I recently assembled a roundtable of real estate experts to discuss the state of self-storage in the Northeast. To help quantify the trends they’re seeing in today’s market, I asked them to rate their markets on a scale from one to five (rating specifics differ for each topic). I’ve also added my comments on their average response. Joining us in the discussion are:
- Guy Blake, Pyramid Brokerage Co., Kingston, N.Y.
- Linda Cinelli, LC Realty, North Branch, N.J.
- Joe Mendola, NAI Norwood Group, Bedford, N.H.
- Chuck Shields, Beacon Commercial Real Estate, Philadelphia
How has self-storage revenue held up in your market over the past 12 months?
[Scale: 1 = down dramatically, 3 = down moderately, 5 = no change/steady]
Blake: Four. In Upstate New York, revenue is down only slightly, but delinquencies are up.
Cinelli: Three. In New York City and northern New Jersey, revenue hasn’t dropped drastically, but it has dropped. Owners are cleaning up their expenses, cutting costs and just hanging in there.
Mendola: One. I define dramatically as 7 percent to 10 percent from a high occupancy of about 87 percent on average. I can only think of one facility in my New England market that’s maintained its physical and economic occupancy with less than a 5 percent reduction. The resulting revenue for these facilities is down as well.
Shields: Four. My sense is the overall market may be slightly down and, in some cases, no change. Many owners will make allowances/discounts on their current rates to maintain occupancies with tenant retention as their primary goal, as well as securing new tenants. For these reasons revenue has declined.
Average response: Three. Overall, we’re seeing revenue has been affected by the recent economic downturn, but self-storage has fared better than other types of real estate in this market and will likely be able to recover more quickly once the economy turns around.
What’s the availability of financing for new buyers in your market?
[Scale: 1 = very difficult to obtain, 3 = difficult, but still available, 5 = readily available]
Blake: Four. Local and regional banks and credit unions are still lending at reasonable terms, i.e., 70 percent to 75 percent loan-to-value, 10-year fixed at 6.5 percent interest, and 20 to 25-year amortization.
Cinelli: Two. Inexperienced buyers won’t be able to get financing in this market unless they have real money in the deal. Buyers with a track record can get financing, but the deal has to make sense. We’re seeing capitalization rates around 8.5 percent for a class-A product and up to 11.5 percent for other products.
Mendola: Five. Community banks in New England are ready to lend up to about $2 million. The credit rating and outside income for the buyers have to be good, but the financing is available to those who meet the requirements.
Shields: Three. Almost all new developments and those with significant vacancies and build-out risks are not finding financing. Existing facilities with some stabilization are finding it more difficult to finance than in the past. Financing outlets (banks, lending institutions, etc.) are much more conservative in their lending requirements. They want stable incomes with a minimum of 12 months financial history, not pro forma. In addition, they’re requiring buyers to have more equity in the property than before.
Average response: Three and a half. There are still some opportunities out there for financing, but buyers must be very realistic about their own position and be prepared to meet many more lending requirements than in the past.
What’s the quality of buyers in your market?
[Scale: 1 = limited interest, 3 = somewhat serious, 5 = serious/qualified]
Blake: Three. The quality of buyers depends largely on the quality of the property being offered. Class-A properties get “A” buyers, class-B properties get “B” buyers and so on. Right now we’re seeing buyers who are somewhat serious about buying, but they’ll wait to get the best deal possible.
Cinelli: Four. Most of the buyers we see today have serious interest in buying facilities, but their criteria for properties has gotten more strict. They are only looking for facilities with qualified financials that can be verified.
Mendola: Three. Buyers have the financial ability to invest, but their criteria for rating an investment is very strict.
Shields: Three. Recently I’ve seen more buyer inquires as to what’s available in the market. Cap rates have risen somewhat, and buyers seem to feel that conditions aren’t as scary as before. Optimism isn’t quite there yet, but buyers are serious enough to position themselves to react if the lenders ease up a bit. Buyers are also realizing that not all real estate, in this case self-storage, is being sold at a “fire sale.”
Average response: Three. Clearly there are buyers in the market today who are waiting to capitalize on the lower prices and distressed facilities on the market. Time will tell if the gap between the buyers and sellers will narrow to the point that more transactions will begin to take place and the market can approach equilibrium.
How serious are the sellers in your market?
[Scale: 1 = just checking values, 3 = testing the market, 5 = really want/need to sell]
Blake: Two. There are not many sellers out there, and the properties I’ve seen tend to be distressed and/or overpriced.
Cinelli: Two. Sellers in our market are not serious enough to make the right deal. Many are holding out for higher prices and don’t recognize that cap rates have gone up and values across the market have gone down. There are some situations in which sellers need to sell their properties because of pressure from the bank, but we’re not seeing many of those yet.
Mendola: Three. Sellers today are testing the market. Almost all of the sellers of properties I’ve listed are not over leveraged and have sufficient cash flow to pay their mortgages. As a result, they’re not willing to dilute their equity with a discounted sale price.
Shields: Three. It’s difficult for many sellers (any owners of real estate) to come to the realization that the present value of their property isn’t what it was from the historically high real estate market of a few years ago. If their facility could sell for a 7 percent cap rate at the height of the market, it’s now at a 9 percent cap rate. This is causing many sellers to question if they want to sell. Do they test the market or wait and see if it comes back up?
Average response: Two and a half. Sellers in today’s market are generally not willing to come down on their listing prices unless they’re under pressure from their lenders. As many sellers aren’t in dire financial situations, many choose to test the market and see what kind of offers they can bring in, but they’re not particularly motivated to go through with a sale unless it’s on their terms.
Michael L. McCune is president of the Argus Self Storage Sales Network, a national network of real estate brokers who specialize in self-storage. Argus provides brokerage, consulting and marketing services to self-storage buyers and sellers and operates www.selfstorage.com, a marketing medium and information resource for facility owners. For more information, call 800.55.STORE.