Can a mortgage be issued for virtual land? Apparently, it can in the metaverse

In a recent NAI article, we looked at the advent of the metaverse[SR1]  and what this new tech might mean for commercial real estate (CRE). Though we concluded that the answer to how the metaverse might impact the real world remains uncertain, since then, there have been some interesting virtual developments.

In particular, tech company TerraZero has started issuing “mortgages” for virtual real estate, and there’s very real money changing hands for entirely virtual properties.

A slice of (online) paradise?

To be clear, the “mortgages” in this case are funded entirely by TerraZero itself, rather than an external financial institution, but employ a system of down payment and instalments, much like the real thing. The first one was issued for a piece of land on a platform called Decentraland, where users can own, and sell, virtual assets. And as strange as this all sounds from a real estate perspective, there have recently been several big players setting up shop in the virtual world.

Perhaps the biggest, from a credibility point of view, is global financial leaders JPMorgan who recently launched a “virtual bank”, though at the moment it’s only being used for marketing purposes. In tandem with the purchase, JPMorgan issued a report, where they discuss their expectations for the metaverse’s development, saying:

“The success of building and scaling in the metaverse is dependent on having a robust and flexible financial ecosystem that will allow users to seamlessly connect between the physical and virtual worlds.”

They added that, in just the last six months of 2021, the average price for a virtual plot of land jumped from $6,000 to $12,000.

Hedging bets

Despite this apparent endorsement from one of the world’s leading financiers, there are still plenty of metaverse critics urging caution. One of the main points raised is that, unlike physical real estate, metaverse purchases can’t satisfy both property value fundamentals: namely scarcity and location.

Or as Louis Rosenberg, CEO of Unanimous AI and a veteran Augmented Reality (AR) developer, puts it:

“We don’t even know which platforms are [going to] be popular, let alone which locations… so it’s like somebody buying a piece of land anywhere in America and hoping that it becomes San Francisco or New York.”

For many companies though, hedging bets is taking the form of securing their own piece of the virtual pie. The Wall Street Journal reports that accounting firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prager Metis have also recently snapped up virtual sites, with the latter spending $35,000 on its purchase of a virtual HQ.

Is the metaverse here to stay?

Though it’s still early days, and impossible to say how the virtual property trend might play out, the recent developments in the space suggest it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. At the very least, the metaverse poses an interesting proposition, and one a lot of people seem to be willing to speculate on.

SOCIAL: Do you think there’s a future for metaverse property? And if so, how do you see it unfolding?


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Netting Things Out

Alec J. Pacella

One of my favorite types of cuisine is Thai food. I love the variety, flavors and especially the spiciness. Like many, I have my favorite go-to location but was recently in Scottsdale, came across a Thai restaurant and had to give it a try.

While the curry dish that I ordered was fantastic, I made a classic blunder that rendered it almost inedible. With Thai food, it’s common to be able to select a specific spice level, typically expressed as a range from one to 10. At my Lakewood go-to, I always chose a four, which hits me just right. And of course, I did the same thing at this Scottsdale establishment – after all, a four is a four is a four, right? After almost having my eyeballs melt, I was quickly reminded of the danger of assumptions and how a four in Lakewood, Ohio can mean something very different as compared to a four in Scottsdale, Arizona. I know what you are thinking right about now; how is Pacella ever going to tie red curry to real estate? And by now, you likely know the response – read on!
The next day on that Scottsdale trip, I met with a developer that was building a flex-warehouse project. The discussion soon settled on economics and this developer quoted a figure that was preceded with the phrase “modified gross.” I immediately hit the brakes on the conversation, as the memory of my scorched
tonsils was still very fresh. I needed to understand exactly what the developer’s definition of modified gross was, as this is one of those terms that can mean dramatically different things to different people. This month, we are going to discuss the terminology used to describe the most common lease structures. Along the way, I will point out specific items to be aware of and components that can vary.
Leases generally fall into two camps: net and gross. The term “net” is an indication that, in addition to rent, the tenant is also responsible for a portion of the related occupancy expenses such as real estate taxes, insurance, common area maintenance, repairs, etc. The term “gross” is an indication that the rent
includes landlord contributions to at least some portion of occupancy expenses.

The following is a hierarchy of lease types, ranging from the types with the greatest tenant responsibilities to the types with the greatest landlord responsibilities.

Absolute net lease
This lease structure requires the tenant to pay for any costs related to the premises, including real estate taxes, property insurance, repairs, maintenance, utilities, etc. It also requires tenant to pay for large-scale items such as a roof replacement or new HVAC unit or even rebuilding the structure should it be damaged or destroyed. The best example of this type of lease is a ground lease, where a tenant pays rent associated with the underlying ground and is also responsible for all other types of occupancy cost, including constructing, maintaining, repairing and replacement of any improvements. This type of lease can also be referred to as a bond lease and is most often seen in single-tenant retail properties, especially restaurants.


The term “net” is an indication that, in addition to rent, the tenant is also responsible for a portion of the related occupancy expenses….
The term “gross” is an indication that the rent includes landlord contributions to at least some portion of occupancy expenses.


Triple net lease
This is by far the most widely used lease term and, like the term “cap rate,” it is often thrown around with reckless abandon. While some may assume this type of lease to result in the tenant paying for everything, that’s not usually the case. Let’s talk about what the tenant does pay for – in addition to rent, the three “nets” are real estate taxes, insurance and common area maintenance. These can be paid either directly (the tenant contracts for and pays the snow plowing expense) or indirectly (the landlord contracts for and pays the snow plowing expense and then sends a bill to the tenant for reimbursement). Now let’s talk about what the tenant does not pay for. Top of the list is replacement of major items, such as roof, mechanicals, structure or parking lot. And some gray can creep into this, as the lines between maintenance and replacement can be blurry. For example, an HVAC unit may need the belts replaced and a control unit swapped out. Would that be considered a repair (and thus an expense borne by the tenant) or a replacement (and thus an expense borne by the landlord). Another item is rebuilding expense. Suppose part of the property’s façade is damaged due to high winds – is this the tenant’s responsibility to repair or the landlords? While a well- constructed lease document will make situations like these clearer, one cannot simply rely on the term “triple net” as a catch-all. This type of lease is most often seen among multi-tenant retail properties, as well as single-tenant retail, industrial and office properties.


Modified gross lease
If ever there was a catch-all term, this would be it. Also known as a double net or a hybrid lease, this structure connotes that some of the expense responsibility falls on the tenant and some falls on the landlord. Unfortunately, that’s as clear as things get. Sometimes, it means that the landlord pays for insurance and common area maintenance and the tenant pays for real estate taxes. Other times, it can mean that the landlord pays for real estate taxes and the tenant pays for insurance and common area maintenance. And still other times, it may mean that the landlord pays for maintenance and real estate.


Full service gross lease typically implies that the tenant pays for all operating expenses, such as real estate taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance of the grounds and building, etc. up to a set threshold. Future increases in these collective expenses that exceed the threshold
are the responsibility of the tenant.


Full-service gross lease

This is a very common structure in multi-tenant office properties in our market. It typically implies that the tenant pays for all operating expenses, such as real estate taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance of the grounds and building, etc. up to a set threshold. Future increases in these collective expenses that exceed the threshold are the responsibility of the tenant. The tenant is also responsible for electricity usage within their premises, sometimes referred to as “lights and plugs.” But even this common structure has some pitfalls. One is janitorial – sometimes the landlord contracts and pays for cleaning of the tenant’s premises and other times the tenant will be required to contract for cleaning directly. Another is electricity. As electrical usage can be directly metered to the tenant’s premises, it can be sub-metered to the tenant’s premises, or it can be fed via a master meter and then charged on a pro rata basis.

Absolute gross lease
This structure is rarely seen, save for one type of tenant. And if any of you have ever been involved with a lease for the U.S. Government, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In an absolute gross lease, the landlord pays for everything for the entire term of the lease. There are no pass-throughs, escalations or separately metered utilities. The day the lease is signed, the tenant will know exactly what they will be paying each month for the entire duration of the lease. There is not a “one size fits all” lease structure and even when we hear a common term, there can still be nuances. As I was painfully reminded in Scottsdale, assuming you know something based on a commonly used term can be a sure way to get burned!

Alec Pacella, CCIM, president at NAI Pleasant Valley, can be reached by phone at 216-455-0925 or by email at apacella@naipvc.com. You can connect with him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/alecpacellaccim or subscribe to his youtube channel; What I C at PVC.

