President Trump’s 60-Year Lease With Uncle Sam

The inauguration of President Donald Trump, titan of commercial real estate, marked the start of a great number of legal fights concerning his numerous undivested CRE holdings.  One set of concerns raised by the political opposition centers on what it means legally for the sitting President to be doing business with foreign governments, something that appears to be happening routinely within the context of his ownership of Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, just blocks from the White House.  The broad argument from political opponents goes: with each hotel bill paid by a foreign government staying at the luxury hotel comes a potential conflict of interest as long as the President continues to own that hotel.

Any guest-related potential conflicts aside, the development details of the hotel itself may hold unprecedented potential conflicts. The hotel property was redeveloped inside a former Post Office owned by the US Government — more specifically, the General Services Administration, an independent federal agency established in 1949 that contributes to the management of around half a trillion dollars of US federal property including over 8,300 owned and leased buildings.

GSA is the owner of the Trump International building. The lease has a reported 60-year term with two 20-year options.  The lease has clauses that are drawing attention from industry and governmental players in a way that promises much fighting in the future.

Breach? No Way To Know Yet

The legal confusion is not made clearer by the political forces interested in it.  Efforts by Congressional Democrats to undermine the administration have called certain lease clauses into question: As USA Today reports:

The [hotel] lease reads: “No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom; provided, however, that this provision shall not be construed as extending to any Person who may be a shareholder or other beneficial owner of any publicly held corporation or other entity, if this Lease is for the general benefit of such corporation or other entity.”

Thus far, the landlord does not see a breach —  GSA has not been moved to act on the strength of these inquiries, stating:

“GSA does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests. We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature. In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office,” the statement reads. “GSA is committed to responsibly administering all of the leases to which it is a party.”

For a in-depth look at the lease, read Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon’s legal analysis piece at Atlantic “Has Trump’s Election Breached His D.C. Hotel Lease?”

The potentials for conflict are certainly there – without them, GSA might not respond – and the wrangling over the outcome will no doubt continue for much, much longer.

Add this to the giant pile of unprecedented commercial real estate issues raised by the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Ten Medical Property Deals This Year

The medical property sector continues to heat up nationally thanks to the greying of the population and the decentralizing trends in outpatient care. Medical office building (MOB) and retail retrofit deals are coming out of the pipeline in strength for the time being as Congress once again aims to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Only the future will tell if ACA’s repeal and replacement with “insurance for everybody” as promised by the incoming Trump administration will put a damper, a rocket booster, or something in between on the commercial property deals in the medical sector.  For now, let’s look at a national snapshot made up of ten medical sector deal items in a young 2017:

Sessions Points To Congress On Legal Marijuana

During his confirmation hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill, prospective US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent an ambiguous message to the real estate developers, property owners and lenders working to expand legal marijuana business in states that allow it. Pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the topic of enforcement of federal law prohibiting marijuana in those states, Sessions responded with a bit of safe boilerplate before pointing to Congress:

“Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won’t be an easy decision but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.” 

He added: “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”

Banks, developers, investors looking for guidance on legal marijuana

The commercial real estate implications of Sessions’ dodge are significant. A growing legal marijuana industry and the real estate professionals that serve it await clear leadership on the issue as sales figures are jumping by double digits in year-over-year measures. The hunt has been on for property and legal stability for dispensary developers in a growing number of states that have adopted legalization measures, from the 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana to the eleven now legalizing recreational use. Traditional capital sources such as banks have been shy to lend and serve the industry under conditions that leave open the possibility of federal action closing the enterprises due to cannabis remaining illegal at the federal level.

As the business of legal marijuana waits for clarity from Washington, it appears the wait will go on.

States that have legalized weed

As of November 2016’s election, these seven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use:

Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C.

And these states have some form of legalized medical marijuana:

Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Deleware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missisippi, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Build Better L.A.: Los Angeles Votes In New Requirements For Developers, Affordable Housing

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the ...

A significant initiative with commercial real estate effects was passed on last week’s ballot in Los Angeles. Expected to take effect this month, the measure changes, almost overnight, the labor and affordable housing requirements for developers building in the city, affecting multifamily projects with ten or more units, as well as other projects.

Measure JJJ, also known as the Build Better L.A. initiative, was sent to the voters in the general election of Nov. 8.  In Los Angeles City, JJJ passed with 64% of the vote at over 461,000 votes and according to JDSupra law blog, takes effect within ten days of the certification of vote results, or, on November 19, 2016.

Affecting projects that ask for a zoning exemption, a plan amendment, a height change or a authorization of residential use of land where previously not permitted, JJJ requires developers of projects with ten residential units or above to provide a percentage of affordable housing units on-site. Depending on the exemption sought, the percentage will fall between 5% and 40% affordable units.

