The Sinreich Group

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The Sinreich Group is a New York City based real estate law firm that represents public and private sector clients in connection with the acquisition, development, leasing, financing, repositioning and disposition of real estate throughout the country.

Filtering by Category: Industry News

Traversing the Cutting Edge

I was in Washington, D.C. last week to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of the real estate industry, and had the pleasure of meeting with friend and colleague Margarita Foster, Editor-In-Chief of NAIOP’s Commercial Real Estate Development magazine. Here are three concepts recently featured in the magazine that captured our attention:

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Meet Me in the Trees

In response to employee requests for non-traditional workplaces that offer connections to nature, fresh air and sunlight, Microsoft has developed three outdoor meeting spaces in the Douglas fir trees surrounding its Puget Sound headquarters. Ranging from 500 to 900 square feet, these meeting spaces are located 12 feet above the ground and are anchored by a towering 150-year-old fir tree.

Though two of the structures are covered, none are heated, and all are open to the elements. These treehouses have been so popular that their hours of operation were extended to seven days per week within a month of opening, and use of the two that  are covered is not deterred by rain. Although there is no hard data yet, it is expected that these non-traditional workspaces will facilitate creativity and out of the box solutions.  

Freight Mobility

While efforts to improve human mobility have garnered a lot of attention, the technological innovations triggered by the out-sized demand for new and better freight mobility are also compelling. We’ve discussed the emergence of drone deliveries in past blog posts, and were intrigued to learn about two other innovations that are currently being tested: truck platooning and hyperloops.   

Truck Platooning. Truck platooning is the connecting of two or three trucks traveling from one place to another (which can be done wirelessly or physically) to take advantage of fuel-saving aerodynamics allowing the truck(s) in the back to coast in the wake of the lead truck. Resulting cost savings are estimated to be +/- 15%.  
 
Hyperloops. Hyperloops are vacuum tubes through which pods containing passengers and/or freight can travel resistance-free over long distances at high speeds. The Maryland Department of  Transportation has conditionally approved its portion of a hyperloop proposed by Elon Musk that would connect New York City and Washington, D.C. 

Future-Proof Your Leases

We believe that new transportation modalities, whether for people, freight, or both, and new types of office space, will impact the built environment in ways that can’t be envisioned yet.

Detroit: A Tale of Two Cities

Detroit is a fascinating example of stark contrasts. After spending the better part of a week there with 4,000 other real estate professionals at the Urban Land Institute Spring Meeting, I am inspired, impressed and eager to see what the future holds for the Motor City. 

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Detroit’s Rise and Fall

As the home of the automobile industry, Detroit thrived for the first half of the 20th century, and by the 1940's was the fourth largest U.S city. Home to over 2 million people in its heyday, Detroit boasted iconic commercial buildings and mansions and widespread home ownership. But as the fortunes of U.S. car manufacturers waned, so went the fortunes of Detroit. Decades of public and private disinvestment resulted in a population that dwindled to fewer than 700,000 inhabitants, deserted neighborhoods and the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.

An Urban Renaissance

Fast forward to 2010, when Dan Gilbert decided to relocate his Quicken Loan empire from the Detroit suburbs to downtown. In conjunction with this relocation, Gilbert's companies have invested billions to revitalize and redevelop the city, triggering what can easily be characterized as the most exciting urban renaissance in modern history. Rotting buildings throughout the downtown core have been redeveloped into well-occupied office, retail and residential properties. Population loss has been transformed into population growth, and land prices are said to have doubled over the past 18 months alone. There is a food scene, a music scene, a new 19,000 seat arena, new retailers and a real sense of optimism and opportunity.

Challenges Ahead

On the other hand, and not surprisingly, much remains to be done. The 'neighborhoods' which occupy the majority of Detroit's 139 square miles remain blighted, deserted and challenged. The verdict is not yet in on the extent to which the renaissance of the past 8 years can be sustained and expanded. I came away from the conference enthusiastically optimistic about the future of Detroit, but only time will tell.  

In order to minimize the risk of what the future holds in cities everywhere, both landlords and tenants need to consider now how to split the resulting costs and benefits. That way neither party gets stuck with the whole bill but none of the benefits.   

 

Office Space Evolving

This month we explore the intersection of corporate real estate and the co-working revolution that is transforming office use globally. This was the topic of conversation at a recent meeting of Fortune 100 company real estate executives, as related to me by Ed LaGrassa, President of Chilton Real Estate International, who chaired the meeting. 

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Much of the give and take at this meeting focused on the benefits and challenges of adapting co-working environments most commonly associated with start-ups and small companies to the real estate needs of large organizations.  

Enterprise Space: The Next Step     

This hybrid concept is often referred to as enterprise space, a term coined by WeWork, the purveyor of 12M+/- square feet of co-working and enterprise space in 15 countries around the world. The essential difference between enterprise and co-working spaces is that enterprise space is solely occupied by one company.  

For the corporate executives at the meeting, the primary allure of replacing traditional offices with enterprise space can be summed up in one word: flexibility. Ideally, long lead times, tedious lease negotiations, up-front capital intensive tenant improvement costs and lengthy, set-in stone occupancy periods would be eliminated.  

But beware, the executives warned each other. Before committing to an enterprise location, it's critical to consider how the densely occupied, often noisy co-working model that enterprise locations are based on, may need to be modified to  accommodate a particular large organization. 

