Commercial property investment

The majority of my clients are comfortable with investing in residential property because most have rented or bought a property for their own use and therefore understand what that experience entails. However, very few have actually had a similar experience with commercial property and, therefore are a little less confident in investing in this potentially lucrative segment of the market.

So, why consider investing in commercial property?

Commercial property can add diversification to a property portfolio. Segments within the Real Estate market rarely move in tandem and a mixture of residential and commercial property can make an overall portfolio more resilient to inevitable market cycles.

All things being equal, commercial properties generally produce an ROI at least double that of residential properties. This is mainly due to lower per sq. ft.capital cost but also reflects the higher levels of risk associated with owning commercial property.

Managing tenants in a commercial property is also more straightforward. You will have a business-to-business relationship with your tenant and many of the emotional issues which can complicate residential leasing arrangements won’t exist. It’s easier to keep interactions professional and focused and relationships are built over time with the opportunity to attract a ‘blue chip’ tenant and are likely to rent your property for a long period of time and less likely to default on rental payments. In many cases, commercial tenants and property owner interests are aligned. The tenant wants an efficient operation which presents a favorable impression to his customers, business associates or peers and, in this way, is more likely to assist the owner maintain or even improve the property.

Establishing a true value of the investment is often easier with commercial property. Reviewing the current owners’ income statement and existing lease details will provide a good indication of the likely future cash-flows and help to establish an accurate valuation. Residential properties are often subject to more emotional pricing or developer inefficiency and cost recovery considerations.

Lease variations abound with commercial properties. The requirements of a tenant operating a high turnover major regional distribution and logistics center for non-perishable goods will be vastly different of those of a tenant who requires refrigerated goods storage to supply local retail outlets in shopping malls. In addition to lease rates and periods, negotiations can include such items as maintenance, implementation of storage and logistical systems, provision of office fit-outs, insurance, lease to buy provisions and options … the list goes on. The variations are countless.
However, there are some possible downsides that the investor should consider.

Let’s use a warehouse as an example. As most commercial leases are of a duration exceeding 2 years, with many being of 5 years duration with options for an additional term of 5 years, it could take some time to find a new tenant for the warehouse. Additionally, your current tenant may vacate due to tough economic conditions. Residential property can be resilient when it comes to economic factors over the long term and finding new tenants is not as difficult.

As the lease for each commercial facility can be negotiated with flexibility only limited by law, owning a portfolio with numerous commercial properties can be time consuming and complicated. You will need professional help if just to handle issues such as maintenance and emergencies. Remember, your clients are in the business to make money and will be relying upon you to address any issues that arise with your property immediately. They, like you, do not want to forgo any revenues or incur any costs because of a problem with the property or premises that you provide.

Purchasing a commercial property of a size that can generate significant cash flow will typically require more capital up front than a residential investment. Also, as the scale or size of the premises can be huge, unexpected repairs or major maintenance items can also be very expensive. This requires careful provisioning for expenses and emergencies when calculating lease rates and free cash-flows for re-investment.

There is a greater array of physical and safety risks associated with commercial properties. Warehouses, for example, are often frequented by trucks, forklifts or other heavy machinery which means damage can be substantial from accidents. Having proper insurance is a must, not only for damage to premises and systems, but also in the event of personal injury or death where you, as the owner, can be held liable. Remember, your investment is actually operating as a commercial venture and can receive high volumes of people traffic.

As usual, greater returns will attract greater risks, however, as part of an overall balanced investment portfolio, there is no doubt that commercial space can be very lucrative indeed.

Published: Gulf News Freehold
Dated: 26-March-2017

ask the agent

Ask the agent

Mohanad Alwadiya
Published: Gulf News Free Hold
Dated: 14th May, 2016

Question: I have an apartment I wish to rent out. Which would be a more practical approach, getting a rental agent or a property manager? I heard that property managers usually charge more, why is that?

If you are going to engage the services of a realtor, you would enter a leasing agreement assigning the real estate agency to locate suitable tenants for your apartments, facilitate the signing of the tenancy agreement, and leaving you to assume the responsibility and devote your time to managing the tenant and all aspects of the property thereafter. A property management agreement includes a lot more.

A competent property manager will provide an assessment, strategy and activity plan designed to harness the true financial potential of your property. Considerations include history, current market factors and risk factors, whether they be global, regional or local in nature requiring a good understanding of economic factors, industry knowledge extending to policy and regulation, finance and market dynamics.

An activity plan will be provided covering pricing and marketing, customer relationship management, tenant management and policy, cost management, maintenance supervision, communications and review schedules, status reporting, financial reporting and resourcing. All of these activities will be performed by the property manager under a property management agreement.

A professional property manager will make your investment work harder for you and the additional returns you receive will outweigh any fees he/she might charge, which means less headaches for you.

