When a real estate deal stumbles, what fixes can be made?

Last week I reviewed the steps in buying commercial real estate. Whether you’re buying to house your company’s operation or simply to enjoy the rent a parcel produces, the steps are essentially the same.

The possible exception could be the financing portion, which some investors abandon in favor of deploying large sums of cash into the buy.

Today, I will complete the orbit and describe some deal challenges that can occur and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

From last week:

Due diligence, also referred to as a contingency period, ranges from as few as 15 days to as long as 90, and a ton of work must occur during this time frame. Financing must be secured, title exceptions approved, inspection of the building – roof, electrical, HVAC, etc. accomplished, vesting documents drawn, financial aspects of the tenancy – if any – analyzed, and environmental health diagnosed.

Whew! Within each of the main categories of approval, there are checkpoints which guide toward the end. Financing, for example, involves credit of the buyer, the tenant, an appraisal, an enviro report and lender concurrence. There’s a lot to be done in a short time. What if something isn’t approved?

That, dear readers, is a subject for today’s column.

So, here it goes.

Generally, purchase and sale agreements include a mechanism for solving issues that arise in a deal.

The most widely used contract is published by the Association of Commercial Real Estate, or AIR. Clearly defined within paragraph nine are the various categories of approval items — inspection, title, tenancy, other agreements, environmental, material change, governmental approvals and financing. Within the boiler plate language are roadmaps for resolution.

If your contract is not the standard AIR form, results may differ. As always, it’s wise to seek legal counsel before engaging. But within the document, typically there are three choices – cancel, accept or fix. A fourth can creep in, which is a buyer-seller compromise.

Indulge me as we walk through some quick examples.

Let’s say a building inspector discovers the HVAC units are past their useful life. From experience, I can say this scenario is quite common. So, here’s what happens.

The buyer objects to the condition of the cooling systems by disapproving a portion of the physical inspection contingency. You may be wondering, wait, I thought the buyer was buying the building “as-is, where-is, with no seller warranties.” She is, but she’s also relying on her inspection to alert her to any fixes necessary. Confusing? Yes, it is.

Sure, a seller may simply refuse to repair or replace the units and cancel the escrow, but they cannot do so immediately. You see, here’s where the “mechanism” takes place. The buyer objects; the seller has 10 days to respond — yes, no or maybe. A no vote on the recall – ooops, sorry. Wrong issue. If the seller refuses, the buyer can cancel the deal within another 10 days, opt to continue and buy with the faulty units, or accept a compromise — the “maybe” offered by the seller.

Financing is trickier.

You see, if the buyer is unsuccessful in their pursuit of a loan by the date specified, generally, the seller can walk away. Therefore, it’s imperative to be quite transparent with the seller during the loan approval process. Because prior to the financing condition date, there may be some leverage.

If an appraisal comes back less than the contract price – which causes a lender to renege on the amount – it’s recommended to level with the seller.

Yes, you or the seller can cancel, additional dollars can be added to adjust for the delta – accept, an appeal can be made to the lender – buyer fix, purchase price can be reduced – seller fix, or a compromise between buyer and seller can be struck whereby buyer adds some dough, seller reduces the price – and voila!

I’ve witnessed these go every way you can imagine over my decades in the business. One certainty – there will always be issues. It’s a thing.

The next deal I close without one will be the first. But, fair warning. In today’s overheated industrial market, I’d not plan on a seller being terribly receptive to what’s referred to as a “re-trade.” Chances are there is a line of suitors waiting for the chosen buyer to blink.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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3 more ways you can avoid rent increases

If you read my column last week, you learned two key ways to avoid a rental rate increase — know your owner and understand the value of your tenancy.

If the bottom of your birdcage lands the Real Estate section before you read it, here’s a brief recap.

Industrial lease rates have increased a whopping 134% over the past 10 years. Recall, our market for manufacturing and logistics space was awakening from the ether of the 2008-2010 financial reset – err, meltdown and there were bargains galore. Now with the classic increase in demand from pandemic-fueled buying and a pinched supply of available buildings, rates have skyrocketed!