Understanding the Economics   

One topic that the executives were not able to pin down is the economics of occupying enterprise space. While the capital-intensive, up-front investment in tenant improvements is eliminated in co-working transactions, the up-front price tag is not likely to be eliminated when it comes to enterprise space that is designed and built to suit the specific needs of its sole corporate occupant.

Co-working space bears a premium that is hard to translate to enterprise space. A sampling of co-working office pricing across the U.S. by JLL in 2017 revealed a per square foot price of $139, compared to an average downtown Class A rental rate of $49.59: a 181% premium. Factor into this pricing an average co-working density of 52+/- square feet per person and adjust that for the lower density rates that, according to these corporate executives, would be more suitable to enterprise space, and the pricing becomes uncertain and potentially more extreme. 

 Stay Tuned 

In spite of these challenges, corporate occupants, including Microsoft, Facebook, Bank of America, Starbucks and HSBC, have signed on for the enterprise experience. These early indications are positive, but it remains to be seen whether the enterprise product will enjoy long term, meaningful success.   

Breaking News — NYC Retail

As we move into 2018, the challenges faced by brick and mortar retail continue to garner interest. Armchair pundits loudly proclaim New York City retail is in especially deep decline. But the facts don't support this conclusion, as evidenced by the recently published tenth annual New York City State of the Chains, 2017 ranking. This thorough and carefully researched report by The Center for an Urban Future (CUF) presents a more balanced view of NYC retail. 

 Chelsea, NYC

Chelsea, NYC

Here are some of their conclusions:  

Growth Spearheaded by Food

The number of chain store locations across the city increased for the ninth year in a row, but fewer chains expanded in 2017 than in the past.

Growth was spearheaded by restaurants and food-related retailers. Overall, food-related chains are responsible for 41% of the growth in national retailer locations in NYC over the past decade, exceeding all other retail categories.

34 new retailers were added to the NYC ranking in 2017. Among them were Adidas, Aldi, Advance Auto Parts, Argo Tea Coffee, Dig Inn, Bonobos, Fresh & Co., Paris Baguette, Warby Parker, Baked by Melissa and Bareburger, bringing CUF's list of national retailers to 349, with 7,873 locations city-wide.  

Dunkin' Donuts & MetroPCS in the Lead

For the ninth consecutive year, Dunkin' Donuts topped the list as the largest national retailer in New York City, with a total of 612 stores. A new retailer took over the number two position in 2017. MetroPCS, the cellular phone services provider, added 119 locations in 2017 to edge out Subway, with 445 stores across the city to Subway's 433. MetroPCS is now the top cellular phone services retailer in each of the five boroughs. Spurred by the growth of MetroPCS, mobile phone retailers finally overtook NYC apparel retailers in 2017.

Rounding out the list of the top 10 national retailers in NYC are Subway, Starbucks, Duane Reade/Walgreens, T-Mobile, Baskin Robbins, McDonald's, Rite Aid and CVS.

The following national retailers experienced significant growth in NYC last year: Dunkin' Donuts, MetroPCS, T-Mobile, Crumbs Bake Shop, Children's Place and Pret a Manger; and the following national retailers downsized significantly in 2017: Duane Reade/Walgreens, Radio Shack, Payless and Hale and Hearty Soups.  

2017 Chain Store Activity Was Stable

The vast majority of national retailers in NYC, 66%, maintained the same number of locations as last year, in contrast to the year before when just 33% remained flat. Only one in seven increased its footprint, vs one in five the year before. About 20% of the chains closed locations in 2017, including retailers American Apparel and Second Time Around.

Thus, all things considered, NYC chain store activity in 2017 was characterized by stability, not wholesale contraction. Of course, we'd all prefer expansion to be the name of the game, but let's see what 2018 brings.

Unibail-Rodamco Acquisition of Westfield

Co-Authored by Merrie Frankel

For those of us in the retail real estate industry, the December 12 announcement that Unibail-Rodamco, Europe’s largest listed commercial property company, reached an agreement to purchase Westfield, the Australian owner of Class A malls in the US and UK for cash and stock worth approximately US$16B, or $25B including assumption of liabilities, was big news.  

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Here are some fast facts about the companies, the transaction and our thoughts about it:

Overview of the Portfolio: Unibail-Rodamco currently owns 69 shopping centers in 11 European countries and Westfield owns 35 malls in the US and the UK, with no geographical overlap. The combined company, with a projected market valuation of $72B, will maintain the Westfield brand and REIT status in the US, and will operate malls in premiere markets throughout the US, UK and Europe, including London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, San Francisco, Stockholm, Vienna, Madrid and Warsaw[1]. The combined company will be the second largest retail real estate company in the world, behind Simon Property Group. Proposed revenue and cost synergies will emanate from branding strategies and salaries as the Westfield senior team is stepping down.

Deal Structure: Shareholders of Unibail-Rodamco and Westfield will hold stapled securities consisting of one Unibail-Rodamco share and one Newco share that will trade as a single security. A Dutch Newco will hold the US assets and Unibail-Rodamco will hold the European assets and services.

Financing: Unibail is financing the transaction through the issuance of Unibail's stapled securities and US$5.6 million in cash. A EUR$6.1 billion bridge facility will be refinanced over time with unsecured senior debt, subordinated hybrid securities and property sales. A plus for the combined entity currently and going forward is the better cost of capital (both equity and debt) in Europe vs. the US.