 

Question: I am 52 and planning for my retirement with Dubai in mind as a future part-time retirement destination. Right now, I want to invest in a property I can rent out, then use personally in the future during retirement. Is this a good strategy?

Including property as part of your retirement plan is a sound investment decision and a safe bet to ensure you maximize whatever you savings or wealth you possess at this time. The key to choosing your property is determining the right balance between the amount to be invested, the returns you require in the interim period before you retire, and what type of property you want to enjoy in your retirement.

As the property will eventually be for your own use, you need to determine what you will enjoy in your retirement. The good news is, your tastes are likely to be shared by your tenants in the interim so renting should not be a problem.

Quality properties are available starting from AED 700 per sq.ft., but if you want to purchase in the prime areas of Dubai such as Downtown Burj Khalifa, somewhere close to the beach or with a golf course view, you can easily double or triple that amount. The choices are varied, and getting what works for you is certainly achievable.

You can expect a minimum net rental return of around 5% to 7% which, given the cheap financing available at the moment, makes for a solid investment in preparation for outright ownership and retirement. But be careful with fluctuations in exchange rates.

Factors such as location, the developer’s track record, building quality, service fees, building management and the existence of a functioning owner’s association will require a reputable local real estate professional to help you minimize any risks with your investment, whether during the procurement stage or managing your investment until you are ready to assume occupancy during retirement.

 

Question: What property characteristics should I, as a buyer, pay close attention to in order minimize any risks associated with my investment decision?

An old adage in real estate says “location, location, location” – as it is the first factor to consider and can drive up to 90% of any property’s value. The more established and prestigious locations such as The Palm, Downtown, Dubai Marina and JBR fared extremely well in the post-GFC period, and secondary, more affordable areas such as JLT, The Greens, Sports City, Discovery Gardens and International City followed suit.

But there are other factors as well. The quality of the end-product and maintenance services, and the extent of completion and quality of infrastructure should also be part of any investment consideration. With so much upcoming supply, buyers can demand, seek out and purchase the best of what is on offer.

Value for money and superior ROI must be considered very closely especially if you are an investment buyer. In the post-recession era, the chase for yield along with an increase in the level of critical assessment of true values has meant that properties that offer more in way of physical product and potential rental returns are attracting the greatest attention.

Current and future supply levels of various asset types need to be examined so consulting a reputable property broker to assist you is a must. For example, villas as an asset type, across-the-board, have outperformed other asset types because of supply shortages. However, when looking at the inventory pipeline, this may not be the case always as more affordable properties are likely to be in higher demand – a trend we are already experiencing.

But one thing is certain, it is the fundamental drivers of market values which remain, i.e. location, product features and benefits, product quality and demand and supply.

 

QUESTION: Can you please share some information on Dubai property management fees?

Like most services, property management fees would vary depending on the service provider. It may be anywhere between 3% and 6% of the rental receipts, and some will charge an administrative fee as well.

You need to know and understand what you can expect from your property manager as the depth and breadth of services provided by them in Dubai can vary greatly.

You can negotiate a fee structure based upon your actual requirements. We have had many clients who went with the cheapest on offer, with an ill-defined scope of services and, sadly but almost predictably, had very poor experience, resulting in all sorts of tenant problems, maintenance deficiencies, missed revenue, and generally poor advice with regard to marketing and obtaining the best returns from their property.

A competent property manager will provide an assessment, strategy and activity plan designed to harness the true financial potential of your property.

Depending on the size and complexity of your portfolio, you should have, as a minimum, a rolling 5-year activity plan which covers pricing and marketing, tenant management and policy, cost management and maintenance schedules. A competent property manager will also provide you with communications and review schedules, status reporting formats and regular financial reporting.

Ask for referrals and make sure you follow up with some existing clients to get an appreciation of levels of efficiency and professionalism.

 

Question: What would be the consequences if we hire a property manager who does not have the relevant property management license?

The property management practice has risen in importance since the last GFC made it harder for real estate brokerages to generate revenue from transactional services alone. In addition, demand for property management expertise grew rapidly as investors started to realise that investing in property is not a “set and forget” proposition, and requires constant attention as factors influencing its performance as an investment are as broad as they are complex.

You need professional help to manage your property investment, particularly during times when yield is harder to generate. Your property manager must ensure that you maximize returns from your property portfolio while operating within the law.

Your property manager should be licensed, experienced and have a strong history of successfully managing properties. If you knowingly engage a person or organization who does not possess the correct license to manage properties, you are essentially aiding that person or organization to operate outside the law which places you in an awkward position should something go wrong.

In addition, if you have a legal dispute of any kind regarding your investment properties, any involvement of the non-licensed party that you have managed to manage your property will place your legal position in jeopardy.

It takes only a little effort to check on the licensing status of any organisation by referring your query to RERA, the regulatory authority for real estate professionals in Dubai. Remember, it is better to be certain than shoot arrows in the dark – especially when it involves investing your trust and hard-earned money in any business venture.