Multi-owner Commercial Property, and the Impact on the Colombian Real Estate Market Friday, Jun 04, 2021 by: Robert L. Dragoo In Colombia, most malls and office buildings in the marketplace are owned by various owners and not wholly owned such as in the United States or Mexico. This has an impact on the market through the velocity of price increases or decreases and the length of the building cycle. Property profitability if also affected through tenant mix and differences in operations. Per Jorge Lizan, of Lizan Retail, a company specializing in retail expansion for retailers globally, “Colombia is one of the few countries in the world where shopping centers are owned by stratified title, a system which developed due to the lack of financing for shopping centers“. Velocity of Price Increases/Decreases. Within buildings, there is often strong price competition for tenants, and this sometimes drives prices upwards or downwards. Currently, in some office submarkets in Bogota, there is excess supply being completed and delivered to the market. In this environment, we have seen price decreases occur more quickly. Further, often individual’s private investment motivations drive these decreases – some owners view investment in an office floor or retail space as a pension or steady source of income. Some are willing to drop the rental price of a space to cover the cost of common area maintenance charges and property taxes, or even personal expenses. A wholly owned building owner has more control and can limit price decreases and does not compete against itself. Also, wholly-owned investors tend to have more financial wherewithal to withstand downward market trends and optimize rents in an upmarket. Building Cycle Not as Fast. The overall building cycle is lengthened in a stratified property market because the information loop is longer and does not react as quickly. In a wholly-owned market, property owners are professional and constantly monitor the market to make investment decisions. Supply and demand can be analyzed, and are predictive of vacancy and pricing. Developers do market studies and feasibility studies before building – and investors and bankers study these reports closely when evaluating the feasibility of a project. When the project is complete, they will hold it, and they will be responsible for its profitability over the long term. In a stratified project – individual office floors or shopping center locales are sold preconstruction to individual buyers or owner-operators, who are not real estate professionals. They do not spend as much time studying the market – nor have the inside information that is hard to obtain in the opaque real estate market of Colombia. Developers have limited interest in doing market studies – if properties are sold successfully preconstruction, they move forward and are built. Lizan agrees that “multi-owner property developers usually develop properties without the proper feasibility analysis, as they would not be the asset managers in the first place, creating a situation in which many unfeasible shopping centers were developed or properties with GLA that did not have market demand”. Individual investors do not have as up to date knowledge or information as a real estate professional, and it is hard for them to predict vacancy and pricing of the future project. In an over-supplied stratified market, projects are built that are not feasible, as investors continue to invest, without fully understanding the market dynamics. It takes longer for individuals to understand that there is an over-supply in the market, or that pricing is not increasing, thereby lengthening the building cycle and making it less efficient. Effectiveness of Tenant Mix. This is the real weakness of multi owner shopping centers – because they cannot control where tenants locate. Each owner decides which tenant they will rent to, regardless of what they sell, their reputation, and brand image. In some shopping centers, there are lesser known brands, that can pay high rents, which occupy prime spaces. This does not help the overall center, and hurts sales of other tenants. Wholly owned shopping centers on the other hand, optimize their mix to drive shoppers to their centers, and organize them in a way that maximizes sales of their tenants. In the long-run, the best tenants will move to wholly owned centers – generally sales will be higher. In office buildings, the tenant mix is less important, but can have a negative effect. There are examples of owners renting to tenants who have large influxes of visitors such as embassies or doctors’ offices – which occupy parking and access, but also decrease the overall attractiveness of the office building. Cost savings – Operations. Design of the project itself has a major effect on costs, which are passed on to tenants and affect their bottom line. When designing new shopping malls or office buildings – owner/developers have an advantage: since they operate shopping malls as asset managers and owners, they understand costs and how to minimize them. Their self-interest is to develop and build the most cost-efficient buildings over the long-term, to increase property value and the return of the asset. Stratified property developers may be involved in some of the property management of their buildings – but do not have self interest in optimizing operations in the long-term nor asset value. Stratified ownership buildings are often built more economically, to give the appearance of a higher rate of return for future owners. However, this cost savings sometimes affects the operations, they install cheaper less cost-efficient lighting, non-durable flooring, and low-quality insulation. In addition, sometimes, stratified property developers do not build enough parking which further limits the potential sales and success of a center. Change of the Model. Lizan believes “The system started to change just recently, mostly by the entry of international developers, coming from Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Portugal, etc. Nowadays, there are still shopping centers being developed under the old stratified ownership system, but more and more are also being developed under the international best practice of leasing, and of course, the best shopping centers currently under development are with these models”. As the retail and office markets trend to development of more wholly owned properties, we hope to see improvements in the design and overall quality of product delivered to the market.