In our previous post, “3 Old School Tactics For the Arsenal of Modern CRE Tools,” we talked about characteristics of a successful agent that transcend the philosophical chasm between Millennials and Boomers. Now, let’s look at their approach to business.
At its core, brokerage is a grassroots business. We can take advantage of every high-tech tool on the market, but ultimately, commercial real estate is a business of human networking and connections. This inescapable duality of our industry means that abandoning traditional methods in a full-court press to harness Big Data and be Modern Brokers isn’t an automatic guarantee of success.
Most brokers agree, we’re looking at a paradigm shift in the industry. Technology is bringing profound changes to commercial real estate. But it doesn’t mean everything that came before is obsolete. In fact, time-tested methods, enhanced by the data-rich tools at our fingertips, have the potential to yield the best results of all.
Ultimately, success in commercial real estate comes down to what you know and how you leverage that knowledge. Veteran San Francisco broker Cal Nakanishi views it as a process, transforming intellectual property into prosperity. “This is the essential foundation of credibility in the brokerage world, whether you’re talking to prospective clients or industry colleagues,” he said.
“Brokerage is a huge business and the best way to establish yourself is to choose a single path and stick with it. Learn all the ins-and-outs. Find your niche and become an expert, don’t flounder,” he added. If you’re tired of constantly chasing deals, you need to create a business plan, build a foundation of first-hand knowledge in every aspect of your target market and actively use that knowledge to build a competitive advantage.
Agents distinguish themselves by the quality of the information and analysis they provide. “Always know more about a building than your client does. If there’s something you don’t know, be honest about it. Do the research, find the answer and deliver it to them,” Cal said. It’s easy to think you’ll have broader opportunities as a generalist, but people gravitate to expertise. Take a slice of the market and immerse yourself in it, find out everything you can about it. There’s no substitute for true expertise.
On the flip-side, there’s one important caveat to this rule, Cal notes. Never try to make yourself seem bigger than you are. “Reputations are everything in this business and they follow you everywhere,” he said. This is one area where there’s little to be gained from the Fake-it-Till-You-Make-it approach.
Once you identify your particular market segment, study every submarket in the region. Become conversant in the nuances. “You want to be able to speak to your clients confidently, even if the conversation strays beyond the scope of the transaction at hand.” Your goal is to be able to provide context and help your client see more than just what opportunities are available, but also why and how each one matters to the success of their business.
These same rules apply to the task of expanding your business. Utilize the perks of being an agent in a brokerage firm. Get comps for buildings, then cold call all the tenants. Get to know who they are and what they need. Learn everything you can about their building. Then package it all up and offer them a detailed report. They may not need your services at that moment, but keep following up. Give them a call every few months. They’ll think of you when they need representation.
BTI (Before the Internet), commercial real estate professionals worked their business the old-fashioned way, with reams of forms filled out in triplicate on an IBM Selectric and telephones wired to the office wall. (We’ll pause for a moment of silence while the Millennials roll their eyes.) Despite the lack of modern tools and technology, those brokers acquired clients, transacted business and built incredible networks that have thrived for decades. So before you dismiss them as dinosaurs, consider how well some of their old-school philosophies hold up in #CRE today.
1. Under promise. Over deliver.
It’s easy to get caught up in a moment, or misjudge the time required to complete a task, and promise a client or colleague something on a deadline you have ZERO chance of meeting. Don’t. do. it. Train yourself to take a breath, weigh the resources and requirements, and always be realistic in estimating what you can deliver and when. You’ll feel heroic saying you can turn something around in 24 hours, but if you fail, the cost is high. The loss of credibility is not always visible and inevitably weighty. On the other hand, if say you’ll get back to someone in 3 days and do it in 2, you have the potential to score a few well-earned bonus points.
2. Be 100% ethical and credible.
Don’t cut corners. Whatever short term benefit you derive will be far outweighed by the damage you do to your professional reputation. In this industry, the impression you leave with clients and colleagues spreads like wildfire. The best way to safeguard that perception is to value ethics and credibility.
In the words of TRI President Tom Martindale, a veteran industrial and office leasing agent in San Francisco’s SOMA district, “If you’re 100% ethical and credible with your clients, colleagues and competitors, you become the guy everyone wants to do a deal with,” If you’ve built a great reputation in the brokerage community, people see you as a trusted adversary, so you get better info and become more successful.”
