Apr 10, 2012

To go please !

I have been trying to figure out how to improve the utility management process of the company for quite a while now. This topic is important for us for a number of reasons, and I am deeply convinced that we need to find the right way to address this while time is still on our side. Not only managing utilities is the main way to improve sustainability credential of an asset, but utilities represent the bulk of our tenant costs. Any extra cents going to utility providers is a cent that we cannot use to increase the rent. On a longer timeframe consideration, I do believe that the future of leasing will be (as it is already in some Nordic countries) in the full service rent were utility costs will be borne by the real estate owner, rather than by the tenant. 

The existing “In Use” certification systems remain relatively weak and rely on little evidence of operation excellence. We have recently acquired a Bream in use certified asset, and I still struggle to see, what was better in this asset than in other non-certified assets. As far as I can tell (and I do not pretend to know all of these certification tools), having an “In Use” certification, could compare to changing the regular windshield cleaning lotion of your 4x4 SUV (18 liters/100 km) into an environmental friendly lotion, and argue that thanks to this new lotion on your SUV is “Green in Use”.

One of the bigger hurdles commercial real estate is going through with respect to improved utility management is in my view the “short” average ownership/management continuity that drives of industry. As I have argued before, real estate time is much slower than capital market time. Short ownership for a real estate is in my view anything between 5 to 7 years. Most of the investment that would be needed in order to measure and understand what is going on with a building would have a longer payout period. Without such measurement, and understanding, there is little you can do. More importantly, it is very unlikely that any buyer of the asset would pay for this specific piece of technology. The likelihood that a new owner system would be compatible with yours is very close to zero. The result is that most real estate owners underinvest into modern tools that would allow a better grasp on utility bills of building, as they will not capture enough benefit of the investment over its holding period. I am still confused, that I am able to know instantly that Lady Gaga changed its dress (@ladygaga on Twitter), our buildings are not able to communicate real time data. Not that the technology is lacking, but the cost of the technology is prohibitive within our potential ownership timeframe.
What we would need is a technology that would allow us to plug something into an existing metering system, and then be in position to take that something away with us whenever we would sell the asset to someone else. This would ease the investment decision, as the lifetime of the investment would not be tied up to a single asset but to the “plug and play” device itself. The good news is that there are a bunch of start-up companies out there that are developing just that. It is early development stage, lot of progress to be made, but definitively going into the right direction. We will be looking into that closely to see if it can really work. Monitoring “to go”, is what we really need.

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