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Retail – the fatalists and the opportunists

This past week, Sears announced another 42 closures. As usual, we see even retail real estate executives posting or re-posting about the 「Dying Retail Sector.」 But, what I see regularly, not from these fatalists, is successful real estate companies take a different approach – 「How do we take advantage of these opportunities?」

One particular client this week looked at an opportunity to expand one junior anchor’s presence at a property. In this case, the junior anchor has several other concepts not yet present in the market. The opportunity was to consider relocating the junior from its current big box to a prominent anchor position which would give it the ability to house multiple concepts under one roof.

Why relocate the existing box to a future vacancy? Besides the ability to have the concepts under one roof with the ease of passing through from store to store, the landlord realized it would be easier to backfill the smaller big box. Additionally, there is the potential opportunity to eliminate cotenancy issues that might have otherwise arisen.

Our exercise was to determine if one or more relocated/new concepts in an anchor space satisfied the definition of 「acceptable replacement.」 This is an issue that I have addressed in previous blogs, but it truly is one of the most pressing issues facing the industry today. In a property with 150 tenants, you might expect 60-90 of those tenants to have cotenancy requirements. Of those 60-90, there could be as many as 40-60 different definitions of cotenants and their respective replacements.

As an example, anchors could be defined as 「department stores (may be further defined) operating in more than 60,000 sf.」 Just considering that one definition, a theater operating in 85,000 sf would not be considered an anchor. Depending upon how department store is further defined, a discount department store in 100,000 sf or a sporting goods store operating in 70,000 sf may not be department stores. And, if it is vacant (not operating) it may not be a department store. Another lease might define department store as the building labeled as 「A, B, C and D」 as reflected on Exhibit A. In that case, the building, whether vacant or occupied, is the anchor. There are hundreds of variations, each with potential exceptions (things like 「operating under one trade name,」 「not a theater,」 「must have multiple departments with both soft goods and hard goods,」 and so on).

To further complicate the issue, an 「acceptable replacement」 for the anchor may be defined differently. It could be as simple as another tenant must begin operating in the premises, but could address issues such as the number of floors in the vacant anchor and the need to have an opening on each floor. As addressed in an earlier blog, many more recent (over the past 3-5 years) leases now address alternative uses or a lifestyle component as acceptable replacements.

As we adapt in the industry to the new reality of fewer true department store anchors, we have to take the opportunity at every instance to amend or revise the definitions of acceptable replacements.

Since I got into the industry in the late 80s, appraisals have always addressed the highest and best uses for properties. While the appraisals did address these other uses, the reality was (and to a certain extent, still is) that we could not truly adopt these uses because existing leases restricted any use other than retail. But, we now see that something other than a department store, whether still retail or not, may be a better use. Malls are evolving and will continue to evolve. The fatalists may continue to call out for the death of malls and shopping centers. But, those that recognize the opportunity will help direct the future of our industry.

Visits to malls in India

This is not the typical lease admin blog that I write because I do not have any Indian retail leases to review. For ICSC, I have taught in the US, Canada and China, and I have had students from countries around the world. Many of them have provided me with their standard lease forms so that I could learn about their lease requirements and incorporate that info into the ICSC classes.

As a true shopping center geek, I really do enjoy visiting centers when I am on vacation. So, I was excited to visit a couple of properties in Ahmedabad, India. The first one I visited was Alpha One (or Ahmedabad One) Mall about 2-3 miles outside of the main part of the city. No freeways in site with easy access for cars. Rather, this opened around 2009 in a very dense area. I don’t know the history of the site, but I have to imagine demolition of existing structures was involved. I was in a rickshaw getting there and, as easily as they manuever, it was still very difficult getting there just to the volume of people and cars and motorcycles and scooters and rickshaws and carts and trucks clogging the roadways immediately around the center.