3. Remember you’re the agent not the principal.
When you’re in the middle of negotiation, it can be difficult to know whether the agent on the other side of the table has cleared every detail with their client. Miscommunication can happen, but if a slip-up is the result of someone promoting their personal agenda over professional responsibility, then credibility and trust can be damaged. As an agent, your job is to advocate for the client. Whether you might have done things differently, it’s your job to adhere to their wishes. Remember, you’re the agent, not the principal.
Your key to success?
More effort, more calls, NOW!
Biggest moment/feeling of success?
In 2015, six-digit success.
Greatest challenge and how you overcame it?
Challenge: Losing several big listings. Solution: reviewing client database and brainstorming bigger, better opportunities. It’s a matter of connecting the dots – matching trade buyers who want to invest here with the right apartment properties in Sacramento.
Most notable Apartment Market trend?
Apartment pricing has reached peak levels. Make sure every Multi-Family acquisition has a sound operational strategy (new tenants, cost savings, online marketing, etc.) At these prices, investors must know who their prospective tenants are, what they can pay, and why they will choose this property over the competition.
Favorite building in which you were involved in the transaction?
Continental Arms, 39 units in Roseville. This is the acquisition that convinced me to focus on Multi-Family brokerage. It delivered significant value to my client. The property was languishing on the market, until the right investor came along and took it on. Again, it’s all about matching investors with the right properties.
Key to building great relationships with clients?
Get to know more about them. Ask them about the type of properties they like and why. Find out what craft beer they like. Find out about their families, the names of their wife and kids.
Key to building great relationships with other agents? I’m happy to strike a deal to move a deal ahead. Don’t be a slacker. If I collaborate with an agent, I basically consider them to be my client.
When did you obtain your BRE license?
Strangely enough I did it twice, in July of 2002, and again in 2011. When I got my license the first time, my plan was to broker apartments in Los Angeles but instead I got a job doing acquisitions for Westfield (the Australia-based, shopping center conglomerate). I didn’t need my broker’s license while I was at Westfield and I inadvertently let it lapse. When I moved to brokerage, I had to study up and take the test again.
Will an Incremental TIC Conversion earn you the most or your building?
Written by TERRENCE JONES
I recently sold a tenant-occupied building in a popular part of San Francisco. It was built before 1979 and was under rent control. The tenants in the building were combative and had many demands regarding buyer and broker access during the sales process. This process is never easy in San Francisco, but in this case, the tenants’ actions were far beyond what is usual. They called the Department of Public Health with complaints that resulted in multiple Notices of Violation. They posted signs indicating they were protected while demanding that they had verbal authorization to enjoy rights to areas not noted on the lease.
Perhaps they followed the San Francisco Tenants Union’s advice, which is posted on its website:
“The best thing to do is not worry about which just cause will eventually be used and fight the conversion. If the landlord can’t sell it, then no one will be evicted by a new owner. Start fighting the day a ‘for sale’ sign goes up. Potential buyers often have not thought through the fact that they will be evicting someone or evicting a family or someone who is senior or disabled. Nor have they usually thought through what it might cost in money and time to evict someone. They’re thinking and hoping that you will move out the moment they buy the building. Educate prospective buyers! Let them know they will be evicting people and what that will mean to those people, as well as what it will mean to the landlord’s pocketbook and time schedule. If you show that you will put up a fight, you can probably convince almost two-thirds of prospective buyers that they don’t want to buy your building, because it looks like a lot of hassle. And maybe you can slow down the process so much that the sale becomes unprofitable. Many tenants have fought their condo conversion evictions this way.”
The battle between owners and the city government over losing rent-controlled units has waged on for many years in San Francisco. The essence of the battle on the side of the owners is they want to cash out of their rent-controlled apartment investment buildings. Many of the buildings with fewer than 10 units are bought by investors who hope to vacate the units and sell them individually through a Tenants in Common (TIC) sale or a condominium conversion. On the other side of the battle are many of the Supervisors, tenant rights activists, and groups like the SFTU who see the TIC or condo sale of rent-controlled units as an erosion of their progressive voting base. The common position is that if owners exit the rental business through a TIC sale, those units that house voters in “distributed owner-subsidized housing, ” aka rent-controlled housing, will house owners who are less supportive of the progressive agenda. Once a tenant is replaced by a TIC owner who is directly responsible for payment of utilities and property taxes, the new households are more often prone to be more conservative in their voting preferences. Our Supervisors have not, as a group, been on the conservative side historically.
