Optimising Real Estate Portfolios

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1 Optimising Real Estate Portfolios Barriers to Success, Innovative Ideas, Successful Outcomes Executive Summary of the discussions at the Royal Society of Chemistry November 13, Summary of survey at the event Delegates completed a questionnaire to add some statistical depth to the discussions. The results are summarised below: There was a mixed view when delegates were asked whether they believe that there is insufficient innovation in the disposal market (50% agreed and 50% disagreed) Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Property Directors consider their property portfolio to be agile enough to meet their business needs Lack of repair is seen as a material barrier to successful disposals by 65% of delegates 73% believe that there is much more they can do to improve their space utilisation The vast majority of Property Directors (85%) think that landlord consent is still taking too long 96% believe there should be more lease flexibility Half of delegates think that greater use of the Internet for things like acquisitions and disposals may have a major bearing on the survival of the agency model. The other half thinks the opposite Almost three quarters (73%) of Property Directors think that agencies do not understand the customer journey when managing their clients disposals FRS12 is not working in terms of fully accounting for lease liabilities for 62% of delegates Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Property Directors agree that lease accounting will promote best practice in lease management There is a strong belief (85%) that the Board will have to forward plan their real estate needs even more carefully in light of current market conditions. 2. Introduction Nick Cook, the Principal and Managing Director at Avison Young UK, opened the event by reminding attendees that the Property Directors Forum 1 is an exclusive community set up to provide a VOICE for Occupiers, alert members about the changing environment of the commercial property market and work together to raise the profile and strategic importance of occupier property directors - without sales people or suppliers present. 1 The Forum now has over 100 active members of its LinkedIn Group and over 200 who have attended events. Forum members manage over 20,000 properties, employ more than 2million people in the UK and have a combined revenue total of over 500bn per annum.

2 He pointed out that constant changes in the property sector landscape in recent years are prompting the need for greater optimisation of real estate portfolios and more efficient ways for disposing of surplus space. To prompt discussion on this topic, Nick introduced the keynote speaker - Nicholas Cheffings, Chair of Hogan Lovells and the UK s foremost authority on leasehold liability portfolio transactions. Nick provided a brief overview of the sponsor of the event, Avison Young ( an international privately owned commercial real estate advisory firm which opened its first two offices in Europe this year. 3. Summary of presentation by Nicholas Cheffings Nicholas Cheffings is one of the very few UK lawyers who have been involved in some of the UK s most notable structured sale and leaseback and surplus portfolio transactions. Nicholas is also a founder of the Property Protocols website ( which provides a free resource for the property industry in a form of series of practical documents and steps to help smooth out certain lease processes. More information on Nicholas Cheffings: His presentation, Lease Liability Transfer models and services, highlighted the following key points for consideration by occupiers: The challenge lies in disposing of portfolios of surplus space. Usually the properties are not in prime locations, or in need of refurbishment, or both. The traditional solution, an Agent, should have the right incentive and the right focus to resolve this challenge. In reality, Agents often deal first with the easy ones and then lose interest leaving the problem unresolved. Some of the available options for property directors include assign, sublet, surrender or buy in the freehold. The DIY solution can be a thankless task - very resource intensive, it conflicts with operational requirements and pressures and adds the responsibility for bleeding profit. The alternative approach proposes a portfolio disposal of the lot to a specialist operator at a saving to total lease cost and with no property management required. This is a virtual assignment as the lease is not assigned. The tenant is liable to pay rent and specialists act as a typical managing agent. There is no need for a landlord consent letter. The payment is made at a strike price at which a saving is made for the property director and a profit is made for the specialist. Specialists charge less to back themselves to beat the market. The advantages of this Big Bang solution include: certainty of cost, removal of market risk while keeping the FD/CFO happy and, allowing property directors to concentrate back on their day job This solution has worked for a variety of companies in differentiated sectors including: Wolseley, Carillion, Virgin Media, Morrisons, Royal Mail, BIS and others. By definition this solution would work for anyone with a big enough portfolio (usually around properties but can be less, depending on their size).