Credit Perspective: Rating agencies cited the initial pressure on various debt and leverage metrics with the combination, but anticipate improvement over time. An extensive EUR$12.3B development pipeline will allow the combined company to fine-tune offerings and property dynamics over time, but could impact earnings if not completed as projected.

Unibail-Rodamco: S&P affirmed the A-rated unsecured debt rating with a stable outlook. Moody's assigned an A2 issuer rating to Unibail with a stable outlook. Fitch placed Unibail's ratings (issuer rating currently at A) on rating watch negative.

Westfield: Moody’s placed Westfield's A3 issuer rating on review for upgrade and S&P placed Westfield’s BBB+ ratings on Creditwatch positive, which could raise its ratings to A, consistent with Unibail.

Three-Way Split in Retail: Unibail's CEO Christophe Cuvillier, who will be CEO of the combined company, sees a three-way split in the future of retail between the internet, convenience/transport shopping and destination retail. He noted: “We, like Westfield, are destinational...” and said in a statement that the acquisition “is a natural extension of Unibail-Rodamco’s strategy of concentration, differentiation and innovation.”

Busy Week for Retail: Europe’s Hammerson and Intu announced a merger and Brookfield Property Partners bid US$15 billion to buy the remaining 66% of GGP Inc. that it does not currently own.

Is Bigger Better? Some analysts predict that the combined company will be better positioned to withstand the current retail downturn given its heft, but dominance does not address the fundamental issues underlying the downturn, including the accelerating incursion of e-commerce into the brick and mortar turf. At 3Q17, approximately 91% of US retail sales[2] still took place in brick and mortar stores notwithstanding a 15.5% increase in the pace of e-commerce from 3Q16. This progression shows no signs of subsiding as consumers demand value and convenience. In addition, both brick and mortar retail and e-commerce will continue to evolve in response to the shifting shopping habits of baby boomers away from malls and the more minimal shopping habits of millennials that may evolve as they mature.

Ownership Concentration: While concentration of ownership is not always welcomed by tenants, current tenants of Westfield and Unibail-Rodamco properties will not likely experience much of a change in how their properties are operated. One benefit for their retail tenants will be broader access to new markets in different countries. Unibail is also known to have substantially fewer anchor tenants in their malls vs. US malls, which is a formula they might be well served to apply to Newco's US properties to address the decline of some department stores, which have traditionally served as anchors in US malls.

Retail Differentiation: It remains to be seen if the properties of the combined company will retain or increase their appeal as destinations to consumers who are drawn to unique and authentic experiences. The combination may well contribute to the homogenization of global retail, which is already evident on high streets and shopping centers throughout the developed world, or it may enable the combined company to deliver more of what its global consumers need.

Ellen Sinreich, Esq., Partner, The Sinreich Group, provides legal services to the real estate industry.

Merrie Frankel, President, Minerva Realty Consultants, provides REIT and rating advisory services.

[1] Since both companies use international Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) accounting vs US GAAP, portfolio values are market values vs. book value, which is used in US financials.

[2] US Dept. of Commerce, Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales, 3rd Quarter 2017, Nov 17, 2017.

Reading Tea Leaves

As a strong 2017 accelerates to a close, we've picked our heads up for a moment to look ahead. Here's what we see in two of the real estate sectors that we're active in, based on our own book of business, industry forecasts, and the collective expertise of our clients and colleagues.  

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Retail  

In spite of what seems to be the prevailing wisdom, brick and mortar retail is not dead. Our retail leasing practice continues from coast-to-coast, with fast-casual restaurants, fitness concepts and off-price stores consuming most of our leasing time.  

Cushman & Wakefield's third quarter Retail MarketBeat reports that sales were up $121.6B thru July 2017, with projections of 2017 sales growth of 3.9%. Notwithstanding these positive data points, retail is undergoing a fundamental transformation in response to evolving shopping habits and preferences, and the increasing importance of e-commerce.  

For 2018, we project continued disruption and opportunity in the retail sector. Strong locations and retailers that figure out how to remain relevant will remain buoyant. Secondary and tertiary locations will eventually have to consider adaptive re-use options. Retailers who can't keep up will have to reinvent themselves. Flexibility on everyone's part is going to be the name of the game. 

Office

The recent $850M purchase by WeWork of the iconic Fifth Avenue Lord & Taylor building is a great example of value creation through adaptive re-use, as well as a testament to the ongoing strength of the sharing economy in the office sector. As a result of the co-working trend, we're seeing new office concepts that combine varying elements of traditional and collective work spaces.  

One of our clients recently chose to lease an office in a particular midtown Manhattan building because the short term (three vs five to ten years), build-to-suit lease included the right to shared amenities on a separately dedicated floor, including a kitchen fully stocked with snacks and beverages, a fitness center, conference rooms, and mail room. 

We agree with the 2018 Emerging Trends Report by ULI and Price Waterhouse, that owners of office space will be rewarded for providing offices that are tailored to satisfy the latest iterations of workplace trends, combining, as fashion dictates, different elements of co-working spaces, traditional offices, hospitality concepts, and green design features.  

