing data, or – more importantly – losing track of important contract information, such as important lease obligations and rights.

This is understandable, since the ‘virtual’ contract is often out of sight and out of mind.  Many times, the tenant’s lease and commercial space is taken for granted as something that was completed previously (perhaps the lease was signed years ago) in order to allow the tenant to operate daily, today. It simply is not top of mind. The risks of this can be devastating however. Imagine that you have an option to renew the lease, for example. If you miss the time to exercise that option you could lose your space – and that could mean the end of your business.

To solve this very real and prevalent problem it is important to keep track of lease milestones, obligations and rights as well as maintain a back up of your lease contracts – or have someone do that for you.

We offer our clients a simple and affordable lease management service to handle all this for you, and more; for less than 50 cents per day. To learn more CLICK HERE.

Don’t Simply Sign Estoppel Certificates

The article below, by two lawyers at BLG in Canada, and reprinted with their permission, highlights the pitfall of simply signing an estoppel certificate provided by the Landlord.

An estoppel is a concept that, in certain circumstances, restricts a party from relying on its full legal rights. A lawyer conversant in contract law will tell you that there are many different types of estoppels and that there is no one universally accepted form of estoppel. However, the seemingly simple one or two page estoppel is a very powerful legal document, as you will see.

For the purposes here though we will stick with estoppels as they are commonly used in commercial real estate. The most common estoppels are provided by the Landlord to the Tenant when the Landlord is engaged in a transaction whereby another third party is going to rely on the lease contract provided to it by the Landlord. Generally, this happens if the Landlord is selling the property and the intended purchaser wants to know that the lease contract is the only agreement between the Landlord and you, the tenant; or when the Landlord is seeking financing (or refinancing) and the lender also wants assurances that the contract is the only valid agreement in existence.

You can understand why a third party wants this verification. Most landlord-provided estoppels outline the basic business terms, such as the length of the lease, the rent being paid, etc. The document the landlord wants you to sign also contains seemingly innocuous language; which can be problematic as the article points out.

Therefore, it’s important to understand from a business and real estate perspective what should be included in the estoppel if it is not clear, and what should not be included. We recommend that any estoppel you receive from the landlord be reviewed by a commercial real estate consultant – not a real estate agent as they do not deal with estoppels; and after that review, it should be reviewed by a good commercial real estate lawyer, such as either of the article authors.

Before we get to the article itself, it may help to look at a case where the Greenstead Consulting Group was asked to review a landlord’s standard estoppel provided to a tenant client, because the current landlord was selling the property.

The estoppel contained language that said neither the tenant nor landlord were in default of the lease. We knew from prior correspondence that the floor of the premises was heaving and a technical study done by the landlord revealed sub-standard soils compaction below the on-grade slab.

After we reviewed the lease, we also noted that the landlord was solely responsible for ‘latent defects’ in the construction of the building.

The landlord was pressing our client, the tenant, to sign what the landlord referred to as a ‘clean estoppel’ (without any changes to the form the landlord provided) within the 10 days provided in the lease. As a directly related aside to the issue at hand, we negotiate lease wording amendments on behalf of tenant clients. In the estoppel section of the lease we add the ability for the tenant to amend an estoppel form provided by the landlord. Watch for language that states the tenant will sign the form of estoppel attached to the lease. That could be problematic.

Working with our client’s in-house general counsel, we advised our client to strike certain provisions of the estoppel and provide an addendum outlining the issue, and past correspondence. We advised our client that without doing this, we were concerned that a subsequent owner would say the tenant was stopped (estopped) from making a claim for repair by the property purchaser, since the current owner had not fixed the issue.

Peter D. Morris, CEO, Greenstead Consulting Group

Here is the Article:

The Ontario Superior Court’s judgment in 1960529 Ontario Inc. v. 2077570 Ontario Inc., 296 Brunswick LP Corp., and CMLS Financial Ltd. 2017 ONSC 5254 provides a cautionary reminder to tenants to carefully review their lease before signing an estoppel certificate.

Background

1960529 Ontario Inc. carried on business as a bar and game arcade using the name Tilt Arcade Bar (“Tilt”). Tilt, the tenant, leased the first floor of the property located at 296 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto, from the landlord, 2077570 Ontario Inc. (“207”). The lease between Tilt and 207 contained a right of first refusal provision which stated that 207 agreed to provide Tilt with a copy of an offer to buy the building prior to accepting any offer for the sale of the property and that Tilt would have 24 hours to provide 207 with an offer that was the same as the offer that 207 intended to accept.

