The Registry Magazine—Monthly Columns by John McNellis

Solving our Housing Crisis One Garage at a Time
April 9, 2020
To shelter-in-office (yes, mostly alone), I now walk through a couple miles'; worth of pleasant, leafy neighborhoods in Atherton... -click here to read-

Our Retail Marshall Plan
March 17, 2020
Because we've been in the neighborhood shopping center business for decades, not only our tenants but also our competitors have begun asking us what... -click here to read-

Your Real Estate Empire-Build it or Buy it?
February 25, 2020
What's your strategy in allocating capital between buying finished projects and doing development deals, what percentage... -click here to read-

Understating Your Net Worth
January 28, 2020
If you're in real estate, if you're developing or simply investing in property, you're in the business of borrowing money. And if you're a serial borrower... -click here to read-

How to Keep Friends and Influence No One
December 30, 2019
We all want friends. We all want to be liked. Most of us wish we were better liked. Over the holidays, I finally read a book about... -click here to read-

Meals on Broken Wheels
November 13, 2019
By John McNellis What do DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats have in common with Lassie? Nothing. They're dogs;... -click here to read-

Is Tesla a Climate Change Bystander?
October 16, 2019
By John McNellis (EDITOR’S NOTE: While The Registry does not usually weigh into making changes to opinion articles, it... -click here to read-

Is it a Wee Downturn?
September 25, 2019
After all, paraphrasing that famous philosopher, Yogi Berra: “Ninety percent of a recession is half mental.” By John McNellis -click here to read-

Oh, Say Can U.C.
June 25, 2019
By John McNellis McNellis Last week the city of Berkeley sued the University of California... -click here to read-

Game of Phones
May 16, 2019
By John McNellis McNellis The International Council of Shopping Centers, far better known as the... -click here to read-

Retail’s Existential Threat is Private Equity
April 15, 2019
A “bust out” is a fraud tactic, commonly used in the organized crime world, wherein a business’... -click here to read-

Whole Foods’ Existential Threat?
April 9, 2019
“Amazon's plunge into the $800 billion US grocery industry posed an existential threat to rivals.” -click here to read-

Death by Power Point
March 14, 2019
With speaking season just around the corner, with the conferences, conventions and even lowly breakfast panels... -click here to read-

WeWorking a New Angle
January 23, 2019
With major announcements almost daily, WeWork is stealing so many headlines it's annoying the president. The latest is its name-change to WeCompany... -click here to read-

Winter is Coming
December 11, 2018
As of last Friday, the S&P 500 was down 2.33 percent for the year. Like a dead rat in the basement, everyone... -click here to read-

Mattress Firm’s Moral Bankruptcy
November 1, 2018
Mattress Firm, the nation’s largest mattress retailer, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month. Why did it go bankrupt? Simple. The company had... -click here to read-

Amazon’s Clicking into Bricks
October 1, 2018
The Real Deal ran a cover story entitled, “Retail is F*cked.” While snarkier than its mainstream competitors, it encapsulated... -click here to read-

A Broken Compass?
August 21, 2018
Does outspending your competition buy you the best talent? Of course. Does it guarantee you the World Series championship? Not so much... -click here to read-

Could California Flame Out?
August 1, 2018
The phone rang early yesterday. “Well, our center’s still standing,” my partner said. “Whoa.” “The fire’s only a couple blocks from us, the whole... -click here to read-

Uber’s Johnny Cab Future
July 12, 2018
While Uber isn’t exactly driving straight to the bank, it may get there yet. The company has ripped through $10 billion... -click here to read-

Screwed: Brokers Tell-All
June 4, 2018
“Business is the polar opposite of a high school dance—you can always find someone to screw you.” -click here to read-

Many Happier Returns
May 17, 2018
Solving E-Commerce’s Challenge to Traditional Retail Comes in Small Packages By John McNellis Before the Wall Street Journal pontificates again about retail’s demise, about all those... -click here to read-

