Published by Kartik Subramaniam
Many of you taking our real estate classes to obtain your real estate license are probably also interested in real estate investing.
I recently came across a real estate deal that I want to tell you about. Some things make it a good deal, some aspects of it make it less desirable, and I'll let you know about many of these in this article.
There is a local airport with some adjacent land that was deeded to the city on the condition that the property is used for either airport or retail use.
The city owns the land, and a real estate investor went to the town and said, "Hey, I'll lease this land from you." The investor's ground lease totals about $1,000,000 per year to the city and he proposed a very long-term lease. The city agreed.
After securing the ground lease from the city, the investor went to the hardware store Lowe’s and told them, "Hey, you can rent this land from me, and you can build another Lowe’s. I’ll lease the site to you for $2,000,000 per year."
Lowe’s agreed. The investor is now in a “sandwich” position between the city and Lowe's. That is, Lowe's is paying about $2,000,000 a year to the investor, and the investor is then paying roughly $1,000,000 per year to the city.
This ground lease produces about $1,000,000 a year in net operating income to the investor. The financial benefit to Lowe's is that Lowe's gets the site built and can start operating in the location. The advantage to the city is that they collect ground rent, and the benefit to the investor is that they profit from the difference between the two leases.
Now the question becomes, "What are the risks associated with this investment? What are the benefits? What are drawbacks?"
Well, one real risk the investor has is that if Lowe's goes bankrupt or decides to close the store rent may stop. We've seen many retailers, even major ones, close over the last several years. Consider Mervyn's, Circuit City, Borders, and Fresh and Easy. There are a ton of examples of large retailers with their back to the ropes. Giants like Macy’s and Sears and getting squeezed as the internet pounds away at these traditional brick-and-mortar retail models.
In my investment example, the ground lease expires in 2053, so the person that's leasing from the city has contractual obligations for a good number of years. Before making a decision, an investor would have to look at the Lowe's lease abstract. An essential examination of the lease would investigate the length of time Lowe’s remains obligated to pay. Do they have any outs in the contract? For example, do they have the right to terminate the lease before the expiration? Imagine if Lowe's terminated in 2035, the investor might still have another 18 years remaining on their ground lease. This could be horrific for the investor.
As of the time of this writing, the investor is selling their position in the lease at an asking price of $11,400,000 as of the time of this writing. The question is, is this a good investment?
I've pitched this to a couple of my investor clients, and many initially seemed interested. However, after they slept on it they start to think, "I don't own the real estate, so it's just a pure cashflow play - I don't want to pay $10,000,000+ for it”. Number two is when you own the real estate, of course, you benefit from depreciation and a lot of other tax advantages. You don't have that in this instance because you're not buying the fee simple ownership.
I wanted to write this blog and open your eyes to the fact that there's not only one way to invest in real estate. You can invest in cash flow plays. You can invest in appreciation plays. Hopefully, you're getting a little bit of both, but this is a deal that is not an appreciation play in all. It's the exact opposite.
Remember that as time goes on, this deal becomes less and less valuable because Lowe’s lease obligation decreases as time progresses. The cash flow is finite and as time goes on, the time you have to collect the rent from Lowe's decreases.
So, if you're interested in investing in real estate, I'd love to talk to you. I come across a ton of deals each week that I'm calling people on. There are flip opportunities and investment opportunities and syndication. If you want to bounce a deal off me and talk, I'd love to hear from you.
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