On October 17, 2016, 207 entered into an agreement of purchase and sale with 296 Brunswick LP Corp (“Brunswick”) for the sale of the property. On February 14, 2017, the President of 207 attended at the property with a form of estoppel certificate informing Evan Oswald (“Oswald”), Tilt’s President, that the property had been sold and that the estoppel certificate was required immediately to effect the assignment of the lease from 207 to Brunswick.

The estoppel certificate was addressed to CMLS Financial Ltd., Brunswick’s lender (the “Lender”). 207 was identified as the landlord, and Tilt was identified as the tenant. The estoppel certificate confirmed that there were no defaults under the lease. No reference to the right of first refusal was made in the estoppel certificate. Oswald, who didn’t realize he had a right of first refusal under the lease, signed the estoppel certificate.

The property was transferred from 207 to Brunswick on February 17, 2017. Brunswick then exercised a demolition provision in the lease and gave Tilt notice of termination. It was only at this point that Tilt realized that it should have been given the right to buy the property pursuant to the right of first refusal in the lease. Tilt commenced an application seeking relief in support of its claim for enforcement of a right of first refusal. Tilt also brought a motion for injunctive relief restraining Brunswick from demolishing the property, which was the subject of this decision.

Court Decision

The Court denied Tilt’s motion for an interlocutory injunction on the basis that there was no serious question to be tried. The court explained that Tilt waived its right of first refusal by signing the estoppel certificate and confirming that there was no default under the lease at the time the estoppel certificate was signed (i.e. the landlord was not in breach of any of its obligations relating to the right of first refusal). The Court stated that parties to a commercial real estate transaction are entitled to rely upon an estoppel certificate to prevent the party signing the certificate from taking a position that is contrary to the statements therein. By signing the estoppel certificate, Tilt must be taken to have known that the parties affected by the sale of the property would rely on the contents thereof.

Comment

This case is an important reminder of what can happen to tenants when they fail to review their lease before signing an estoppel certificate. Tenants can be viewed to waive their existing rights if they are not careful. In this situation, Tilt could have potentially prevented Brunswick from purchasing the property had it identified the landlord default in the estoppel certificate before signing.

This case is also a reminder that even though an estoppel certificate is addressed to a particular entity/individual, it does not necessarily prevent a non-addressee from relying on the estoppel certificate.

Tenants should always be mindful of all of their rights under their lease and ensure that they are aware of the purpose for which an estoppel certificate is being sought. This will allow tenants to see the “big picture” relative to their existing leasehold rights.

Authors

Richard A. Manias 
RManias@blg.com
416.367.6668

Anthony Deluca 
ADeluca@blg.com
416.367.6323


WHILE YOU ARE HERE:

The Greenstead Consulting Group provides a host of services to commercial property tenants. In fact, we act as your Outsourced In-house Corporate Real Estate Department. To learn more simply click HERE.

How to Handle the Recovery of Corporate Costs in Triple Net Leases

The generally accepted rule of thumb concerning the concept of Triple Net Operating Costs is that the landlord can and should recover all costs associated with operating the common facilities of the property. These costs would include all those costs to manage, operate, secure, repair and maintain the facilities, with the exception of structural costs in most instances.

Conversely, costs associated with the landlord generating income and profit should be borne out of the basic, or minimum, rent. For example, costs associated with the process of leasing space should not be recovered from the tenants.

While it may appear that this is a simple concept, it rarely is straightforward. As an example, some people feel that any costs borne by the landlord, at a level above costs incurred at the property itself, should not be included in Operating Cost Recoveries. But what if it is more efficient to have centralized services such as accounts payable, IT and HR or regionally based maintenance services? Should these be included as recoverable Operating Costs and borne by the tenants? If so, to what extent should they be included and does the market use any standardized guiding principles?

These were the questions I recently discussed with an experienced commercial real estate lawyer and an accountant who specializes in CRE at an international accountancy.

We had combined CRE experience of over 100 years between the three of us and we agreed there was no accepted single standard in answering this question, except one person’s apt response that it is whatever the landlord can do, and the market will bear. We all agreed that seems to be the sentiment. But let’s look at these questions in more detail.

First, should regional and corporate costs incurred for the benefit of the common facilities be included as recoverable Operating Costs?

The feeling is yes, they should; if those costs are aligned to the benefit of the common facilities and not for the landlord generating profit. For example, it may be impractical from a cost and governance perspective to have all the accounts payable performed at each property in a portfolio.

