Understanding Commercial Property Investments

Do you ever feel that you should be looking more at investments in commercial property in the saturated residential property market? If this is in your mind, you are joining the new wave of investors who wants to diversify their investment portfolio with the unstable economy.

How big exactly is the commercial property market? Generally speaking, commercial property investment is not as straightforward as residential market. In Malaysia, it is almost sure that any piece of residential property will be lapped up the moment it is launched, and everyone at some point of their life will be looking for a house of their own. Some may buy a piece of residential property and rent it out instead. For commercial properties, there are a lot of other considerations.

1. Location

Location is a very important factor when it comes to investment in commercial properties. It may be true that a lot of people are looking into creating their own business, and it will not be too hard to find someone to rent your property start their business, but if the location is not right, the chances for renting out is slim.

When you wish to invest in a commercial property, look around to see whether there are other residential properties which will support the business. You may want to take a good look at the whole development project, and check residential population surrounding the commercial lot that you are aiming for.

Also, do check if the area is a flooding area, or are there any other disadvantages. Parking space is a very important factor of consideration for any business to thrive in this modern world, and you ought to make sure that there are parking spaces near the property you wish to invest in.

2. Features

Sometimes, the success of commercial properties also comes with the features included in the project itself. For example, some properties may be managed by the developer, with facilities such as wi-fi zone, making the commercial blocks into event venues or even being selective about the types of business and brand name to qualify as tenants. Some commercial properties with such strict criteria about tenants include BM Utama in the mainland Bukit Mertajam, and Straits Quay in Penang island.

Both are project examples of two contrasting backdrop. Straits Quay is a high-end sea facing project by E&O, with very high traffic coming from its branded tenants and expensive condominiums and landed property support. Meanwhile, BM Utama is a 7-unit exclusive commercial lot owned by BM Utama’s property developer, DNP Land, and is meant to become part of the lifestyle support for the almost sold-out BM Utama. The 7 units are called The Gallery, which is available for leasing only, to ensure the quality of retailers.

3. Price

Although people are talking about market price, as an investor, you should take into consideration the price and the size of the property. It is important to note that your property lease are usually based on long term contracts, and for some cases may span for 10 years instead of the normal renewable 1 or 2 years for residential properties. Also, you need to remember that returns from residential property comes from the capital value increase, but for commercial properties, it comes from income. Although commercial properties generally will cost more than residential properties, you will still need to sieve through to see if the investment can really bring you back a good return. Is the rental price of that property able to cover the loan that you took for the purchase?

If you are buying the property for the sake of making it into a hub for your own business, then it is up to you to ensure that the business that you are going to do will bring in enough sales and income to cover for the loan repayment of the property.

Commercial property leases provides an average contracted income stream of about 7 years.

4. Ownership

When you buy any property, you need to be very clear about the type of ownership that you have. Is it a freehold or a leasehold property?

Although leasehold properties are usually released with a certain amount of payment when the expiration term arrives, there may also be conditions where the land is taken back for new development. When the lease-land period is almost reached, property prices will drop significantly.

You also will want to check on the previous ownership of the property. Most properties may have more than one owner sharing the ownership of the property, so you should get a background check about this with a trusted lawyer, also to find out if there are any underlying problems to why the property is up for sale. Make sure the property sale gets consent from all legal owners.

How to Quickly Determine the Value of Commercial Property for Sale

The value of a commercial property for sale is determined by using some simple formulas that are based upon the amount of net operating income that the property produces each year. So when you are looking at a commercial property for sale, one of the first things that you’ll want to ask the broker for is the profit and loss statement.

Some brokers who have listed a commercial property for sale may refer to this profit and loss statement as an IPOD, or income property operating data sheet. Once you get the IPOD, or profit and loss statement, you can then compare the information provided by the broker or seller to your other sources to help determine what the real numbers are. The challenge when looking at any commercial property for sale is that the broker and/or owner will often tend to exaggerate the amount of income that the commercial property for sale produces while also trying to minimize the amount of operating expenses that are reported.

How to Determine the Value of a Property for Sale

The reason for this is simple. The value of any commercial real estate is based on the amount of net operating income the property creates each year. In fact, each additional dollar of annual income increases the value of the property by roughly ten dollars, depending on where the property is located, and how old it is. Note that this extra net income can come from either getting additional revenue in rents, or from reducing expenses by managing the property more efficiently.

Once you understand that owners of commercial real estate will tend to present unrealistic numbers in an attempt to get a higher price for their property you’ll understand better why it’s necessary when looking at any commercial property for sale to get to know the market you are investing in. When you know what the rental rates in an area tend to be or what the typical expense ratios are for a twenty-five year old apartment building then it’s much harder for the broker or owner of a commercial property for sale to attempt to pull the wool over your eyes.

Verifying the Income and Expenses

The first step in verifying the income of a commercial property for sale is to ask for the rent roll. The rent roll is a list of what each apartment, self storage unit, mobile home lot, or office space rents for. Make sure that you get the actual rent roll because the owner or broker of a commercial property for sale may try to give you a Pro-forma rent roll instead of the actual rent roll. Pro-forma means that there is an expectation, realistic or not, of getting higher rents than the property is currently getting. My response to this has always been, “If you raise the rents up to match the pro-forma, then we’ll use the higher income amounts, otherwise we’re going to base our valuation on what the property is currently producing in income.

When looking at the expenses from a commercial property for sale, remember that you’re trying to come up with the actual amount that it will cost you to operate the property rather than what the seller’s expenses have been. So while it’s helpful to know exactly what the seller’s costs have been, I’ve learned NOT to rely on the information provided by the seller when looking at a commercial property for sale because this information is almost always inaccurate.

A Simple Formula to Use for Expenses

The expenses will vary depending on the type and age of the commercial property for sale. For example, if you are looking at buying a Class C apartment building which is at least twenty-five years old, then the expenses will run between 45 to 50 percent of the collected income each month. The collected income, known as the Effective Gross Income, is what’s left after the cost of vacancies are subtracted from the total amount of rents on the rent roll from the commercial property for sale.

The final step in determining the value of a commercial property for sale is to divide the net operating income by the capitalization rate, which varies from about 6 to 12 percent depending on the type of property, the age, and the location of the commercial property for sale. The fastest way to get an idea of what capitalization rate you should be using when looking at a commercial property for sale is to ask another broker who is not involved in the transaction.

Using Escape Clauses to Limit Your Risk

Another way of protecting yourself when looking at any property for sale is to make sure that your purchase contract allows you a period of time to get out of the deal if you are not comfortable with anything that you find. Done properly, you can often tie up a property for 60 to 90 days so that you have time to accurately determine the real value. This makes it easier to look at commercial real estate, because you can get out if you have the right escape clauses.