Our Outlook

Overall for 2018, we anticipate continued positive leasing velocity in the office sector, and pockets of leasing velocity in the retail sector. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody's, in a recent presentation to the NY real estate industry shared our optimism. Based on strong fundamentals, he predicts continued economic growth for the next two to three years.

In the Weed(s) Part 2

In September 2015, when we published our first In the Weed(s) post about cannabis-related real estate, medical marijuana had been legalized in 10 states (plus D.C.), five of which had also legalized it for recreational use. Fast forward to today, and 29 states (plus D.C.) have enacted laws legalizing marijuana.

 States that have legalized some form of marijuana use. Source: mpp.org

States that have legalized some form of marijuana use. Source: mpp.org

In each of these jurisdictions, real estate is a necessary common denominator for cannabis cultivation, transformation and retail distribution, currently a $7B industry. Bloomberg Markets estimates that number will be a $50B by 2026.

Beware of the Feds

If you're thinking this would be a great value creation opportunity for your property, keep in mind what hasn't changed since 2015: the use, possession, cultivation and transportation of marijuana is illegal under federal law, along with a wide range of related activities, including knowingly leasing, renting, maintaining, managing or controlling a place where marijuana is grown, transformed or sold.

What Has Changed

Notwithstanding the lingering risk of federal criminal prosecution, the shield of favorable state laws has enabled cannabis-related facilities to emerge from the shadows. Industrial premises used for indoor cultivation and transformation are seemingly as 'state-of-the art' as those found in the more traditional, similarly highly regulated pharma industry. Retail dispensaries are no longer relegated to dilapidated buildings in fringe locations.

Minimize Risk

To strike the right balance between the enormous opportunities this industry represents for landlords and tenants and the risks of owning, leasing and occupying cannabis-related real estate, a collaborative landlord/tenant approach to strict regulatory compliance and conflicting real estate needs is key. That way, neither party gets stuck with the whole bill but none of the benefits. 

Over Our Heads

As we move into the fall season of a year studded by hard-to-conceive-of events, capped (so far) by the horrific devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are struck by two recent hard-to-believe innovations that could further revolutionize retail and industrial real estate.

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Over Our Heads

Both Amazon and Walmart are working on creating alternatives to traditional warehouses. Amazon was recently awarded a patent for "airborne fulfillment centers" or AFCs that would float at an altitude of 45,000 feet, stocked with products waiting to be delivered. Within moments after an order is placed, drones housed in these AFCs would deliver the goods, requiring little power as they glide down to reach their destinations.

Another use envisioned for Amazon's AFCs is quasi-retail in nature. Deployed at major sporting events, Amazon AFCs would launch drones to deliver food and merchandise to thousands of fans at a moment's notice.

Walmart is not far behind, having filed a patent application in August for a flying warehouse that would hover at much lower altitudes of between 500 and 1,000 feet to similarly make deliveries via drones.
 
Both Amazon and Walmart's flying, movable warehouses would eliminate the challenges of traffic and driving distances, reduce delivery costs and serve wider distribution areas as they move from one location to another based on real time orders.

Under Water

Amazon has not stopped there. They recently filed a patent application for an under water storage facility.  Their aquatic product-filled warehouses would be laden with water tight containers outfitted with cartridges that mimic the swim bladders of fish to control depth. To retrieve a container, acoustic waves would be sent to activate the cartridge necessary to send a particular package to the surface. According to Amazon, these underwater warehouses could stack products in endless piles of boxes with no need for humans or robots to move them around, thus eliminating the inherent inefficiencies of the pathways and shelving needed in traditional land based warehouses. 

Reinventing Real Estate - The Scoop

A stellar panel of retail real estate experts convened last week in New York City for the Urban Land Institute’s Reinventing Retail program to answer this $64,000 question: what’s in store for retail real estate?

 Starbucks’ global dominance could not be predicted.

Starbucks’ global dominance could not be predicted.

Here’s what they had to say:

The Industry is Healthier Than it Seems

According to David Zoba, Chair of JLL’s Global Retail Board, the 37,000 retail real estate professionals that attended RECon this May were not passing out resumes, as they have during past industry downturns, they were  negotiating leases, a sure sign of health.

Brick and Mortar Retail Is Here to Stay  

Brittany Bragg, Partner and COO of Crown Acquisitions, which owns high street retail in dense urban locations from New York City to Las Vegas to London, cited the global success of the Apple store, in spite of the fact that their products are well suited to online sales, as evidence that people want a physical shopping experience. She also noted that in spite of the very visible retail vacancies in New York City, new leases are being signed and new stores continue to open.  

Creating That Unique Experience

Brian Pall, President of Hudson Bay Real Estate, the lone retailer on the panel, drilled down on the challenges that retailers are facing. Brian stressed that the key to brick and mortar retail success is the ability to offer consumers a compelling experience that goes beyond great food, merchandise, service and prices and makes them actually look forward to leaving the confines of the internet. From his perspective, the current barrage of retailer bankruptcies, store closings and shrinking revenues is evidence of just how hard it is to do that during what he characterizes as a period of industry transformation. 

The Rules Are Being Re-Written   

In keeping with this theme, Mary Rottler, EVP of Seritage Growth Properties, which owns 42M square feet of existing and former Sears and Kmart stores throughout the country, observed that traditional notions what a shopping center is and what drives traffic to a shopping center are up for grabs. Uses that once would have been “laughed at” are now considered desirable, one example of which is that supermarkets, which were traditionally confined to open air centers, are now anchoring enclosed malls.  

