Legal matters can arise just about anywhere and in any industry. Commercial real estate is no exception. In fact, commercial real estate transactions can be filled with legal pitfalls if you don’t take proper precautions or seek professional advice.
What legal challenges are common to commercial real estate? For the answers, we looked to an experienced real estate attorney who has helped many clients navigate through such challenges.
Hannah Dowd McPhelin is a partner with Pepper Hamilton LLP, resident in the Harrisburg and Philadelphia offices and vice chair of the firm’s Real Estate Practice Group. Attorney McPhelin concentrates her practice in real estate matters and other business transactions, including the acquisition, sale and financing of commercial real estate properties and leasing of office, retail, warehouse and industrial space, representing both landlords and tenants. She is an Accredited Professional and was named a member of The Counselors of Real Estate in 2017.
Omni Realty Group had the pleasure of interviewing Attorney McPhelin to further examine the legal pitfalls that could impact commercial real estate deals. Here’s what we learned.
Omni: Describe some of the most common legal challenges you’ve seen arise when working through a commercial real estate deal.
Hannah Dowd McPhelin: I’ve worked through a lot of different challenges on a variety of deals, but an enduring theme is that some level of trust between the parties is necessary to get a deal done efficiently. If there is no trust or trust erodes, it is extremely difficult to work through challenges and get to closing, and it makes the deal much more expensive for all parties.
Omni: What conflicts can arise between the LOI and the lease? How can this be avoided?
HDM: The issue I see most often is that, because LOIs are typically not binding, a party may not raise concerns at that stage and will believe those terms can be “re-negotiated” in the lease — this leads to mistrust and deal delays. It is better to raise material issues at the LOI stage so both parties do not waste time and resources when there is not a meeting of the minds. I also recommend that the LOI be a short and concise document containing only the most important terms. A long LOI slows down deals and makes it more likely that you will do a second round of negotiations on particular issues when you negotiate the lease.
Omni: How can an attorney help parties avoid legal pitfalls in commercial real estate transactions?
HDM: A good deal attorney should be creative and look to solve problems as they come up. Every deal has certain issues, but an attorney who only spots issues without offering useful and practical solutions to them is not helpful to the process and reduces the chance that the deal will get done. Frank and open discussions among the parties and their attorneys are the most useful tool in avoiding pitfalls and making sure that the deal is documented in such a way that each party understands its obligations and risks.
Omni: What are the benefits of using a commercial real estate broker?
HDM: Similar to a good attorney, a good broker can be very useful in moving a deal forward, particularly over any rough patches. A broker’s knowledge of the market and other options in the market is essential to understanding a party’s leverage, and a good broker has strong relationships in the relevant market that benefit his or her client.
Omni: For tenants/buyers, how will using an exclusive tenant representative help avoid conflict of interest in a CRE deal?
HDM: Exclusive tenant representatives are particularly helpful to companies that are not in the real estate industry but have real estate needs. The representative’s knowledge of the market, the tenant’s options, and the deal process helps set the tenant’s expectations and assists the tenant in making efficient decisions.
Omni: When entering a commercial real estate transaction, what is the best time in the process to engage outside professionals like attorneys and/or commercial real estate brokers?
HDM: As early as possible. A broker should be engaged when a tenant first considers a move in order to best understand the options in the market and to help the tenant make a considered decision. Ideally, an attorney is engaged in the LOI stage. As an attorney, I find it helpful if I can do a quick review of the LOI before it is signed, as I may see issues that will eventually become big problems in the lease if not addressed at the LOI stage. Often, what I am doing is asking a few follow-up questions to make sure the parties have considered how certain terms will play out in the lease.
Navigating commercial real estate transactions can come with many challenges. What’s most important to remember is that any successful deal must be built upon a foundation of trust. Additionally, seeking the input of an experienced commercial real estate broker, particularly one that is an exclusive tenant representative, will ensure your interests are represented. Finally, having the counsel of a real estate attorney on your side to review any documents and spot issues that could grow into bigger problems down the road can be invaluable to the success of your transaction.
To learn more about Attorney Hannah Dowd McPhelin or Pepper Hamilton LLP, please visit: www.pepperlaw.com.