How do you know when it’s the right time to sell?

As a rule, you make money in real estate when you buy, not when you sell.

With that said, it’s common for an owner not to know when to sell, says Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, a principal at Cushman & Wakefield/CRESCO Real Estate. The property owner needs to weigh market conditions, along with internal factors like occupancy, cash flow and the condition of the building.

“You don’t want to wait until you’re in trouble, because there are sophisticated buyers out there,” Barna says. “The buyers know you’re in trouble and that sooner or later the building is going to go back to the bank, where they can buy it at a discount. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation.”

Smart Business spoke with Barna about when to put your property on the market.

How do owners get into trouble with commercial property?

Many people purchased properties when the market was robust, buildings were at a premium and rents were high. They’ve seen values decrease 10 to 30 percent and rents decreased or stayed flat, and now face a balloon payment that’s more than the building’s worth. Let’s say they paid $1 million and put 20 percent down, but when the note is up and principal is due, the property is reappraised at $700,000. The lender might finance 80 percent of the $700,000 and the owner will need to invest additional cash to consummate the transaction.

Another problem is when you start to have vacancies and cash flow dries up, especially if you’re carrying a mortgage. Then, not only do you have to find a new tenant, you’ll also need to pay for the carry plus improvements and related fees.

Owners procrastinate thinking they will get a tenant or the market will turn, but nothing happens quickly in real estate, so they keep digging themselves a deeper hole. In some cases, they give the keys back to the bank and walk away if lucky enough to have a non-recourse mortgage, rather than continue to feed an unprofitable investment.

What’s a better way to handle a property?
Instead of waiting until you’re in a negative position, it makes sense to evaluate how that property is positioned and possibly bring it to market sooner — especially if you foresee a vacancy issue, capital improvements or refinancing situation. If you have a small or midsize portfolio, you don’t want to be in a bind with major vacancies and limited cash flow.

It’s not uncommon for a building to sit vacant for years. Therefore, if you sense you could be at risk you should bring the property to market and have time to find that ‘highest and best’ user or investor. Again, it goes back to ensuring you don’t overpay when you buy, while understanding the functionality and need in the market for that specific property type.

How can a sale-leaseback be a tool for business owners who own their property?
A sale-leaseback allows owners to sell their property while retaining the benefits of tenancy through a long-term lease. This increasingly utilized tool allows owners to use their essential real estate without tying up large sums of debt and equity capital.

It is possible to exceed market values depending upon the credit of the seller and the term of the lease. A sale-leaseback is also a logical solution to a short- or long-term exit strategy. Other reasons why owners utilize this tool include paying down debt, making an acquisition and reallocating capital in more productive uses, as well as estate planning.

How can a broker help?
If you are considering selling your property, it is important to understand who is the ‘highest and best’ potential buyer no matter if it’s a user or investment sale. You need to know the demand of your specific product type, market conditions, most effective manner to position the product and what needs to take place to maximize value.

By consulting with a broker, you’re not committing to anything; you’re doing your due diligence and getting questions answered. Gathering all the facts early will help you make the right decision at the right time.


Joseph V. Barna, SIOR, is a principal at CRESCO. Reach him at (216) 525-1469 or [email protected].

Insights Real Estate is brought to you by CRESCO