We Can’t Predict the Future

Brittany noted how hard it is to predict what the future holds, citing the rise of Starbucks. Even 20 years ago, she observed, the “experts” weren’t able to foresee that 25,000 Starbucks coffee shops would span the globe.

Will Tax Reform Slam Real Estate?

This April, we turn our attention to tax reform and its effect on the real estate industry. A variety of real estate associations, including the Real Estate Roundtable, the International Council of Shopping Centers, and the National Association of Realtors are educating their members and Congress about the likely consequences of various tax reform proposals for the real estate industry. Here's our take on two of them: 

Border Adjustment Tax

A border adjustment tax would impose taxes on goods manufactured outside the U.S. that are imported and sold here, while rebating taxes on goods manufactured in the U.S. exported and sold abroad. This would shift taxes away from domestic production and toward domestic consumption. Proponents claim this would incentivize American job creation and strengthen the dollar, while opponents argue that this is a regressive tax that would chill the domestic retail industry.

Between 95% (apparel) and 15% (food) of all goods sold in the U.S., whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online, is imported. So for the real estate industry, while retail real estate would be hardest hit, we expect that industrial real estate (used for warehousing and distribution) will also be negatively impacted. Some retail real estate owners are already feeling the pinch, as retailers put plans to open new locations and renew existing leases on hold until they have a better understanding of whether a border adjustment tax will be enacted.

Carried Interest Taxation

A carried real estate interest is a financial interest in the long-term profitability of a real estate investment given to the developer by investors to compensate the developer for sweat equity and risk assumption. The income flowing from the carried interest is currently taxed at the lower capital gains rate of 20%, rather than the personal income tax rate, in the upper 30% range for high earners.

Proponents of taxing this income at the higher rates view the current taxation as unfair. Opponents point out that this income results from a long-term, inherently risky ownership stake in real estate that should not be treated as if it were a guaranteed salary.

IRS figures show that 3.2 M partnerships (46% of which are real estate related) and more than 22 M business partners would be adversely affected by such an increase. The likely impact of taxing carried interest income at a higher rate would be to reduce the profitability of real estate investments as there will be less after-tax income to go around.   
 
The uncertainties that tax reform presents make it all the more compelling to minimize the time, cost and risk of getting your leases over the finish line.

Making Sense of It All

Having just witnessed one of the most important transitions in U.S. and world history with the 2016 Presidential election, and having just returned from Dallas and Fort Lauderdale where thousands of real estate professionals and I participated in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Fall Meeting and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Law Conference, I’m focused on making sense of it all.  

My take away from the election results is that no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, this election is a call to action. Change is in the air, and each of us has a role to play.  

Shaping Change

This also applies to the real estate industry and the legal leasing process. Technology, the sharing economy and even the expanding legalization of marijuana are contributing to a dizzying evolution of residential, retail, industrial and office spaces. Distinguishing factors between these property types are shifting and blurring.   
 
As a result, landlords, tenants (and their attorneys) need to be considering and communicating about new ways to define and evaluate their long term relationships and the properties that bring them together.
 
At the recent ICSC Law Conference, I spoke with the general counsel of a public REIT that owns regional malls throughout the country. He pointed out that retail landlords and tenants are missing the point when they value retail stores based on in-store sales, even if they expand what is considered an in-store sale to include online sales that touch the store (e.g., where merchandise ordered online is picked up at the store). 

Don't Miss the Point

The more important point is that to accurately measure the value of retail properties that may also serve as showrooms, warehouses and fulfillment centers, the aggregate value of all of the store’s uses is a far better metric to use. The technical ramifications of using this broader metric to assess valuation must then be addressed during the legal leasing process.  
 
There’s no one right answer to these questions of first impression for those of us toiling away in the Black Box of the legal leasing process and the landlords and tenants we serve. But if we don’t start thinking like the change agents that we need to be, we'll be stuck a status quo that doesn’t serve us or our clients, akin to the one that so many American voters strikingly rejected. 

The Giant Petri Dish

As the leaves turn from green to red this month, I'll be joining thousands of colleagues at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Fall Meeting in Dallas, and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Law Conference in Fort Lauderdale.  

Attending these conferences is like being in a giant petri dish where I (and my colleagues) can focus on improving the fundamental underpinnings of the legal leasing process in ways that are not possible when we are back at our desks. 

Understand Reality and Seek Vision 

As we've discussed in our last two blog posts, The Blind Men & The Elephant and Digging Deeper, in order to improve the fundamental underpinnings of the legal leasing process, it is essential to approach each lease holistically, so no one is fooled by the rug or the snake, and to work effectively with the underlying structures governing lease negotiations, so opportunities to minimize the time, cost, and risk of getting each lease over the finish line can be leveraged.   
 
In order to develop and consistently apply these skills it's essential to have both a clear understanding of current reality that goes beyond your own experiences, and a vision for how it can be improved.  
 
Attending real estate conferences of the caliber sponsored by ULI and ICSC, with colleagues whose geographic reach, experiences and perspectives are diverse, is the perfect opportunity for both a solid reality check and a renewed and refreshed perspective about what is possible.