3 There is however common barriers to this type of solution that include lack of knowledge of the market, lack of incentive, lack of available capital to find the reverse premium, not knowing the right people or not having enough properties. A copy of Nicholas Cheffing s presentation is available here: Nicholas-Cheffings.pdf 4. Scanning the Horizon Nick Cook then presented the overview of the current and future global economic outlook as well as the UK property dynamics, including the following observations: Eurozone still not out of the woods and continues to present both opportunities and threats China growth slowing which could create related risks in other markets UK s stronger than average recovery, the election looming & UKIP, all provide challenges Canada solid Middle East in crisis Market is awash with investors Development pipeline is empty Good stock has been taken or will go shortly Terms are fast moving in favour of the Landlord (money and legal) Attitudes are also hardening in favour of the Landlord Topics on the P&L Agenda include: Rents (offices & industrial) rising Retail - best locations - rents rising or hardening Rates and service costs rising Choice is limited Staff costs will jump it was noted that by the amount of hands raised, most of the property directors present at the Forum confirmed that their companies were hiring Competition as fierce as ever Margins are tight Nick Cook concluded that, based on the above observations, 2015 is going to be an interesting year with both optimism and the need for careful strategic choices. He then outlined some of the main topics that should be on the property director s agenda in 2015: Forward planning Rent reviews Lease length and tracking Space utilisation Attending to repairs and maintenance

4 More proactive portfolio management Premiums for better leases Aggressive attitude to business needs vs. wants 5. Round Table Discussions Topics that have been suggested for debate by members of the Forum cover a wide range. The discussion session was designed to help to see how Property Directors and their organisations are approaching each one so that any trends can be identified and shared with members. The presentation was therefore followed by Round Table Debates to address a number of questions, concerning three main topics Market, Financial and Tenant. The main observations/conclusions from these discussions are recorded below. MARKET (Market Barriers, Flexibility, Internet, Customer Journey) Tables 5 and 2 discussed the same questions: 1. Do you ever hear agencies talking about a customer journey when taking on disposal projects? 2. What do you consider to be the major touch points when disposing of property? 3. How would you improve the customer journey? 4. What could agencies do immediately to improve their disposal service? 5. In the modern world of the Internet will you search, select and lease your space directly? 6. If the Internet is likely to play a greater part in the leasing (acquisition and disposal) of your space where does this leave the agencies? 7. How is the internet going to change the way you acquire and/or dispose of properties in the next 5 years? 8. Which primary lease clauses should be more flexible? 9. Do you think government should legislate to provide tenants with greater lease flexibility? 10. Would you pay a premium for greater flexibility? If so how much (%)? 11. Typically what do you consider to be the major barriers in obtaining Landlord consents? 12. What could you do to help ensure a more successful/timely outcome? The summary of the Round Table debates from Tables 5 and 2 were presented by Mike Wingrove from Dentons LLP (5) and Gary Bostock from Staples (UK) Retail Ltd (2). The main conclusions were as follows: Over 7 in 10 (73%) of Property Directors present at the Forum agreed that the customer journey is not properly identified and agencies don t really understand their client s customer journey when taking on and managing disposal projects. Communication and mutual understanding between Agents and Property Directors is also vital when it comes to improving the customer journey. However, the customer journey was not considered to be a crucial part of the process Communication and full understanding of the client s (Property Director) needs are seen as major touchpoints when disposing of property. Agents should be able to understand better their client s requirements and expectations