Likewise, it may be more practical and cost beneficial to have roaming maintenance staff rather than staff dedicated to each property, particularly when dealing with skilled trades. Those costs – with certain caveats concerning competitive pricing – should rightly be recovered from each property served.

The second question of what extent should they be recovered can’t be answered until we tackle the issue of common guiding practices, as the two are intertwined.

Let’s look at accounts payable as an example. The invoice is received, reviewed, approved, entered into the accounting system, and a cheque is issued, in a typical accounts payable process. The cheque is then mailed and the bank reconciled once the vendor has cashed the cheque, and it is cancelled and returned.

Several people may ‘touch’ the process, from the person opening and sorting the mail to the person handling the bank reconciliation. Additionally, there are costs associated with the hardware & software used, IT support, space to house the staff, desks, communications equipment, stationary, mailing costs, etc.

Estimates to completely process one invoice range up to $21.00; while the average is $7.00 and as low as $3.41 if using a state of the art AP system, and depending on the number of invoices processed.

The question then becomes: “What method is acceptable to allocate the costs?”

In this case, is it on a per invoice basis? A proportionate share of the total costs? Some other method?

Again, we found there is no singular answer. So perhaps the pundit was correct when he said, “it is whatever the landlord can do, and the market will bear.”

We did agree that certain regional and corporate expenses should be considered for full or partial recovery. These include costs associated with:

-staffing relative to the management, operation, security and R&M of the property;

– technology costs including hardware, software and IT support staff;

– tools and equipment used for the maintenance and repair of the property;

– occupational health and safety expenses, including training;

– certain marketing costs, as permitted under the leases;

– insurance and risk management costs;

– daily banking costs pertaining to Operating Cost AP;

– services that support the above, such as HR, accounts payable, etc.; and

– costs to house and equip centralized and regional services noted above.

We also agreed that the extent of the recovery would be limited by what the market would bear. And that is a far more difficult question to answer because it is also subjective. The landlord may not optimize the recovery, or open themselves up to arguments from tenants (and their lease auditors) concerning the allocations depending on the formula used to calculate and allocate the costs.

For example, consider the issue of two same-sized buildings in different parts of the same market where the competitive operating costs recoveries in those submarkets are different. Think about the implications of attempting to come to a universal cost allocation across different asset classes. Industrial properties have lower operating costs than office buildings, and can’t bear the same per square foot allocation (if done that way), for example.

The combinations and permutations become mindboggling.

We also tackled the inevitable retort from tenant representatives and corporate real estate executives who would argue that the management fee is intended to cover the centralized costs.

Our feeling was that the management or administration fee is in addition to all the costs associated with operating the common facilities. As a result, it is not to replace any of those costs; which is the effective argument of the tenant representative.

Stated differently, the landlord is assuming the management of the common areas so the tenants don’t have to manage all those functions themselves, collectively; and the administration fee is akin to compensating the landlord for overhead costs not directly associated with the property operation.

Did we come to a definitive conclusion? Not really, but the discussion prompted further research, contemplation and discussion, I’m sure.

What are your thoughts?

© 2017 Peter D. Morris

www.GreensteadCG.com

Peter D. Morris comments on the closing of Sears in Canada

Principle Consultant for the Greenstead Consulting Group, Peter D. Morris, comments on the closing of all the Sears stores in Canada in this article in Retail-Insider.com

https://www.retail-insider.com/retail-insider/2017/10/sears-canada?utm_source=Retail+Insider+Newsletter&utm_campaign=bcf3861251-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_10_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_659c2a0c20-bcf3861251-113728729

 

Peter Morris Speaking at REALTOR® QUEST 2016

Peter D. Morris, the founder of Greenstead Consulting Group has been invited to conduct two leasing training sessions at the upcoming REALTOR® QUEST forum hosted by the Toronto Real Estate Board on May 4 & 5, 2016.


Photo courtesy TREB

Over 8,000 real estate professionals attend REALTOR® QUEST, Canada’s largest REALTOR® Trade Show and Conference. REALTOR® QUEST 2016 will occupy over 280,000 square feet of space at the Toronto Congress Centre, South Building.

CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc. Engages Us to Reposition Whistler Creekside Village

Creekside Village, Whistler, BC

Creekside Village, Whistler, BC

The owner of Whistler Creekside Village has engaged BC based Greenstead Consulting Group to assist in developing a repositioning and remerchandising plan for the property to better address the needs of both residents and visitors to Whistler.