Some alternatives to compliance are available.  Per JDSupra:

[T]he Initiative offers alternatives to compliance, including providing affordable housing units off-site, acquisition of “at-risk” affordable housing properties and converting the units into non-profit or other similar type of housing, or payment of an in‑lieu fee into the City’s new Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The in-lieu fee will be determined by a formula using an “Affordability Gap” multiplier as defined in the Initiative.  Additionally, projects that opt to provide off-site housing will be required to provide additional affordable units based on a formula that increases the number of required units based on the distance from the primary project.

Further, the Initiative requires that residential housing projects seeking discretionary approval be constructed by licensed contractors, with good faith effort to ensure that 30% of whom are permanent Los Angeles residents and at least 10% of whom are “transitional workers”—single parents, veterans, on public assistance, or chronically unemployed—whose primary place of residence is within a 5‑mile radius of the project.  Projects subject to the Initiative will be required to pay “prevailing wage”—an average of area wages based on a formula created by the state government—to all construction workers on the project.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third Party Logistics (3PL): Video Refresher

The industrial property subcategory 3PL, or third party logistics, is a rapidly expanding market across the US.  Steady growth in e-commerce has created a growing dependency upon these warehousing and logistics properties thanks to their effect of reducing delivery time on goods shipped to customers. With e-commerce sales worldwide set to pass $2 trillion in 2017 in pursuit of double-digit annual growth, knowledge of the 3PL industry will pay off for the commercial real estate professional patrolling this piece of the national supply chain. What follows in this post are two helpful sources of quick information about the 3PL as it lives and breathes today.

 

Video: Dynamic 3PL Logistics

If you’re in need of a rapid refresher on the global supply chain and need a helpful glimpse at the shape and vocabulary of 3PL, check out this short video by 3PL provider Dynamic 3PL Logistics.  To the point, short, yet packed with illuminating info, this clip will get the point across about 3PL — fast.

Fifty Most Successful 3PLs

While far from a comprehensive or updated list, the article “North America’s 50 Most Successful 3PLs” from SupplyChainBrain.com collects an excellent top-down view of North America’s top 50 3PL operators, including some depth on the operations, local and global. Researchers arriving to this market will find a useful bookmark here.

 

New Supermarket Arrival Lidl Promises To Be Big

Retailing industry analyst Kantar Retail this month released an impact study on the US supermarket sector that highlights a new entry from Europe. Lidl, a no-frills grocery chain headquartered in Germany, is in business in 28 countries in Europe, is expected to enter the US market in 2018.

Similar to Aldi, another German supermarket competitor who have long since set up shop in the US, Lidl stores take a low-staff, no-frills approach to supermarket operation, displaying skids of product in aisles, letting customers take product from opened cartons. A lack of specialty areas, preferred by some other supermarket chains, creates store floor plans that are streamlined and configurations that demand less of basic space than does the average US supermarket.

The Predictions

Kantar sees Lidl as opening over 100 stores a year in the US, with a total of 400 up and down the east coast by 2020.  The chain’s operating efficiency is touted, as a single, fully mature store could generate $14 million, or , “a lot of volume packed into a 36KSF box”. Other highlights from Kantar:

  • Lidl could surpass USD2 billion in volume by the end of its second full year of operations
  • By 2023, we believe Lidl could approach USD 9 billion in sales, which is more than what Wegmans does today
  • Expect Lidl to have over 400 stores up and down the East Coast by the start of the next decade

East Coast Rollout Locations To Watch

The chain’s US corporate headquarters is announced as being located in Arlington County, VA. European press has put a location of the first wave of Lidl stores as Virginia Beach.  Its logistics network has already put down roots with two regional distribution centers, one in Alamance County, NC and Arlington County.

Embattled Wells Fargo: What’s The Commercial Lending Impact?

A mini Wells Fargo bank branch inside of a Pav...

Funding commercial mortgages with customer deposits is a central purpose for any huge bank. But when a big bank plays fast and loose with its reputation to the degree Wells Fargo has, it creates a special risk to the entire commercial lending ecosystem that should be understood.

Wells Fargo’s recent scandal is the living definition of “fast and loose”. The bank was outed as an identity thief and slapped with a $185 million fine for the fraud of signing up millions of its customers for programs without their knowledge or consent. But that’s a mere traffic ticket compared to what may be coming from market recrimination.