Timely Solutions

In Dallas, we'll be tackling the impact of recent trends that are affecting commercial landlords and tenants, such as co-working spaces, omni-channel retailing and same-day delivery warehousing.
 
In Fort Lauderdale, we'll be looking for ways to get closer to a leasing process characterized by landlord and tenant teams that consistently exceed expectations.
 
Your leasing transactions demand the attention of experienced attorneys who are continuously improving the legal leasing process. The Sinreich Group attorneys fit that bill.

Looking forward to seeing many of you in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale!

Tech Tidbits to Chew On…

At the recent CRE Tech Showcase sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), we learned about an exciting array of tech solutions designed to optimize how we operate, convey, lease, and finance real estate.

These are some salient tidbits about the companies and products that captivated our attention.

MetaProp

MetaProp is a CRE Tech Accelerator. It connects real estate professionals aware of the pain points with techies who can create solutions. MetaProp then helps the resulting start ups get their products to market with financial and other support, including introductions to likely customers. Its 2015 NYC Accelerator class included RadiatorLabs, whose patented technology can reduce heating costs by 30%, and Notion, a wireless home monitoring and security solution.

Floored

According to Floored, its suite of 3D real estate products are virtual reality tools that personalize the process of buying, leasing, and developing real estate. Much like playing a video game, prospective buyers and tenants can visually transform raw space into the finished product, and enjoy an experience much more compelling than looking at 2D (flat) floor plans. The Floored experience contributed to the recent decision by Italian retailer Zenga to locate its New York City flagship store at the Crown building on Fifth Avenue. 

Ten-X

Ten-X, formerly known as Auction, is an online platform for buying and selling commercial and residential property. The entire process, from due diligence to closing, has been standardized and streamlined, eliminating the interminable delays of the traditional buy and sell process. With aspirations of becoming the NASDAQ of real estate, Ten-X has over $8.5B worth of transactions under its digital belt.

MotionLoft

MotionLoft gathers real time indoor and outdoor traffic data for owners, tenants, and cities and transforms it into actionable "intell" about who is at a property, how they got there, patterns of movement, length of stay, and next destination. The data is aggregated to address privacy concerns. MotionLoft has counted over 2.5B people in 50 markets across 3 countries.

Property Capsule

Property Capsule, whose founder and CEO created his first tech start up at the age of 13, enables property owners to centralize, automate, and publish real time information across multiple platforms. Websites, marketing brochures, email blasts, and property files can be simultaneously updated with a single tap. Property Capsule recently won the ICSC Net Operating Income award, for saving a customer nearly $1M in one year.

The CRE Tech Explosion

Please join me and the International Council of Shopping Centers for our first Commercial Real Estate Tech Showcase on April 6th at ICSC headquarters in New York City. This not-to-be missed breakfast meeting will get you up to speed on the technology boom that is disrupting the real estate industry.

Technology startups focused on commercial real estate are changing the way real estate is offered, sold, leased, financed and operated. You’ll hear from the founders, CEO’s and thought leaders of the CRE technology startups that are leading the way. Join us for the inside scoop on how you can gain a competitive advantage by taking advantage of what these companies have to offer. Don’t be left behind!

Moderator   

Alex Markson, President & CEO, Property Capsule 

Speakers  

Aaron Block, Co-Founder & Managing Director, MetaProp
David Eisenberg, Founder & CEO, Floored
Chris Garrison, Founder, Motionloft
Yan Kharmish, Managing Director, Ten-X
Luke Stotler, Chief Experience Officer, Property Capsule

Wednesday, April 6, 2016
8:00 - 10:30 am
1221 Avenue of the Americas, 41st Floor, NYC  

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A National Perspective

As we enthusiastically move into 2016, our mood reflects the collective optimism enjoyed by many in the real estate industry. This opening quote from Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2016, recently co-published by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers, captures the spirit beautifully: 

The next 24 months look doggone good for real estate.

Here is a brief overview of what our Emerging Trends colleagues are predicting for the coming year.

Portland Sign 464px.jpg

18-Hour Cities Will Continue Their Ascent

Austin, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte and a handful of other so-called “18-hour cities” are the markets on which to focus for 2016. A lower cost of living, coupled with an urban vibe and hip amenities, translate into a stronger growth potential for these markets than the 24-hour gateway cities such as New York and Los Angeles which led the post-financial crisis real estate recovery. 

Work Environments Are Up For Grabs

As strengthening employment numbers buoy the office sector in most metro areas, the “re-thinking” of what constitutes an office will continue. Space per occupant, amenities, function and design are all in play. Co-working spaces will continue to attract even greater numbers of entrepreneurs, “knowledge” and “gig” workers in key markets throughout the country.

Middle Income Housing Is The Way To Go

The biggest opportunity in the housing sector will be providing affordable housing for the “excluded middle” of American households. The upper end is saturated with product; the heavily subsidized low end is complicated, low-margin and politicized. Those who can satisfy the needs of millions of middle income households for mid to higher density housing in both suburban and urban locations will hit the bull’s eye.

Plan Your Parking For Change

Emblematic of the parking planning conundrum is that Yankee Stadium’s 50,000 seats are served by only 9,000 parking spaces, but less than half of those spaces are typically used. Given the advent of driverless cars, the shift toward walkability and mass transit oriented development, and the steep decline in drivers’ licenses among Gen Y’ers, conventional parking ratios need to be re-evaluated. New developments would be well served by temporary parking facilities that can be transitioned to other uses over time.  