Some of the highlights of recent skirmishes include:
2013 Condo Conversion Moratorium
In 2013, the San Francisco Board of Super visors suspended the city’s condominium conversion lottery scheme until 2024.
Currently, the only properties allowed to convert are 2-unit buildings and larger buildings that were already TICs in 2013. Condos are a superior form of ownership of units versus TIC ownership when it comes to individual loans. This redirected the efforts of would-be converters only to TIC ownership.
2014 San Francisco Ordinance No. 54-14 (aka 24-Month Payout Differential)
This legislation, proposed by David Campos, required property owners to pay the difference between a tenant’s current rent and two years’ rent for a similar apartment when evicting them using the Ellis Act.
This was signed into law in 2014, but later overturned in a court decision by the First District Court of Appeal in 2017.
2015 Buyout Registration No. 37.9E
In 2015, the Supervisors adopted a mandatory disclosure and registration of owners who execute buyout agreements. The legislative findings stated in support of this ordinance reads as follows: “Anecdotal evidence indicates that many buyout negotiations are not conducted at arm’s length, and landlords sometimes employ high-pressure tactics and intimidation to induce tenants to sign the agreements.” The registration process is meant to regulate and count all buyouts to move them from “anecdotal evidence” to a clear count with the names of the owners, but not the tenants, published.
2017 Owner Move-In Ordinance
With this new law, owner move-in evictions have become more regulated. The period when the unit cannot be rented at a market price has moved from three to five years.
Tenant activists and private non-profits now can directly sue owners who do not follow the new rules, and the damages can be up to triple the rent differential, plus legal fees that a tenant incurs after an alleged wrongful owner move-in. These damages, most landlord attorneys feel, will be excluded from most insurance coverage.
As each side attempts to advance or de fend its respective position, the battles become more focused. Despite multiple attacks, the Ellis Act continues to be one of the few options for owners to escape rent control because it is a state law and supersedes local authority to some extent. (Municipalities like ours still get to enact onerous regulations to impede use of the Ellis Act.)
Incremental TIC Conversion
One process that has been quietly progressing without much battle is the incremental conversion of buildings to TIC ownership. The most common TIC conversion strategy in San Francisco is to vacate the entire building through the Ellis Act or buyouts, renovate the building completely, then sell the units individually as TICs. In an “Incremental TIC Conversion,” an owner can simply sell units as they naturally vacate, when a tenant moves out voluntarily, which requires no notification to the city or regulation of the unit by the city’s governing agencies.
Andy Sirkin, an attorney who authors many San Francisco TIC agreements, noted, “If a new TIC owner is willing to be a co-owner with a landlord who still has under-market tenants as their responsibility, then this can be mutually beneficial without the stigma of Ellis or buyouts.”
In a conversation I had with another well-known TIC attorney, Lyssa Paul, she explained, ”As property owners are reviewing their buildings and considering options going forward, one consideration is selling interests as tenancy in common through natural attrition of tenants. In fact, some tenants may even be interested in purchasing the occupancy rights to their units. This avoids the issues associated with potentially evicting/buying out tenants. It does require forethought depending upon the building size and financial situation, but is worthy of evaluation. The fact that tenants remain in place does not necessarily eliminate the possibility of tenancy in common interests. The location, type of property and amenities will influence whether prospective buyers will be deterred by units being tenant occupied.”
I spoke with a client last week who had a 6-unit building in the Sunset District with a very good location near the retail shops, good public transit and Golden Gate Park. He said he has been selling units as they vacate. He is now holding the last one of the six units. In that unit resides a tenant who pays 40% of market rent, but even that tenant cannot live there forever. He commented on the state of rent control in San Francisco. “I was born and raised in a communist country. I left that country and came to San Francisco. Some of the rent control aspects I see remind me of communism. We had a saying in the old country that seems to apply to tenants’ manipulation of the laws. My last remaining tenant really ‘knows how to dance the dance’ of rent control.”
Another owner I spoke to did an incremental conversion a few years ago with a larger building in the upper part of the Tenderloin. He owned his 30-unit property with no debt and one next door of similar size. He was able to move many of his tenants into one of the buildings with no buyout or Ellis Act, and then could sell the units in the vacant building. This movement without Ellis Act, buyout, or owner move-in eviction was a smooth transition that eventually emptied the building.
