At some point you’ll likely engage in a real estate transaction on behalf of your credit union. There are a number of factors to consider as you navigate through the process, whether it be on the purchase or sale side of the transaction. Hopefully your primary focus will be that of acquisition for the growth of your credit union. The focus of this article is to help you find “the right” broker partner to guide you through that acquisition process.
Our firm, La Macchia Group, is a strategic planning and design/build firm that has been representing, assisting and consulting with credit unions on property acquisition since our founding in 2002. Through our experience with real estate transactions throughout the United States we fully understand the importance of having a well-thought-out plan from initial concept to closing. A critical part to the success of the acquisition process is aligning your credit union with “the right” expertise.
Creating a strategic plan to identify markets, having solid legal representation for entitlements and board buy-in are all important components to any successful new credit union facility project. One major piece of this process is the procurement of the real estate itself. Selecting a third-party representative is an excellent way to gain the insight and market information that will allow you the ability to better identify, vet and negotiate the site that will give you a competitive advantage. Real estate broker representation can help you gain important insight while maintaining the appropriate distance from sellers to support successful negotiations. And the good thing is that in most cases their compensation is paid for by the seller. (In those cases where it’s not, typically it’s for good reason, such as bringing you a property that you like that wasn’t on the market.)
Now that you’ve made the decision to work with a broker, how do you qualify that this is the right person to represent your credit union? Here are some critical areas to explore:
Expertise in Area Specific Commercial Transactions
According to the National Association of Realtors, 18% of all commercial transactions are vacant land. This is the highest percentage share of any commercial transaction type. The fact that the highest ranking category is less than a quarter of all transaction types shows the diversity of deals across the commercial landscape. To further complicate matters for buyer clients, there are numerous brokers that cover both residential and commercial transactions. You will want to have a clear understanding of the type of space, square footage and other important parameters required before you begin to interview brokers. There are brokers that specialize in industrial, commercial office, multi-family and other transaction types as well as retail lease and undeveloped land. In your selection process, keep in mind:
- If you live in an urban market you will want to be wary of partnering with a broker that handles both commercial and residential real estate since these markets are large enough to support area specific brokerage.
- In rural areas it is not uncommon to run across brokers that provide quality service in multiple transaction types.
Access to Market Information
Yes, you should already have a well-thought-out plan that identifies where you should strategically focus your search. But, does your broker bring anything else to the table in terms of market intelligence? You will want to find out which associations and online listing services they subscribe to and participate in. There are a number of national real estate information services such as CoStar (www.costar.com) and Loopnet (www.loopnet.com) along with other sources that tend to be stronger in particular regions. How knowledgeable are they?
- Inquire and understand the sources they rely on for information.
- Ask what services they subscribe to and how they use them.
There is an abundance of information available about not only listings but also property ownership, comparative sales and occupancy rates. Having a reliable representative that taps into these sources will allow you greater access to more properties and help you be a more successful negotiator.
Willingness to Knock on Doors
It’s plain and simple: you don’t know what you don’t know. Your ideally located branch of the future just may be that old dilapidated auto body shop that sits at a high traffic, hard corner. However, you may never know this because the owner of the auto body shop never thought of listing the site. The broker you engage will be your “on the ground” representative and advocate. They should be eager and willing to uncover properties that are not yet listed. This “above and beyond” mentality is oftentimes what is needed in ultracompetitive markets that are difficult to penetrate.
- Ask your prospective broker about transactions that they’ve done in which they uncovered the property during site selection.
- Ask them about their pocket listings. These are properties where the owner would sell but hasn’t officially listed.
Their responses will tell you a lot about their ability to deliver in the clutch.
Understanding of Financial Facility Specific Requirements
Your needs are unlike those of other retailers and should be taken into account early on in the process. These interests can vary from issues due to site planning impact on building, site shape and size all the way to due diligence requirements for NCUA and other regulatory approvals.
- Are your interests being kept at the forefront by someone that understands your specific needs?
- Ask your prospective broker if they’ve ever worked with a financial institution.
- If so, ask them to elaborate on some of the deal specific details that were unique and addressed during the transaction.
As with most professions, it is the intangibles that make someone great at what they do. This is no different with commercial real estate brokers. The “beyond” in brokerage can consist of many things, such as what past clients have to say about them and the way that they use their support staff. One key item that is relevant to credit unions is a broker’s out-of-the-box thinking. Being able to see a completely functional branch location out of that undervalued, beat-up former fast food restaurant may just be what successfully lands you where you need to be.
- Ask your prospective broker about some of their past transaction history and have them identify several instances where their complex thought and creativity rendered a successful deal.
In the end, there are a number of factors that will need to converge in order to ensure a successful credit union facility project. Selecting “the right” broker is one of them. Hopefully this list gives you some insight on questions to ask when you interview this critical partner, an advocate who can support the future success of your organization.