Does WeWork at All?
May 8, 2018
Company discloses $1 billion losses in bond offering. Wall Street’s biggest houses just hawked $702 million in junk bonds for WeWork. The junk... -click here to read-

Seeing the Forest for the Trees
April 24, 2018
If you are an entrepreneur, you are an optimist. You have to be. And, Pollyanna aside, it is no simple trick remaining... -click here to read-

Density and California’s Senate Bill 827
April 3, 2018
Give Scott Weiner a medal. While not a complete solution, the state senator’s proposed bill, SB 827, directly addresses California’s two most pressing issues... -click here to read-

Is the 1031 Exchange Panacea or Placebo?
February 26, 2018
Upon selling a supermarket last week, we deposited our proceeds into a 1031 exchange account. Call this maneuver the triumph of hope... -click here to read-

The Hell of Regulatory Interpretation
January 31, 2018
One truth that bears learning is this: News is very seldom as good—or as bad—as it first appears. -click here to read-

Investing in Accidental Assets
December 31, 2017
Casting about in the cluttered basement the night before our firm’s annual Christmas lunch, I happened across a couple bottles of wine, survivors from a purchase made more than 30 years ago. -click here to read-

Murder on the Retail Express?
November 28, 2017
Putting the black in Black Friday, the Wall Street Journal found almost no pulse in traditional retail last Friday, declaring that shoppers were instead flocking to the malls within their phones. -click here to read-

California’s Housing Crisis is a High Class Problem
November 15, 2017
There are problems and then there are high-class problems. Being unemployed is a problem. Getting hit with a huge tax bill is a high-class problem. -click here to read-

Housing Crisis Band-Aids
October 7, 2017
Governor Jerry Brown just signed fifteen affordable-housing bills into law. A few might do a little good. -click here to read-

Leaving Retail
September 26, 2017
Why the shopping center industry’s premier west coast event may go lightly attended is worth considering. -click here to read-

Hollowing out the Museum
August 21, 2017
Few laws are as reliable as that of gravity. The law of supply and demand is one. Palo Alto—and far too many other cities in California—needs to both dramatically increase its allowable residential density and streamline its approval process. -click here to read-

The Only Free Cheese is in a Mouse Trap
August 8, 2017
The only free cheese is in a mouse trap. Learning to recognize the trap of easy upside without breaking any fingers is part of the tuition one must pay to become proficient in real estate. -click here to read-

Over-Storing America
June 24, 2017
That retail is overbuilt is obvious to anyone who has ever driven twenty miles in any direction in America. Less obvious is the why of over-building. This is worth considering. -click here to read-

Is Macy's Amazon's Next Target?
June 23, 2017
A month ago, we asked how long it would take Amazon to become the country’s biggest bricks & mortar retailer. -click here to read-

For the Class of 2017
May 31, 2017
Rather than focus on practical advice in this year’s remarks, I offer instead a simple observation: I have yet to meet a self-made, wealthy man who has stopped working. -click here to read-

The Death of Retail?
May 9, 2017
Some genius has said last rites over retail’s empty storefront every day this year, causing even its faithful to wonder if they are fiddling in the Titanic’s quartet. -click here to read-

Oh, Lucky Man
April 11, 2017
As the red-staters in Congress gather yet again this week to disembowel the Affordable Care Act, it may be worth considering why it is that so many congressmen care so little about so many. -click here to read-

Marching Into Madness?
March 14, 2017
“Cocaine’s for horses, it ain’t for men They say it’ll kill you, but they won’t say when” Cocaine Blues hen it comes to business cycles, predicting when is the great temptation, one that pundits... -click here to read-

There’s no Place like Home
February 7, 2017
If idle hands are the Devil’s work shop—they are—idle money is surely his pied-a-terre. When left with little to do, small boys play with matches, older ones play with hearts and truly old boys start wars. -click here to read-

Groceries Falling Through the Net?
January 25, 2017
In hindsight, yesterday’s common wisdom is often so wrong we wonder how we ever thought it true. In fact, some of us—the clever—occasionally deny having embraced discarded wisdom. -click here to read-