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Once there, you pass through security to get in to the center – metal detectors followed by a wand pass while standing on a raised platform. Women to the left (with modesty screening) and men to the right). My immediate impression was, yes it’s a mall. A mall that could have been in the US. But, what immediately hit me was the presence of so many doors. There were a handful of stores that had disappearing storefronts, but that vast majority had doors to enter the space. Air conditioning is a very precious commodity here in India, so I can only imagine they do not have the 「tenant shall ensure that the air pressure of the premises will be balanced with that of the common area」 type language. (When I mention AC being precious, my son is shadowing doctors over here, and AC is switched on for surgery, or just portions of surgeries, and restaurants add an AC charge).

The other thing that really caught my attention while walking through the mall was their use of kiddie carts. They looked similar to what we might find in the US, but without a handle for pushing. Rather, the parents have a radio control and steer the kids through the center! I believe that must have been the reason for posting guards at the top of escalators!

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I would have loved this for my kids when they were younger.

And, related to that guard at the top of escalators. From what I have seen, escalators are motion detected. If no one is around, they are stopped – in keeping with precious commodities.

The other mall I visited was CG Central Mall, not far from where I am staying. No different that multi-level malls in the US that have just one anchor, this mall may have seen better days as the first level was probably 60% full, dropping by 10-15% per floor as I went up.

So, while there appeared to be a successful mall launch in 2009 while we were deep in a recession in the US, it appears that, from my sample of two, C malls are suffering the same fate in India as our C Malls are suffering in the US.

I hope to be back to the normal lease administration blog next week.

So a cow walks up to a drive thru… Operating hours and liquidated damages

This week’s (and next’s) post will be a bit shorter as I am in India with my son. This picture reminded me of Chick-fil-a which reminded me of a clause I ran across earlier in the week.

Most retail leases have operating hours requirements which provide for default if the tenant does not maintain the required hours. However, some leases have liquidated damages specifically identifying a penalty to be applied if the tenant fails to operate all hours and days. The liquidated damages can often run in to 100% of the daily rent for failure to operate – so the tenant has paid rent, but then there is a 100% penalty agreed to in advance because the tenant’s failure to operate affects the landlord and the other tenants in the property.

Therefore, sophisticated tenants will specifically address not opening on Sundays, or not opening on weekends, or not opening certain months of the year (think tax preparers in the off season or my favorite purveyors of water ice (a Philly thing) during the winter or even the ability to close once or twice a year for inventory.

If you are a tenant, don’t just hope the landlord doesn’t bill you for liquidated damages – negotiate. And, if you are a landlord, put some teeth in your operating hour requirements.

Common area taxes and liability insurance

In the majority of retail leases (and in a smaller portion of office leases), we have sections in the leases that address how to calculate the tenant’s prorata share of real estate taxes as well as tenant’s share of property insurance. This can be a little confusing if you do not read leases regularly because often, when reading the Common Area or Operating Expense definitions the lease will define taxes and insurance as part of reimbursable CAM or OPEX.

This is not giving the landlord the right to 「double dip,」 billing those expenses twice. Rather, when this language exists in leases, it is requiring that the common area portion of real estate taxes and liability insurance be billed through CAM or OPEX. This insurance issue is typically simple and straightforward (but occasionally does require what we will describe in taxes next). When there is a separate insurance section describing a tenant’s prorata share, this separate section is for the property insurance – insurance covering damage and destruction to the physical building (think something like a fire). The portion that most typically goes in to operating expenses is for the liability portion of the insurance (think something like a slip and fall). Confusing the issue a little further is that most leases require tenants to carry insurance – both property and liability on their premises. In the majority of instances, the insurance required to be carried by the tenant is for damage to its improvement and inventory within its premises, as well as liability within its premises. (In the other instances, the tenant may be on a ground lease, or constructed its own building improvements, and is required to insure no only the interior improvements, but the building itself).

With real estate taxes are addressed both in CAM or Operating Expenses as well as in a separate tax section, it is the common area portion of real estate taxes to be billed through CAM, and the taxes on the leasable areas of the property billed separately. In honor of National Donut Day this past Friday, picture a Krispy Kreme donut sitting on a plate. The plate itself is the property. The donut is the leasable area. The portion of the plate not covered by the donut is the common area – so outside of the donut may be the parking area and the hole inside the donut may be interior mall walkways and corridors. So the donut gets billed separately, and the uncovered portion of the plate gets billed through CAM.

