Tenants – lease or buy

Introduction: This article is based on common sense and a lot of experience. When your business requires its own premises a decision must be made as to whether to lease or purchase commercial property. If the answer is not immediately obvious to you, here are some of the considerations:

1. Available finances: Your first consideration will be based on whether you can afford to buy. If you can, but only just, is it worth pushing to own the property to save your money being poured into someone elses hand if you instead, choose to rent. Of course your calculations will be based on interest rates and rates of return on property. Interest rates vary according to the economic cycle and a number of other factors. Rates of return on investment in property vary according to the interest rate cycle, and also to the type of business property. An investor in a substantial shop property in NSW for example, might expect a return of 5%, whereas an investor in industrial property in say, Newcastle, may seek a return of 10% or even 12%. This difference reflects the market’s perception of risk.

On a pure comparative cost calculation, you should therefore set out the figures comparing the total cost of being your own landlord, as against the total cost of someone else being your landlord. If you are looking at a rent of, say, $30,000 per year against a purchase at $300,000, then you need to be able to borrow at less than 10% for the cash flow effect of your purchase to be better than the cash flow effect of a lease (ignoring capital repayments).

2. Capital appreciation: In the long term the capital value of your purchased property will increase at least in line with inflation. For property, the “”long term”” can be said to be the life of an average building, so we are talking “”really, long term””. Even this however, is subject to other influences and trends. Over the last ten years the changing structure of the workforce has reduced the demand for industrial and older business property. Your motor repair workshop may only be worth the same number of dollars today as it was worth ten years ago. In real terms you have probably lost half its value. Even if you use a professional surveyor to advice on today’s values, you will still need to take your own view on future values. In a property lease the risk is taken by your landlord. The rent is likely to be fixed for a number of years, and will then be increased in line with the general level of rents for similar properties.

3. Property is always a strong asset in the long term: In the cash flow calculation above, no account has been taken of repayments on any borrowing you took out to fund the purchase. If a large proportion of the purchase price was borrowed from a specialist property lender, with repayments of capital and interest (like your house mortgage), then you may still be able to find a deal which provides a total payment to your lender which is no greater than the sum that you would have been paying in rent. In that scenario, you end up owning your property. That is obviously more attractive than a property lease situation. But if you need to sell your property in bad times, you may not achieve the price you thought it was worth.