5 For agencies to improve their disposal service it s essential to ensure regular reporting as well as greater transparency and honesty in their dealings Half of delegates present thought that greater use of the Internet for things like acquisitions and disposals may have a major bearing on the survival of the agency model, however: Some of the Property Directors see the Internet only as a first step in their research (or as part of a wider approach) when it comes to searching, selecting and leasing of their space A commonly occurring comment: the Internet is not there yet suggests that Property Directors prefer direct contact with their agents that allows for better understanding of their individual needs. Being able to use the knowledge and expertise of the agency is crucial for Property Directors and the Internet will probably not fulfil this expert role Property Directors don t think that the Internet will change the way they acquire and/or dispose of properties in the next 5 years, except, possibly, for short term letting. It s perceived to be more as an extension of the current way of working and an evolution rather than revolution 96% of Property Directors recognise the need for greater flexibility, especially when it comes to the following lease clauses: breaks/exits, rentals, term length, ability to sub-let and dilapidation/reinstatement There was a mixed view whether there is a need for government legislation to provide tenants with greater lease flexibility. Some Property Directors think that government legislation should be provided but they are doubtful that this would ever happen. Others feel this is not needed Property Directors are prepared to pay a premium but only if it allows for greater flexibility. It was however noted that circumstances vary by transactions and the amount/percentage paid would be different in each case The vast majority of Property Directors (85%) think that landlord consent is still taking too long Permissions, legal agreement/s, obtaining detailed specifications data, landlord s attitude, the relationship with the landlord as well as timing and sometimes the managing agent are considered to be some of the major barriers to obtaining Landlord consents Communication is crucial to ensuring a more successful/timely outcome when it comes to obtaining Landlord consent (depends largely on the quality of the relationship). Other factors include leverage, pre-planning, preparation, operational knowledge of Landlord s needs, greater flexibility etc TENANT (Innovation, Agility, Barriers and Space Utilisation) Tables 1 and 4 discussed the same questions: 1. Is the property market innovative enough in disposing of lease liabilities? 2. Please provide two examples of innovative solutions for disposing of lease liabilities 3. What are the barriers to creating more innovative disposal solutions? 4. How would you define an agile property portfolio? 5. Do you have a portfolio agility strategy? What measures do you apply to ensure compliance with your agility strategy? 6. What change would you make to improve the agility of your portfolio? 7. Do you feel your portfolio strategy matches the agility needed by your business?

6 8. Many companies are not investing in the best practice maintenance. In your experience how material is this? 9. Does your company consider investing in surplus premises in order to dispose of them, as a good investment? If so why? 10. What more do you think you could do to optimise the use of your space? 11. What are the barriers preventing you from being more effective in your space management? 12. Are you using software technologies to monitor portfolio performance? 13. If so please provide examples 14. What KPI s do you use to measure/benchmark your portfolio space utilisation performance? The summary of the Round Table debates from Tables 1 and 4 were presented by Deborah Parker from AXA UK (1) and Paul Bennett from Gala Coral Group Limited (4). The main conclusions were as follows: There was a mixed view when delegates were asked whether they believe that there is insufficient innovation in the disposal market (50% agreed and 50% disagreed with that statement). The debates uncovered the following: Innovation in disposing of lease liabilities in the property market is dependent on many factors including: the property cycle, asset class and lease structure The main examples of innovative solutions for disposing of lease liabilities include: agile planning and execution as well as a focus on reinvigorating conversations with landlords The main barriers to creating more innovative disposal solutions include: legal structure, attitude to risk, numbers and volumes of properties, market structure and condition, funding (landlord s perspective about what their incentives are), financial impact and provision of capital (from tenant s perspective) Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Property Directors consider their property portfolio to be agile enough to meet their business needs Property Directors define an agile property portfolio as a balanced portfolio in terms of tenure, working flexibility and use of serviced offices For the agility strategy of the portfolio to be improved the property strategy should be aligned with the business strategy However, agility planning is treated as a lower priority than handling property transactions eg end of leases Investing in surplus premises in order to dispose of them can be considered as a good investment Lack of repair is seen as a material barrier to successful disposals by 65% of delegates Investing in best practice maintenance varies according to the purpose of the property e.g. whether it is a head office, storage, retail, etc 73% believe that there is much more they can do to improve their space utilisation: In order to better optimise the use of space, Property Directors suggest greater use of open plan offices, hot desks, limiting the space per person as well as the use of other free available spaces outside the business such as coffee shops etc. Sometimes this requires a change in the culture of the business Resistance to change, status issues (ego and need for an office) and lease lengths are considered to be the main barriers preventing Property Directors from being more effective in their space management

