Is it possible that investors will second guess putting their cash into Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in favour of Crowdfunding? Why hasn’t South Africa got a Real Estate Crowdfunding platform? Shouldn’t someone be considering it?
It may seem unlikely that anyone will waver in favour of Crowdfundings whilst pondering investing in REITs right now, especially in South Africa since no such option exists, but already in the US, Real Estate Crowdfunding platforms have emerged. For instance, Fundrise was founded by Ben and Dan Miller, who spent the last few years building up a booming commercial real estate business. Frustrated with Wall Street investors, the brothers decided to build Fundrise to democratize the process of investing in commercial real estate.
Given the novelty of Crowdfunding many remain in the dark. According to Wikipedia Crowdfunding, or hyper funding “describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Crowdfunding is utilised widely to fund blogs, political campaigns, scientific research, start-up companies, music, the arts, as well as so called Angel Investing and now even real estate.
Ben Miller of Fundrise: “We felt that the private equity funds we looked to raise money from typically had no natural connection to the neighbourhood buildings we were developing,” So the brothers cut out the traditional middlemen and created the opportunity for direct investment. Now Ben says they believe that Fundrise “provides a platform that can revolutionize who influences neighbourhood development by giving the general public the opportunity to invest in and own local real estate and businesses.”
Forbes estimates that annual Crowdfunding transactions go as high as $500 billion annually compared to 2011’s $1.5 billion (anticipated to be $3 billion in 2012). If Crowdfunding even begins to approach that scale, it will completely change the landscape for start-up financing.
To get one’s head around the concept of Crowdfunding a trip back in time may be required. Wiki describes Crowdfunding as having an historical antecedent in the 18th century idea of subscription. Back in the day many artists and writers found it difficult to find publishers for their books, and instead persuaded large numbers of wealthy benefactors to ‘subscribe’ in advance to their production.
Today Rock groups like Marillion and Electric Eel shock have funded tours and albums using Crowdfunding platforms. Independent films are booming thanks to raising funds with Crowdfunding.
In essence Crowdfunding is a form of “Micro patronage”, a system in which the public directly supports the work of others, donating via the Internet. This is as opposed to traditional patronage now many “patrons” can donate small amounts, rather than a small number of patrons making larger contributions.
Sticking with our example, how does Fundrise work? The first offering on the site allows users to buy shares in 1351 H Street NE , a restaurant location on the booming H Street Corridor in Washington DC. The building is leased to Maketto that combines a Japanese-themed culinary “night market” with a clothing boutique for DURKL, a popular DC-based street-wear company. By investing in the project, you get a portion of the 10 year lease proceeds (projected to be 8.4% year), a portion of the profits of Maketto, and a portion of the future appreciation of the building.
Allen Gannett of TNW explains about Fundrise thus: a $100 share qualifies you for Kick-starter-style rewards, as well as access to shareholder events and parties. For $1000, you get a 10% discount on all food purchases and DURKL clothes and for $10,000, you get an annual dinner prepared by their chef. By combining economic rewards with Kick-starter-style benefits, Maketto gains a population of customers who are literally invested in its success. Ben explained that “by giving the neighbourhood and potential customers the opportunity to become your partner, Fundrise creates a whole new form of brand loyalty.
Other African countries are emerging as if Crowdfunding was designed for Africa. Countries long considered on the periphery of the world economy are benefiting. “We want to get Africans into the crowdfunding space to invest in Africa’s own start-ups,” said Munyaradzi Chiura, head of GrowVC’s Africa operations in Harare, Zimbabwe to Crowdsourcing.org. “Crowdfunding is particularly suited to the African context because the amounts are small, thereby reducing the risk, and investors are not going it alone.” Projects in which “anyone can invest” could receive backing from outside Africa.
South Africa’s has an important Crowdfunding platform in Crowdinvest. Investing with the businesses it backs may allow unusual rewards: investors in a film, for example, would get walk-on roles or on-screen credits. On the other hand, it also offers more conventional schemes, with investors in small firms and start-ups getting a share of the profits or of the company’s ownership. It runs checks on any business wanting to register: “It’s not open to anyone to upload a pitch,” said CEO and founder Anton Breytenbach. Crowdinvest returns the funds to users if the full amount sought isn’t raised, after which the project will shut down.
Considering that the US leads the way in so much, it’s worth noting that this year, President Barack Obama signed the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups) Act; this piece of legislation effectively lifted a previous ban against public solicitation for private companies raising funds. As of August 13, 2012, the Securities Exchange Commission has yet to set rules in place regarding equity Crowdfunding campaigns involving unaccredited investors for private companies; however, rules are expected to be set by January 1, 2013. Currently, the JOBS Act allows accredited investors to invest in equity Crowdfunding campaigns. In South Africa no such legal framework has been ventured and so far no one has challenged existing legislation that may impede the growth of Crowdfunding.
Considering the ups and downs, one has to look favourably on Crowdfunding in that it allows good ideas which do not fit the pattern required by conventional financiers to break through and attract funds through the ‘wisdom’ of the crowd. Proponents also identify a potential outcome of Crowdfunding as an exponential increase in available venture capital. On the down side, business is required to disclose the idea for which funding is sought in public at a very early stage. This exposes the marketer of the idea to the risk of the idea being copied and developed ahead of them by better-financed competitors.
So is there someone in South Africa ready to take on Crowdfunded real estate? It may not hold the lofty promise of creating high growth tech companies, but it does offer people the chance to own a piece of their neighbourhood. “Its social innovation meets investing” says Ben Miller of Fundrise. He believes that Crowdfunded real estate is providing a means for community member’s access to collaborative investment, while becoming part owners of the spaces and people they support. We could do with some of that in South Africa. Right?
When McDonalds first came to South Africa with their real estate policy, insisting on owning every freehold site, they encounted many obstacles souring their early days in the country. Steers has landed with their proverbial bum in the butter acquiring access to scores of outlet sites at service stations country wide. With arguably most of all the best sites taken up already what will be left for Burger King?
It’s now well publicised that JSE listed Grande Parade Investments has struck a deal with Burger King, (the US’s second biggest Burger fast-food chain after McDonalds) after 18 months of negotiation with the view to the fast-food franchise setting up shop in South Africa. Intriguingly GPI has a long range vision set on the pizza, pasta and chicken market too.
GPI is no stranger to the food franchise market with Cape Town Fish Market and Leonardo’s under its belt. GPI is known primarily though for its casinos, slot machines and hotels. The first Burger King outlet will open on Adderley Street in Cape Town, around May next year. Initially all the stores will be company owned. The financial side of the deal has not been disclosed. GPI will make a substantial investment in the venture, which will be funded from existing cash resources and new debt. The deal is still subject to the SA Reserve Bank approval. This is required because royalties will flow out of the country.
The competition is very high but Hassen Adams of GPI seems unfazed. MoneyWeb’s Hilton Tarrant asked Adams about sites and whether landlords and property management companies had been calling them? He replied: “I am absolutely gobsmacked by the interest. We said that we would sort of roll out this whole concept in Cape Town very, very conservatively. I can tell you, we are going to have to do it in a very aggressive way. I’ve got the go-ahead from my board to now go full-steam, and I think that we will be rolling out a lot of these Burger Kings much quicker than we anticipated. We obviously are going to start in Cape Town first, then Gauteng and then Durban.”
According to Wikipedia “Burger King derives its income from several sources, including property rental and sales through company owned restaurants.” According to NetLeaseAdvisor, Burger King generates revenues from three sources: retail sales at Company restaurants; franchise revenues and property income from restaurants that BKH leases or subleases to franchisees.