You may be fortunate to rent from an owner who appreciates your worth as a tenant and wants to avoid a costly vacancy if you bolt. If this is your situation and you’re approaching a renewal, count yourself among the lucky. Conversely, if maximizing the monthly income is your landlord’s objective, you could face an increase of double what you’re currently paying.

But, there is hope. Keep in mind these three strategies to stem a spike in monthly payments.

Buy a building

Historically, buying property has been costlier than renting on a pure monthly outlay basis.

Meaning, if we stack a mortgage, allotment for property taxes, insurance and upkeep together, the total will be higher than most leases. Plus, you must come up with a sum to bridge the gap between what a bank will loan and your purchase price, some 10%-25%.

However, this is many times shortsighted when looking at a projection over the life of a company’s occupancy. You see, lease rates escalate over time, generally fixed at 3%-3.5% annually. And, when a term expires, the landlord will bump the number even higher to compensate for the market variance.

Currently, we’re seeing a huge boost in rental rates which eclipses that 3%-3.5% annual escalator. Some find it better to own, finance the buy with fixed debt, thus stabilizing payments and enjoying appreciation and the tax benefits that accrue.

A word of caution. If you enter the buying fray, be prepared. Structure your A-game with proof of a down payment, lender pre-qualification letter, and a well-reasoned story of your desire to buy.

Move to cheaper geography

Once, the Inland parts of SoCal were cheaper, newer and alternatives were plentiful.

If you’re a logistics provider and you look East, this affordability gap is quickly narrowing. However, there are still “deals” to be found. Don’t forget areas just outside the state borders such as Arizona and Nevada. You might even find a business climate that welcomes enterprises with goodies such as tax breaks, employment incentives and fewer regulations.

Do more with less

We toured an operation recently. Occupied was a big chunk of a larger address. Since they leased the space five years ago, several distribution centers had been added to their supply chain, thus lessening their need for the square footage they leased locally.

By trimming their premises by 40% a great building popped up which fit their requirement. Another client of ours took advantage of the relative softness in the office space market and peeled away that portion of the company. Eliminating the people component from their warehouse created several new buildings to consider.

Don’t forget: Your additional capacity might be found if you look up and maximize your stacking. Frequently, a group will believe they are out of space because their floor is consumed. Ignored is the two or three feet in height not used. With the advances of material handling equipment – you can literally use every inch if you narrow your aisles and pile your product high.

More on these later.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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Seen a dramatic rent increase? Here are ways to avoid them

Lease rates for industrial properties in Southern California continue to rise!

To place this in some context, if your direction as a business owner was to rent a location in 2011 and your operation consumed 100,000 square feet, you could expect to pay around $45,000 per month in rent.

Of course, charges for things like property taxes, insurance and maintenance would have been in addition to the $45K. Those additional charges would have added around $12,500 per month, bringing the total to $57,500 – or 57.5 cents per square foot.

Flash forward to our pandemic-fueled shortage of space these days and comparable buildings lease for $135,000 per month!

For those scoring at home, that’s a 134% increase in 10 years. Or, a 13.4% annual increase. Or as I like to call it, simply nuts!

Am I saying if you rented an address in 2011 and signed a 10-year lease – when your lease expires this year – you can expect your rent to more than double? Yes, You got it.

So, how are businesses able to afford such a whopping spike? Better still, are there strategies you can employ to stem the rent bumps? The answers are, I don’t know and yes. Indulge me as I outline a few ways to lessen the blows of gigantic rent inflation.

Know your owner

The gentleman to whom you send your rent each month falls into the category of investors. Your tenancy is singular or multiple. Unfortunately, if you’re one of many and his buildings are full, your leverage is limited.

You see, he may opt to push rents even if a move-out ensues. He’ll simply replace you. Conversely, if your rent is the biggest part of his retirement income, a bit more realism happens. If you relocate – and his music stops – so does his lifestyle. He’ll be more flexible with you to keep you in residence and avoid a costly vacancy.

Know your value

As a tenant, your worth is two-fold.