Who is to say where the Incremental TIC Conversion strategy will end up in this ideological battle, but one thing is for certain: If enough owners utilize this strategy, it could have a serious impact in the market, causing the Board of Supervisors to focus on the issue and try to regulate it. So far, it has escaped their watchful eyes.
Terrence Jones is a senior broker associate with TRI Commercial and specializes in the marketing and sale of investment properties. His business specialty is San Francisco rent-controlled apartments. He has extensive experience with properties with special circumstances. He can be contacted at 415-786-2216 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download this article here.
Too Good To Be True? Navigating the Sublease Market
By: Andrew Rebennack
Looking for office space? Chances are you’ve come across the term “sublease.” It may seem like a great deal, but is it? Could your business benefit from a sublease? What does it really mean and what are the risks lurking in the fine print? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for these questions. While every tenant has a unique set of circumstances, there are some key pros and cons to consider.
- Lower rent. You can often secure an attractive, below-market rate on a sublease. The Sublessor is often highly motivated to make a deal and turn over the space. If saving money is a hot-button issue for you, this can be a huge upside!
- Shorter term. Most landlords in our market prefer a 3- to 5-year lease. In the sublease market, there’s opportunity for a much shorter-term lease, ranging from a couple of months to 1 – 2 years. As an example, for a growing start-up that’s unsure of how much space they’ll eventually need or when, a short-term sublease creates much needed breathing room in a time of volatile growth.
- Flexible qualification. If your business is new, or has had a complicated operating history, it may be easier to qualify on a sublease. There are fewer hoops to jump through and a little less focus on the quality of credit.
- Lower security deposit. Typically, a subtenant’s security deposit is less than it would be on a direct lease with the landlord, which preserves precious working capital.
- Furniture included. Depending on the situation, a subtenant might even be able to lease the space with furniture included, significantly reducing the time and out-of-pocket expense of setting up your new office.
- Shorter term. A moment ago, this wan an item in the pro column, but it has a dowside as well. If you’re actually ready to settle in for the long term, any rate saving on a sublease could be offset by the unnecessary headache of moving sooner than you’d like, or finding less-favorable terms available in your next landlord negotiation.
- Landlord might recapture. Let’s say you find a sublease space tha tyou love, you spend weeks negotiating the deal, and then the landlord decides to recatrue the space and totally blows everything up. Now, you’ve wasted a ton of time and find yourself back at square one.
- Landlord consent. In almost every sublease, the landlord must give formal consent to the transaction. That means no matter how fast or how well you negotiated a sublease, you’re still stuck waiting (as much as 30 days) and hoping the landlord will bless the deal!
- No tenant improvement money available. Usually, sublease spaces are leased “as is.” That means the landlord isn’t offering any money for improvements. You need ot make sure the space works for you in its current condition, or be prepared to use your own funds to make any changes you need.
- Eviction. This is a Big One. If the sublessor defaults on the lease, your company is at risk of eviction on short notice. We talked about your financial strength, but you need to be sure the company you’re subleasing from is strong too. During negotiations, your broker should negotiate for your right to be notified if the original tenant defaults.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. The attributes of a sublease that benefit one company could be a significant liability for another. A leasing specialist can help you navigate the market and find the right s[ace. If you have questions or are actively looking for office space, give us a call–our expert services come at no cost to you!
Learn more about my practice here.
Andrew Rebennack, Sales & Leasing Associate, BRE# 02025935
Brokers, skeeball, beer, and $$ on the line…
Well, that sure is one way to be #BuildingGreatRelationships.
On Monday, October 16th, TRI entered the rink as the 1st Annual Brokers Skeeball Tournament kicked off. Alongside other brokerage firms including Urban Group, Colliers, Paragon, and more, the night was full of camaraderie, connecting, and of course–a bit of healthy competition. Though Urban Group took the win this time (and in quite the dramatic fashion) you may rest assured that we will be back at it with our A-game next year for Round II of these festivities.
“TRI is very concerned about what we consider to be the ‘lost generation’ of young talent entering #CRE brokerage post-2008 recession”- TRI Commercial President, Tom Martindale SIOR on the new talent that CRE firms need to cultivate in order to survive. Featuring multiple different voices from other experts in the field, including numerous fellow CORFAC International affiliates, Globe St. presents a wide perspective on the subject. Full article linked on image below:
Andrew Rebennack at 301 8th Street, San Francisco: