A key point to consider with regards to the proposed lease accounting changes is that, in all likelihood, existing operating leases, signed prior to the implementation of the new rules, will require reclassification as capital leases that must be accounted for on the balance sheet. This means that real estate professionals must immediately consider the effect that existing and planned leases will have on financial statements once the proposed rules are implemented. Since operating lease obligations can represent a larger liability than all balance sheet assets combined, lease reclassification can significantly alter the businesses balance sheet.
The impact of recording these lease obligations on the balance sheet can have multiple impacts, such as: businesses needing to alert their lenders as they will now be non-compliant with their loan covenants, negotiating new loan covenants with the lenders due to the restated financial statements, ratios used to evaluate a businesses potential of credit will be adversely impacted and the restatement of a lessee's financial statement once the change takes effect may result in a lower equity balance, and changes to various accounting ratiosThe conceptual basis for lease accounting would change from determining when "substantially all the benefits and risks of ownership" have been transferred, to recognizing "right to use" as an asset and apportioning assets (and obligations) between the lessee and the lessor.
As part of FASB's announcement, the Board stated that in their view "the current accounting in this area does not clearly portray the resources and obligations arising from lease transactions." This suggests that the final result will likely require more leasing activity to be reflected on the balance sheet than is currently the case. In other words, many, perhaps virtually all, leases now considered operating are likely to be considered capital under the new standards. Thus, many companies with large operating lease portfolios are likely to see a material change on their corporate financial statements.
The impact on the Commercial Real Estate market would be substantial and will have a significant impact on commercial tenants and landlords. David Nebiker, Managing Partner of ProTenant (a commercial real estate firm that focuses on assisting Denver and regional companies to strategize, develop, and implement long-term, comprehensive facility solutions) added "this proposed change not only effects the tenants and landlords, but brokers as it increases the complexity of lease agreements and provides a strong impetus for tenants to execute shorter term leases".
The shorter term leases create financing issues for property owners as lenders and investors prefer longer term leases to secure their investment. Therefore, landlords should secure financing for purchase or refinance prior to the implementation of this regulation, as financing will be considerably more difficult the future.
This accounting change will increase the administrative burden on companies and the leasing premium for single tenant buildings will effectively be eliminated. John McAslan an Associate at ProTenant added "the impact of this proposed change will have a significant impact on leasing behavior. Lessors of single tenant buildings will ask themselves why not just own the building, if I have to record it on my financial statements anyway?"
Under the proposed rules, tenants would have to capitalize the present value of virtually all "likely" lease obligations on the corporate balance sheets. FASB views leasing essentially as a form of financing in which the landlord is letting a tenant use a capital asset, in exchange for a lease payment that includes the principal and interest, similar to a mortgage.
David Nebiker said "the regulators have missed the point of why most businesses lease and that is for flexibility as their workforce expands and contracts, as location needs change, and businesses would rather invest their cash in producing revenue growth, rather than owning real estate."
The proposed accounting changes will also impact landlords, especially business that are publicly traded or have public debt with audited financial statements. Mall owners and trusts will required to perform analysis for each tenant located in their buildings or malls, analyzing the terms of occupancy and contingent lease rates.
Proactive landlords, tenants and brokers need to familiarize themselves with the proposed standards that could take effect in 2013 and begin to negotiate leases accordingly.
Therefore, lessors need to know how to structure and sell transactions that will be desirable to lessees in the future. Many lessees will realize that the new rules take away the off balance sheet benefits FASB 13 afforded them in the past, and will determine leasing to be a less beneficial option. They may also see the new standards as being more cumbersome and complicated to account for and disclose. Finally, it will become a challenge for every lessor and commercial real estate broker to find a new approach for marketing commercial real estate leases that make them more attractive than owning. However, this proposed accounting change to FAS 13 could potentially stimulate a lack luster commercial real estate market in 2011 and 2012 as businesses decided to purchase property rather than deal with the administrative issues of leasing in2013 and beyond.