Tips for Outgoings Management and Budgets in Commercial Property

When you manage commercial real estate, the outgoings within the property will require focus and financial control. When the property market slows or gets tougher, managing the outgoings is really important; the outgoings form part of the financial strategy for the landlord and will impact the net income for the property. If the outgoings get too high, the property will be hard to lease and hard to sell.

Set Some Rules

You can split the outgoings into a number of categories and this is normally done to identify and track the cash flow by expense streams. Most importantly there are two sides to the outgoings equation. Some of the items will be controllable and others will be uncontrollable. This means that the landlord can exercise control on only some of the outgoings.

The uncontrollable outgoings are those which are imposed on the property and have to be paid without any opportunity for cost savings, adjustments, or budgeting. Those uncontrollable items are normally council rates, land tax, and water rates. To a degree, insurance and energy costs will also fall into that category although some cost controls are possible with these items.

To manage the property outgoings effectively it pays to adopt a process similar to the following:

  • Create a budget for the property prior to the commencement of financial year
  • Track your expenditure to budget monthly. Adjust expenditure when you see a need and reason; early adjustment prevents bigger blowouts.
  • Look at the history of the property expenditure over the last few years to identify any excessive spending or items that are beyond the averages in the local area. The history of the property will allow you to adjust your budgets and cash flow expectations.
  • Make sure that you have removed the capital expense items from the normal repairs and maintenance for the property.
  • Talk to the owners of comparable properties in the same area. The outgoings between your property and their property should be similar. If not, you need to know why and take steps to fix that. Share information of outgoings costs with other similar property owners for this very reason.
  • Monitor the annual valuations for rating purposes. When these valuations are done, you will soon see the statutory charges and council rates rise soon after. It is not unusual for landlords and property managers to dispute the valuation in an effort to keep the statutory charges at a lower rate.

In preparing an expenditure budget for the property, you should time the expenditure so that the larger costs are expected; hence ensuring that the cash flow is suitably adjusted in preparation.

The controllable outgoings are those that the landlord can exercise decision and timing. Normal items of repairs and maintenance together with the contractor maintenance will fall within this category. If the landlord chooses to delay the expenditure with the controllable outgoings, then they can spread the impact of those items on the net monthly income from the property.

In summary, the property manager working on behalf of the landlord should exercise due care and diligence in the budgetary process for property expenditure. A well-managed landlord cash flow in an investment property is a correct balance of income against expenditure given the tenancy mix pressures on the building and the existing vacancy factors.

Commercial Property Managers – What Skills Do They Need and Why?

In commercial real estate agency, the property management division is a key part of the agency performance. In real terms the successful division can bring in significant and stable income to the agency on a regular monthly basis. That being said, a good commercial or retail property manager is highly skilled and should be selected for the property management role based on key performance criteria and hands on experience.

Far too many real estate agencies have average or poor performing property managers. In real terms this is a real threat to the stability of the division income, and the quality of the service provided to the landlords. Unskilled property managers do not last in commercial or retail property; it’s that simple.

Cadets and Training Processes

There is a place for ‘cadets’ that learn the roles and the skills of complex property management. The process itself takes a couple of years during which time the person should be exposed to all property types and situations under the guidance of an experienced manager.

So what does a good commercial or retail property manager look like and what skills will they have? To a large degree they will need to bring to you as agency principal, the skills needed for the managed property type and local area.

If the property manager does not know much about managing the required property type, then do not let them manage it; the errors made can destroy your relationship with the landlord and ultimately the management appointment.

Different Skill Sets

There is a large difference in management style and skill required between retail, office, and industrial property; industrial property being the easiest to manage and retail being the most intense and difficult. The skills required in a retail property manager is diverse and deep; they are the best in the industry.

