Things You Should Be Aware of in Commercial Property Purchases

With the host of cooling measures rolled out in the residential market by the Singapore’s government to avert a property price bubble, investors are gleaning more investment potential in commercial properties. This segment of properties is exempted from Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD), Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD) and restrictions on foreigners’ ownership – all of which affect the residential market.

In Singapore, there are two ways to buy a commercial property:

  • As an individual or;
  • As a corporation [via private limited or limited liability partnership (LLP)]

The subsequent sections proceed to highlight key points a budding investor in the commercial property landscape should take note of.

No utilisation of Central Provident Fund (CPF)

If you are making the purchase as an individual, do bear in mind that you cannot dip into the savings in your Ordinary Account of the Central Provident Fund to settle the downpayment or monthly loan instalment for the commercial property.

This means the downpayment has to be wholly funded by cash.

For the loan repayment, you will have to be prepared to incur cash outlay if the rental yields are inadequate (assuming that you are planning to lease out the property).

Property tax

Same as for a second residential property, or an only residential property that is wholly rented out or left vacant, the tax is a flat 10% of the annual value of the property.

But if you fail to lease out the commercial space, you may apply for a vacancy refund of the property tax. This vacancy refund also applies to a residential property.

Goods and services tax (GST)

Unlike for residential properties, the buying of commercial spaces from a GST-registered company is subjected to a 7% GST. An individual making the purchase will have to bear the GST himself.

However, if you are a GST-registered company – all companies with a turnover exceeding S$1million have to register for GST – you can make claims for the GST incurred on your purchases. Thus shrewd individual investors may set up companies expressly for a financial transaction, termed as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), to circumvent the GST payment.

For companies with turnovers below S$1million, GST-registration is on a voluntary basis, subjected to certain requirements. Do note that being GST-registered comes with responsibilities. Check out what these are at IRAS.

Notably, the GST cannot be financed by the property loan. Buyers will have to stump up cash for this.

Rental yield and capital gains opportunities

It is estimated by Colliers Internationals that the yearly average gross yield of commercial spaces approximates 5%, compared to 2-3% for residential property. However, this higher gains can be offset by the steeper maintenance cost and renovation works generally required by tenants. Generally, the maintenance charge for a commercial unit is expected to be higher than for a residential property. Also, more may need to be splurged on basic setup, particularly for shop units leased out for business.

An exception are HDB shops with their lower maintenance fees of S$170 to S$250. But these properties tend to come with more restrictions such as the type of businesses permitted. Applications must also be made for renovation.

Still, small supply and strong demand can drive up the asset value of strata commercial property, making them worthwhile buys.

In land-scarce Singapore, strata-titled shops/offices are in limited quantity because most of the commercial spaces are owned by real estate investment trusts (REITs), and many of these REITs are in turn owned by the Government through proxies. As of 4Q2011, the supply of strata-titled offices in Singapore is estimated to be of 11.05 million sq ft, making up 14.2% of the total office stock (Bright Spot in Singapore Property Market: Strata-titled Office, Colliers International, pg 2). The stock of strata-titled shops also faces a similar small supply.

In addition, the slew of regulations in the residential market has diverted investors’ attention to the commercial sector. Together with today’s low interest rate environment, the two have fuelled demand.

Thus investors can make capital gains through direct sales.

Some investors are also looking toward en-bloc sales to make profit. In April 2012, in collective sales, strata office units at Parkway Centre and Burlington Square sold for $1,043 per sq ft and $1,318 per sq ft, respectively.

Besides capital gains, investors maybe hoping to profit from rental yields. However, official statistics on the occupancy rates for strata-titled shops and offices are not available. This makes reliable estimation of rental demand in the past, present and future difficult. Hence investors should be cautious if they are looking to profit from this avenue.

All in all, with more supplies coming on-board – either from strata or non strata developments – downward pressure on property values and rental is possible. Hence, only selective buys are recommended.

Tenure

Commercial/shop spaces in Singapore usually comes with 30-, 60-, 99-, or 999-year lease. Some may be freehold. For 99-year and shorter leasehold units, buyers should be mindful that financing institutions may quote a lower loan quantum for units running low on their lease.

