Churches, religious orders and faith-based organizations are indispensable to any close-knit community, which makes real estate questions even more complex. Whether your congregation needs to sell its building because the church is closing, growing or pursuing a more sustainable ministry model, there are certain steps you should go through when selling large, specialized buildings.
Although a traditional real estate agent can help establish the value of the property and put together marketing materials, selling churches is very complicated. How a church is valued, positioned on the market, inspected and negotiated with buyers is unique. Hiring a church broker who not only has expert commercial real estate advice but also experience with strategic asset development for churches and congregations can help community leaders who have decided to put their church building on the market avoid costly mistakes.
Plus, the spiritual connection that your members have with your church means that any discussion about its building and grounds can trigger reactions that are often more emotional than pragmatic. If the real estate agent doesn’t have the right background, they might lack the skill and sensitivity to deal with the emotions and interests of your community and the expertise to assess your property to determine the true value of your land and facilities.
“It’s important for churches to have access to excellent, reliable real estate advice, especially when making hard decisions like having to sell long-held and long-loved property,” says Christine Shiber, former pastor El Cerrito United Methodist Church in El Cerrito, California.
If you are considering selling buildings or other church-owned property, here are five critical steps to achieve the most positive outcome for your ministry.
Understand Your Long-term Vision
It’s vital that you and your congregation have a shared long-term vision before you engage in the real estate process. Starting with a focus on strategic discernment will help ensure your short-term objectives are met while maintaining the long-term goals of your ministry. However, the discernment process is an emotional one.
In considering your ministry’s long-term mission, it’s important to realize that your legacy isn’t necessarily bound up in a physical property but the lasting impact you are able to leave on their members, the community and beyond.
Determine If You Can Actually Sell It
Find out who owns your church building. Autonomous, independent churches can make their own decisions. However, churches that belong to a denomination might not own the building and must work with the appropriate denominational bodies and follow internal legal governing rules to sell the building.
Consider What You’ll Do with the Money
Denominational bodies will usually not allow you to sell a property and use the proceeds for operating expenses. In most cases, the funds must be used for the purchase of a new building, to support a community mission or dispersed to other nonprofits.
For churches that sell their buildings but still need a place to meet, it’s important that you have a plan for your new space. Whether you find a place to meet that is free, rent or purchase a new building, or break up into smaller units and spread out in the community, identify your options before you put the building on the market.
Hire an Experienced Church Broker
Traditional real estate brokers and developers are strictly for profit and are trained to consider your situation with a transactional goal in mind. But an experienced church broker can help you understand how you want to sell the property.
For example, some congregations only want to sell their building to another church or nonprofit. In one recent situation, DCG helped a centuries-old church balance its financial goals with its spiritual interests when it decided against accepting a sizable offer from a developer and instead accepted millions less from a nonprofit that hoped to use the facility as an autism center.
The right real estate agent will analyze the market to land at the best possible outcome for the sale of your holdings, conduct a detailed analysis of the factors contributing to the sale and enter negotiations equipped with critical data points to understand the true market value.
Protect Yourself from Risk and Liability
The paperwork involved in a real estate transaction can be overwhelming, and transactions involving church properties are complex. Sometimes the land a church was built on has deed restrictions attached to it, or the zoning might need to be changed if the buyer isn’t a church. It helps to have someone act as your owner representative, reviewing all the documents, contracts, permits and agreements to ensure a smooth outcome.
For more information about how to achieve unity and vision and make confident decisions about your ministry’s future, read The Five Things Every Church Leader Should Know About Real Estate.