Up in the Air

As the leaves swirl around us and our pace quickens, year-end goals come into sharper focus and I marvel at how we keep so many balls in the air. Speaking of what’s up in the air, there is a rapidly-emerging, technologically-enabled species of airborne vehicles that some have referred to as the epicenter of a revolution, and that everyone in the real estate industry would be well served to get up to speed on.  

I am referring to unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, which range from toys to tools of industry and war, and are poised to reshape how things in the real estate industry get done. Tasks such as property and construction inspections, evaluation of emergencies and other dangerous situations, and deliveries of merchandise, supplies and construction materials are all about to become safer and more efficient as a result.  

To illustrate the potential for widespread commercial drone usage, consider that Walmart, the largest brick and mortar retailer in the world, recently applied to federal regulators for permission to test drones so that it can warehouse, transport and deliver goods more efficiently. Amazon, which recently opened its first brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle, has been testing commercial drone usage since 2013 and has one of the 2000+ federal permits issued since 2012.

The real estate-related accommodations that Walmart and others will require as commercial drone usage becomes widespread will create significant competitive advantages for those who are positioned to benefit from them. Issues to be addressed include insurance coverage, safety and security concerns, rights to privacy, and physical requirements such as roofs that can support vertipads (landing areas for drones) and building dimensions that can accommodate interior drone flights.    

For those of us creating the 2020 lease, widespread usage of drones by landlords and tenants alike is just one of the emerging realities we are addressing so that our clients can own, lease, and operate properties that evolve along with the markets they serve.    

Envisioning the 2020 Lease

As time marches on, the inevitability of change is a constant reality for all of us in the real estate industry. In past blog posts, including our recent July 2015 Game Changers issue, we've highlighted how the built environment is evolving in response to changing demographics, technology, sustainability and a whole host of other factors.  

For every asset type, from residential to industrial, value is inextricably linked to staying relevant. We believe that the lease — which governs how tenant-occupied, income-producing property is used, operated, maintained and renovated — significantly influences the rate at which the underlying property can evolve and stay relevant, or not. 

Envisioning the 2020 Lease

As a result, we envision that the ideal lease of 2020 is one that anticipates, encourages and facilitates changes over the lease term that will optimize the value of the subject property in ways that traditional lease structures do not.  

Getting to this ideal lease will be tricky. Most efforts to step away from traditional lease structures are met with great resistance and those traditional structures often incorporate a delicate and hard-fought balance between control and certainty on one hand, and flexibility and innovation on the other.  

Energy Aligned Green Lease

However, there is a precedent for advancing into new leasehold territory in order to facilitate innovation and value creation that I believe holds the key to developing the ideal 2020 lease. It is often referred to as an Energy Aligned Green Lease.
 
The Energy Aligned Green Lease emerged from the realization that traditional lease structures disincentivize landlords from making energy efficiency improvements to their properties. To correct this, a New York City task force of real estate professionals was convened by Mayor Bloomberg as part of New York City’s PlaNYC. The fruit of their efforts, a provision that requires the tenant to contribute to the costs of future qualifying energy efficiency improvements at a rate that makes it financially palatable for the landlord to make these improvements, is the crux of an Energy Aligned Green Lease.  
 
The details governing this requirement on the tenant's part coalesce into a significant departure from a traditional lease, whether it be a triple net, gross or modified gross lease; and in the details, lie the differences that make the difference between inaction on the landlord's part and taking action to improve the property and thus add value. 

Future-Proof Your Leases Now

For sure, challenges still abound, including the challenge of getting landlords, tenants and their attorneys to incorporate this and other "new" structures into their leases.  

As the pace of change accelerates, the need for building greater flexibility into leases will increase. I believe the Energy Aligned Green Lease is a potent example of a 2020 approach to leasing that incorporates the flexibility necessary to facilitate asset value optimization.

Now we just have to use it.

Game Changers

Although real estate industry professionals have been notoriously slow in adapting to technological innovation, newly emerging technologies are creating compelling opportunities for value creation that can't be ignored.  

Here are a few examples:   

 Hard Rock Hotel, Palm Springs

Hard Rock Hotel, Palm Springs

A New Way to Source Debt and Equity

For starters, crowdfunding technology platforms now enable real estate owners to raise money from individual investors that they did not have access to in the past. Likewise, new investment opportunities, such as the financing of one of the new World Trade Center towers in New York City and the refinancing of the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs, are now available to those investors, who in the past would not have had access to these opportunities.

Crowdfunding investors pumped $1 billion into the US real estate market in 2014 and it is estimated that by the end of 2015 that number will be $2.5 billion, with investments starting as low as $100.   

Hospitality and the Sharing Economy

Another technology-enabled innovation is Airbnb, an online platform that is revolutionizing where people stay when they travel. 500,000 or so Airbnb hosts have made their homes and other non-hospitality properties available to travelers. In New York City alone, 400,000 travelers chose Airbnb over a hotel during 2012 - 2013. In addition to displacing hotels, Airbnb is bringing tourist populations to residential areas outside traditional tourist locations, with serious implications for residential, retail and hospitality real estate.