So This is Christmas
December 19, 2016
We all need to believe. -click here to read-

Is Retail’s Middle Earth Flat?
December 14, 2016
We own and develop suburban neighborhood shopping centers within about a two-hour drive of San Francisco. -click here to read-

Outward Bound, Now More Than Ever
November 22, 2016
Thanksgiving at home is the traditional time and place for contemplating not only your good fortune—and sharing a bit of it—but your kindness in general. -click here to read-

The “NTM”
November 15, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Sixteen): The “NTM” -click here to read-

McNellis on Authoring His Book
November 8, 2016
Real Estate Entrepreneur, Founder and Author of “MAKING IT IN REAL ESTATE: Starting as a Developer” -click here to read-

No Partners, No Problems
October 18, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Fifteen): No Partners, No Problems -click here to read-

Trumped Real Estate Industry
October 17, 2016
have been a real estate developer and landlord since the early 80’s. Even then, Donald Trump had a reputation within our industry as an empty suit, a blowhard with a knack for front-page publicity. Even then, he was giving us a black eye. -click here to read-

Rent Control Behind the Curtains
October 4, 2016
Rent control measures are sweeping the San Francisco Bay Area. -click here to read-

The Back of a Napkin
September 13, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Fourteen): The Back of a Napkin -click here to read-

A Little Help From my Friends
August 13, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Thirteen): A Little Help From my Friends -click here to read-

Selling vs. Holding
July 19, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Twelve): Selling vs. Holding -click here to read-

Buying it Right
June 21, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Eleven): Buying it Right -click here to read-

For the Class of 2016
May 18, 2016
It appears my invitation to address Stanford’s graduating class was rejected by my spam filter. It also blocked commencement speech invitations from an underwater welding school and Antelope Valley Community College. Happily, my filter—God’s gift to the internet—has left me free to publish my thoughts instead.) -click here to read-

Airbnb’s Air Quality Control
April 27, 2016
(This is a follow-up to last month’s article, Airbnb: Hoods in Hoodies) -click here to read-

Airbnb’s Hoods in Hoodies
March 23, 2016
In the immortal words of Holden Caulfield, it’s time to cut the crap… -click here to read-

Sharing Time in Hell
March 2, 2016
You can be in real estate and still possibly do some good in the world. The easy way is to build low-income housing or rehab blighted neighborhoods. But to really do the Lord’s work, consider instead preaching against the perils of owning a time-share. -click here to read-

Decked by City Hall?
February 17, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Ten): Decked by City Hall? -click here to read-

The Politics of it All
January 12, 2016
Making it in Real Estate (Part Nine): The Politics of it All -click here to read-

Your New Year’s Obituary
January 5, 2016
If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, you might consider another way of possibly improving yourself. -click here to read-

Thanks for Giving?
November 23, 2015
Started three years ago, “Giving Tuesday” is becoming to the non-profit world what Black Friday is to retail. Set five days after Thanksgiving—this year December 1st—Giving Tuesday is opening day for the charitable season … -click here to read-

The Stadium Tab
October 13, 2015
Winning power through public largesse was old when the Sphinx arose from the bulrushes. In 100 AD, the Roman poet Juvenal satirized the ruling elite’s strategy of buying off the proletariat… -click here to read-

Autographing the Deal
September 16, 2015
Making it in Real Estate (Part Eight): Autographing the Deal -click here to read-

Back to School
September 9, 2015
Real Estate Jargon Demystified -click here to read-

Flatten the Code
August 11, 2015
When even the crooked developers think the polls-leader gives real estate a bad name, you know Washington has problems... -click here to read-

WeWork Until WeDon’t
July 13, 2015
When was irrational exuberance upgraded to the first class lounge? When did delusional insanity take over the valuations of start-up companies? -click here to read-

In Praise of Inefficiency
July 5, 2015
A lender on one of our projects wrote last week, demanding we post an $800,000 letter of credit to further secure its loan because the credit rating of our principal tenant—Safeway—had fallen to near junk bond status... -click here to read-

