Exciting opportunity in downtown Freeport. Retail space available for lease! … See MoreSee Less
So much great potential! This house is divided into two apartments, and could be kept as is or restored as one beautiful home. The downstairs unit features a one bedroom, one bathroom with original finishes and hardwood floors throughout. The upstairs unit is a two-three bedroom with one bathroom. The spacious back yard is a major plus! Check it out! … See MoreSee Less
Congratulations to Amanda Melnick on her promotion as Vice President and passing the real estate exam! … See MoreSee Less
Just Sold – 1 Beaver Creek Farm Rd., Bridgton, ME! … See MoreSee Less
Self Storage in Maine, Investment Vertical with Growing Demand
Throughout 2020 and 2021, self-storage development has dominated both urban and suburban markets.
There are, 50,000± self-storage units in the U.S. (90 percent of the global market), only 8.3-percent of which were vacant in 2020. Statista predicts global revenue in the sector is predicted to grow to $47-billion dollars by 2024, and Northern New England is a prime market for development.
According to SelfStorage.com, there are 211 self-storage facilities in Maine with a capacity of just under four-million square feet. That’s about 2.9 square feet of storage person per Mainer, less than the national average, and unit costs are higher in our state than others: the national average for units is just under $90 per month, while units in Saco cost out at $140 per month; in South Portland, that’s more like $163.
This means that self-storage investors in southern Maine with an eye toward the future have a chance to break ground on a growing market, taking advantage of other emerging benefits, including ease of automation and maintenance, as well as a lack of necessity for a retail frontage on the proverbial Main Street. Rather, backroad-situated properties with lower values are usable though multi-property self-storage entrepreneurs benefit from having at least one facility located in a heavily-trafficked area for advertising and marketing purposes.
Self-Storage Investing: Ease of Ownership
Drilling down to the essentials, self-storage properties require little infrastructure to develop and management to maintain.
“It’s a metal building on a slab with doors and lights. There are no tenant complaints to field, no issues with the HVAC, the plumbing, or the decor,” says Ben Spencer of Maine Realty Advisors (MRA). “Basically, it’s just keeping the property up to date, plus some snow removal and landscaping. By itself, all of that spells ‘green light’ to more hands-off investors, especially in southern Maine where high per-unit prices make investing in this sector all the more potentially profitable.”
Maine self-storage entrepreneur, Tanner Herget, traded owning and managing multiple hospitality businesses (51 Wharf, Bonfire, Drink Exchange) to enter the self-storage business in 2018, acquiring multiple such properties over time while modernizing operations in each instance.
He says there’s no more chasing down checks from tenants these days: “When I took over these facilities, most customers were stopping by and paying with checks. Now, I have nearly 90 percent of them on automatic recurring payments using a software system designed for self-storage businesses. That system syncs to the gate code, so a new customer can drive up, rent the unit online, and drive in moments later.”
Noting that making a self-storage investment profitable is about more than total occupied square footage, Herget makes a distinction between economic and area occupancy, proffering the term “facility occupancy” instead. Instead of judging profitability by area occupancy, it’s important to measure “economic occupancy,” he says. Basically, to be optimally profitable, it’s important to charge competitive rates and to have all customers paying those rates. This can lead to client turnover and attendant decline in area occupancy while still driving a better bottom line and freeing up space for higher-paying customers.
Tanner is able to apply significant annual increases in monthly rate, with short notice periods, and due to the lack of competition, retains 98.5% of his occupancy per increase.
In addition to profitability, self-storage investing in Maine has left him free to pursue other ends both personally and professionally.
“Storage seemed like a better avenue toward the lifestyle I wanted,” says Herget. “Operated correctly, the residual income is strong and continues to increase as prices go up and infrastructure development and maintenance is largely minimal as long as you do it right.”
Self-Storage Business in Maine: Growing Demand
Anecdotally, it’s seemed like self-storage facilities are sprouting up all over southern Maine, but per the numbers, Maine has less self-storage capacity per capita than most other states.
“With the rising cost per foot of acquiring and developing in the residential sector, we’ve witnessed the demand for self-storage increase dramatically,” says Spencer. “Self storage provides users with an affordable and low-maintenance option when the rest of the market is anything but.”
“You’re not dealing with a lot of calls/complaints; you’re not dealing with water and sewer issues; and many of the existing self-storage facilities are sold out as far as area occupancy, if not the stronger standard of facility occupancy,” says Spencer. “It’s much easier to manage units in this area than in multi-family buildings.”
Utilizing proper management tools and processes can make self-storage investing a lucrative opportunity, which starts with finding the right property to make the entire enterprise as profitable as possible.
As far as investment exit strategy, passive properties producing steady residual income create obvious and attractive returns to investors and come at a lower barrier to entry than other commercial products. With development costs ranging from $40-60 PSF and lease rates ranging from $10-12 PSF, with affordable and well-placed land, it’s possible to develop with a high yield and realize immediate increased equity.
“The self-storage industry is a growing market and Maine investors are seeing the benefits of this sector become increasingly desirable and profitable,” says Spencer. “Here at MRA, we have experience in this area, and if it’s not right for you, we’ll help you find other commercial real estate opportunities that are more your style.
“We’re excited about this area, though, and we’re not the only ones–so it’s time to act now if it seems like the right kind of investment for you.”
Interested in learning more about self-storage investment opportunities in Maine? Contact us today!
Written by Ben Spencer
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Central Maine Real Estate Weathering Pandemic, Poised For Growth
The 2020 real estate market in central Maine has faced pandemic-related challenges, just like the rest of the world. The good news: while the market faced many challenges in 2020, central Maine is in a position to come out of a tough year and make 2021 a year to remember.
Last year’s market was highlighted by low leased vacancy and low workforce occupancy. In Lewiston, for example, TD Bank and Maine Community Health Options are still paying rent, but workers are at home. The same thing is happening in Augusta with the Maine State buildings and also the Waterville Colby properties.
Driving the market are smaller users, 3,500-sq.ft. and below. At MRA, agents are working hard to place these tenants because the bigger entities aren’t making decisions quite yet.
In central Maine, residential is really driving the market (I call it “flight to isolation” as more and more people leave denser population areas especially in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut). It’s also a “flight to quality/commute” that’s changing the face of residential real estate in our state.
Look At The Data: Lewiston/Auburn
Lewiston/Auburn experienced a relatively flat office market in 2020, including the University of Southern Maine’s decision to delay their highly anticipated move to downtown.
In these two highly connected Maine cities, it’s again residential driving the market with companies like Chinberg Properties working on major projects like the Continental Mill, as well as Pineland Lumber (a 250-unit development for medical workforce housing) and more. One major goal in this area: connect the new Auburn area down to the Mill District in Lewiston, which will set the entire area up for further growth.
“Thankfully we haven’t heard any huge changes to businesses office space plans,” says Misty Parker, Lewiston’s economic development manager. “The next six months will really be telling. A lot of businesses are looking at 2021 as a planning year to come back. There’s definitely a need for smaller offices for smaller businesses. People have been cooped up for so long that having an independent, safe space to conduct business is valuable.”
L/A Forecast: Lewiston/Auburn will make a swift and speedy return. When USM resumes their search for downtown space, the market is going to escalate quickly. The entire area is looking at major office movement this year. In residential, it’s going to be important to offer a premium product to capture renters’ attention. The multiple new projects coming online in the next year will make residential absorption a little flat because there’s so much product coming online, but it will happen.
Pro Tip: Small is good. In summer 2020, MRA took a large professional office building (The Professional Building on Lisbon Street) and subdivided it to give professionals working at home a chance to get out of the house. The entire property hit full occupancy within a month of acquisition.
Look At The Data: Augusta
Due to so many readily apparent factors, vacancies are popping up in the office market, but local users remain engaged.
The good news: Sales are happening, including monster sale of space developed by FD Stonewater for Maine DHHS and PERS to Winthrop Advisors out of Boston for $39-million dollars–a clear record for 2020. Another mega transaction for central Maine, 442 Civic Center Drive for $8.7-million dollars.
“We’re coming off one of the historically biggest economic cliff drops in recorded history,” says Keith Luke, Augusta’s economic development director. “Here in Augusta, remarkably, the development picture has remained hot and there’s certainly lots of untapped development potential here.”
Augusta Forecast: There is activity in the market. Multifamily is fueling the growth in Augusta, as well, with quality developments keeping the market here on track. Slow office absorption and flat rent increases are facts on the ground that will hinge on the country and state’s ongoing response to management of coronavirus.
Pro Tip: Although smaller deals are happening in Augusta, there is activity. Look out for smaller buyers and renters to get a return on investment. When it comes to industrial, look at land development projects with 5,000-25,000-sq.-ft. of industrial space. Install necessities including docks and floor drains to create demand.
Look At The Data: Waterville
Don’t forget about Waterville! It’s been a year on pause with Colby College and other major players taking time to get back on track post-pandemic. As students go back to school and companies kick back into gear, Waterville is going to be just fine.
Waterville is hot right now! The industrial market is benefitting from cannabis industry growth, and residential is absolutely on fire with multifamily transactions closing at an all-time high rate.
Waterville Forecast: Look for rents across all sectors to go up in this area considerably as the inventory is reduced and existing product is leased up. Sales are happening in Waterville, though on a much smaller scale as far as space and price.
Pro Tip: Waterville is a tough market to move into, but there are opportunities in smaller developments. There are deals going through left and right, including two big projects under development: The Seton Project (68 residential units, 35,000-sq.-ft. of development–the old Maine General Hospital); and FirstPark has industrial lots available with excellent infrastructure in place.
Summing It Up
Overall, all of the players in the central Maine real estate market have been biding their time on breaking new ground while keeping existing projects on-time and on-budget. Surprisingly given the pandemic, there’s a well-grounded optimism at play.
“It’s a scary, yet promising time to be involved in central Maine,” says Parker. “Our planning department is hoping to analyze current zoning standards to see where we can support additional commercial, industrial and residential housing opportunities by encouraging density where it makes sense while not changing the character of the neighborhoods.”
Written by Frank Carr
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Successful agents and investors in this market are facilitating transactions quietly and under the radar. These types of off-market deals have become the preferred method by which commercial and industrial real estate deals are handled in The Greater-Portland Area.
Competent commercial brokers avoid publicly listed buildings for the most part. There is no need. The buyers are fixed, the prices are known, and the demand exists. Hard-won knowledge is capital in today’s fast-paced markets, and is often the only thing standing between a successful investment and losing money hand over fist.
Broker to Broker: Extreme Dealmaking
The local market has excelled since 2012. While many economists believed values could not continue to increase to where they are today, it’s still possible that we have not seen the peak. Finding properties NOT yet on the market is the only way to stay above the competition.
Josh Soley, founder of Maine Realty Advisors, sees this as an accelerating trend: “Here in Portland and Southern Maine, commercial brokers are getting better and better at working with each other, predicting roadblocks, and delivering the right properties to investors.”
Prospective buyers interested in developing a relationship with a Maine-based broker are able to tap into local tiers of influence, which means they have boots-on-the-ground knowledge not just when it comes to finding the perfect property, but also with banks and other local entities critical to a successful deal.
“Southern Maine, especially downtown Portland, contains a thriving retail, industrial, and multifamily real estate market,” says Soley. “There is also no doubt that it’s the buyers who have the strongest relationships with their brokers who are finding deals right now.”
“I would say that the majority of solid investment deals happen off market,” says Sylas Hatch, an associate at NAI The Dunham Group. “By and large, if it’s a good investment deal, it’s off market.” And, he notes, the buyer side demand is high right now. “There’s a real lack of industrial inventory in Southern Maine and it’s probably going to keep trending that way. Rents are going up in that sector. There’s a large difference in cost between renting in an existing space compared to a new building, so I don’t see a lot of new projects coming up to change the equation.”
Money Tight, But Available
One thing that is possibly affecting deals these days: bank financing, another area where relationships are key. “Lenders are a bit timid right now, but they’re still making investment capital available for those who qualify, especially existing clients,” says Hatch.
What this all tells us: Serious investors are working fast and feverishly to get deals done quickly as the window in time presented by current events won’t last long. There’s a plethora of investor capital waiting to be spent, especially when it comes to industrial and commercial space. That, mixed with a compression of interest rates, meaning capital-laden investors are literally chasing deals these days.
“Everybody’s calling around, trying to get deals done. The amount of deals out there haven’t gone up or down since COVID-19, but investor demand has definitely increased,” says Hatch. “They were already there, but on the sidelines, waiting for the right time, and a lot of people think now is the right time.
“In our area of the state, the value of industrial and commercial properties have continued to climb, but that’s nothing new [in Southern and Central Maine].”
Inside Look: Off-Market Deals
Typically, in the past, commercial real estate brokers used the New England Commercial Property Exchange (NECPE), CoStar, LoopNet, & CREXi to advertise properties for sale. This is now the digital market, and has its place in dealmaking, but in many cases it isn’t as effective as good, old-fashioned, human-to-human interaction.
“When I’m approached by a seller, I assess the deal, then may choose to contact a certain broker,” says Tim Millett, a prominent commercial broker at Porta & Co. “Sometimes, just through conversation and problem solving, we can discuss prospective buyers, consider their objectives and criteria. Then, we customize the deal to meet the needs of both parties.”
“Some sellers don’t like putting their properties online,” continues Millett. “It can cause disruption with tenants in the building as tenants see strangers walking around the property. On the other hand, buyers like buying properties off market because they feel like they’re getting an inside look at a property that hasn’t been vetted by the general public.
“I think the key is that there’s trust amongst us and we don’t necessarily feel like we need to go through the steps of signing all of the binding paperwork that’s typically involved in listing a property, getting a co-brokerage, or listing agreement, can scuttle a deal.”
“Once we match a potential buyer to the seller, we immediately start avoiding (and removing) obstacles that could kill the deal down the road,” continues Soley. “With off-market transactions, there’s a level of control between all parties involved. There’s no misdirection, no last-minute changes, just both parties working toward a mutual goal.”
Resistance To Off-Market Deals?
Whether a seller or a buyer, the negatives of this type of exclusive transaction are few and far between. That is, as long as expectations are set-and met.
MRA is always working to increase the level of cooperation between local, in-the-know brokers. “Conducting these off market deals is pretty commonplace,” says Millett. “What I think MRA is trying to highlight is that in the past, many off-market deals were kept internal, but in the last few years that barrier has been broken.”
“I do know the old way of doing business is more focused on hoarding information and trying to keep deals amongst yourself, whereas the newer way of doing business is putting the full commission aside and being client-driven.”
A strong, honest, and open relationship of trust and cooperation between brokers enables business to thrive in this marketplace. “When you’re dealing with people you don’t trust, you’re more hesitant to bring up an off-market property because there’s a chance the other broker or buyer can call your seller or buyer directly and cut you out of the deal,” says Millett. “Whereas, when I’m doing a deal with Josh or anyone at MRA, I know they’ll honor the information I’m sharing with them.”
The paucity of suitable, competitively priced commercial properties in Maine has engendered a sentiment among investors that once a property has hit the market, and there’s a sign in the ground, it’s too late.
“When you have a pocket listing or an off-market property, very few people know about it, so buyers know that there’s an advantage to getting those deals,” says Millett.
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COVID-19 has swept through most of the United States, leaving a trail of uncertainty among real estate professionals.
Banks are hesitant, tenants are scared, and investors are floating in a Coronavirus shutdown-induced limbo that will take time to dissipate.
Both the commercial and residential real estate markets are functioning and transactions are being completed, but the landscape is stacked with unknowns. Many in the industry are optimistic that commercial real estate transactions will continue mostly apace in Portland due to the ongoing high demand for space in the market.…
Maine leads New England with 900 megawatts of installed wind capacity, by far the most in the region. However, our state produces only around 55 megawatts worth of solar energy–the least in New England.
The new goal: more than 400 megawatts of distributed solar power and numerous updated guidelines making it easier for both residential and commercial solar energy to proliferate much more readily than has heretofore been the case. (Be sure to read more about the “solar land rush” maps we have produced for the use of our clients below).
For perspective, Maine produces “less than half as much as tiny Rhode Island.” Straight talk: Maine ranks in last place for solar energy, solar energy development jobs, and solar-related economic opportunities. But, get ready, because solar power is coming to Maine in a big way due to the summer 2019 approval of a bipartisan solar energy bill (LD 1711), approved by the Maine legislature and signed by Governor Janet Mills (D).
Josh Soley of Maine Realty Advisors (MRA) lays out the macro effects clearly: “There is a scramble nationally and internationally for land in Maine because of the solar building boom,” he says. “It’s fully underway and will continue for some time due to state-funded grants guaranteed by the federal government to support the growth of the solar market in Maine. There are national companies specializing in solar development and, with the passing of this new incentive, they are coming here and buying options on land in hopes of winning the auction process to get these pieces of land outfitted for solar.”
This will no doubt affect the commercial and industrial real estate industries. Agencies and investors need to think ahead to keep out-of-state funding coming into Maine, while also planning ahead to build Maine’s solar production and attendant real estate needs in a sustainable way. The good news: our state is poised to do just that.
“Maine is in a really good position. The governor is very renewable energy-friendly and wants to make the state a notable factor in the game, so she put in place things that have made the option of using solar in Maine competitive,” says Frank Urro, vice president of energy strategies for NRGTree, a team of renewable energy financial analysts based in Massachusetts. “It’s market-driven: Solar companies submit bids and the winning bid is accepted into the pool. Utilities are going to get a good price on the energy and so are consumers.”
Maine Solar Industry Goes BOOM!
When it comes to what this means for commercial and industrial real estate in the state of Maine, we’re talking about caps on solar projects escalating from 660 kilowatts to two megawatts; community solar projects were limited to nine members per project, now up to 200 are allowed; up to 125 megawatts of large-scale solar arrays for single customers with municipal, commercial or industrial sites; and the bill directs 10 percent of larger-scale community solar farms be reserved for low- or moderate-income residents.
In response to what we at MRA expect to be a rising wave of property purchases related to solar power-generating capability, MRA has created GIS maps that cross-reference multiple relevant factors. These highly proprietary maps constitute a unique reference point for investors looking to enter the market based on the new solar energy regulations and realities. Using these maps and models to help clients identify solar-ready properties, MRA is ready to help direct the purchasing, selling, or leasing of any and all solar-ready properties in the state of Maine.
To do so, MRA looks at certain factors pertaining to each piece of ground: A) Size of the parcel? What’s in the ground? Is the land developable? Flat enough to build? B) In near proximity to the power grid, a substation? Necessary hours of sunlight? C) Local zoning issues and the political realities of local municipalities and governmental organizations, and more. The upshot of all this? Buyers and sellers need a plan to get the most out of this critical moment in the growth of Maine renewable energy, especially solar. Here at MRA, we have just that.
Up With The Sun: Maine Realty Advisors Develops Solar Land Plan
Thanks to the intensive planning and research we’ve conducted in the solar renewable energy sector, MRA has the info our clients need to be successful in this market. “There’s going to be more and more of a scramble for solar throughout the state of Maine,” says Soley. “[Governor Mills] has made renewables and, specifically, solar a priority. To make this happen, land is needed, roof space on large commercial and industrial buildings is needed, and land by the water is needed.
“Make no mistake, this entrance into the solar energy market is going to impact Maine real estate immediately and for years to come,” he continues. “There’s going to be more and more of a scramble for these parcels, which is very positive for the state, taking land that historically hasn’t had much financial value and making it worth something.”
All of that said, if you’re thinking you’d like to take part in Maine’s solar land rush, it’s not going to be easy. “If you don’t have land under option already, you’re out. The initial purchases have been completed,” says Soley. “Now, people are finalizing permit applications to develop the land, and the state is considering permits based on the amount of energy individual properties will produce.”
The good news: that’s just the first round. There are more rounds of solar energy-related development to come. It’s a complicated and ongoing process that will twist and morph over time based on myriad factors. “Maine is going to become a trend leader in the renewable energy sector around the country and the economic impact in our state will be tremendous,” says Soley.
