Keys To Closing Commercial Real Estate Transactions

Anyone who thinks Closing a commercial real estate transaction is a clean, easy, stress-free undertaking has never closed a commercial real estate transaction. Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to deal with it.

I’ve been closing commercial real estate transactions for nearly 30 years. I grew up in the commercial real estate business.

My father was a “land guy”. He assembled land, put in infrastructure and sold it for a profit. His mantra: “Buy by the acre, sell by the square foot.” From an early age, he drilled into my head the need to “be a deal maker; not a deal breaker.” This was always coupled with the admonition: “If the deal doesn’t close, no one is happy.” His theory was that attorneys sometimes “kill tough deals” simply because they don’t want to be blamed if something goes wrong.

Over the years I learned that commercial real estate Closings require much more than mere casual attention. Even a typically complex commercial real estate Closing is a highly intense undertaking requiring disciplined and creative problem solving to adapt to ever changing circumstances. In many cases, only focused and persistent attention to every detail will result in a successful Closing. Commercial real estate Closings are, in a word, “messy”.

A key point to understand is that commercial real estate Closings do not “just happen”; they are made to happen. There is a time-proven method for successfully Closing commercial real estate transactions. That method requires adherence to the four KEYS TO CLOSING outlined below:

KEYS TO CLOSING

1. Have a Plan: This sounds obvious, but it is remarkable how many times no specific Plan for Closing is developed. It is not a sufficient Plan to merely say: “I like a particular piece of property; I want to own it.” That is not a Plan. That may be a goal, but that is not a Plan.

A Plan requires a clear and detailed vision of what, specifically, you want to accomplish, and how you intend to accomplish it. For instance, if the objective is to acquire a large warehouse/light manufacturing facility with the intent to convert it to a mixed use development with first floor retail, a multi-deck parking garage and upper level condominiums or apartments, the transaction Plan must include all steps necessary to get from where you are today to where you need to be to fulfill your objective. If the intent, instead, is to demolish the building and build a strip shopping center, the Plan will require a different approach. If the intent is to simply continue to use the facility for warehousing and light manufacturing, a Plan is still required, but it may be substantially less complex.

In each case, developing the transaction Plan should begin when the transaction is first conceived and should focus on the requirements for successfully Closing upon conditions that will achieve the Plan objective. The Plan must guide contract negotiations, so that the Purchase Agreement reflects the Plan and the steps necessary for Closing and post-Closing use. If Plan implementation requires particular zoning requirements, or creation of easements, or termination of party wall rights, or confirmation of structural elements of a building, or availability of utilities, or availability of municipal entitlements, or environmental remediation and regulatory clearance, or other identifiable requirements, the Plan and the Purchase Agreement must address those issues and include those requirements as conditions to Closing.

If it is unclear at the time of negotiating and entering into the Purchase Agreement whether all necessary conditions exists, the Plan must include a suitable period to conduct a focused and diligent investigation of all issues material to fulfilling the Plan. Not only must the Plan include a period for investigation, the investigation must actually take place with all due diligence.

NOTE: The term is “Due Diligence”; not “do diligence”. The amount of diligence required in conducting the investigation is the amount of diligence required under the circumstances of the transaction to answer in the affirmative all questions that must be answered “yes”, and to answer in the negative all questions that must be answered “no”. The transaction Plan will help focus attention on what these questions are. [Ask for a copy of my January, 2006 article: Due Diligence: Checklists for Commercial Real Estate Transactions.]

2. Assess And Understand the Issues: Closely connected to the importance of having a Plan is the importance of understanding all significant issues that may arise in implementing the Plan. Some issues may represent obstacles, while others represent opportunities. One of the greatest causes of transaction failure is a lack of understanding of the issues or how to resolve them in a way that furthers the Plan.

Various risk shifting techniques are available and useful to address and mitigate transaction risks. Among them is title insurance with appropriate use of available commercial endorsements. In addressing potential risk shifting opportunities related to real estate title concerns, understanding the difference between a “real property law issue” vs. a “title insurance risk issue” is critical. Experienced commercial real estate counsel familiar with available commercial endorsements can often overcome what sometimes appear to be insurmountable title obstacles through creative draftsmanship and the assistance of a knowledgeable title underwriter.

Beyond title issues, there are numerous other transaction issues likely to arise as a commercial real estate transaction proceeds toward Closing. With commercial real estate, negotiations seldom end with execution of the Purchase Agreement.

New and unexpected issues often arise on the path toward Closing that require creative problem-solving and further negotiation. Sometimes these issues arise as a result of facts learned during the buyer’s due diligence investigation. Other times they arise because independent third-parties necessary to the transaction have interests adverse to, or at least different from, the interests of the seller, buyer or buyer’s lender. When obstacles arise, tailor-made solutions are often required to accommodate the needs of all concerned parties so the transaction can proceed to Closing. To appropriately tailor a solution, you have to understand the issue and its impact on the legitimate needs of those affected.

3. Recognize And Overcome Third Party Inertia: A major source of frustration, delay and, sometimes, failure of commercial real estate transactions results from what I refer to as “third-party inertia”. Recognize that the Closing deadlines important to transaction participants are often meaningless to unrelated third parties whose participation and cooperation is vital to moving the transaction forward. Chief among third-party dawdlers are governmental agencies, but the culprit may be any third party vendor or other third party not controlled by the buyer or seller. For them, the transaction is often “just another file” on their already cluttered desk.

Experienced commercial real estate counsel is often in the best position to recognize inordinate delay by third parties and can often cajole recalcitrant third parties into action with an appropriately timed telephone call. Often, experienced commercial real estate counsel will have developed relationships with necessary vendors and third parties through prior transactions, and can use those established relationships to expedite the transaction at hand. Most importantly, however, experienced commercial real estate counsel is able to recognize when undue delay is occurring and push for a timely response when appropriate. Third party vendors are human (they claim) and typically respond to timely appeals for action. It is the old cliché at work: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Care must be taken, however, to tactfully apply pressure only when necessary and appropriate. Repeated requests or demands for action when inappropriate to the circumstance runs the risk of alienating a necessary party and adding to delay instead of eliminating it. Once again, human nature at work. Experienced commercial real estate counsel will often understand when to apply pressure and when to lay off.

4. Prepare For The Closing Frenzy: Like it or not, controlled chaos leading up to Closing is the norm rather than the exception for commercial real estate transactions. It occurs because of the necessity of relying on independent third parties, the necessity of providing certifications and showings dated in close proximity to Closing, and because new issues often arise at or near Closing as a consequence of facts and information discovered through the continual exercise of due diligence on the path toward Closing.

Whether dealing with third-party lessees, lenders, appraisers, local planning, zoning or taxing authorities, public or quasi-public utilities, project surveyors, environmental consultants, title insurance companies, adjoining property owners, insurance companies, structural engineers, state or local departments of transportation, or other necessary third-party vendors or participants, it will often be the case that you must wait for them to react within their own time-frame to enable the Closing to proceed. The transaction is seldom as important to them as it is to the buyer and seller.

To the casual observer, building-in additional lead-time to allow for stragglers and dawdlers to act may seem to be an appropriate solution. The practical reality, however, is that many tasks must be completed within a narrow window of time just prior to Closing.