Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Triple-Net-Lease Properties Returns are More Favorable

Triple-net-lease properties' returns are more favorable and more secure than some traditional investment vehicles

By: David Sobelman, Executive Vice President, Calkain Cos.

As published in Scotsman Guide's Commercial Edition.

Despite the economic downturn and the fact that many aspects of the commercial real estate industry still need time to season before true recovery takes place, some niche segments of the market are actually performing extremely well. In fact, some are at the same level they reached at the height of the market.

Triple-net-lease investment properties, in particular, may be a true bright spot on the commercial investment horizon. Here's why.

Triple net lease properties are probably some of the most commonly noticed commercial real estate in the market. Most of the assets are drugstores, bank branches, restaurants, home-improvement centers and the like. These are core assets that have daily users and requirements. Typically, they are single-tenant buildings where, through the lease structure, the tenant is responsible for the taxes, insurance, and maintenance and management of the building - the three "nets."

Investors have a strong appetite for passive income in today's market, as there are few alternatives for them to receive a return that is equal to or better than what net lease assets provide. Additionally, it seems that lenders are becoming more comfortable with the asset type - many transactions in today's market are using some sort of lender-provided leverage.

Mortgage brokers are an integral part of the lending process for net lease investments, especially because one lender won't provide the best rate and terms for a particular investor every time. Brokers who want to increase their business in this asset class should understand what goes into funding triple net lease properties and be aware of the market's emerging trends.

Underwriting the tenant

Like in any underwriting process, lenders consider the real estate's value first. With net lease investments, however, the current tenant's credit also is weighed heavily.

Because tenants occupying single-tenant buildings typically sign long leases - sometimes for as many as 25 years or more - lenders want to know who is actually paying the rent to support the property for that long. Therefore, the underwriting of the tenant's credit becomes a key factor for lenders considering net leased assets.

There is some standardization for rating tenants, which comes primarily from credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's (S&P), Moody's Investor Service, Fitch Ratings, etc. These agencies each have their own alphanumeric system to report how a particular company is performing from a credit perspective. S&P, for instance, has ratings that begin at AAA as the best-possible credit and incrementally go down to D.

In today's lending environment, net lease tenants with an S&P credit rating of BBB or greater have a better chance of getting a lender's attention because they are seen to be less risky. Tenants with credit ratings less than BBB are perceived to be more likely to default over the term of the lease.

In fact, a Moody's study quantified this phenomenon, stating that companies with a BBB- credit rating have a 4-percent chance of defaulting on their lease within any five-year period. Conversely, a company that has rating of B- has a 43-percent chance of defaulting on its lease within the same period. As a matter of comparison, companies with AAA ratings have a 0.15-percent chance of defaulting. It is pretty clear why lenders focus their underwriting on the potential tenant's credit.

Funding net leases

Although mortgage brokers unfamiliar with this asset class may think this type of debt comes from sophisticated sources housed in a class-A skyscraper on Wall Street, the vast majority of loans for net lease investments come from banks.

Real Capital Analytics, a market-research company, recently reported that 51 percent of single-tenant acquisition transactions completed to-date in 2010 came from a traditional bank. It also reported, however, that 40 percent came from a national bank and 11 percent was from a regional or local bank.

It seems that when a recession hits, the lending environment changes to a point that sophisticated financing instruments are no longer needed to drive the market. Instead, individual relationships between borrowers, lenders and their conduits (i.e., mortgage brokers) are the primary source of transaction volume.

In addition, Real Capital Analytics reported that 30 percent of the transactions completed this past year used existing financing that was assumed by a new buyer. Anecdotally, investors active in the market at the beginning of this year did not have as many sources of capital. Those who made purchases that required financing were given financing quotes that were outrageous and did not allow the transaction to make sense to the investor. Therefore, they assumed the debt from the previous owner because the terms and interest rates were more favorable than the market at that time. Sourcing debt for net lease investments is becoming easier, however.

Gaining market share

Single-tenant properties have become so popular this past year that they comprised roughly 35 percent of all commercial real estate transactions completed in the first two quarters of the year, according to data from Real Capital Analytics. By comparison, when the market was at its peak in 2007, only 20 percent of all transactions included the asset class.

With more than $425 billion in total commercial sales in 2007 - which included $85 billion in single-tenant sales - compared to $35 billion in total sales for these past first two quarters - which included $12.25 billion in single-tenant sales - it is apparent that with fewer transactions, more people are steering toward stabilized and lower-risk properties.

Capitalization rates - or cap rates - are a quick snapshot of an investor's return. In today's market, cap rates are roughly 6 percent to 8 percent for creditworthy properties. When a basic comparison is made using other passive investments, it is fairly clear why investors are seeking to put their capital to work in the property type.

Most investors who have cash available to make passive, nonspeculative investments are using basic money-market or savings accounts to hold the cash. When returns for those investment vehicles hover around 1 percent, the investor is motivated to find alternative investments for that capital while also maintaining a steady and safe cash flow over a period of time. Net lease properties are filling that void.

Tracking trends

There are different periods where lenders will have a strong appetite for a particular tenant and less so for other tenants, and this changes over time. Brokers who stay on top of these kinds of trends in their markets and leverage their relationships with lenders can help clients find the best rates and terms at any particular moment.

As an example, Walgreen Co. drugstores - a common triple net lease tenant - have an S&P credit rating of A+. As such, lenders are comfortable with these stores' credit and viability as a longstanding tenant. At the beginning of this year, however, there were more than 450 Walgreens stores available for purchase as net lease investments.

Because most investors need financing to purchase a single store and the average sale price for a Walgreens store is about $5 million, mortgage brokers were engaged to find the best debt. Lenders, however, found that they had too many Walgreens loans on their balance sheets and started to slow down the distribution of debt for that tenant. Brokers show their value in these scenarios by finding other lending sources that aren't as saturated with one particular tenant.

Supply and demand dictates the rate and terms of a particular tenanted-occupied building. Because of their popularity, Walgreens investments typically garner a higher interest rate. Other companies that have S&P credit ratings of A+ and similar lease terms, but higher price tags and therefore fewer buyers may have substantially lower interest rates.

Lenders, therefore, dictate rates and terms based not only on the tenant's credit, but also on subjective factors that move markets in different directions at different times. Mortgage brokers should be cognizant of these trends and have their arsenal of lending sources available for their clients as market indicators change.

Net lease properties have proven to be a strong asset class in this recovery -driven market. Lenders are seeking assets for their portfolios to maintain strong balance sheets. It's always better to have a stabilized net lease investment earning income for the lender and the investor on the books as opposed to vacant, speculative land that likely has an undetermined value for future development.

Mortgage brokers who focus on this asset class can take advantage of the new demand for these properties, as they are some of the only properties getting funded with rates and terms last seen at the height of the market.


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