First, the capitalized income you pay each year determines the dollar amount of the investment. Simply, $100,000 in annual rent – at today’s cap rates of 4.75% suggests $2,105,263 ($100,000/4.75%) – if a sale or refinance was considered.

Why is this important? A bank would lend a percentage of this amount if your owner needed cash. Plus, the market would gladly pay him this figure if a decision was made to cash-in or redeploy the money into another income property.

Second, your tenancy is costly to replace. By this, I mean free rent, downtime, refurbishment, and professional fees are forked over to secure a paying customer.

So, let’s say the title holder of your location believes he can get $100,000 a year if you bolt. You currently pay him $80,000 annually. If he’s correct in his assumption, he can achieve approximately $538,406 if he finds a five-year tenant ($100,000 with a 3% annual rent escalator).

However, if he lays fallow for two months, incentivizes the new group with one month of free time, paints and carpets the offices, and pays a commercial real estate professional 6%, count on an up-front expenditure of $72,303 – ($16,666 for downtime, $8,333 in free rent, $15,000 for a fix-up, and $32,304 in fees).

If we subtract $72,303 from our expected new income stream of $538,406 our net take is $466,103 or $93,220 per year.

Say you’re willing to pay him $90,000. So, he could be slightly better off replacing you. But, if any of his assumptions are wrong – say, he sits four months vs. two, he is better off renewing you at $90,000 annually.

Presumably, you’ve paid on time, taken care of the premises and sent him a Christmas card. Those intangibles have credibility. He may have to chase the new guy to get his rent.

Know your alternatives. Don’t forget. You could buy a building, consider a cheaper area or opt for a shorter lease term.

More on these later.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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Sublease or buyout? Each scenario is messy for tenants

Situations change rapidly in California’s business climate. What happens when a business needs to pivot, quickly?

Recently, I wrote of the ways in which you can extract yourself or your company from a lease obligation.

As a quick recap: Leases are contracts that allow occupancy for a certain period of time (term) and for consideration (rent). As an inducement for your tenancy, an owner (landlord) may offer some goodies – free or abated rent, an allowance to fix up the place or the right to extend your lease or buy the premises (options). In return, you agree to pay on time, stay the full period of the lease and take care of the building. Easy, right? Not so fast.

Sometimes circumstances arise whereby the agreement must be tweaked. In the extreme, a dramatic decrease in revenue leads to bankruptcy. Conversely, an uptick in sales could cause the need for more space. If a competitor is acquired or if the operation is sold, another shift occurs. Now, you have redundancy — too many facilities serving the same purpose. What to do with your leases?

Remedies abound. You can sublease the building, buy out, allow the term to expire, reject the lease through bankruptcy or default. Clearly, the last two are not recommended as there are legal consequences, but they are a way clear.

Most opt for one or a combination of the first three, sublease, buyout or term out. But what are the differences and when should they be used? Please allow me to dive a bit deeper.

Sublease

Simply put, in a sublease you locate a surrogate — a group to replace you.

But, don’t forget, there may not be another “you” readily available. Did your operation lease the first building you toured? Probably not. You considered multiple locations until you found the perfect fit of lease rate, landlord motivation, amenities, concessions and term. Now, you are the landlord and must meet the nuances of tenants in the market. All, while having little flexibility.

Your goal is to get out with as little downtime and expense as possible. Remember, your rent and term are known. Where is that rate compared with comparable availabilities – above, below or right at market? If you’re below, count yourself fortunate! You’ve something to offer.

So, how do you deal with an enterprise seeking a three-year lease when you’ve committed to 10. Plus, you’ve consumed the inducements. By that, I mean your free rent burned off or the new carpet is old now. To compete, you may have to consider offering some giveaways.

Subleases are messy! I’ve found the most success when the rent is below market, a lengthy term remains (such as 5 years, plus), and the building is in pristine condition.

Buy-out

An owner of commercial real estate spends significant dollars to originate your occupancy. First, he sat vacant while his agent marketed the availability and searched for a tenant, all while continuing to pay the bank and operating expenses.

Secondly, that free or abated rent is another cost. Third, painting the offices and adding new flooring isn’t cheap.

