Buying Commercial Property Through Commercial Mortgages

As we’ve all heard; the sky is falling, everyone is unemployed and the there will be no more small business. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I can walk away from a local news broadcast feeling like I’ve been diagnosed with a fatal disease and have only three days to live.

Moments later I’m back in my office grinding out phone calls to existing clients and prospects that are looking to buy a commercial building with the right frontage and signage opportunities, but of course, they want to buy the building at 50% off. So no, the sky isn’t falling, small business is strong and growing and the commercial buildings with the right amenities are all but gone or have multiple offers on them.

This is my favorite question from clients: “What percentage does a seller typically expect to reduce their price by when they list their property with you?” Of course I tell them that the seller would most likely expect to get what they are asking for the property. Clearly, we are beginning to see the commercial real estate market become more of a seller’s market than a buyer’s market.

If a seller has a great piece of commercial real estate in a good neighborhood with C Class zoning or better it’s like having a rare coin – everyone wants it and buyers are seemingly willing to pay extra for it. I am speaking of Scottsdale and the areas of close proximity. Vandalism, theft, burglary and simple external obsolescence are just a few of the reasons other areas lose value and simply don’t come back for years until the entire area is redeveloped.

How did we get where we are today? As historical trends show and continue to show decade after decade; commercial real estate ebbs and flows follow residential free falls. We see this happen about every 8 to 12 years depending on the economic health and vitality of the country and world. We knew that property values here in Arizona eventually had to slow down but we didn’t expect the significant drop that we had. The great news – the Scottsdale real estate market hit bottom 17 months ago and we are slowly creeping back up; with very little inventory currently available.

Let’s not forget how this mess started; Mortgage Backed Securities, including but not limited to Residential and Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities. First, a quick definition of a commercial mortgage backed security – A mortgage-backed security (MBS) is an asset-backed security that represents a specific claim on cash flows that originates from mortgage loans through a process known as securitization.

The process of securitization can be complicated and convoluted, and is highly dependent on the jurisdiction within which the process is conducted. The basics are this: Mortgage loans or notes are purchased from banks and other lenders and assigned/sold to a trust, then the trust assembles these notes into pools. The trust then securitizes the pools of notes by issuing a mortgage backed security. Residential mortgage backed securities are backed by single family to quad-plex or four family housing units. Commercial mortgage-backed security (CMBS) are secured by commercial and multifamily properties, such as apartment buildings, retail or office, hotels, schools, industrial properties, commercial sites, etc. A CMBS is usually structured as a different type of security than an RMBS.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the most common securitization trusts in the United States. So what happened? It’s been suggested that the inherent complexity surrounding the securitization of commercially backed mortgages can suffer from and are highly prone to steep and quick changes in underwriting standards. It’s believed that the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis was in large part created by competitive private mortgage securitization. Additionally, there was a lot of securitizing that was “not on the books,” so a lot of the securitizing firms’ balance sheets were less transparent.

What does this mean for us here in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas? Keep your eye on both the residential and commercial markets in your area; these provide excellent indicators of your ‘local market’. Are new small businesses opening up? Are rents getting more expensive? What I’ve found is that landlords and owners are charging more for rent and getting more when selling. This is a good thing and means that particular market is on the rise.

I always recommend retaining a professional commercial real estate broker familiar with the area you are interested in. Make sure your broker provides demographics, current sales and rental information and understands your needs.