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Managing Real Estate, Farm Operations and Other Closely Held Interests or Special Assets Is No Task for the Inexperienced By Roger Kummert
November 15, 2017

Roger Kummert, Commerce Trust Company Real Estate and Special Assets Manager, covers the reasons why having a professional manager for illiquid assets is a valuable commodity in the high stakes world of material resources. Roger’s team handles real estate holdings, which can include commercial properties, farm acreage, and parcels with timber, precious minerals, or oil and gas assets, as well as closely held business interests.

Farming
Q. What are special assets and what makes them special?

A. Special assets are typically private business interests, properties or natural resources that can be difficult to convert directly to more liquid investments, like cash. In fact, I prefer to use the term illiquid assets rather than special assets.

Q. What do special asset managers like yourself do for people?

A. When called upon, we put professional resources in place to manage all kinds of ongoing enterprises, including oversight of family owned businesses, which can be structured as corporations, limited partnerships or limited liability corporations. We also have professional asset managers who take care of real estate assets such as farm acreage, residential real estate, office buildings and timber properties, as well as mineral assets, including oil and gas. It’s amazing the diversity we get.

Q. When do people ask to engage your services?

A. This usually happens when an ongoing enterprise is in transition, whether that is prompted by a change in ownership, a death in the family, or some other major event that causes a disruption in normal operations. In the case of a closely held firm, for example, an appointed family member or trustee involved in a transition may be inexperienced in business operations and find themselves overwhelmed when held responsible for day-to-day business activities. They may not possess the industry knowledge to keep the business operating smoothly and we can help with that circumstance if called upon. It pays off for people to recognize where their strengths are and when it’s time to turn to a business advisor with broader expertise when appropriate. We’ve acquired a broad range of experience in many industries over the last several decades and this uniquely positions us to be of help during these business transitions.

Q. How much special assets business does Commerce Trust Company handle?

A. In total, we are responsible for about $2 billion in illiquid assets. People tell us they come to Commerce because the professional expertise to purchase, profitably manage or sell these types of assets is hard to find under one full-service money management roof.

Q. How do most of your clients acquire their special assets?

A. Owners acquire special assets in a variety of ways – some build them from the ground floor up while some may acquire them through purchases or generational transfer. If a business owner of any enterprise retires or suddenly passes away, the burden of operations can sometimes fall on family members who may not be prepared or want to carry on in the same way. Businesses involving natural resources, such as farming, forestry, and mineral interests, require special expertise. That’s often the time we are invited in to help continue business operations or determine an appropriate transition for the family as they see fit.

Q. How have Commerce Trust clients profited from your expertise?

A. A married couple with a large farming operation and a long investment relationship with Commerce Trust was faced with some tough financial choices recently when the husband suddenly passed away. The wife faced the prospect of having to take over the operation of several thousand acres of farmland worth millions of dollars. She had a deep empathy for the many long-time business partners who had been her husband’s key tenants and she reached out to us for help in transitioning these assets. Given our long-standing history with the couple, we were uniquely situated to help. The wife decided to bring us in as agent to assist her in reaching her goals for the property. As not all the interested tenants could immediately raise the funds to purchase the parcels, we also enlisted an outside agent to list for sale and auction portions of the acreage, using their experience to derive the most value for the family. At the same time, this created fair access to the pool of potential purchasers the wife desired. The sheer scope of managing this process made it a complex job. In many cases, it’s simply too big a task for a single person or someone not accustomed to dealing with large-scale operations. You need an experienced team.

Q. Can you give me an example of why this is a tough “Do It Yourself” pursuit?

A. A professional special assets manager skilled in managing properties or ongoing businesses can have a competitive advantage over those without the specialization or appropriate skill set. As a prepared advocate for our clients, we apply our experience to produce a better bottom-line result. For example, we recognize that valuation mistakes are more likely to occur when there are many minority interest holders in a property. Under our representation, we were able to better market and command a significantly higher selling price for a client who had a minority interest in a large tract. Another minority owner mistakenly thought her property was virtually worthless and sold her mineral rights at a fraction of what they were worth. By doing the homework and waiting just a little longer for the right purchaser, our client profited immensely compared to her neighbor.

Q. Can you give me another example?

A. We sometimes find circumstances where tenants are not held as accountable for the condition of a property as they should be under the terms of a lease. We recently helped an out-of-state property owner who had several multi-tenant commercial buildings up for sale for a considerable amount of time with no offers. When he subsequently retained our services, we discovered the property manager had let the properties deteriorate. They looked more like distressed properties than actively managed assets. As a result, a host of maintenance issues prevented the buildings from attracting buyers at a fair price. Our active property management skills, working with the tenants and property manager, enabled us to rectify these problems quickly and we had the properties sold in 90 days.

Q. How do I know when to engage professional management services?

A. There is no one right answer for everyone, but usually individual trustees who suddenly find themselves facing business responsibilities for which they have little experience, or who have more complicated family business or real estate issues, are among the first to call us. If you find yourself wanting to develop a coordinated management or transition plan for an ongoing business or property, you can call Commerce at 1-800-292-1601. Follow the prompts to Ext. 1-3213.


Disclosures:

*Always consult with your CPA and professional advisor on matters involving income taxes.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and the opinions and other information in the commentary are as of November 6, 2017. This summary is intended to provide general information only and is reflective of the opinions of Commerce Trust Company.

This material is not a recommendation of any particular security, is not based on any particular financial situation or need, and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney, tax advisor or investment professional. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against all risk.

Commerce does not provide tax advice or legal advice to customers. Consult a tax specialist regarding tax implications related to any product and specific financial situation.

Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Commerce Trust Company is a division of Commerce Bank.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roger Kummert
Roger Kummert Vice President, Real Estate & Special Assets Manager Commerce Trust Company
Roger is the system-wide manager for the specialized services group at Commerce Trust Company. This group includes the special assets and real estate departments, which oversee the administration, management, valuation, and analysis of closely held business interests and other illiquid securities and management of real property. These groups oversee mineral interests, promissory notes, and mortgages held by Commerce Bank in fiduciary, agency, or custodial capacities. Roger earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Bridgeport.
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