Applebee’s: Good or Bad Investment?

Applebee’s: Good or Bad Investment?

It was November of 1980 in Decatur, Georgia when the doors opened for T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles and Elixirs. Six years later, the concept changed names to Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar to reflect the original vision for the concept being a local place that everyone could call home. Fast forward 20 years later and Applebee’s had grown large enough to attract the attention of DineEquity, formerly IHOP Corporation, which acquired Applebee’s for $2.1 Billion in 2007 to create the largest full-service restaurant company in the world.

Now we are in 2017 and times are changing! Fast casual concepts have been picking up steam since the early 2000’s. With consumer preferences continuing to shift towards a larger variety of tastes along with a desire for healthier choices, fast casual as a segment has began to take market share from both casual dining and quick service restaurant concepts with the rise of trendy concepts. In light of these changing consumer preferences, Applebee’s made a number of shifts over the past few years in strategy, offering, marketing, etc. in order to maintain that market share and recapture their customers.

Even still, the company has seen regular declines in same-store sales recently and it has hurt the perception of Applebee’s as an investment. The average cap rate for Applebee’s sold in 2016 was 5.90%; year to date 2017, the average cap rate is 6.21%. That means that over the past twelve months, cap rates have climbed over 30 basis points.

That doesn’t sound too bad…

The recent announcement that DineEquity would close up to 135 locations in fiscal 2017 is what has really created the most recent shift in perception and cap rates. The average cap rate for on-market Applebee’s properties right now is 6.73%; over 80 basis points from the 2016 average. Further, the average cap rate for Applebee’s properties hitting the market since August is 7%. That is over 100 basis points lower than where cap rates were for a comparable asset 12 months prior. This is not happening across the board for restaurant net-leased assets. The restaurant sector actually continues to see some of the most compressed cap rates across all other net-leased food groups; staying about 40-50 basis points lower than other comparable net-leased assets in other sectors. This is a direct result of buyer perception and an influx of inventory hitting the market.

So as a buyer, you should stay away, right?

Not necessarily.

Many argue that now is the time to enter the Applebee’s concept and take advantage of these inflated cap rates for a proven concept with a long-term lease in place. Applebee’s has been on a steady decline, however, recently there have been a number of changes within executive management and they are shaking things up. What they did not tell you prior to rolling out the breaking story of all the anticipated location closures was that they had identified most of these closures quite some time ago. In fact, half of the stores they plan to close have likely already shut their doors. According to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), the Applebee’s brand president, John Cywinski, said this was a strategic move and many of the store closures are stores that “need to close and perhaps should have closed a long time ago”. In addition, Applebee’s has vowed to get back to their American roots. Instead of continuing the attempt to capture a new demographic, they are going back to listening to what their core demographic is asking for. According to Inc.com, Cywinski made this statement regarding their new focus:

Now, let’s shift attention to our guests and perhaps one of the brand’s strategic missteps. Over the past few years, the brand’s set out to reposition or reinvent Applebee’s as a modern bar and grill in overt pursuit of a more youthful and affluent demographic with a more independent or even sophisticated dining mindset, including a clear pendulum swing towards millennials. In my perspective, this pursuit led to decisions that created confusion among core guests, as Applebee’s intentionally drifted from its — what I’ll call its Middle America roots and its abundant value position. While we certainly hope to extend our reach, we can’t alienate boomers or Gen-Xers in the process. Much of what we are currently unwinding at the moment is related to this offensive repositioning.

Applebee’s is upgrading image, equipment, and focus. They have embraced technology and begun implementing tablets into their POS systems. They have adjusted the menu and pricing strategies under new executive management. To top it all off, they are getting back to the roots of their core demographic and are revved up to crush it out of the park. Good or bad investment? It depends on your threshold for risk and your hunger for return. For every seller looking to transition from Applebee’s to a different asset or net-leased sector, there are three buyers trying to take advantage of the inflated cap rate environment around the concept.

Like any long-term net-leased investment, it is important to weigh all the factors heavily before moving forward. Ultimately, anything can happen over the next 15-20 years. If you are concerned with maintaining your cash flow for the extent of the new 15 year Applebee’s lease you are looking to purchase, then get critical of the guarantee behind the lease and weigh the risk that it holds. If you would rather take a 7% return when all other restaurants are trading 100 to 200 basis points lower, then simply assume they will vacate at the end of the lease and evaluate the core real estate for the future. If the financial strength of the guarantee holds weight and you are positioned on over an acre of land, on a decent thoroughfare, in a growing area, then a dive into an Applebee’s bottom might be your smartest move; worst case scenario you re-tenant after the base term with a growing concept after collecting an average of 7-8% on a passive net-leased asset…the upside, though, is that you could enter into the monster concept on a downswing and get to ride it back up through its transformation.

Starbucks, New Leases, & Termination Options

Starbucks, New Leases, & Termination Options

Starbucks as a tenant is notorious for their hardball negotiation tactics.

Who can blame them? Starbucks, founded in 1971 out of Seattle, is one of the strongest quick service restaurant (QSR) tenants you could wish to have occupy your property. With over $20 Billion in revenue, over 26,000 locations nationwide, and a credit rating of A2, it is no wonder Starbucks is one of the highest paying restaurant tenants in rent averaging over $60 per square foot.

They negotiate hard simply because they have the leverage to do so.

If you would like a lesson on how to negotiate, I will reserve that for a separate article or you can contact me directly to discuss in more detail, but for now I want to address how these negotiations can impact the value of your property. These hardball negotiations on Starbucks end will certainly put them in a further position of power in regard to controlling their own destiny with their real estate and location growth, but it should be understood that it does not mean Starbucks is an investment to now shy away from. If anything, it should show that they are a stronger investment than ever. Not only are they one of the strongest guarantees you can secure, but they are looking out for their own long-term interests and success.

In recent years, Starbucks has been approaching landlords about signing new 10-year leases. Typically, when a store reaches the 10-year old mark, it is time to upgrade the store. For Starbucks, this could mean significant capital expenditures to bring the store up to new standards. They see these expenditures as a necessary evil and tend to ask the landlord in return for a new longer lease in order to secure their capital investment long-term. Sometimes they ask for a rent reduction or some other concessions, while other times they may just be looking to secure a new 10-year lease in lieu of exercising their next 5-year option. If you have been approached with this offer, I am sure you felt butterflies in your stomach as your eyeballs turned to dollar signs and you felt like your investment just became 10-years stronger. There is no doubt that Starbucks showing interest in signing a new 10-year lease is a solid opportunity to explore, but reel your excitement in a bit and prepare to read the fine print.

Many of these new 10-year leases include a termination option at year 5, which is not the end of the world. After all, if they are willing to put real dollars into renovations and sign a new 10-year lease, it would appear their intent is to stay for the entire 10 years; that 5-year termination clause is simply a hedge against an unforeseeable future. It is important, however, to understand how this will affect the equity of your entire investment. The value of your property is directly correlated to how much lease term you have remaining and the strength of your guarantee.

In this scenario, guarantee is not the issue, however, remaining lease term is. On paper, it appears you have a new 10-year lease. From the graph below, you can see that the average cap rate for a 10-14 year corporate lease over the past 12 months has been 5.88%. Talk about equity; if Starbucks is $60 per square foot on a 2,000 SF building ($120,000 NOI), then a 5.88% cap rate puts your value just over $2MM.

cap rate versus guarantee vs lease term graph

Here is the problem:

Investors and buyers will not see a new 10-year lease. Investors will see a termination option in year five and in order to hedge their own risk, they will assume the tenant will leave after 5 years. Effectively, that simple little 5-year termination clause crushes your current value as an opportunity cost versus a true 10-year lease. You will see from the graph above that the average cap rate for a 5-9 year corporate lease is at 6.27%. You just lost about 40 basis points worth of value and that is being generous because these figures include a range of lease terms lumped together. More realistically, you are looking at a 50-75 basis point hit in value by keeping that 5-year termination clause in a new 10-year lease. See more detailed recent cap rates for Starbucks specifically at my last cap rate market update.

When it comes down to it, however, fighting over striking the 5-year termination option from your new lease is not worth losing Starbucks as a tenant. There are few tenants willing to pay $60 per square foot and so the likelihood of replacing that rent and cash flow stream is slim if you do not come to an agreement with Starbucks. Hence, why they hold all the leverage.

Here is the silver lining: Do not beat yourself up if you have signed a new 10-year lease with Starbucks and it includes one of those 5-year termination options. The values are still strong for Starbucks net-leased properties and investor perception is still very strong for these assets as they are still great long-term investments with solid financial backing and stability.