There are countless justifiable ways to calculate the common area portion of taxes – enough to cover multiple blogs. So we won’t cover that at this time. However, there are a few thoughts to leave you with if you have these types of leases in your portfolio:

  • When caps on increases in expenses exist in leases, it is much more common to see a cap on CAM than a cap on real estate taxes. If the landlord is not billing taxes as required, they may have some exposure for overbilling if the tenant has a cap on CAM but not taxes.
  • The donut issue can sometimes be required for insurance.
  • As leases are converted to fixed CAM, the conversion must address the common area portion of real estate taxes. It may be the landlord’s intent to bill all taxes as a separate charge, but if common area taxes are still defined as part of CAM and CAM is fixed, only the taxes on the leasable areas may be billed.

Percentage rent using different partial year methodologies

Percentage rent is where a tenant pays a percentage of its sales once it has exceeded a certain base level of sales. The better a tenant does, the better the landlord does. If the tenant does not exceed the base level of sales, or the breakpoint, the landlord does not receive percentage rent.

In most cases, the tenant reports sales and pays percentage rent based upon its Lease Year. Lease Year is defined within the lease, most often defined one of three periods: 1. A Calendar Year (1/1-12/31), 2. A period running 2/1-1/31, and 3. A period ruining 12 full months from the commencement date (if it is the first of the month) or from the first day of the month following the commencement date (if the commencement date does not fall on the first of the month).

Calculation of percentage rent for full lease years is simple and straightforward. Take sales for the full lease year less the breakpoint for the full lease year, and multiply that excess times the percentage rent rate to determine percentage rent. However, when a partial lease year (a period less than 12 full months) is involved, a lease must specifically address how percentage rent is calculated because the methodology applied could provide wildly different amounts due.

Consider why partial years would be an issue. With exceptions for certain categories of retail and certain types of properties, most retailers will do a disproportionate amount of sales in November and December. Typically, we set an expectation of about 12% of sales in November (weighted toward the latter part of the month) and 19% in December. Think about that. If a tenant opens on 12/1, they are going to do about 19% of their annual sales in just over 8% of the year. Depending upon how the lease addresses percentage rent for that period (if the lease year end were 12/31), the tenant could pay wildly different amount of percentage rent.

While there is no limit to the number of ways that percentage rent for a partial period can be calculated, there are three 「typical」 methods applied in the industry – 1. True partial lease year, 2. Extended lease year, and 3. Extended partial lease year.

A true partial lease year requires that sales for the partial lease year be compared against a breakpoint calculated using the annual breakpoint prorated for the number of days in the partial period. Opponents of this method argue that the tenant is unfairly penalized higher amounts of percentage rent because the tenant opened during the busiest time of year. Proponents of this method argue that the tenant did not pay rent during the slowest times during the year and got the benefit of opening during the busiest time of year. An extended lease year combines the initial partial lease year with the first full lease year. To a certain extent, this method allows for the fact that there is often an artificial bump in sales when a tenant first opens. The final method, the extended partial, still bills for the partial period, but uses sales for the first 12 months against a breakpoint for the first 12 months, and then prorates the percentage rent that would be due for this so-called reference year by the number of days in the partial lease year. This method began surfacing around 20 years ago and is slowly becoming the standard in regional mall leases. It can be found in strip centers, but the first two methods are still much more common in open air centers.

Reflected in the following slides, I have calculated percentage rent for an initial partial lease year and a first full lease year using the same exact sales figures and a requirement that the tenant pays 6% of sales aver a $1,000,000 annual breakpoint.

Sales

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True partial lease year

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Extended lease year

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Extended partial lease year

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As you can see, percentage rent for the periods using the exact same set of numbers can range from a low of $69 to a high of $11,096. Therefore, whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it is imperative that you understand how percentage rent is required to be calculated for partial lease years.

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