Generally speaking, retail shopping centre managers today are also the busiest in the industry. The role is very hands on and unrelenting in intensity. Here are some core skills of a well skilled and placed property manager:

  1. The ability to read and understand leases and occupancy documentation for all property types.
  2. The marketing of the property to the local community and customers will be a factor that is critical to retail property. It this way sales are encouraged for the tenants; this underpins the rental for the landlord.
  3. Sound skills in financial analysis and reconciliation so a property performance tracking process can be set up for all managed properties.
  4. Good communication skills are essential. Property managers must be accurate, confident, and decisive, in keeping with laws, legislation, and the instructions of the clients that they act for.
  5. Attention to detail is required in all property negotiations and tenancy matters. Without good records and accurate information, the ‘wheels fall off’ the division and its services. Landlords soon see through mistakes and inaccuracy.
  6. Marketing of vacancies happens all the time in larger properties; importantly the frequency of vacant space is minimised and the times without a tenant are lessened.
  7. Income optimisation and expenditure controls are at the centre of property financial performance. The manager must know what is happening and why in all managed properties, when it comes to the cash flow and reporting to the landlord.
  8. All reporting processes and communications to the landlords we act for today must be detailed and accurate. Property compliance and maintenance, energy consumption, lease and vacancy matters, tenant and landlord lease covenants, outgoings performance, and environmental matters are just some of the factors that are controlled and reported on each month.
  9. Computer technology needs are increasing in the available property performance and management systems today. The property manager must be familiar with, and comfortable learning more about all the software and computer based technology that is used in the industry.
  10. Work hard and with focus each and every day. The hours that a manager will put in the job are long and intense; however they are the experts and should recognise the value that they bring to the job.
  11. Maintenance decisions and controls are made daily and should encompass the instructions of the client and the laws of property ownership and function. The manager needs to know what is required and should competently handle the decisions and communications with contractors, tenants, landlords, and fellow employees.

So how do you find one of these highly skilled people? They are out there and should be carefully sourced. They will be an asset to your agency function and performance.

Tips On Picking "Sleeper" Real Estate Property

Real estate investing is all about perception. Your perception of where the market is going, in conjunction with where it’s actually going. The aim, as always is to buy low and sell high.

You want to buy a cheap tract of dirt and sell it as a high priced piece of developed real estate, after it’s appreciated enough to turn a tidy profit. Selling the property is an art in and of itself.

Buying an initial tract of dirt lends itself to some solid, rational guidelines:

First, look at trend lines for housing prices in your area. While most housing markets are in decline (and the housing markets in Florida and California are adjusting from more than a decade of over-valuation), there are markets where the housing prices are going up. This is a decent leading indicator that there’s a market for expansion.

Second, look for job related news. Home purchases require a steady source of income. New employers moving into a city, or a government branch office opening up are a strong indicator that good, well paying jobs are likely to come up. Where well paying jobs roost, home purchases follow.

Related to this, talk to your local city planning office. Are there recent purchases of “right of ways” to lay down sewer lines? Is the local telephone cable making plans to run out fiber optic lines – a “must have” trend in new home construction. These things point to areas where home growth is immanent. Other big tip offs are school bond issues (found in your local news paper) and new parks being opened up.

Before you look at the land, check out the adjacent commercial real estate usage. Look for “family friendly” or “residential friendly” commercial properties: Houses that are close to grocery and clothes shopping tend to fetch a higher price than ones that are farther away. If there’s a movie theater nearby, or plans for an elementary or middle school, factor that into the size of the homes you build, and what their amenities will be; buyers looking for those features are looking for “mover upper” homes – with a bit more floor space, and two (or three) bedrooms for the kids. Other spots to look for are anchor stores, like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. These companies spend millions on surveys of purchasing patterns before buying a store location; if they’re buying a plot of land, you’ve got about a year to a year and a half window to look into nearby real estate for single family residential and rental residential properties.

You can even flip this on its side – if you can talk to a group of commercial real estate investors, building a shopping center as the nucleus for home development is also a viable combined strategy. This also applies to highly urban areas. Many downtown areas that have been abandoned by businesses can be converted to apartment buildings, and some of the older housing projects are being torn down for mixed-use spaces with combined commercial and residential areas. In particular, you can often get block grants to help with the financing on projects like this, and there are programs from HUD that can help out a great deal with “urban renovations”.

Another source to investigate is the demographics in your area. Look at the US Census figures (and local county figures) for median age, and median birth rate per capita. You want to invest in areas where the population is growing already. High skews in the ’40s and ’50s indicate that you’ve got a bunch of people who are going to retire soon, and retirees are highly prone to selling properties off. Places to watch carefully are most of the urban parts of California, and great swaths of the rural Midwest, where demographic trends have been changing entire towns since the 1950s as the country’s population has shifted to urban areas.

If there’s a local planning council, or urban development council, make it a point to get the minutes of all the meetings from the past year. The city council offices will have them on file as a matter of public record. Also try to get into the next range of meetings as an observer. Discuss with the city and county managers where they see housing and construction trends moving. What you’re looking for is real estate that will be desirable in two to three years; look at road planning atlases, and look for all the data you can find. Also look for real estate that will be scenic – lake front property is as close to a guaranteed bet as you can get in real estate investing, particularly if there’s a lake that’s at the “far end” of a development axis. Likewise, if there’s land that the city council is looking to acquire for parks, buying the adjacent lots now means you’ll be able to sell them later.

Lastly, talk to the professionals in your communities. Talk to architects who can tell you if they’re busy or not. Maintain professional contacts with engineers, bankers and attorneys. They will usually know about projects well before the general public. Also make a habit of reading the local newspaper’s business section. Often times, the first clue that a business may move in to your area is buried at the bottom of a column on page 8.

Using the guidelines suggested above will help you to find “sleeper” raw land properties. These “sleeper” properties are perfect for the buy low, sell high strategy used by successful commercial real estate investors.

Commercial Property Management – Tenancy Schedule Tips Tools and Tactics

The tenancy schedule is the tool of choice for a property manager or leasing manager in a commercial or retail property investment. It is the tenancy schedule that will keep the property manager up to task on forthcoming events and dates.

Often you find that the tenancy schedule is not up to date, so if anyone gives you such a document, treat it with the caution it deserves, and check it out completely before you act on the information contained therein.

So let’s say that you have a great tenancy schedule that you know is totally accurate. I get many questions about what I would want to see in a tenancy schedule. Here are my main priorities:

  • Details of the tenant name, lease, and full contact detail for emergencies
  • Tenancy identifier or suite reference that comes from the plan for the property
  • The area of the tenancy in m2 or ft2 (depending on your unit of measurement)
  • The % of the tenant area to the building net lettable area
  • The rent $’s per annum, per month, and per unit of measurement (m2 or ft2)
  • Lease start date
  • Rent start date
  • Lease end date
  • Term of lease
  • Option term of lease
  • Anniversary dates and reminders for rent reviews, options, expires, renewals, renovations, and make good obligations
  • Outgoings charges for each tenant on the basis of area and monthly charge
  • Outgoings budget for the building
  • Total outgoings recoveries for the property on a currency and % basis
  • Types of outgoings to be charged to the tenants
  • Insurance obligations of the tenant
  • Rental guarantee details or bonds held
  • Provision for critical dates relating to any important lease term or condition
  • Maintenance obligation details of the tenants

This list is not finite and you can add your own extra priorities, I would however make sure that it is totally correct and maintain it to the highest level of accuracy. When you do this you can stay on top of important upcoming events that will impact the occupancy or rental of the property.

Whilst you can buy ‘off the shelf’ software programs that display this above information, that can be quite expensive for those commercial and retail property managers that are first entering this type of property. The alternative is to create some simple spread sheet that contains the data; in saying that, it is essential that great care is taken to maintain the spread sheet that you create. Any errors in the tenancy schedule can destroy your landlord, your business, your tenant, your reputation, and the property. Accuracy is paramount.