Real Estate for Small Business Owners

Whether to lease, purchase or build a location for their venture is among the most important decisions a small business owner makes. Each has its pros and cons.

Buying vs. leasing

All things being equal, deciding whether to buy or lease property usually boils down to how long you intend to remain at the location. If you think the property will suit your needs for a minimum of seven years, you’ll save money by purchasing the space. Buying is more expensive, but you build equity in the property and the value should appreciate. You have a better idea of your ongoing monthly costs if you have a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage. Rental rates are more subject to market forces and are less predictable.

However, things aren’t always equal, so consider whether you want to tie up your capital with a mortgage rather than rent and use those funds to grow your business. Future expansion is another consideration. If a purchased property doesn’t easily lend itself to expansion, you’re better off leasing. The bottom line is always whether a particular investment helps your business grow.

Tax considerations

You can deduct all or most of your lease expenses. If you buy, you can deduct your interest payments, but nonresidential real property depreciation expenses are written off over 39 years. Ask your attorney or accountant whether leasing or buying makes the best financial sense for your situation.

Location, location, location

Location can make or break a retail business. It’s a situation where you usually get one chance to do it right. Do your homework, and identify your customer demographic and where they are likely to shop or use your services. For your type of business, how important is customer proximity? While competition is good, you don’t want a location where you have too many direct competitors. You pay a premium for a top location, but it also drives your business.

When considering a location, do some traffic monitoring at peak hours for your operation. If the volume isn’t appropriate for your needs, look elsewhere.

Site history is important. There are places where no one stays in business very long. Find out what businesses were previously in the location, and what happened to them. Success or failure doesn’t just lie in management; certain areas just aren’t conducive to retail establishments.

Obviously, if your business doesn’t need walk-in traffic, location is less crucial. That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need convenient access to major roadways or other requirements dependent on the nature of your enterprise. Industrial or office parks may offer better opportunities and costs than buildings located on main corridors.

Building

Building an office or store exactly to your specifications is probably the dream of most small business owners. New businesses may have high tech needs that an older building’s infrastructure can’t accommodate. If it’s an option, pursue it, but consider the downside. Building is time-consuming, and you may need approvals from local planning or zoning boards. Environmental or other property issues can stop a project in its tracks—perhaps permanently. Cost overruns are a given.

Commercial real estate broker

You’ll save yourself a lot of valuable time with a good commercial realtor. Unless you have expertise in negotiating leases, you aren’t likely to save money forgoing a realtor and finding and leasing property on your own. You want a realtor whose sole—or at least major—representation involves commercial tenants. As with other professionals, word-of-mouth helps find a reputable realtor. So does asking local businesses in your intended area which broker they used and whether they would recommend the person. Brokers often specialize, so find a person familiar with your type of business and its needs. A broker should know about any municipal ordinances or zoning that could affect your business—issues you certainly don’t want to discover after you’ve signed the lease or purchased the property.