DSC_0266

I listed this Starbucks location in New Port Richey, Florida (pictured above) recently and if you are looking to enter the net-leased investment realm, consider this deal. Just as mentioned above, this client had Starbucks approach him about signing a new 10-year lease. They were asking to include a termination option at year 5. Through working with me, the client was able to secure a very marketable deal. Starbucks signed a new 10-year lease, keeping their option to terminate in year 5, however they are required to give 6 months notice to the landlord and pay a penalty of about $50,000. Worst case scenario, that equates to almost an entire year of cash flow for the landlord if they do plan to exercise their option to terminate in year 5. In these situations, though, all signs point to an intent to stay long-term. Starbucks is investing dollars to renovate the location and if you ever visit, the drive thru stack consistently wraps around the entire building. As an investor, how can you go wrong with a new 10-year Starbucks deal on a hard corner with frontage on a thoroughfare that boasts 59,000 cars per day?

That’s Net-Lease Investor Gold.

You can find more details on this specific Starbucks Offering Here

Ultimately, it comes down to what your long-term strategy is for the property. It is often times easy with these “coupon clipper” properties to set them and forget them. Rent is deposited every month, year after year, and the landlord gets to sit back and sip the pina coladas, but I urge all my clients to stay fresh on their feet. Before you know it, you could be down to just 12 months remaining on your lease, which does not put you in much of a position of power when it comes to tenant renewal, property values, and retaining your existing cash flow. I work with clients on a regular basis to keep a pulse on the market and ensure they are maximizing their equity, exchanging in and out of the market, and over time increasing the overall portfolio value of their investments. Some of the strategies I help clients execute on include sale-leasebacks and blend-and-extends among other strategies to help them mitigate risk and maximize value in situations such as these.

More specifically, I have helped many Starbucks landlords find a Win-Win common ground with Starbucks during negotiations as referenced above in order to maintain their cash flow stream, maximize the value of their investment, and ultimately establish a successful future for Starbucks to stay at their property long-term. If you would like more detailed information around how to maximize the value of your property through new lease negotiations or if you have interest in purchasing a Starbucks net-leased property, please contact me directly at 813-387-4796 and I would be happy to help wherever it makes sense.

Restaurant Sector More Bullish Than Others

Restaurant Sector More Bullish Than Others

A brand-new Taco Bell just sold for a 5.5% cap rate in Fleming Island, Florida! If you know where cap rates have been trading across product types in the net-leased sector, this may not appear to be too surprising. Cap rates have compressed in the net-leased sector as far as 120 basis points from where they were at the last market peak, but this go around, the restaurant sector has compressed even further than other net-leased product types. That means that values today are some of the highest we have ever seen, especially in the restaurant sector.

As a frame of reference, 2007 saw one of the hottest historical markets ever; values peaked and buyers were bullish. In that market, brand new 15-year to 20-year Taco Bell leases were trading at 7% cap rates. These long-term Taco Bell deals were typically backed by 50+ unit operators. The Taco Bell in Fleming Island that just sold was a new 20-year lease backed by a 19-unit guarantee and traded for at a 5.5% cap rate. That is a 150-basis point spread from the last market cycle and it’s not an exception.

dunkin representative photo

Just last month, we sold a brand-new Dunkin Donuts with a shorter-term lease and a smaller guarantee at a 5% cap rate. The deal was a brand-new 10-year Dunkin Donuts lease backed by a 13-unit guarantee in St. Petersburg, Florida. Within only a few weeks of bringing it to market at a 5% cap rate, we had sourced multiple offers. The competition created ultimately resulted in a 36-day closing at full list price. Only 12 months ago, 10-year Dunkin Donuts deals were trading at an average cap rate of 6%. For further perspective, in 2006, the average cap rate for a comparable Dunkin Donuts was 7%.

We are seeing restaurant properties trade 25-50 basis points lower on a cap rate basis than most other net-leased sectors right now.

Restaurants are hot!

Even when faced with the potential risk of shifting consumer trends and the sales slumps of the casual dining sector, buyers understand that restaurants serving the general population are not going anywhere. Similar to how multi-tenant shopping centers are attracting more service based tenants to compete with online sales competition, restaurant brands are evolving to cater to these changing consumer trends and when the dust settles, people will still need to eat.