7 Some of the new technologies used to monitor portfolio performance including Passive Infrared (PIR) technology used for desk space utilisation insight and door entry systems were also discussed Property Directors use KPI s to measure/benchmark the performance of their portfolio space utilisation. FINANCIALS (FRS12, Lease Accounting, Forward Planning) Tables 6 and 3 discussed the same questions: 1. Does FRS12 encourage best practice in terms of disposing of surplus assets/liabilities? 2. Where do you think the system is open to abuse? 3. Should FRS12 calculations be externally audited? 4. Is lease accounting on your Company s agenda and what will this mean? 5. Do you think lease accounting will encourage your Board to support you in optimising your portfolio? If so why? 6. Do you think you should be introducing lease accounting before it is imposed on you? 7. How do you track your current TOC (total occupancy cost) against the market? How important is this? 8. Do you track the cost of labour and combine this with your real estate? 9. How are you adjusting to the need to forward plan your property acquisitions in markets of short supply? The summary of the Round Table debates from Tables 6 and 3 were presented by Mike Gray from Shelter (6) and Philip Searle from William Hill (4). The main conclusions were as follows: 62% of delegates think FRS12 is not working in terms of fully accounting for lease liabilities FRS12 is not considered to encourage best practice in terms of disposing of surplus assets/liabilities. It was noted that this depends largely on the culture of the company. There is a tendency for caution or over provision. FD s are doing this to tell good news going forward. The system is open to abuse as it is sometimes easy to over-provide or be too cautious. There is a need for FRS12 calculations to be externally audited. There were mixed opinions whether lease accounting is on the Property Directors company agenda. Some suggest it is and has been for many years and others that it s not on the agenda until it becomes clear and mandated. Also, most usually don t know their full gross liability (e.g. dilapidations). Nevertheless, Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Property Directors agreed that lease accounting will promote best practice in lease management. Lease accounting is seen as useful in encouraging the Board to support the portfolio optimisation practices as it removes the deadwood liability, adds flexibility and raises visibility internally. If there is a material difference to manage then the Board may act. There were split opinions on whether lease accounting should be introduced by Property Directors first or imposed on them. Some see it as an opportunity to understand certain implications and potential to foresee and deal with issues identified early. Others think that it should not be introduced until imposed. There is a strong belief (85%) that the Board will have to forward plan their real estate needs even more carefully in light of current market conditions.

8 To track the current TOC (total occupancy cost) against market, usually annually, Property Directors recognise the need for consistency, understanding of their KPI s (e.g. desk cost vs cost per head) as well as comparing these with benchmarking stats (from IPD). Being able to track the current TOC creates more credibility and better visibility internally and also allows for better forecasting and budgeting. It is seen as an important measure when reporting to CEOs and CFOs. Property Directors track the cost of labour but find it hard to connect to the property function. Apart from cost, key factors to consider are availability and quality of labour. Some also only examine labour at a change point. In the markets of short supply, Property Directors can try to adjust to the need to forward plan their property acquisitions by being more selective. However generally they do not adjust because of the inability to plan in advance, difficult market conditions, dealing with change and regulations. Instead, they should plan for increased growth/flexibility or plan to utilise other solutions such as serviced offices. 6. Observations In closing the event, Nick Cook thanked delegates for identifying the main factors (barriers, trends and ideas) around Tenant, Market and Financial areas that play a major role when optimising real estate portfolios. He concluded that: Property Directors have now higher demands when it comes to servicing a customer but agents are not reacting to the new demands in service There is an increased need for communication in order to bypass the intermediary and to achieve better direct relationships with landlords The Internet is not yet mature enough to replace agents but they need to be actively adding value to their clients to protect and enhance their position as essential expert advisers Revenue, energy and other resources are being wasted because of inefficient space utilisation There is a need for hubs and offices outside Central London to help reduce property costs and to access other talent Planning and more regular communication is essential to more effective property management Innovation for lease disposal is still on the agenda for 2015 The appreciation of what Property Directors are doing behind the scenes in terms of building agility is seldom seen at a Board level. It would be good to see it written down as a strategy document The use of measurements and benchmarks among Property Directors is getting better It is disappointing that FRS12 is not yet driving the correct behaviours He recommended that some PDF members might like to work together between the events to discuss these issues further and encouraged members to ask more questions on the leasehold liability transfer topic. November 2014

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