“The opportunity arose to make significant and, we believe, positive changes to the offering we present at Creekside Village”, said Ryan Bell, the Director of Asset Management for the owner, CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc. “A number of leases expired and we made the conscious decision to develop a scheme to replace those uses to better compliment our existing tenants such as Creekside Market, BC Liquor, Scotiabank and Starbucks, to name a few.

After an internal planning session, Greenstead Consulting Group was hired to refine a repositioning and merchandising plan for the property.

According to Greenstead founder, Peter Morris, Creekside Village is ideally suited to provide a different experience to the common brand name retailers found elsewhere in Whistler. He suggested that Creekside Village will be seeking tenants that are unique and/or offer something quintessentially Canadian, resulting in a ‘must visit’ reason at Creekside Village.

“The better quality hotel accommodations adjacent the property cater to an affluent, luxury family clientele who appreciate the opportunity to uncover something new and different as compared to the mass chain stores”, said Morris.

Morris stated that the preferred merchandise mix includes a signature restaurant; a salon/spa; unique art and gift gallery; quick service food outlets, with either a healthy food option or a menu of wide appeal; resort or adventure wear and a lounge, craft brew pub, wine bar or speak-easy atmosphere location to cater to those wanting somewhere to go in the evening.

According to the recently produced Whistler Chamber of Commerce Commercial Lease Report that provides a snapshot of current rates and operating costs rents in the Creekside Village area are less than in the Village Square, where they can be as high as $125 per square foot according to the report. Morris believes this is one reason his client will be able to find the right tenants.

“Even with the high rents demanded in Village Square, tenants still have to advertise to attract customers and the combined costs compound the risks of doing business in Whistler. Alternatively, if you locate your ‘must visit’ type of concept in a property with less rent, you can still spend on advertising to attract customers and the overall risk is reduced,” Morris said.

Simple Ways to Improve Operating Returns for Retail Property Owners

Graph  It doesn’t take a business degree to know that to improve operating return at the corporate or property level means revenues must increase, expenses must decrease or a combination of the two. Aside from the obvious question of occupancy, we’ll explore some other aspects to improving returns.

At the company/enterprise level removing waste, eliminating redundancy and cost containment are all common sense ways to add value. As is a serious review of the debt structure and financing options. Another avenue to explore is to examine the company’s sacred cows – policies and processes that have been implemented over time. Some may no longer be needed or the methodology may be outdated. Challenging the status quo may reveal hidden opportunities. For example, I’ve long advocated that the way property management services are delivered to both the owners of property and their tenants is completely outdated and is actually hurting tenant renewal rates and property returns. Moreover, by realigning staff duties in the manner I have suggested, management companies can reduce their overall costs of service delivery by as much as 15%.

The way leases are structured and the mechanics of them can also improve value. In the early 1980’s Cadillac Fairview, a leading mall developer and owner, instituted an across the board HVAC basic charge. It was a sinking fund established to pay for the replacement of roof top units, air handlers, central plant equipment, etc. The concept was drafted into the company’s standard lease form and used for all future new leases. There are many other items in the way a lease is structured that can have a positive impact on returns; such as how renewal options are treated, how the space is used and measured, and how amortization and depreciation costs are handled.

For example, many landlords provide for a recovery of amortization in their leases, but few also specifically note that the landlord should also recover an interest cost on the amortization. When explaining why the landlord should receive an interest component to the amortization, I liken the capitalized (and then amortized expense) to a loan to the common area to the benefit of the tenants. If a tenant pushes back I provide this example.

“Lets assume the landlord will need to replace the roof membrane, the cost of which is, say, $250,000. This is a recoverable expense, but the tenant doesn’t want to be charged with their portion of a $250,000 expense in one year; so the expense is repaid through amortization of, say 10 years. The landlord is out of pocket the initial expense and won’t recover that expense for 10 years. Effectively, the landlord is lending the tenants the $250,000, and just as with any loan the tenants should compensate the landlord for that through interest.”

These are just a few areas of more than a dozen lease refinements I’ve developed for companies I’ve worked with over the years.

One of the biggest lifts in return and value is to change the way lease rates are determined. Many owners and leasing agents for shopping centers still rely on comparable analysis to be the sole determiner of the basic rent. This is a mistake. Rent should be a function of sales – not to be confused with the concept of percentage rent. Using sales as the method for determining base or minimum rent it is possible to create a rent structure that is as much as 35% above comparable rents, based on my personal experience. There is a specific methodology to achieve this. It starts by understanding the market potential in the trade area served and relies on obtaining sales information from each tenant, even if they do not pay percentage rent.