A recent study by consulting firm CG42 spoke to 1,000 of Wells Fargo’s customers and found, unsurprisingly, that people don’t like doing business with a bank they can’t trust. The study identified a potential loss of deposits totaling $99 billion as customers head for the door.  From the CG42 study:

Our findings show significant damage has already been inflicted on the bank’s reputation. Over 85% of consumers surveyed are aware of the scandal, and positive perceptions of the brand sunk from 60% before the scandal to 24% post-scandal. More tellingly, negative perceptions of the brand increased from 15% before the scandal to 52% post-scandal. This blow to Wells Fargo’s reputation will hamstring the bank’s ability to retain customers and attract new ones, as our study reveals.

While only 3% of Wells Fargo’s customers report being affected by the scandal, a full 30% claim they are actively exploring alternatives and 14% have already made the decision to switch banks as a result of the scandal. This represents $212B of deposits and $8B of revenues at risk. Our projections indicate Wells Fargo will lose $99B in deposits and $4B in revenues over the next 12-18 months as a direct result of the scandal, dealing a hard blow to the bank’s finances.

Consistent with findings from our past Retail Banking Vulnerability Studies, community and regional banks stand to gain the most from the fallout of the scandal, with a projected $38.7B in gained deposits and $1.6B in gained revenues over the next 12-18 months. Chase and Bank of America will also profit from the fallout, largely due to their national presence which makes them a viable alternative for customers who seek the convenience of a bank with branches across the U.S.

The chain of cause and effect goes like this: $99 billion of deposits walk out the door, depriving Wells of its least expensive capital, leading to higher capital costs for its borrowers financing new commercial mortgages.  Add to this the (unknown at press time) potential for angry commercial borrowers currently financed through the bank to re-finance and take their business elsewhere.

Is there a mass exodus of commercial customers through refinance in the cards for Wells Fargo?  Some believe not, with one Wall Street analyst referring to Wells’ customer base as “incredibly sticky”, meaning the overhead cost of changing lenders is too steep for customers.

But that perspective may fade as the scandal continues to expand from the retail side and into the commercial side of the bank’s business. Coming to light now are tales of Wells’ shabby treatment of its business customers.  In other words, Wells appears to have been just as abusive in the cultural and economic space where commercial financing lives. From Reuters:

Reuters also spoke to a former Wells employee, and a lawyer representing former employees and a former and current Wells customer, who described abusive sales practices with multiple business accounts. Jose Maldonado, a restaurant owner in Southern California who banked with Wells Fargo for 15 years, said he discovered seven accounts after enlisting the help of his accountant. He initially closed extraneous ones, and ultimately moved his remaining business to Bank of America Corp and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“I don’t like Wells Fargo anymore. I don’t feel comfortable,” Maldonado said in an interview. “In the past, there were sometimes crazy accounts without my permission.”

Langan declined to comment on Maldonado’s accounts.

An ex-Wells Fargo business banker, who declined to be identified, said employees at his former branch were required to sell products to small business customers such as hair-salon owners and carpet cleaners in packages of three – regardless of whether they needed them.

Those typically included accounts for checking, credit card processing and payroll, and were often linked to additional savings accounts, said the former Wells banker. Bankers also tacked on business credit cards and were pressured to call a Wells insurance unit, with the customer present, to push business liability policies. 

News of Wells Fargo’s business practices isn’t done doing damage. The question is: will the commercial mortgage finance marketplace hold Wells alone responsible, or will all too-big-to-fail banks be looked at skeptically in the future?

With the expected flight to community banking, and with so many alternative financing options arriving every quarter, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boo Diligence: Evaluating The Halloween Industry

With over 4,000 haunted houses and horror attractions running across the United States, chances are there’s one serving your scarea. Ever wonder what goes into site selection for these specialty properties? Plenty of boo diligence.

The holiday’s economic impact is spooktacular: according to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent over $8 billion on Halloween in 2012. October brings not only p-eek foot traffic for haunted attractions, but also a wave of retail pop-ups to sell costumes and party supplies. Chopping center managers know: these seasonal pop-ups can produce a distinct upward pressure on NOI (net op-boo-rating income) for the fourth quarter balance sheet.

And why not?  Vacant commercial space screams out for an inexpensive solution, one without capit-owl expenditure. Landlords can cash in on the holiday, but must be careful to not leave themselves exposed on costs for CAM (cauldron area maintenance), especially for properties financed with steep groan-to-value terms or that that depend on high IRR, (interment rate of return). As always, sound business principles should win over witchful thinking.

List of haunted commercial sites

The haunting industry — yes, it’s actually called that — appears to have a nerve center online called Hauntworld.com.  There you can find a North American directory of haunted house operations, suitable for a quick dip of real estate market research as we find ourselves in the trick-or-REIT season. Use it to spot an opportunity: maybe you can put some of your vacant invent-eerie to work next year.

