How to weigh the decision of buy versus lease Featured

10:04pm EDT June 30, 2013
Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, principal, CRESCO Real Estate Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, principal, CRESCO Real Estate

Whether to buy or lease is a question real estate professionals hear from business owners all the time. It’s a difficult decision that’s based on several factors.

You should evaluate your needs, as well as your personal and business goals, with a qualified real estate consultant, says Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, principal at CRESCO Real Estate. Also, understand your motivation drivers — are you interested in the bottom-line cost of occupancy, long-term ownership, image or flexibility?

“You need to step back and look at where you’re at, where you want to go, and how important your personal goals on the ownership side are in order to understand the best manner in which to invest your money,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Barna about what propels owners to buy or lease.

What drives owners to buy?

One example would be if you are in a specialized industry and you’re going to make a significant investment in the space’s infrastructure. You don’t want to be unable to come to terms on a down-the-road lease renewal or expansion and have to reinvest in another building.

Another scenario is that you don’t anticipate long-term future growth and the facility you identify is in a desirable location that meets your projected needs.

Many times, the deciding factor is whether you can buy a building, ‘right.’ If a building can be acquired in the lower range or below market value and/or combined with market-driven incentives, the opportunity is worth serious consideration.

Sometimes it comes back to pride of ownership. In Northeast Ohio, we are fortunate to have a wealth of successful entrepreneurs who want to own their real estate simply for pride or a desired image, even if they have to pay a premium for it.

Why do business owners decide to lease?

One reason would be that your space requirements could fluctuate, so you don’t want to be locked into a building. Often this can be market driven; your business grows when the market’s healthy and contracts when it’s not. Also, many large national or global companies lease space because they don’t want to be in the real estate business and worry about selling a property when they decide to relocate.

You also should look at the return on investment. In real estate, a typical return for a market transaction would be 8 to 13 percent on the property’s value. However, if you have a dynamic business that’s getting a 25 to 30 percent margin on your products, it may be better to put your cash into increasing manufacturing and market share for the higher ROI. In addition, our financial markets have changed over the past five years. In most cases, traditional real estate financing has higher equity requirements, such as 25 to 35 percent down, which could also be a deal killer.

How can a lease-purchase analysis help?

To determine the actual cost of occupancy, bring in a qualified broker or consultant to run a lease versus purchase analysis. On the lease side, you look at your base lease rate, utilities, pass throughs and any other additional costs. On the sale side, you’re weighing your equity requirement, mortgage payment, property upkeep, maintenance, insurance and taxes. The analysis gives you a clear-cut idea of whether you’re better off leasing or buying.

The final decision will not always be the lowest cost alternative, but this analysis will at least let you know where you stand based on the cost of occupancy. Then you can consider other factors, like proximity to your customer base as well as employees, flexibility and personal objectives.

How far out should you start considering whether to lease or buy?

The perfect situation is at least one-and-a-half to two years ahead of when you need to make a decision. You need to understand the current market trends, all of the logical lease and sale alternates and the price of new construction, while projecting where your business will be in five or 10 years combined with personal objectives. You can go into the market and identify the perfect alternative, but it could take a year to consummate a transaction — and even more time if you’re building new, retrofitting or applying for government incentives. If you let that fuse get too short, it limits your alternatives.

Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, is a principal at CRESCO Real Estate. Reach him at (216) 525-1464 or jbarna@crescorealestate.com.

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