Finally, he paid professionals to negotiate the lease. All told, an owner will outlay 15-25% of the lease term’s rent in origination costs! He then recoups the expense over the term.

Therefore, if you approach your landlord with the question: “What’s it going to take to let me walk?” He will surely account for all of the above.

Generally, tenants find the price too steep and opt for another avenue. But, I’ve encountered situations where buyouts make sense. Typically, a spread exists between the stated rent and the current market. A mid-term of 2-3 years remains. And little cleanup is necessary.

Term. Clearly, is the easiest, but it’s seldom used. Why you might ask? Because the ends rarely meet.

Sure, if you could time your company’s demise with the expiration of your tenancy, boom! Problem solved. Unfortunately, the dangling participle of the term generally must be severed.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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Got more space than needed? Tips to wiggle out of a lease

Recently, we represented a tenant in a successful lease transaction.

The new location offers ample space and amenities for years to come and is one of four occupied by the company. So, now we’ve been approached by this client to review their other three buildings.

You see, an acquisition of a competitor is in the works. Thus, there could be a redundancy of capacity very shortly. Our counsel to them was column-worthy. So, we mashed up an old column on the subject along with an update on the new information.

If you find yourself in any of the following scenarios, consider your alternatives:

Your company was just bought and the operation will be rolled into another location.

Or, you’ve outstripped the capacity of your facilities but have time remaining on an existing lease.

Or, you have decided to shutter the operation and outsource the manufacturing to Texas but your lease expires a year from now.

Or, you decide to take advantage of historically low interest rates and buy a building, but there is that landlord who wants to receive her rent for the next two years.

ALL of these situations and more can cause the need for lease termination. But, just how do you accomplish this?

First, ask yourself these questions:

How much time remains on your lease? If the term remaining on your lease is less than two years, be prepared for the owner to use the remaining term as “free” marketing time. The owner has the luxury of rent payments while searching for a replacement tenant or buyer.

What type of entity owns your location? A private individual may be a bit more flexible than an institutional owner such as a pension fund adviser or a REIT (real estate investment trust).

Where is your rental rate in relation to the current market? If it’s an above-market rate, plan on subsidizing payments on the remaining term, if a replacement tenant can be found. If your rate is below market, the remaining term could provide a good alternative for a fast-growing company concerned about a long-term lease.

Does your lease allow fo assignment or subleasing? (Most do.) Rarely is there a removal of your obligation, however. This means that if you sublease or assign the remaining term, you may still be liable for the payment of rent if the sub-tenant defaults.

If you are moving to a bigger space, what is the rent amount monthly? If you are doubling or tripling in size, one month of rent in the old building could be a fraction of the monthly rent in the new location. IE: Old rent is $5,000 per month. New rent is $15,000 per month. There are nine months of term remaining in the old digs or $45,000. If you negotiate three months of rent abatement in the new unit, you avoid a double payment.

How long would your building take to lease? Any competent commercial real estate broker can answer this for you. The answer to this question will have a bearing on a lease buyout.

Can some portion of the operation stay through the term? I just sold a building to a company with 15 months remaining on a lease term. Rather than try to sublease the space or negotiate a buyout, my client elected to open another related operation in the space.

Are any of your neighbors crowded and in need of square footage? A fast-growing neighbor can consume your space with a moment’s notice – and thank you!

Once these answers are clearly understood, you have some options:

Negotiate a buyout: I generally will suggest an occupant call his owner and discuss the reason the space is no longer needed. I suggest the occupant ask the owner if she would consider a buyout of the remaining term and if so, for how much?

Depending on an up-trending or down-trending market, the owner response will vary. Assuming 12 to 18 months of term remain, an owner will generally compute the marketing time to find a new tenant, lease concessions (free rent and improvements), brokerage fees, and the variance of the current rental rate to market. All of these factors form the basis of a buyout offer.

Sublease or assign the space: If more than two years remain on your lease and unless you are dramatically below market, most owners will not consider a buyout of the remaining obligation. You then must find a replacement tenant to live out the remainder of your lease term. You can either do this yourself, hire a commercial real estate professional or ask the owner to do it.