Fed: Commercial Real Estate, Employment Improved

The Federal Reserve Beige Book, the eight-times-yearly published compendium of anecdotal information about current national economic conditions, has once again arrived.  This time around, the national story on commercial real estate is about modest growth, improvement and expansion. Based on information collected before October 7 of this year, the Fed states:

Home price appreciation continued at a modest pace in general, and commercial real estate activity and construction improved since the last report. Demand for business and consumer loans increased, aside from some seasonal slowing, and credit quality remained strong or improved. Agricultural conditions were mixed, as low commodity prices pressured farm revenues despite generally strong crop yields. There were signs of stabilization in the oil and natural gas sector, while reports of coal production were mixed.

[…]

Commercial real estate leasing activity generally improved, and outlooks were mostly optimistic, although contacts in a few Districts expressed concern about economic uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential elections. Commercial rents were flat to up, and vacancy rates were generally low and/or declined in reporting Districts, except in the Houston metro area where office vacancies increased further. Sales of commercial properties were characterized as robust in the Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco Districts but softened in the greater Boston area. Commercial construction increased on net, with contacts in the Cleveland and Atlanta Districts reporting increased or high backlogs. Shortages of skilled labor remained a constraint on construction activity in some Districts, such as Cleveland and San Francisco.

On employment:

Employment expanded at a modest pace over the reporting period. Reports of hiring were strongest in the Richmond, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco Districts. Layoffs in the manufacturing sector were noted in the New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Richmond Districts. The Dallas District reported that energy-sector layoffs had abated, and manufacturing employment was stable following payroll reductions in recent months. Labor market conditions remained tight across most Districts. While reports of labor shortages varied across skill levels and industries, there were multiple mentions of difficulty hiring in manufacturing, hospitality, health care, truck transportation, and sales. The Richmond, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts noted a lack of construction workers with some contacts noting these shortages were constraining construction activity.

While the color beige may be popularly known as the color people use when they don’t want to use color, this report’s findings do point to our industry’s recent health — and to the green of dollars.

2,200 Year Old Lease Literally Written In Stone

Stone tablet containing 2,200 year old lease agreement

2,000 years ago on the western coast of Turkey, the ancient Greek city of Teos stood. A Mediterranean port and center for regional commerce, Teos’s two harbors brought people and goods throughout the Anatolian region of modern Turkey. The commerce brought with it law and paperwork, although a great deal of the “paper” twenty centuries ago was actually stone.  Teos is today an archaeological goldmine thanks to so many written — or chiseled — words.  Discovered this year: a 1.5 meter-long inscribed stone tablet containing a detailed 58-line commercial lease complete with a few disturbing clauses. From the Ars Technica piece on the discovery:

Carved into a 1.5 meter-long marble stele, the document goes into great detail about the property and its amenities. We learn that it’s a tract of land that was given to the Neos, a group of men aged 20-30 associated with the city’s gymnasium. In ancient Greece, a gymnasium wasn’t just a place for exercise and public games—it was a combination of university and professional training school for well-off citizens. Neos were newbie citizens who often had internship-like jobs in city administration or politics. The land described in the lease was given to the Neos by a wealthy citizen of Teos, in a gift that was likely half-generosity, half-tax writeoff. Because the land contained a shrine, it was classified as a “holy” place that couldn’t be taxed. Along with the land, the donor gave the Neos all the property on it, including several slaves.

Use Of Premises Clauses

Beyond enshrining the brutal custom of slavery, the lease agreement also describes a tax-deductible donation of property and numerous clauses concerning punishments if the property was misused.  From the Hurriyet Daily News:

In order to meet the expenses of this land and to get income, the Neos rented the land. The inscription tells us who owned the land in the past and what it includes. It also mentions a holy altar. The Neos express in the agreement that they want to use this holy place three days a year. In this period, the state collected tax from lands. But since the land was defined ‘holy,’ it was exempted from tax. It is understood that the land was rented at an auction and the name of the renter is written on the inscription,” [Archeology professor Mustafa] Adak said.

[…]

Almost half of the inscription is filled with punishment forms. If the renter gives damage to the land, does not pay the annual rent or does not repair the buildings, he will be punished. The [property-owning] Neos also vow to inspect the land every year,” said the Akdeniz University professor. 
 “There are two particularly interesting legal terms used in the inscription, which large dictionaries have not up to now included. Ancient writers and legal documents should be examined in order to understand these words mean,” Adak said.

As I’ve written here before, the ancient world’s commercial property business was a fascinating and sometimes depressing thing. So the next time you’re convinced the commercial lease on your desk is difficult to understand as well as being hard to break, think of  the landlords of Teos, their human property and their stone lease.  Today’s tenant has it relatively easy under that comparison.

Photo credit: Ars Technica