Here at MRA, we’ll be staying up on every last development in this federal- and state-fueled solar energy developments and its impact on real estate across Maine. We’ll be keeping track of how different towns and municipalities react, i.e. permitting might take a year in Portland, an hour in Caribou. There will be more and foreign investment flowing into the state and, while we welcome that, we as a community need to understand and manage it. One thing we know: this is a new era in the state of Maine. “We are already a leader in renewables when it comes to wind, and it’s going to happen with solar, as well,” says Soley. “We are ready for that and, because of that, so are our clients.”
Things Maine Businesses Need To Know About Solar Energy
- Maine homes, businesses and municipalities will be able to access benefits of solar energy much more easily.
- The federal government introduced the federal investment tax credit in 2006, a 30% federal tax credit for certain renewable energy investments. This has since been decreased to 26% and will continue to drop over time, so waiting to go solar is not your best option.
- Businesses can now receive their tax credits in dollars instead of kilowatt-hours, meaning some Maine businesses will increase return on solar investment by 50% or more.
At the end of the lease (say, 20 years), it’s an economic decision that will be based on the state of current technology at the time. Maybe the best thing is to change up panels and use higher-tech panels to produce more energy and increase the value of the property. Or, maybe not.
Urro goes on to note that the strongest solar energy-producing states are Massachussetts, New York, New Jersey, California, and, now, “You can add Maine to that list with some of the best incentives out there,” he says. “Maine is now a leader in the solar industry and will become more so thanks to both the governor and this investment by the federal government because, if you really want to see widespread adoption, it has to come down from the federal level.”
I’ve been in the industry 30 years so I can sound jaded, but there are political pressures at play and if it doesn’t come down from the top you won’t get widespread adoption even though it’s a good play at every level: for the economy, jobs, local manufacturing, good service jobs, healthier.
What we do, found over years in the industry, if you want to get adoption you can’t do it on the green platform. Everyone wants to be green, but are also driven by the numbers, the economics. We focus on financial modeling, go into an organization and develop a financial model for their portfolio of properties and show them the money they’re leaving on the table, or water under the bridge, that’s easy to capture, they’re just not aware, do so using onsite renewable energy generation. We give them the model, they take it to the bank, and get the money. The ROI is fabulous. We prove it from a financial analytics point of view. Then we take the project and put it out to bid, use local installers on the project, and work with multiple financial companies to lock down best financing model, so the client gets best ROI, putting everything out to bid and managing the project, getting best equipment and service, everyone bidding on same quality, any tech being landed on owners’ property.
The technology is good and getting better. People always ask if they should wait a year, will quality be better? Looking at history, you’ll see the technology improvements have been incremental, not huge breakthroughs and if you map incremental changes to cost and incentives, will notice incentives decline as newer technology becomes more commonplace. It really doesn’t make any sense to wait because the longer you wait, the more depreciated incentives become. 30% tax credit in Maine went to 26%. The Cost of panels came down, but taxes went up. That’s federal.
We work with commercial industrial mostly, but also residential. It’s becoming more accepted for businesses, more biz owners know about the benefits. I’ve done presentations in rooms where the likelihood of you having someone in the room that has solar on their commercial property or house is fairly high. There’s usually at least one person in the room that has it and they’ll speak to the benefits of it, that it makes complete economic sense.
Length of this? Depends on the nature of local government, so if their goal is to reach carbon neutrality, the land rush is going to be around for a while. What they found in Massachusetts, wanted to tame the land rush, modified incentives so larger incentives are on rooftops and parking lots and on large parcels of land with big systems. They actually created sort of a disincentive. Now here people don’t look for land, they look for large, sprawling rooftops. The state utility will review their position over time, decide whether or not they want to continue to use land or shift as they did in Massachusetts.
Did you know Lewiston, Maine, just logged one of the city’s largest sales of all time at a cool $6.38-million dollars on a 20,000 sq.-ft. property, “The Lewiston Gateway”?
This purchase is just one of many signs that the Lewiston-Auburn metro area is already seeing major growth, and more is on the way.…