Cease payment: I have NEVER recommended this but it is an alternative.

Live out the term: In the example above, my client loved the old location so he created a business operation to house the space and live out the remaining term.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104

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Are asking prices obsolete in this crazy real estate market?

Asking prices. Pay me this and we’ll make a deal. Easy? Not so fast.

In our hyper-inflated industrial real estate market, every COMP is a new high watermark. Demand for manufacturing and logistics buildings outstrips supply. Read: There is approximately three to four times the number of buyers than there are sellers. Is this scientific? No. Strictly anecdotal from my experience this year and the last six months of 2020.

Therefore, sellers are counseled to proceed cautiously lest they leave shekels on the sideboard. One way to accomplish this is to enter the market un-priced. The traditional back and forth of a negotiation – offer, counter, counter, strike – is history. What’s replaced it is akin to the old adage of “bring me a rock.” Yes, that’s indeed a rock. Now, bring me another rock. Once referred to as “countering oneself” – a no-no – is now quite common.

Here is the typical cadence these days while representing a buyer. We scan available inventory that meets the buyer’s parameters. If there is one match, you’re lucky. Two or three? Jackpot! You then check with the seller’s broker to confirm availability and touring protocol. Ooops. Sorry, we’re under contract. No, that sold last week. Nope, the tenant renewed.

Our system is quite archaic compared with our brethren in residential sales. Yes, we must call – quite inefficient – brokers to verify info. Realty boards streamline this with their levels of availability – active, active pending, active, contingent, etc. But there’s no such luck in our world. Commercial real estate is not under the same purview.

But, I digress. Back to the search. Faced with limited or no avails – now what? Well, we then scan the list of buildings available for lease. There might just be a seller hiding among the lease listings. You must filter out the “portions” of larger buildings as a buyer would have to buy something much bigger and factor out the owners who are atypically sellers. Hop on that phone and dial your fellow agents. Ok, cool. You found a possibility.

A proposal must check ALL the boxes – price north of where the last sale traded, superior financial qualifications, very few – if any – contingencies, quick close, large deposits, a bit of pixie dust, a hope and a prayer. Frequently, the off-market Hail Marys are dropped in the end zone. No score as the time expires.

But, you still have the buyer. Now what? Hand to hand combat. You pull a list of everything – vacant or occupied. Put together a nice letter outlining your need and be very specific. Send them to the owners. You might just hit pay dirt.

So, are asking prices obsolete? It would certainly appear so!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

 

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12 indicted in alleged Southern California ‘green’ loan and mortgage fraud scheme

LOS ANGELES — A dozen people have been indicted in connection with an alleged mortgage fraud and “green” loan scheme that operated throughout Southern California and resulted in losses of about $15 million, the California Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday.

The 133-count grand jury indictment, handed up April 26, alleges that the crimes occurred in Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties.

The indictment charges the defendants with a variety of counts, including conspiracy, mortgage fraud, grand theft, identity theft, forgery, filing a false or forged document and money laundering.

The defendants allegedly exploited the Yrgene Energy Fund and Renew Funding, companies that provide funding to licensed contractors for energy- efficient home improvements for homeowners, and used false identities to get mortgage loans from conventional banks and hard money lenders, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“The allegations against these defendants charge a pattern of disregard for the law and willingness to go as far as stealing the identities of the deceased just to further their scheme,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the charges. “Our office will seek to hold these defendants accountable for their alleged actions.”

Those named in the indictment are: Tamara Dadyan, 39, Richard Ayvazyan, 42, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Grigor Tatoian, 50, Andranik Petrosyan, 46, Arshak Bartoumian, 48, Artashes Martirosyan, 43, Lilit Malyan, 39, Lubia Carrillo, 41, Rosa Zarate, 49, Estephanie Reynoso, 31, and Vanessa Bell, 60.

Eleven of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, with Malyan due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment May 18.

The case stemmed from a multi-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, with assistance from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The attorney general lauded the two agencies for “their work to put an end to an extensive, six-year fraud scheme that resulted in the theft of an estimated $15 million.”

