Would you Own your Commercial Real Estate - If Vacant?

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Frequently, if you operate a small business, owning your location can make a great deal of sense. 

Generally, it works like this - you form a Limited Liability Company personally. The LLC then buys the commercial real estate. Your business signs a lease with the LLC. Therefore, you pay rent to yourself. Brilliant! 

Ownership allows you to fix your location costs - the purchase is financed with fixed rate debt for a period of time. The occupant is under your control - after all it is your company. Personally benefited are you from the location's appreciation - if any. Finally, there are some potential tax benefits individually. Awesome!

Now, let's add a dimension which many small business owners are facing these days - someone approaches you and offers to buy your business. 

When you consider selling the business that occupies your real estate - even if the purchaser of your business signs a lease with your LLC - the question you should ask is: would I want to own this location if it were vacant? Business changes, motivation varies, locations depreciate. At the end of your tenant's lease you may be faced with a costly vacancy. 

Remember, when you are the occupant and the owner, the dynamic is different than being the owner but not the occupant. You are now an investor who must compete with many other investors for your tenant's occupancy. The cost of originating a new lease is staggering - in some cases 20-25% of your lease income. Are you prepared for that potential risk? If the answer is no, then there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of owning a vacant building. 

First, analyze your location's monthly carrying costs - debt service, taxes, insurance, common area maintenance, miscellaneous maintenance, etc. You should maintain a 9-12 month cash reserve of this total amount. 

Secondly, determine how marketable the vacant building is. A commercial real estate professional familiar with the current market can provide this for you. How many vacant buildings similar to yours exist? What is the current appetite - including market time - for such a location? What is the current vacancy rate for facilities such as yours? - like yours specifically - not a market wide vacancy of all locations. How special purpose is your space? 

Third, determine what the lease income is worth to an arm's length investor. This amount less any debt owed against the location and less any closing costs of sale and net of any taxes determines the proceeds that can be deployed into an alternate non-real estate investment. If you choose to invest in another income property, the gain may be tax deferred if the new purchase meets certain criteria. You may be wondering why you would sell one piece of real estate only to buy another? The simple answer is to lessen the risk. By selling a special purpose single tenant location and investing in a general purpose multi tenant location, the management is greater but the downside is more  manageable - akin to selling stock in a single company and buying a mutual fund of many companies.

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