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Opportunities exist for those with long-term outlook

March 17, 2009
By GARY TASMAN, Commercial Corner

Although I've said it countless times before, real estate is a long-term investment. And as many speculators have discovered, what looks good in the short term doesn't always pan out in the long run.

Given the current economy nationwide and the speculative backlash in our market, real estate has lost its broad investment appeal. So if you're looking one or two days out, or even one or two years out, nothing associated with real estate is going to look that appealing. The days of flipping property are over for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, if you go back to the fundamentals of our economy (population growth, quality of life, etc.) Southwest Florida still offers opportunity. It's just that going forward, real estate investors will have to base their decisions on the true functions of supply and demand vs. unrealistic expectations of rapid appreciation. In doing so, they'll see several good opportunities.

- Developable, Improved Outparcels. In terms of potential, the current inventory of developable, improved outparcels is drawing experienced investors looking for solid returns. First of all, from a historical perspective, outparcels are now available at very low rates. This makes them ideal for investors who either plan to build on them or hold them to sell at a premium to future users. (And yes, those users are coming.)

What makes a prime outparcel? The most desirable ones will have a good demand generator behind them. Big box retailers, such as Lowe's, Target or Publix, are just a few examples of preferred demand generators. Accordingly, the parcels around them are extremely attractive to banks, restaurants, gas stations and other service-related businesses that require high visibility and passing traffic.

- Entitled Land. Another solid investment opportunity is entitled land in the immediate path of growth. With entitled land, investors can buy at today's values, hold the property until the market rebounds (i.e., when demand catches up with supply) and then sell for a profit at a later date. What makes this an especially appealing investment is that there's a limited supply.

Further, it's more difficult and more expensive than ever before to entitle land today, due to the high cost of impact fees and the expense of complying with various other government regulations. Therefore, if the current supply is outpacing demand and the prices are soft, entitled land can be a terrific investment, particularly if you can get it with building permits in place.

Interestingly enough, there's a fair amount of entitled land available for sale, including some prime, infill properties. In many cases, landowners got to the market late, and before they could get their building permits or even complete the entitlement process, the market had shifted.

As a result of the diminished demand, many owners decided not to build and got stuck holding an investment that they had planned to exit sooner than later. Now, rather than pay debt service to hold onto the land indefinitely, many are opting to sell at very reasonable prices.

For entitled land to be a good deal, would-be investors should study the surrounding demographics and demand generators. If it's zoned commercial, for instance, is it near residential development that can support it? Is the site easily accessible? If so, an entitled parcel could be a golden opportunity for the astute investor. Just remember that the longer you can hold onto it, the more you'll profit when you sell or develop it in the future.

- Vacant, improved buildings. During the boom years in Southwest Florida, many developers adhered to the "build it and they will come" philosophy. They never planned to hold their property because they assumed that once it was built, they'd be able to lease the space immediately.

As we know, that hasn't happened in most cases, prompting owners to sell at or below replacement cost. I see this as another outstanding opportunity for investors.

In order to capitalize on the situation, buyers should purchase this type of property on a cost-approach basis and be willing to assume the risk of lease-up. When the market rebounds and the space is leased, the owner can revalue the property as an income-producer and sell it on a cap rate.

Again, the commercial market isn't likely to experience a major bounce in the short-term, so as an investment, vacant space is definitely a long-term proposition. It is also a risky one. However, the potential return on investment may be well worth it for investors who buy right in today's market.

- Properties in the path of planned sewers. Investors should always buy along the path of sewer expansion projects, which usually indicate up-and-coming areas on the verge of major population growth.

To know where utilities are going in, I advise you to call or visit the local utilities department for more information. Of course, plans can change, as we've seen with the recent decision to suspend the utilities expansion project in southwest Cape Coral. However, it's been reported that the city council will revisit this issue when it reconvenes next month.

The bottom line is there will always be opportunities in a down market. In fact, it's a well-known real estate adage to buy when the market is selling and to sell when everyone else is buying. If that's the case, I'd say that now's the time to get off the investment fence and buy for the future. A few years from now, you'll be glad you did.

Gary Tasman is executive director of Cushman & Wakefield's Southwest Florida office. For more information, please contact him at (239) 489-3600 or



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