“If you were a victim or have information please call 213-486-6979,” said a tweet from LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza.

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Do buyers stand a chance in this heated real estate market?

I read with great interest last week, Leslie Eskildsen’s column on a relatively new residential listing class known as Registered Status.

If your unfamiliar – as was I – here are the Clif notes. A seller hires a broker to sell his house by executing an agreement. Twelve choices are given – among them – active, coming soon or registered. If “registered” is chosen, the broker may share the information with agents employed beneath the broker’s license – but not with the Multiple Listing Service.

Read: Cooperation is eliminated and the pool of potential purchasers is pruned to those represented by the broker. In today’s robust seller’s arena, buyers are more plentiful than houses available for sale. The transaction occurs free of hassle, multiple tours and myriad proposals. Do sellers leave shekels on the counter? Maybe. But that’s the seller’s prerogative. Wow!

OK. You may be wondering what any of this has to do with commercial real estate as that’s my forte. Indulge me as I relate a few similarities.

The residential market typically precedes commercial by nine to 18 months. If you’re curious about the future landscape for commercial real estate, just watch what’s happening residentially.

In 2007, residential sales plummeted due to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. CRE didn’t feel the pinch until late 2008. Social media marketing took root with residential agents well before any of us used Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter to broadcast our listings. Will “registered status” become a thing with our inventory? My prediction is yes!

A type of registered status already exists. Some brokers already employ a form of registered status marketing. Here’s an example: If a seller engages me to peddle a freestanding 10,000 square foot manufacturing property in Anaheim, I can generate 10 offers with 10 phone calls.

A recent land sale we made was preceded by a select “invitation to offer.” The competition was fierce and the resulting comp set the new high price. If you have a buyer for a leased industrial building in the Inland Empire, and the offering is listed, chances are there is no fee for the buyer’s side.

Buyers are at an extreme disadvantage. Akin to a season of “The Bachelor,” sellers have their pick of qualified purchasers and may present the rose to anyone they choose. It’s quite common for avails to hit the market un-priced. We are given “guidance” as to the seller’s expectations. Plus, water in the Mojave is more plentiful than buildings to buy.

All of these factors have pushed pricing up 32% since October 2020! If something hits the market – you must take the Gretzky approach. Skate to where you believe the puck will be.

The traditional deal structure also is waning. It used to be — before this crazy activity — a buyer could expect to receive a reasonable time to secure financing, clear title and inspect the roof for leaks – all while under no obligation to close if something untoward was discovered. Now? Forget it. You’re lucky to get any time to conduct due diligence – without money at risk.

Buyer reps MUST innovate. If your business is representing buyers or tenants, you must manage your client’s expectations. In a recent round of talks, we offered a number 13% higher than the last market sale, non-refundable money on day one and no financing contingency.

We didn’t get a counter! Why? Even though our deal was not conditioned upon us getting a loan, we still needed financing. Confusing? Yes. But we were willing to risk it – and with a large sum of money as the assurance to the seller. In effect, we were told, “Show us the money”! Prove the funds in a liquid account equal to the purchase price or no deal.

In the darkest days of 2009-2011, sellers were at a disadvantage. Not anymore!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104. 

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L.A. County brother and sister arrested, accused in real estate scam tied to fraudulent listings and sales

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California brother-and-sister team were arrested Tuesday on federal charges alleging they orchestrated a $6 million real estate fraud scam in which they listed homes without the owners’ consent and collected money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.

Adolfo Schoneke, 43, of Torrance, and Bianca Gonzalez, also known as Blanca Schoneke, 38, of Walnut, each pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a nine-count indictment unsealed after their arrests.

If convicted of seven counts of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, Schoneke and Gonzalez each would face up to 162 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A June 1 trial date was set. Both defendants will remain in custody at least until detention hearings scheduled Friday for Schoneke and next Tuesday for Gonzalez.

According to the indictment, Schoneke and Gonzalez, with the help of co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast.