Loans

Borrowers for commercial properties are allowed to take a loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of up to 80%, even with outstanding residential mortgages. The maximum loan tenor typically stands at 30 years. However, loans for commercial property tend to command a higher interest rate relative to residential property loans. Like the latter, these loans come in:

  • Fixed Rate Package
  • Variable (Floating) Rate Package

The requirements for a commercial loan, however, are more stringent. For example, the LTV ratio is contingent on whether the property is for owner-occupation or investment, with the latter subjected to stricter criteria by some banks. The next section explains the approval conditions in greater detail.

Credit worthiness and approval for commercial loans in Singapore

For purchases made under your name only your income, outstanding debts and credit history will be assessed. The maximum LTV ratio for a commercial mortgage is set at 80%, even with existing housing mortgages. But financing institutions will take a holistic approach in deciding whether to grant you a 80% loan.

For purchases made under a private limited or LLP company, the financiers will evaluate if the company has a cash flow record over the past few years that is sufficient to fund this investment. For instance, a company earning a monthly profit of S$15,000 deposits it into the company’s account in a timely manner, the lenders can, thus, lend up to 60 to 80% (typically) of this S$15,000. In other words, you can obtain a loan up to 60 to 80% of the debt servicing ratio (DSR). This is much higher than the DSR for residential property bought by an individual.

Conversely, buying under a private limited or LLP company without adequate cash flow or profit (or if the companies are special purpose vehicles), may result in the banks requiring that the directors guarantee any loans taken by the company under their individual capacity. The directors may also need to be Permanent Residents or Singaporeans. In many cases, these directors will need to furnish documentary proof that most of their incomes are derived from that company. If they earn their income from elsewhere, some banks will not grant the loan even with them as guarantors. While others may.

From time to time, credit officers of the financiers will impose new rules and conduct additional documentation checks. Often, credit officers may ask for more supporting documents if they want to do tighter cross checks.

References

Michelle Tee and Koh Siok Hui, Bright Spot in Singapore Property Market: Strata-titled Office, Colliers International White Paper March 2012, Web

A Quick Commercial Property Investment Guide

As the residential investment property market becomes fierce, many investors are starting to recognise commercial property as a viable investment option. So, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and consider diversifying your investment portfolio by investing in commercial property.

What is Commercial Property?

The term commercial property (also referred to as commercial real estate, investment or income property) refers to building or land intended to generate a profit, either from capital gain or rental income.

What Type of Property is included in Commercial Real Estate?

Commercial real estate is classified as property assets that are primarily used for business purposes. Commercial real estate is commonly divided into the following categories:

1. Office buildings

2. Industrial property

3. Retail/Restaurant

4. Multifamily housing buildings and

5. Farm/Rural land.

In addition to the above, commercial real estate can include any other non-residential properties, such as:

>> Medical centres

>> Hotels

>> Warehouses

>> Malls and

>> Self-storage developments.

What are the differences between Commercial Property and Residential Property Investments?

When you invest in commercial real estate, you still expect to rent out your property and receive rental income from a tenant as you do when you purchase a residential property investment. However, the major difference between investing in commercial real estate compared to residential property is the Rental Agreement. With commercial real estate, the property is usually leased to a business under a detailed contract for a much longer period (e.g. three, five or ten years).

There are some other important differences such as:

>> The Tenant is usually called a Lessee;

>> Vacancies between tenancies can be longer;

>> Goods and Services Tax applies to commercial real estate (i.e. to the purchase price, rent received and any expenses in relation to the property); and

>> Maintenance costs are usually paid for by the Lessee, which means net rental income tends to be higher.

What is an Annual Return on Investment?

The “annual return on investment” is the amount earned on the investment property. The amount earned, is expressed as a percentage, and it is called the property’s “yield”.

So, if you are considering investing in commercial real estate. You should always ask yourself the following questions:

1. What return on investment will you get?

2. What is the property’s yield?

How is the Yield calculated?

Yield calculations are worked out by dividing the annual rental income on the property by how much the property costs to buy. For example:

Gross Yield = annual rental income (weekly rental income x 52) / property value x 100

This is best illustrated by using the following example:

>> Assuming you buy a property for $950,000; and

>> Rent the property out for $2,000 per week ($104,000 annually).

Your Gross Yield will be 10.9%. It will be calculated in the following way:

($104,000/ $950,000) x 100

If you want to invest in a commercial property, you need to keep in mind all the information mentioned here. You can seek help and guidance from a professionally qualified and expert finance broker, who specialises in obtaining the right funding for your investments.

Truly, having an independent and expert finance broker on your behalf can secure your eligibility for a commercial property loan, not to mention get you the best loan deal that suits your individual needs and objectives.

Commercial Property Condition Assessment (PCA)

The purpose of all Commercial Property Condition Assessments (PCAs), ASTM standard E2018, is to make sure that the property and building you believe you are purchasing or leasing is actually the property being received. You will have reached that decision, in part, from the information attained via a professional inspection and Property Condition Report (PCR). Every real estate transaction is different and each transaction has its own unique set of considerations and conditions to validate before finalized. The utilization of professional third party experts in the physical property due diligence process is critical to the overall accuracy and cost efficiency of your property transaction.

The Purchase or Leasing of Commercial real estate, whether it be a basic commercial net lease, a commercial triple net lease, the purchase of a church facility, a retail outlet, or the purchase of a million square foot office/warehouse, the prospective buyer or lessee absolutely must conduct an adequate level of due diligence when investigating the physical quality of the commercial real estate they are investing in.

You need to know not only the physical characteristics of the real estate and buildings being acquired, but the approximate condition and age, to assess the good with the bad, such that you can adequately balance the risks and rewards being offered in conjunction with your real estate deal. The single most important part of the real estate transaction process, aside from the purchase price and profitability balance, is a well-documented review of the actual physical condition of the real property. Otherwise, you could find yourself the not so proud owner of a commercial property that, doesn’t suit your needs, costs more than you can afford in upkeep, or the ultimate remorse for investors – capital expenditures are being sunk into a property on a regular basis that someone else is utilizing and making money off of, and you are not. Suddenly, that long term lease with a solid anchor doesn’t seem so attractive anymore.

The process of commercial real estate inspection begins before the offer to purchase real estate is drafted or signed, by visiting the site and discussing the physical condition of the property with the Owner and real estate brokers. This process should be considered invaluable to establishing relationships required to obtain the information that will be necessary to concrete your due diligence with a Commercial Property Condition Assessment (PCA).

During negotiations and drafting of the real estate sales/lease contract it is important to recognize seller or lessor reluctance to points such as the existence and availability of important documents such as warranties, maintenance contracts, architectural and engineering plans and/or local municipality reviews and inspections. Negative reaction to the request for release of these documents by seller or lessor can imply possible deferred maintenance and/or inattention related to property and building condition(s) and inspection issues.

Once the commercial real estate sales contract is signed the due diligence period begins, focus on maximizing efficiency of time and cost and prioritizing concerns to start checking off the costly big ticket items from the top down. Assuming adequate documentation is furnished by the seller for review, adequate time should be allotted to verify the information provided. Additional effort and monies that that will need to be spent to make up a shortcoming of available documentation through extra property condition assessment and additional field inspections and/or experts should be considered essential and figured into the cost of the property transaction. Ask the seller for all documents and contacts the seller received during his due diligence process when he purchased the property to speed up fact finding.

Review of existing property documents where available may include:

Accessibility surveys, Architectural Building plans, Certificates of Occupancy, Citations from Authorities Having Jurisdiction, Emergency evacuation plans, Environmental studies, Electrical System Construction plans, Fire-detection test and maintenance records, Fire-door inspection reports, Fire-Protection System Construction plans, Fire and Restoration records, Maintenance records, Mechanical System, Construction plans, Violation Notices from Authorities Having Jurisdiction, Construction Permits, Plumbing System Construction plans, Previous inspection reports, Roofing System Construction plans and Warranties, Safety inspection records, Seller condition disclosures, Sprinkler System Test Records, Systems and Material Warranties, Current tenant information, Current policy of title insurance, Notices of any environmental conditions, Notices of any new or special assessments or taxes, Copies of all current bills for the property, Service contracts, Evidence of current zoning, As-built plans and specifications, All construction related documents including warranties, All past and present uses of the property, Third party reports or inspections, Any surveys of the land and improvements in seller’s possession.

One of the best tools available to the commercial property due diligence team is the interview process which can unlock a plethora of potentially useful information regarding the subject property.

Interview of any available key personnel with specific knowledge of the property conditions may include:

Owner, Tenants, Maintenance Foreman, Contracted maintenance services personnel or other contracted companies that routinely work on the property and/or building.

Property Inspection, Real Estate Inspection, Building Inspection, Due Diligence Survey, as they may be labeled in the due diligence report is essential to ensure sufficiency of construction considering the intended use of the occupants and the surrounding geography and climate. The furnishing of any available plans and specifications should be helpful here, but will not end the investigation. A current commercial property condition assessment should be done by a qualified third party inspection company experienced in the type of property to be inspected. A previously performed property condition assessment or inspection is nearly always furnished for the use of a single party in a single transaction and is protected under law and not reusable nor transferable to any other party. The focus of the inspection should be primarily on site condition and building components such as the site drainage, parking, building structure, mechanical and electrical systems and general accessibility and usability of the property. Various climates and geographical regions will require more specific inspection knowledge, thus hiring a local inspector is always a good idea if possible, in lieu of hiring a company out of Wisconsin to perform due diligence on a California high-rise building on a fault line.

Site Survey and Walk-Through to Observe Existing Conditions may include:

Grounds and Topography, Parking, Paving, Access, Building Exterior and Fa├žade, Building Interior, Roofing systems, Structural systems, Mechanical systems, Electrical Systems, Plumbing systems, Fire-protection systems, Vertical transportation systems, and any number of other specialty systems.

The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act is the current guideline for accessibility standards nationwide and is a federal law, hence non-negotiable and to an extent, yes, it’s retro-active even for older commercial and public buildings. Many states also have additional and/or more stringent or specific accessibility standards as well. Most professional property condition assessment and inspection companies can also perform both abbreviated and complete accessibility surveys as part of a real estate transaction.

Basic abbreviated and full compliance Accessibility surveys may include:

Abbreviated survey looking only for basic ADA Accessibility components visible during the walk-through and documented according to the ASTM abbreviated survey form and checklist gives a quick check as to the general status of compliance. Full compliance survey involves physical measurements of distances, slopes, and push/pull forces required within the accessibility standards to allow for a certain level of physically disabled person to be able to successfully navigate a property, site, and building.

Environmental Due Diligence known as Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is the most utilized Environmental Inspection Report. The typical level of report preferred by lenders to demonstrate adequate due diligence is called a Limited Phase I Environmental Transaction Screening ASTM standard E1528. This explores the past use of the property and the surrounding properties to identify any potential onsite or adjacent environmental problems or future liabilities. These reports normally require a significant monetary investment and take a number of weeks to complete so they should be done as soon as you have determined you will be moving forward with your due diligence. The purpose of this inspection is to determine if the property contains any hazardous materials or poses a threat in any way to its surroundings. This could be caused by underground storage tanks located on the property or runoff from the property into the water table or any other number of hazards listed by the Environmental Protection Agency. While the report is expensive, the cost of cleaning up an environmental hazard can be astronomical. While not every deal will require you to obtain a Phase I Environment Site Assessment, many lenders will require it as part of their loan guidelines. In case of a fairly new development with a clean environmental record and no neighbors of an industrial nature, a simpler less expensive and much quicker Environmental Transaction Screening ASTM standard E1528 may satisfy lender and legal requirements.

Any basic environmental due diligence report may include:

Research of historical site usage, aerial photography records, property transaction records, construction records, building records, EPA mapping data, local municipality topography mapping, and a through site walk-through to visually identify potential environmental issue indicators.

The information contained herein is purely professional opinion and provided for general real estate inspection reference only and is not intended in any way to be a definitive guide, nor a guarantee of past, present, or future legal or state or federal requirements, nor a measure of performance of any professional services company. Best of luck to you in all of your future property, real estate, and building dealings!