See Properties Magazine for March 2022

Market analysis: NYC counts the costs of Covid

New York City (NYC) is virtually synonymous with commercial real estate. It’s a mega sector there, with legendary dealmakers and eye-watering costs. With an incredibly dense population and as a home to a huge number of global headquarters, the city was not only hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also responded with some of the strongest mitigation tactics seen stateside and in the world. A report from the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (published late 2021) now shows the true costs of Covid on NYC’s iconic commercial real estate (CRE).

Setting the scene

In 2019, reads the report, the office sector in NYC employed 1.6 million people, or a third of all city jobs. In the preceding decade, office market property values and billable values (on which property taxes are levied) had “more than doubled”. Off this incredibly strong base, employment in the office sector shrunk by 5.7% in 2020 – certainly a blow, but less than the 11.1% drop in total employment.

The gap here lies in remote work as a mitigation strategy, but that resulted in reduced office space demand. “Asking rents are down 4.2% in the second quarter of 2021, while vacancy rates are at 18.3%, a level not seen in over 30 years in New York City,” according to the report.

Market values down

The result is a steep drop in the full market value of office buildings (463 million square feet of inventory), which fell $28.6 billion citywide – based on the 2022 financial year (FY) final assessment roll. This is the first decline in total office property market values since FY 2000.

In turn, Market Watch’s analysis says, the declines “cost more than $850 million in property taxes in the city’s fiscal 2022 budget.

Charting the return

What the ledger numbers don’t indicate, though, is “what next?”. Partnership for New York says that while the labor market recovery “remains sluggish”, NYC saw “strong income and sales tax revenues and pandemic-era highs in hotel occupancy and transit ridership” during Q3 2021.

The New York City Recovery Index – a joint project of Investopedia and NY1 – puts the state of the city’s recovery at a score of 85 out of 100, or “over four-fifths of the way back to early March 2020 levels”.

The CRE shakeup has also led to some much needed strategic thought and speculation about the future for NYC, including suggestions that empty office space be converted to residential to address the city’s need for affordable housing.

Two Tales of One City

by Alec Pacella for Properties Magazine January 2022

The dust has finally settled on 2021 and, for better or worse, it looked a lot like 2020. It’s that “better or worse” part that will be the focus of my annual wrap-up column.

I’ve used this theme a few times in past columns, sometimes I termed it “best of times, worst of times’ while other times I called it “glass half full, glass half empty.’ As has been said several times in the recent past, COVID has accelerated trends that were already present and the concept of ‘better or worse’ is no exception. To see what fared better and what fared worse, read on.

Click the link for the complete article: http://digital.propertiesmag.com/publication/?m=&l=1&i=734292&p=64&pp=2&ver=html5

Record rents point to UK CRE recovery

Reporting in the Evening Standard, based on data from Remit Consulting, indicates improvements in the UK’s commercial property sector. The firm’s data shows that rent collection in the last quarter reached its highest level in the pandemic period, which is partially due to the easing of lockdown regulations in the country.

Data from their REMark Report shows that “…an average of 72.1% of rents due in the UK had been collected with seven days of the September quarter rent day, which covers payments for the three months ahead”. This includes rent for retail and dining establishments, bars, and warehouses. Comparatively, in the previous quarter, 66.5% of rentals due were collected by the same point. Retail rents were sitting at 68.8% (up from 62.3%) and leisure at 57.2% (up from 40.1%).

Good news…

This is in keeping with a general upward trend, the firm told the newspaper, “which is good news for investors and landlords such as pension funds and other institutions, particularly as the upward trajectory of payments from tenants is similar to the previous quarters of the pandemic.”

…but not all good

Despite the strength of this news, it’s not a unilaterally positive picture, as the data also indicates that this ‘record high’ is still considerably lower than pre-Covid levels. Altogether, since the start of the pandemic, there is a shortfall in rent from commercial occupiers amounting to nearly £7 billion – a considerable chunk for property owners and investors, including institutional investors such as pension funds.

Managing the fallout

The matter of the “missing rents” is something the industry and public service are keeping a close eye on. This report from the International law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP gives an excellent rundown of the public consultation that the UK government has done around trying to establish a way forward for both struggling commercial tenants and landlords.

The policy paper published in August 2021 can be found here, and outlines the government intentions to “legislate to ringfence rent debt accrued during the pandemic by businesses affected by enforced closures” and their intent to formalize a “process of binding arbitration to be undertaken between landlords and tenants”.

Meanwhile, a number of the large and influential property industry associations have called on the government to end the moratorium on evictions that came into effect during the height of the pandemic and lockdown measures.