Big City Dreaming
May 29, 2015
It’s the “Thou Shall Not” that dooms religion in America. If ecclesiasticals would content themselves with the positive, with instructing us on what to do... -click here to read-

Let Them Commute
April 19, 2015
Rich cities are different, too, but—like rich people—they have their own seemingly insoluble problems. It’s just that their problems are different. -click here to read-

Fickle Shades of Green
March 28, 2015
Making it in Real Estate (Part Seven): Fickle Shades of Green -click here to read-

Size Matters
March 1, 2015
Making it in Real Estate (Part Six): Size Matters -click here to read-

Bromancing the Deal
February 17, 2015
Making it in Real Estate (Part Five): Bromancing the Deal -click here to read-

The Bears of Crowdfunding
February 2, 2015
You don’t remember the name Timothy Treadwell, but you remember him. He was the free spirit who went to live among the grizzly bears in Alaska every summer for thirteen years. -click here to read-

Join the Crowd?
January 9, 2015
Revisiting Crowd Funding and Its Opportunities -click here to read-

Specialize or Die
December 22, 2014
A recent college graduate wrote, asking for advice. -click here to read-

Liquid Assets
December 12, 2014
I always wanted to make the front page of the Wall Street Journal…until I did. -click here to read-

Disrupting Charity?
November 24, 2014
“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 -click here to read-

When it’s Good for Everybody
October 28, 2014
The magnificent PBS series, The Roosevelts, aired about the same time as the release of yet another Federal Reserve report. -click here to read-

Playing Small Ball
September 20, 2014
Making it in Real Estate Part Three: Playing Small Ball. “I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” -click here to read-

Goodbye Yellow Cab Road
August 28, 2014
If you’re a nostalgia fan, nail a selfie in front of a Yellow Cab because in a few years the only place you’ll … -click here to read-

Doing it on the Side
July 22, 2014
Making it in Real Estate Part Two: Doing it on the Side Are we in the wrong business? On the “Best Jobs in America” lists, a career in... -click here to read-

Making it in Real Estate
June 24, 2014
Over a beer last week, a young friend recounted his progress with a retail development firm. I was surprised to hear how much he had learned and how much responsibility he already had. -click here to read-

House of Tax Breaks
May 30, 2014
Urban myth says the family of a condemned man in China must pay for the bullet that executes him. In America, we actually do buy the bullets for executions. Through tax breaks and a lack of regulation, we are handing Tech the golden bullets it needs to assassinate bricks & mortar business. -click here to read-

McNellis on Crimeless Victims & Tyranny in Palo Alto
April 16, 2014
In this month’s McCutcheon case, a compassionate Supreme Court restored the civil rights of the wealthiest 1,000 political donors in America, namely their First Amendment right to buy elections. -click here to read-

Don’t Cry for Argentina
March 11, 2014
Confucius has been mistranslated for 2500 years. The master didn’t really say, “When prosperity comes, do not use all of it.” The correct translation is, “Never buy a second home.” -click here to read-

February 19, 2014
Time to throw the internet a bone. And maybe a handful of Kibble. -click here to read-

A Great Year to Unload Crap
January 2, 2014
There are bad ideas—say, ordering spaghetti on a first date. And there are worse ideas, like telling someone what you really think of his fiancée. And then there are truly terrible ideas, like oh say, budget skydiving. -click here to read-

McNellis on Amazon’s Global Designs
November 13, 2013
John Goodman pitched his new series, Alpha House, on The Daily Show last week. Ordinarily, a talk show guest selling his wares is about as newsworthy as government incompetence. But this had a twist. Alpha House is Amazon’s latest venture—original content for the Web. In the actor’s words, the show is part of the company’s far-reaching plans for “world domination”. Goodman modestly called himself just a “cog” in Amazon’s war machine. -click here to read-