There are a number of opportunities at the property level too. For example, the Greenstead Consulting Group has developed and implemented over 20 different ancillary income streams at the property level. Some produced significant revenues while others did not; but collectively the effect was the same as adding two or three rentable store spaces to the property– without the infrastructure costs.

Another area of additional income from retail properties is through creative densification. The land-mass for retail properties is very large compared to the vertical nature of office buildings. Much of this is dictated by parking ratios mandated in zoning requirements. The typical 5 stalls per thousand square feet of leasable area has been in use for more than 30 years, yet the nature of retail has changed dramatically over the same time. In the 1970’s evening shopping was usually confined to one or two nights a week and virtually no one shopped on Sundays. That parking ratio may have made sense then but does it make sense with the expanded shopping patterns and channels of today?

We convinced a municipal council to adopt a new micro stall designation to accommodate the new ultra small cars, such as the Smart car, and to include designated motorcycle parking as part of the overall parking ratio. Decreasing the average stall size allows for more stalls on the same piece of land. Even with the existing stall ratio, the increase in the number of stalls permits further development on the site. In another densification program increased the site densification that resulted in an $8 Million lift in the property value because the site development could be easily intensified. This improvement came with no additional infrastructure cost, such as a parking structure.

On the expense side of the ledger there are many opportunities to reduce expenses. One that is not widely practiced but that can pay significant dividends is lean maintenance, a concept borrowed from lean manufacturing practices. In lean maintenance there is an understanding that some common maintenance practices have diminished value through the lifecycle of the physical plant. Correcting this is the same as reducing the waste that was inherent in older manufacturing processes.

Repositioning and remodelling can have a positive impact on the revenue and expense of a property. Curb appeal determines customer attraction and what tenants perceive as a desirable location. So we never advocate trimming expenses to the point of harming the impression of the property. This includes capital expenses. However, the timing of the program is critical to obtain the best returns. It is also important to conduct a complete cost benefit analysis and judicious value engineering. Sometimes, just as in theatrical staging, some inexpensive changes can have a dramatic impact on the look and perception of a property.

Improving returns and value is what we do best. Contact us to learn how to transform your investment returns in retail real estate.

There Is No Such Thing As A WIN/WIN Conclusion

Many people believe that a negotiation must arrive at a Win/Win conclusion. The concept of attempting to reach that position is misplaced and can actually hurt the process. Let me explain as it applies to real estate leasing, without meaning to simplify the process in attempting to address this in just a few words.

After the basic financial terms have been agreed the lease negotiation is all about the transfer of the business risk from either the landlord to the occupier or vice versa. One party wants the other to assume some portion – or all – the risk associated with the lease. The negotiation concludes only when both parties have become comfortable with the amount of risk they are willing to assume. This involves compromise and a certain amount of ‘betting’ that the risks assumed don’t play out or outweigh the potential benefits. In short, to reach agreement each side has to give something.

Giving something up isn’t synonymous with a WIN, as both parties to the negotiation start with their ideal position of wanting the other party to assume the risk. In essence, both leave the negotiating table in a position less than their ideal. Hardly a “Win/Win” concept.

However, here is the real “Win/Win” in a lease negotiation. It isn’t the conclusion that should be the “Win/Win” – because it can’t be as we’ve just learned. It is in the negotiating process itself that the two sides should strive for a “Win/Win”.

In our lease training programs for landlords and occupiers, we note that every successful lease negotiation has to have 5 criteria. The first is a positive experience. Both parties will remember the negotiating experience long after they have forgotten the financial fine points of the deal. They will remember the feeling that it was fair, or pleasant, or that they were taken advantage of, bullied or generally negative.

As a case in point, many car dealers have switched to a no-haggle pricing strategy. Why? Because car buyers typically felt mistreated in the price negotiating process and that left such a bad taste in their mouth that it may affect where they buy their next car.

A person who is having a positive negotiating experience will tend to be more open to sharing information and really listening to counter points to a discussion. Conversely, a person who is having a more negative experience may tend to dig in their heals, be closed to offering information for fear it will further erode their position, etc.

The impact will be a longer more adversarial negotiation as well as the potential of the lease only lasting the one term, if it is completed at all.

As a person seeking the best outcome in the lease negotiation, you need to mitigate risk. How you accomplish that through the experience will determine how successful you are.

To learn more about how to create a positive negotiating experience while still controlling the negotiation, or the other four essential criteria needed for a successful lease negotiation, contact me at pdmorris@greensteadcg.com