March 19, 2018
What Slump? Some Manhattan Retailers Look to Own Buildings Instead of Renting Them
Falling prices are starting to tempt some independent businesses, restaurants, galleries and medical offices to consider buying properties Small businesses largely steered clear of real-estate investments during the heady days of soaring rents and prices for Manhattan retail properties. Now that prices are coming down, some are exploring the possibility of owning their space. Earlier […]
Falling prices are starting to tempt some independent businesses, restaurants, galleries and medical offices to consider buying propertiesSmall businesses largely steered clear of real-estate investments during the heady days of soaring rents and prices for Manhattan retail properties. Now that prices are coming down, some are exploring the possibility of owning their space.Earlier this year, a venture led by chef Stefano Secchi and entrepreneur David Switzer bought a four-story building with a vacant restaurant space in the Flatiron District, paying less than the asking price. The two are planning to open a restaurant there, with housing above it.The principals of Tribeca design gallery R & Company purchased a nearby property with a ground floor and two lower levels to expand their business, create more exhibition space and open an academic research center. The property is known as a retail condominium, which, like a residential condo, allows buyers to acquire a portion of a property and contribute to its overall maintenance.Both viewed owning as a way to have greater control over their future.“We want to find a place that is long-term and not be inflated out of our leases if we decided we want to stay,” Mr. Secchi said.Falling prices create an opportunity for business owners to make an investment in real estate at a discount from the height of the market, said Adelaide Polsinelli, senior managing director at real-estate services firm Eastern Consolidated.Although businesses that acquire Manhattan retail property for their own operations still represent a small portion of sales, more are exploring the idea, brokers said. Acquisitions by these buyers represented about 8% of retail condo sales dollars in 2017, up from about 3% the year before, according to data from Real Capital Analytics.The moves come at a time when the U.S. retail sector is in turmoil. Big retailers are closing stores or going out of business altogether, and landlords have begun to rethink their properties.Even so, some Manhattan restaurants, galleries and medical offices are being tempted to enter the market by falling prices, brokers said. The average price per square foot for retail condos fell 60% to $1,605 at the end of 2017 from its 2015 high, according to Real Capital Analytics. The average price per square foot for both retail condos and stand-alone retail buildings fell 16% from its recent high in 2014 to $3,092, according to real-estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.Businesses that can afford to buy often are motivated to do so because it eliminates the uncertainty that comes toward the end of a lease term, offers the possibility of long-term appreciation and presents other financial opportunities, such as becoming a landlord and earning rental income should the business close, Ms. Polsinelli said.Often the rent for a retail space costs more than the interest on the mortgage of a retail property, and as an owner there are tax benefits such as the deduction for depreciation, she said.Because of these perks, buyers who are users of the retail space value the property differently from other investors and typically are willing to pay a 10% to 20% premium above levels others might offer, said Robert Knakal, chairman of New York Investment Sales at Cushman.“We knew we wanted to buy, to create a sense of perpetuity,” said Zesty Meyers, one of the principals at the 20-year-old R & Company. “We were at the right time and the right place to find what we couldn’t find anywhere else.”R & Company’s new 8,000-square-foot retail condo, purchased for $7 million, sits at the base of a landmark cast-iron building on White Street in Tribeca. A block north of the firm’s gallery on Franklin Street, it features a dramatic 40-foot atrium.For Messrs. Secchi and Switzer, the search began at the height of the retail market a few years ago. Mr. Secchi—who spent three years working in Italy, including at renowned chef Massimo Bottura’s Michelin-rated restaurant in Modena—knew he wanted to find a building with space that already had a restaurant use on its certificate of occupancy and had some apartments above to provide cash flow.The wait paid off, and the partners bought the building at 27 E. 20th St. for $7.25 million.“When we bought, we knew we had to go into something that made sense to pay per square foot,” Mr. Secchi said.The pair are now shipping relics and pieces from an old farmhouse in Italy to create the atmosphere of an Italian osteria at the new restaurant, which is expected to open in August. They are working on a residential concept with a community atmosphere for the apartments above.