Bankrupt Values
October 8, 2013
Fresh & Easy, a supermarket chain of 200 stores, filed for bankruptcy last week. Unlike most bankrupts, F&E has no third party debts, no fraying lines of credit and neither hounding banks nor outraged bond holders. Why? -click here to read-

McNellis Shines Sunlight on Solar
September 4, 2013
Solar power and fishing share the same sparkle: Like fish in the sea, sunlight is free. But just as a handful of “free” salmon caught outside the Golden Gate might easily cost $200 a fish to actually catch, converting sunlight to power remains about as economic as fishing from an aircraft carrier. -click here to read-

Lawyers’ Labors Lost
August 7, 2013
Lawyers are losing ground, perhaps faster than many of us realize. According to CBRE Group Inc.’s most recent San Francisco office leasing survey, law firms gave up 50,000 square feet in the first half of 2013. -click here to read-

Partying Like It’s 1999
July 17, 2013
Instacart, a San Francisco start-up, announced it had received $8.5 million in institutional funding last week. The company is a same-day home-delivery service... -click here to read-

Pounded by Junk
June 23, 2013
Retailer Restoration Hardware sent me a glossy, shrink-wrapped brochure—junk mail—so heavy I had to weigh it. Addressed to “Occupant,” my postal... -click here to read-

Real Estate Safe As Milk
May 7, 2013
Two old guys are sunning themselves on a Miami park bench, the first bragging about the $5 million his insurance company paid him after his building burned. In reply, the second retiree mentions the $15 million he was paid after a flood destroyed his building. The first man purses his lips, is quiet for a while and then asks, “How do you start a flood?” -click here to read-

Desperately Chasing Yield
April 17, 2013
To paraphrase a vulgar aphorism, self-delusions are like opinions—everybody has one. Some have many. Self-delusions are sometimes tragic—consider the starving anorexic who considers herself fat. Occasionally they are merely sad—picture the badly aging athlete certain he is good for another season. And some self-delusions are highly entertaining. Despite being a perennial finalist for “America’s Worst Cook,” my dear mother actually prided herself on her culinary skills. -click here to read-

A Delight of Developers
January 30, 2013
One of the more amusing ways the Brits keep their societal distinctions crisp is through the upper class’s use of outlandishly imaginative group names for the animal kingdom. -click here to read-

Rosy Predictions for the New Year
December 31, 2012
Just as there are few atheists in foxholes, true pessimists are rare among developers. A portrait of a famous developer next to the phrase “irrational exuberance” in the dictionary would surprise no one. Given that this is a developer-written column, bear this in mind when considering the following observations. -click here to read-

Abusing Power
November 27, 2012
Just as historians still question the precise date the Romans became the Italians, developers are by no means in agreement as to exactly when every pothole or ditch that could hold rainwater for a week became a protected “wetland.” -click here to read-

On Private Equity and Real Estate
September 27, 2012
“Behind every great fortune lies a great crime,” Honore de Balzac, the French novelist, supposedly claimed. While this may be true in France, (besides the tactical retreat, what French innovation has withstood the test of time?) America is surely different. Many of its great fortunes are rooted in nothing more insidious than [...] -click here to read-

The Chapter After Eleven
August 27, 2012
Put Mervyns, Blockbuster and Lassie together, and what do you have? Two dogs and a money-maker. If you own retail property, what did you have with Chevys Fresh Mex, Z Gallerie, Eddie Bauer, Avenue and Gottschalks? One project-sapping bankruptcy after the next. Before the mid-19th century, debtors unable to pay their debts [...] -click here to read-

To Everything There is a Season
July 10, 2012
The Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes tells of a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to rend and a time to sew. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them together—a time for each endeavor in its turn. Ecclesiastes [...] -click here to read-

Do As I Say, Not As I Do
June 9, 2012
Our last column ended with questions: Why would a seller ever permit a listing broker to keep 100 percent of a sales commission? Why let a broker eliminate a whole class of potential buyers: those who would never consider a property unless a trusted outside agent had been pitched it? Is it [...] -click here to read-