Because of the aggressive restaurant cap rates versus other sectors, owners in the restaurant sector have been weighing their options and crafting a strategy for how to take advantage of these recent trends. For our clients, the biggest concern is where to put the money and ensure a successful exchange. The initial thought is that you are trading into the same market and so the opportunity is perceived to be a wash, however, we have had success in moving our clients from the restaurant sector to other net-leased sectors where cap rates, although compressed, are not as bullish.

Often times, there are opportunities across other sectors such as drug stores and auto-related investments that can not only replace or improve our client’s current cash flow position, but also improve their real estate investment in general; better guarantee, longer lease term, or upgrading their core real estate to larger parcels or hard corners.

Values remain the highest they have ever been, while cap rates remain more compressed than in the last market peak. Both buyers and sellers should remain bullish in the current market as prices in this market are still extremely aggressive compared to the historical 10-year average and the net-leased opportunities on the market offer a long-term passive cash flow stream often with a hedge against inflation via regular rental increases, especially across other sectors.

Whether or not you plan on transacting in 2017, I am always available as a specialized restaurant net-leased expert and resource for market information. It is my mission to ensure you have the tools necessary to proactively plan your long-term investment strategy. For more detailed research specific to your property or market, give me a call directly to discuss how I can help.

National Net-Leased Report | 2017 Outlook

National Net-Leased Report | 2017 Outlook

The outlook for 2017 remains strong. Restaurants are still hanging on to some of the lowest cap rates across the net-leased sector, which bodes well for existing investors’ values. One would think that these low returns would deter buyers, but with all of the exchange capital floating around and the stability of restaurant net-leased investments, buyers still view these long-term investments as a hedge against inflation.

Check out the cap rate comparison graph below showing the most recent cap rate ranges by both sector and major brand:

Cap Rate Comparison Across Sectors

Overall, positive economic momentum has carried into 2017 and it is being driven by confident consumers. Although rising interest rates have sparked a slight investor re-calibration, there still seems to be some runway left in this market. The spread between cap rates and the 10-year treasury is maintaining a steady gap and although we would anticipate interest rates to go up at some point, they appear somewhat stable for now.

Net-leased properties recorded a 23.9 percent advance in the average asking rent last year, which has more than doubled the pace of multi-tenant shopping centers over the same period. A lot of this is due to strong corporate backed tenants or franchisees getting aggressive to secure additional sites and locations. The good news is that asking rents in net-leased properties are still below the pre-crisis peak with an average tenant paying $19.62 per square foot nationwide.

For 2017, store openings will be led by the dollar-store segment, however consistent expansion in the fast-food sector will continue over the comping year. From all angles, I see this year shaping up to be a busy one across the entire net-leased sector!

Access the Full Report Here

If you would like more specialized insight or research in regard to your current investment portfolio or more information around what restaurant net-leased investments are currently available on the market, feel free to contact me directly at 813-387-4796.

Restaurant Market Update | Cap Rate Trends

Restaurant Market Update | Cap Rate Trends

Net leased restaurants had a home-run year in 2016!

2016 historical cap rate graph

Although net-leased inventory increased over the past twelve months, more buyers entered the market and the inventory could not keep pace with the demand, which had a positive impact on both cap rates and values. The fact is that property values are higher today than they were at the last market peak and it is not entirely due to higher rents. The average cap rate in 2016 is over 130 bps lower than the historical 10-year average. As interest rates begin to creep upwards moving into 2017, it is expected that cap rates will rise as a result. However, although cap rates across the board are expected to rise between 25 bps and 50 bps over the next 12 months, demand for net-leased restaurants is expected to remain, which should yield another busy year in 2017.

Check out the trailing 12 stats below for some of the strongest QSR brands in the marketplace today.

2016 QSR data

McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A maintained the lowest cap rates in the marketplace, while Starbucks held the highest price per foot on a sale, which is closely tied to the high rents they are willing to pay for their locations. Quick Service Restaurants as a net-leased investment continue to be in high demand for investors primarily due to their passive nature and small price point. High performing QSR brands like McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A are aggressively traded because in addition to the strength of their guarantees, they maintain a business model that affords a fairly low rent per square foot. This allows an investor to replace the cash flow stream if the property were ever to become vacant.

