Weathering a perfect storm in Commercial Property Service Charges
As per the SCSI / RICS Code of Practice definitions, service charges in commercial property enable an owner to recover the costs of servicing and operating a property. This is for the benefit of the occupiers and users of the services and facilities provided within the property.
The service charge arrangement is dictated by the lease of the property and presents what responsibilities fall to the service charge regime and what responsibilities fall to the occupier.
One of the key roles of the Bannon Property Management team is compiling the annual service charge budgets for the assets under our management. When doing this work, we are conscious of the impact service charge regimes have on occupiers and owners. If the budget is set too low, cashflow issues arise that affect the smooth operation of the asset. This can lead to a deterioration of the asset which will have numerous implications for users, occupiers and owners. Alternatively set the budget too high and this impacts on the viability of occupiers to pay and ability to let units.
Having a high service charge per square foot also has an impact on the rental rates the owner can achieve. This in turn negatively impacts the asset value. Therefore, it is paramount that property managers are constantly reviewing, and tracking service charge spend. This is easier said than done.
When setting the 2022 service charge budgets in Q4 2021 no surveyor could have predicted the war in Ukraine and the subsequent disruption this would create in the world economy. It is hard to believe that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the increase occupational costs for occupiers in Irish commercial assets!
Given the increase in operational costs worldwide since January 2022, most Irish commercial assets with service charge liabilities are looking at a balancing charge at the end of the year. This is when annual service charge expenditure has exceeded the annual budgeted figure. This is due to service charge budgets being set before an escalation of the War and subsequent impact on the global economy.
The current landscape is substantially different to when we were setting 2022 service charge budgets. With the ongoing energy crisis and global economic conditions, setting 2023 service charge budgets will be more challenging than ever. Significant increases in energy costs coupled with construction costs increasing by 14% over the past 12 months according to the SCSI’s construction cost index (July 21-June 22) have created these challenges. The addition of ERO (Employment Regulation Order) increased hourly rates for cleaning and security professionals, combined with these challenges, means that we are dealing with a perfect storm.
it is imperative that the property manager strikes a balance between having a sustainable and affordable service charge budget, but to also ensure there are funds to maintain the common areas.
This is a fine balance and Bannon predicts service charge regimes will increase significantly in 2023. This will lead to hard choices for asset managers and owners. As market leaders, Irish-owned Bannon manages multiple commercial assets including shopping centres, retail parks and offices throughout Ireland. We have significant experience in setting and managing service charge budgets, helping our clients find this balance.
Author: William Lambe, Divisional Director, Bannon
Date: 5th October 2022