Sex, Lies and Off-Market Deals
May 12, 2012
Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, eating nothing and resisting the devil’s temptations. Along a similar, if less biblical parallel, the Internal Revenue Service permits one 45 days to wander the wilderness in search of a 1031 exchange, all the while battling brokers’ blandishments. We just emerged from that commercial Sahara and, [...] -click here to read-

Hazardous to Whom?
April 1, 2012
Trying to find an exchange property over the last 30 days has had us tire-kicking a passel of old shopping centers, a few worth the renovation. Each older center we examined more closely has a contamination issue, often surmountable, sometimes not. If you ever wonder why a great infill site remains nothing [...] -click here to read-

McNellis on Spring Rituals: A Full Accounting
February 1, 2012
Like daffodils, if not quite as lovely, accountants are among the earliest signs of spring. When ours called the other day to ask for details about a new partnership, I noticed the days were indeed growing longer. -click here to read-

Abandon All Hope
March 1, 2012
Hollywood has it wrong. Lawsuits very seldom right wrongs and, as often as not, taking a case to trial can nearly bankrupt one emotionally as well as financially. I was reminded of this enduring truth yet again when an old friend stopped by my office recently to discuss a lawsuit that had [...] -click here to read-

A Sod Roof Too Far
In addition to sounding tres sophistiques, the word triage embodies a very reasonable concept. -click here to read-

McNellis on Developers and Contractors: General Relativity
With major construction about to blossom all over the Bay Area—campuses for Salesforce, Google and Apple, the Transbay Transit Center and an armada of other projects—this may be just the moment to consider the general contractor and the contractor’s role in real estate. -click here to read-

McNellis on Governance: Rescue Our Horse
The annual meeting of America’s foremost real estate organization, the Urban Land Institute, took place last week in Los Angeles. -click here to read-

Working Without a Net Worth
Cash flow is real estate’s real value. -click here to read-

Lies, Damn Lies and the IRR
Caveat emptor. -click here to read-

Brokers with Principals
Give a little to get a lot. -click here to read-

Da to Kapital
Retail landlord finds hope amidst the rubble. -click here to read-

Lords of the Pipeline
The worst is over and recovery begins. -click here to read-

March Madness
While St. Patrick may have driven the snakes out of Ireland all by himself, it took a team effort—a global economic collapse actually—to clear out the ICSC's annual retail conference here on St. Patrick’s Day. -click here to read-

Through a Glass Darkly
Views of the skeptical optimist. -click here to read-

There's No Place Like Home
As good times roll back around, real estate investors should take stock of the foibles of our past and resolve not to repeat them. -click here to read-

Let Us Now Praise Famous Architects
And let us remind not-so-famous developers to seek business counsel elsewhere. -click here to read-

Monogamy and Its Downside
Bankers like exclusivity, but developers should be less enamored. -click here to read-

A Deal Runs Through It
Fishing for deals proves to be a popular sport across the country. -click here to read-


McNellis Wins Rebuilding Together Volunteer of the Year Award
The Wollenberg Award is presented annually to those who provided extraordinary resources and leadership to Rebuilding Together Peninsula. The 2013-2014 award is proudly presented to Martin Screen Shop and John E. McNellis. -click here to read-

Its All About the Deal: John McNellis Gives Insight to Development Success
An article from the ULI San Francisco Blog about John McNellis' unique perspective on starting a development company -click here to read-

McNellis supports local non-profit
A September 2012 article about the Downtown Streets Team in The Palo Alto Weekly -click here to read-

Working lunch with Beth Walter
Comstock’s Magazine Feature April 2011 -click here to read-

Alma Plaza Razed
An article about John McNellis's search for a grocer and home builder. -click here to read-

A Growing Tradition
An article from Reed College's newletter about the increase in Parent Giving. -click here to read-

A Convenience Center in an Inconvenient Spot
John writes a guest opinion column about The Alma Plaza project. -click here to read-

Council adds more commercial space to Alma Plaza
Developer John McNellis agrees to swap another house for more commercial footage and larger grocery store. -click here to read-