Although full service restaurants operate under a variety of business models with various preferred demographics, the average cap rate for some of the biggest and best performing brands landed around the same range (See graph below for details). Carrabba’s (Bloomin’ Brands) and Red Lobster (Darden) held the highest price points in 2016 sales, while IHOP maintained some of the highest paid rents across the sector. The larger footprint of these buildings yields a higher rent, which is why the price point on full service restaurant net-leased deals is typically double the price point on QSR properties. Over the past year, most of these transactions were all cash deals because despite the low interest rate market, financing often times created negative leverage.

2016 sit down data

Demand remains strong in the restaurant net-leased sector and although the average rent per square foot has crept upward over the past 12 months, new long-term leases being signed are being closely critiqued by tenants to ensure they do not spread themselves too thin in the event of another downturn. Values remain the highest they have ever been, while cap rates remain more compressed than in the last market peak. Both buyers and sellers should remain bullish in the current market as prices in this market are still extremely aggressive compared to the historical 10-year average and the net-leased opportunities on the market offer a long-term passive cash flow stream often with a hedge against inflation via regular rental increases.

Whether or not you plan on transacting in 2017, I am always available a specialized restaurant net-leased expert and resource for market information. It is my mission to ensure you have the tools necessary to proactively plan your long-term investment strategy. For more detailed research specific to your property or market, give me a call directly to discuss how I can help.

The Market is Warming | 2014

We’re already moving through 2014!

Not only did it fly by, but activity in Commercial Retail space around the Tampa MSA has caught fire. When we sold a CVS in November for a 5% cap rate, which was a National record low cap rate for drug stores, we thought things were pretty hot. In January, however, our deal inventory for both shopping centers and net-leased assets started ramping up. It sounds like we are not the only ones seeing the market pick up either.

NREI released an article about sales data in January of 2014, which shows that sales volumes are up and cap rates are reaching new lows in the Retail sector. The article shows year-over-year sales volume for the retail sector to be up 27 percent!

Bill Rose, Vice President and National Director for our National Retail Group with Marcus & Millichap, explains in the article that as a firm, our inventory is up over last year and we are projected to have an improved 2014. Locally in our Tampa office, that is certainly true. In 2013, we doubled the transactions we closed in 2012. Entering 2014, I alone activated 5 new listings in January, which is clearly a strong indication of a good start to the year for both multi-tenant retail and net-leased investments.

Not only are the real estate markets picking up in the Retail sector, but it appears businesses are starting to bounce back as well. Hessam Nadji’s investment sales blog reported in March of 2014 that retail sales have lifted for the first time in three months, which is likely due to consumer spending starting to pick up. He anticipates that as the job market continues to grow, retail sales should gain even more traction. That’s great news for our local Tampa market and surrounding sub-markets as the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area has the third highest number of jobs in February 2014 among all the Florida Metros. That’s not even mentioning the projected jobs that will be created in the near future from the many developments looking to enter the Tampa MSA.

Hessam continues to point out that there are many economic indicators that support retail sales to continue growing forward. Although the mandatory health insurance and rising interest rates are looming concerns in the near future, these are small speed bumps compared to what the retail sector has endured in the past few years.

The fact is, things are looking up from all angles at this point. Businesses are doing better, consumers are spending more, investors are buying up deals aggressively with the cheap financing that is available and owners are finding it possible to sell their properties for more aggressive cap rates than we have seen since the last boom. We expect the second quarter to fly by even faster than the first. We have just as many buyers to accommodate, except now we have a little more deal flow to accommodate them with, so we don’t have time to slow down.

If you’re looking for a deal, you’re not alone. The shortage in deal inventory combined with the cheap money recently made available by lenders is causing a unique environment where large pools of investors are competing for a small pool of deals. Investors have been willing to take down deals at compressed cap rates because they are still able to make their desired return from the spread on financing.

The good news for investors is that more deal inventory is trickling in.

More and more owners are realizing that it’s not just a great environment to buy in, but also a great time to sell. Many of our clients and owners are moving off the fence and bringing their properties to market with confidence.

Let’s be honest, these record low interest rates will not be around forever. At some point within the next few years those rates will go up, investor returns will squeeze from the spread, and that will cause cap rates to go up and property values to go down respectively. Unfortunately, until our economy bounces back strong enough to support raises in the rental markets, values are very much reliant on available financing. If you’ve been on the fence about buying or selling, now is the time to seriously consider your options.

I welcome the opportunity to provide more detailed and localized information relevant to you and your retail investment goals.

If you have any questions, or if I can provide you with additional information locally or in other markets across the country, please feel free to contact me at (813) 387-4796.