The indictment alleges Schoneke and Gonzalez found properties that they would list — even though many, in fact, were not for sale, and they did not have authority to list them for sale — and then marketed the properties as short sales providing opportunities for purchases at below-market prices.

Using other people’s broker’s licenses, Schoneke and Gonzalez allegedly listed the properties on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service. In some cases, the indictment alleges, the homes were marketed through open houses that co-conspirators were able to host after tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.

As part of the alleged scheme, the co-conspirators accepted multiple offers for each of the not-for-sale properties, hiding this fact from the victims and instead leading each of the victims to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted, according to federal prosecutors.

The co-conspirators allegedly were able to string along the victims — sometimes for years — by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.

The indictment also alleges that Schoneke and Gonzalez directed office workers to open bank accounts in the office workers’ names. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full “purchase price” to these bank accounts after receiving forged short sale approval letters, prosecutors allege.

Schoneke and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from those accounts and give it to them — a procedure that allowed the defendants to take possession of the fraud proceeds while hiding their involvement in the scheme.

Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million.

Read more about L.A. County brother and sister arrested, accused in real estate scam tied to fraudulent listings and sales This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Orange County Shredding Service

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4 ways to keep your office spaces vacant

Occasionally, I transact office deals even though my specialty is industrial — manufacturing and logistics warehouses.

Differences between the two commercial real estate genres are minimal yet vast.

Recently, a client requirement thrust me into the world of office leasing. You see, we fulfilled a need with a long-term agreement on a new warehouse building. An amazing space was procured with all of the modern amenities – except for one – enough office space to house the employees.

We encountered an owner unwilling to construct more offices. Why? Because the dollars needed to build wouldn’t yield an adequate return. Plus, once our guy vacates, the next occupant won’t find value. Solution? Find a suite of offices close by. Easy, right? Well, not so fast.

My expectation? We would find acute motivation and many viable choices. We’d just experienced a year of pandemic lockdowns, working from home and throttled demand for office space.

As we ventured into the market, I was amazed by the voracious pursuit of our tenancy. Wow! Compared with skimpy industrial avails and colleagues who don’t return calls, office space alternatives abound.

Akin to an episode of “The Batchelor,” we suddenly had 10 proposals and five more warming up in the pen. A red rose was the only thing missing!

But, as we toured the options, each had its negatives. The good news is, I believe a couple of the spots could work. However, those didn’t provide great column fodder.

So here it goes. Here are four ways to ensure your space remains VACANT.

As is: “Just take the space as it sits and we will discount the rent.” Good in theory, bad in reality. Moving a staff into a new location carries infinite variables, time constraints and pitfalls. Layer in some construction and an occupant will vapor lock. If you lined up 100 office tenants, one to two would be willing to undertake a refurbishment. The savings rarely offset the aggravation. Solution: Spend some money. Put the suite in move-in condition.

Tuppence: One of the stops was a scene from Mary Poppins. As we entered, a flock of pigeons massed the doorway. Feed the birds, indeed! Two thoughts occurred to me. “Man, this space has been empty a LONG time and how is the owner ever going to remove the months of guano?” Solution: Owners might want to visit their vacancies a bit more often. After all, it’s only tuppence!

Is Green Day performing? No kidding. At our first visit, I flashed back to a former address where I worked in the 1990s. Complete with burgundy and grey carpet squares, black aluminum door frames, parabolic light lenses and privates large enough for a Pentium processor and loads of paper files. I truly expected to be awakened as September ended.  (For those not scoring at home, that’s was a hit by the band Green Day – but I digress.)

However, the good outweighed the bad here and this one emerged as the front runner. Solution: A quick coat of paint and eliminating the carpet in favor of a tripod with flooring choices would have cinched it.

Someone didn’t get the memo. If the tenant occupying the space you’re touring isn’t aware they are moving… Yeah, that’s uncomfortable. Especially since no one met us at the building to explain the situation and buffer the stares. At least the layout there was decent.

So, if your desire is a vacancy, simply follow these four steps. Don’t spend any refurbishment money, never visit your suites, leave any potential to the imagination, and don’t require a representative to attend tours. Guaranteed success!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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