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 Some may no longer be needed or the methodology may be outdated.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that the way property management services are delivered to both the owners of property and their tenants is completely outdated and is actually hurting tenant renewal rates and property returns.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.