Project Management In the Digital Age

Global online marketplaces now connect real estate owners to building professionals. These marketplaces enable professionals, ranging from land planners to plumbers, to showcase their work, provide references, get tips on prospective projects and respond to solicitations for proposals, all online. Likewise, owners can publicize upcoming projects, obtain and level multiple bids, check references and hire the professionals they need with the flip of a few switches. Honest Buildings, one of these online marketplaces, has real time information about 35,000 building service professionals and its matchmaking services have thus far resulted in $600 million of done digital deals.

Stay tuned as these and other emerging and evolving technologies increasingly separate future winners from the less fortunate in the real estate industry.

The Conference Round-Up

Exuberant is the word I would use to capture the mood on the recent real estate conference circuit that took me from New York to Houston for the Urban Land Institute Spring Meeting and then to Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual RECon convention. The reasons for this optimism are straightforward: increased transactional activity, occupancy levels, rental rates and asset valuations.

 The legal lease negotiation process

The legal lease negotiation process

Keeping the inner workings of the black box — the little understood and often dreaded legal process of commercial leasing — top of mind (see our recent Black Box series of blog posts), here are some interesting takeaways from my conversations with some of the thousands of global real estate leaders that attended each conference.

Precision vs Urgency

Harkening back to our conviction that in negotiating a commercial lease, the urgency mandate must ultimately trump the desire for precision insurance, almost everyone I spoke to at each of the conferences complained about the time it takes to get a lease over the finish line and the painful opportunity costs of long, drawn out legal lease negotiations.
 
The CEO of a publicly traded landlord shared two strategies that his company is resorting to in order to reduce the time it takes to complete lease negotiations. First, they are negotiating multiple leases (with the same tenant) at one time whenever they can. Second, they are short-circuiting the entire lease negotiation by agreeing, almost sight unseen, to accept the last lease a prospective tenant negotiated with a different landlord.

Getting It All vs Accommodating the Other Side

The willingness to be flexible (a buzzword for accommodating the other side) on the part of both landlords and tenants came up often in conversations with office, industrial and retail professionals. This reflects two trends that were evident at both conferences.
 
The first is the eagerness to make hay while the sun shines. While practically everyone in the real estate industry is enjoying the uptick in transactional activity, none of us has forgotten the dark days of the recent great recession.
 
The second is that flexibility is being demanded of the actual real estate product itself. To stave off obsolescence, office, retail and industrial properties are evolving to meet the changing needs of tenants/occupants. Examples include former Kmarts that are now urgent care centers and office buildings that are being designed to accommodate coworking spaces, such as those operated by We Work, said to be the fastest growing office tenant in the US.

Managing the Red Zone

Remembrance of things past, including the busted deals and lost opportunities that result from carelessness in the Red Zone (that point in time when the lease is just about ready to be finalized), has not yielded any improvements in red zone management that were evident at either conference.
 
In fact, I spoke with a national tenant who expressed significant frustration because a key lease transaction was held up in the red zone as a result of the landlord’s inability to locate their ground lease site on the shopping center site plan. I kid you not!

The Sinreich Group can help your company get its leasing transactions over the finish line quickly and cost-effectively. Call us today, you can’t afford not to.

 

Back to School Roundup on Student Housing Development

Now that everyone is back in school, we thought you'd appreciate a synopsis of current student housing trends that were presented at the recent 2014 Bisnow Annual Student Housing conference.

We think student housing is a great asset class.

Not only was this confirmed at the conference, but we have anecdotal evidence as well. The constant griping we hear from students and parents alike about the high cost, limited availability and marginal quality of student housing can only mean lots of opportunity for those of us in the real estate industry.

Opportunity and Risk

According to American Campus Communities CEO Bill Bayless, the keys to successful student housing projects are proximity to campus and a differentiated product in "high barriers to entry" markets. Thus, competition to build on-campus is fierce, and features such as climbing walls, outdoor swimming pools and lounges filled with natural light and entertainment options (see below) are not uncommon.

 Residence hall common area at UC Davis

Residence hall common area at UC Davis

Given the demand for modern accommodations, as evidenced by the premium pricing that newer amenitized housing commands, developers are pursuing both retrofit and ground-up development opportunities. The CEO of EdR, Randy Churney, noted that the 3,000 beds EdR is developing at the University of Kentucky are 200% oversubscribed, while existing older student housing is 45% undersubscribed.  

But it's not all rosy out there in Student Housingville. Campus Evolution CEO Andrew Stark noted that overbuilding is a problem in at least a dozen university markets, including Texas A&M, University of Central Florida and Georgia Southern University. Nathan Collier, founder of The Collier Cos., pointed out that 3,000 new beds have been developed in Tallahassee to accommodate 300-500 additional students per year.

One way to mitigate this risk is to build in college markets with diversified economies and strong job growth, which provide a safety net for student housing assets. Donna Preiss, CEO of The Preiss Co., likes Austin and Raleigh for this reason.

Recent Trends

It appears that nothing is more important than fast internet connectivity. Various speakers noted that WIFI trumps functioning plumbing and that bandwidth primes square footage, in keeping with a trend toward smaller units.       

On the health and wellness frontier, kitchen facilities and fitness centers are de rigueur, while Vitamin-C infused showers and light enhancements that align the body's circadian rhythms with the sun are still somewhat novel.

These amenities sure sound different than the ones I enjoyed in the dorms at SUNY Albany and Columbia University!

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