We already know the maxim: location, location, location. So what of the fact that other fast-food chains are way ahead of Burger King in this regard? What does Burger King want in a store? “Burger King’s restaurants are usually free-standing buildings, located on outparcels in shopping centres and on high-traffic urban streets”, says Randy Blankstein, president of the Boulder Group, a net lease brokerage firm based in Northbrook, Illinois, US.
To get really specific, the highly regarded Net Lease advisor rates Burger King as similar to other quick-service restaurant (QSR) operators, Burger King prefers locations in high traffic areas with superior access. Accordingly, net lease Burger King properties are usually supported by strong real estate fundamentals. The underlying asset is typically a 278.7sqm building with a drive-thru window, situated on 2023.4sqm to 4046.8sqm of land. It is important to note that Burger King franchises the majority of their locations, while only 15% of Burger King locations are corporate-operated. Therefore, there are a number of various lease agreements and guarantors operating under the Burger King banner. Corporate-backed leases have been trending towards ground leases of 10 – 15 years in length with rent increases of 8% – 10% every 5 years. Franchise guaranteed lease terms vary, as do their respective cap rates based on perceived credit-worthiness of the operator. However, if a site has high quality real estate and strong sales, some leases have been known to offer annual rent increases or percentage rent.
The nearest indication we can get with regard to Burger King’s intentions are, real-estate-wise here in South Africa, is Adam’s answer to a question about the location of outlets. “We will find the right sites. But also we have 400 slot-machine outlets, (mostly in pubs), and this creates opportunities. Why go the quick service route? In those sites we can create a Burger King that is a hole in the wall. You need to be creative.” It seems quite an ingenious move to piggy back the roll out of Burger Kings through the already tried and tested market of GPIs slot-machine outlets.
But it won’t end there if Burger King’s move into China is anything to go by. A recent article in Business Journal about Burger King Worldwide, opening 1,000 new restaurants in China offers a bullish insight into the future of the commercial real estate market in the People’s Republic.
That Burger King Worldwide is moving into China in such a massive manner is bullish for the commercial real estate in the country for a variety of factors. The most obvious is that there will now be 1,000 pieces of commercial real estate in China that will have a Burger King restaurant as a new tenant. The commercial real estate market in China can only benefit from that development.
Also of significance is that Beijing is welcoming new businesses into the country. That will only increase the demand for both residential and commercial real estate in China. This new demand from foreign investors, by the basic laws of supply and demand, will raise property prices in China both in the commercial real estate sector and market for homes in the People’s Republic. These same principles apply in South Africa. If Burger King is coming to town this is an encouragement for other foreign direct investment in South Africa in general and in commercial real estate in particular.
So we wait with baited breath to find out what GPI and Burger King plan for South Africa’s roll out. The 400 slots outlets are not quite the same since no purchase of land is taking place but when the foot is in the door, given Burger King’s record, it shan’t be long before real estate is being bought up.
So how stable is Burger King you may ask? Well to start with the company has a ‘B2’ rating with Moody’s’ – judged as being speculative and a high credit risk. By way of comparison McDonalds has an ‘A2’ rating. Standard and Poor rates Burger King ‘B’. An obligor rated ‘B’ is more vulnerable than the obligors rated ‘BB’, but the obligor currently has the capacity to meet its financial commitments. Adverse business, financial, or economic conditions will likely impair the obligor’s capacity or willingness to meet its financial commitments- according to S&P. McDonalds is rated ‘A’.
Net Lease advisor rates Burger King as a solid net lease investment set of properties. “For a non-investment grade net lease tenant, Burger King provides stability in an uncertain market.” Apart from adding some jobs to the markets and variety to our fast food habits, Burger King seems to have the track record to suggest that a move into South Africa can only be a confidence boost to the commercial property market even if its direct effects are delayed by the strategic embedding of Burger Kings into GPIs slot-machine outlets. Not everyone who wants a burger plays the slots and Burger King knows this. Commercial real estate will have to be purchased for the proposed big roll out in the Cape Town, Gauteng and Durban.