Category: RealData software

For Real Estate Investors: A Lesson in Clarity

Recently, I was conducting the last class in my course on real estate investment analysis that I teach in Columbia’s MSRED program.  I had assigned my 55 students a series of case studies (much like those in my book, Mastering Real Estate Investment) and told them to build financial pro forms and discuss the reasoning behind their analyses. After reading and commenting on all those analyses, I felt there was one overarching theme on which I wanted to focus my final remarks to the troops: The theme was “clarity.”

Trying to reduce a course to a single word might seem unrealistic (because it is), but I really had more than one angle on the notion of clarity in mind. Even combined, those notions would not replace the real content of a course in investment analysis, but they might express some essential principles that are sine qua non — “without which, nothing” — for investors.

Be Clear About Your Objectives

Before you fire up your spreadsheet program or sharpen your pencil, you need to be very clear about your objective (or objectives) in analyzing the property. For example:

  • Are you a potential buyer, trying to establish a reasonable offer on a particular property?
  • Are you seller or broker trying to justify your asking price?
  • Are you a buyer or broker, trying to demonstrate to a seller that his or her price and terms would not be acceptable to a reasonable and prudent investor?
  • Are you seeking financing, or refinancing and need to demonstrate to a lender that this loan will meet their underwriting expectations?
  • Are you assembling a partnership and trying to show potential equity investors that this deal will make economic sense to them?

You are not trying to create alternate realities, but you might be harboring more than one objective in a given situation. For example, for your private use you might want to look at a range of possible offers by creating best-case, worst-case and in-between scenarios; but in making a presentation to the seller, you would surely not begin by volunteering what you believe to be the highest price at which the investment might have a chance of success.

In making a presentation to a lender, your focus must be to ensure that your presentation includes items like debt coverage ratio, allowance for possible vacancy, and projected cash flows — items that will have an immediate impact on an underwriting decision. For equity partners, you want to be sure that you can demonstrate not only that the property itself makes sense, but that the particular investor, considering allocations and preferred return, can expect an acceptable rate of return on cash invested.

You are typically trying either to make a personal decision about a property or to “sell” your point of view to a third party. Being clear in your own mind about the purpose of your pro forma allows you to focus on how you analyze the property and what information is of greatest importance to your intended audience.

Be Clear About Your Use of Terminology

Real estate, like most businesses and professions, has its own language – terms that carry very specific meaning. The misuse of real estate investment terminology can have several possible consequences, all of them bad.

  • You can substantially skew the results of an analysis by not being clear in your understanding of important terms. Some of the more egregious examples I have seen include:
    • Not understanding the real-estate-specific definitions of terms like “operating expense” and “Net Operating Income.”  I have often seen investors try to include mortgage payments, capital improvements, or reserves for replacement as operating expenses. This mistake can drastically affect your estimate of a property’s worth.
    •  Not understanding an important term like “capitalization rate.” I have seen investors try to estimate value by applying a cap rate to the property’s cash flow instead of its Net Operating Income. Big mistake.
  • You can bring a dialog or negotiation to a grinding halt by being unclear and offhand in your use of what should be unambiguous terms.  Yes, “price” is a legitimate English word. But if you use it as part of an analysis or presentation, you will leave your reader stumped.  Do you mean the seller’s asking price, the buyer’s offered price, the actual closed selling price?  You can tell me that a building has 20,000 square feet, but do you mean usable square feet or rentable square feet?  It makes a difference.
  • You can establish your identity as a rank amateur. Nothing will earn you a sandwich board with the word “newbie” on it quicker than misusing terms or lapsing into incomprehensibly vague language. Credibility matters — just ask your lender or your equity partners.  Be clear. Be precise.

Be Clear When You Build Your Pro Forma or Presentation

If you insist on being a do-it-yourselfer, and you plan to give your pro forma or presentation to a third party, keep in mind that nothing will unsell your argument faster than a jumbled pile of numbers.  Your information should flow and be segmented in a logical order (e.g., don’t show someone the income after the expenses, or the debt service after the cash flows). The reader should be able to apprehend the key metrics with a quick scan of the page, then go back and fill in the details. If your report turns  into a scavenger hunt for vital information, then you will fail to deliver your message. No loan, no partner, no deal.

Your success as a real estate investor requires serious number crunching, but it doesn’t stop there. You must be able to convey your analysis of a property in terms that are unambiguous, accurate, and relevant to your audience. Clarity is what you need.

–Frank Gallinelli

Get some clarity, as well as accurate calculations and industry-standard reports. Use RealData’s Real Estate Investment Analysis, a market leader for almost 30 years, to run your numbers and create your presentations.

New videos

We have just added some new videos to our home page, realdata.com Each video presents a brief overview of one of our main software products: Real Estate Investment Analysis Pro Edition, Commercial / Industrial Development, and On Schedule.

Hope you’ll take a look and let us know what you think.

New Mac-Compatible Releases of RealData Software

We’ve supported the Macintosh with Excel-based products since the Mac first came out in 1984.  (In fact, way back then we received an award as one of “100 Most Important Companies on the Macintosh.”)

But a few years ago, Microsoft threw us a real curve when they dropped VBA macro functionality from Excel 2008 for the Mac.  As you may know, it’s those complex and sophisticated macros (which you can’t see) that make our software really powerful and easy to use. So our Mac users had to settle for Excel 2004 to run our software

Thankfully, Microsoft has seen the light and restored VBA in their new Excel 2011; and we wasted not a moment getting to work re-writing our products to make good use of the new Excel. It was no small task, but  now all of our products are truly Mac-compatible.

Not only will you have the advantage of Excel’s new interface and features, but you’ll now be able to use the latest versions of RealData software on your Mac — even REIA Express, Version 2 and the RealData Real Estate Calculator — and you’ll see all of our programs run at speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than they ran with Excel 2004.

(A sidebar note: Because these programs are not simply spreadsheets, Windows versions won’t work properly on the Mac and vice-versa. That’s why we created these new releases specifically for the Mac.)

We’re glad to be back offering the latest and best of our software for our loyal Mac customers.

Real estate finance and investment education

A number of colleges and universities have been using my books as well as my company’s Real Estate Investment Analysis software for instructional purposes in their classes on real estate finance and investment (as have I at Columbia).

The “Express Edition” of the software dovetails nicely with my books, but some instructors recently asked for inclusion of a few of the features from its big brother, the Pro Edition. Happy to accommodate.

And so… we released a new version of REIA Express which does just that.

If you teach real estate finance or investment, note that we have an academic version of the software available for classroom use. Your students can use that to work through many of the problems and case studies in the books.

If you would like to find out more about academic use of this software, please contact me via our online contact form.

New: “Express Edition” of Real Estate Investment Analysis

We’re excited to announce the release today of a new software product, Real Estate Investment Analysis Express Edition.

We designed REIA Express with several audiences in mind. Perhaps you are…

— a broker who needs to create presentations for potential sellers or buyers;

— an investor who deals with residential or small- to medium-sized commercial properties;

— a person who is new to real estate investing, or a student in the fields of real estate development or finance;

— someone whose specialty is to buy, rehab, and then re-sell property for a profit.

If any of these describe your situation, then the Express Edition of REIA may be just the ticket for you. It has new capabilities and features, and offers presentations that can be customized with your company logo and property pictures. Get more info on the Express product page.

Free Shipping

For a limited time, we’ll include a software CD with every order over $50 and send it to you via USPS First Class shipping at no charge. Just place your shipped order and select “Free First Class Shipping” as your delivery option during checkout. Purchasing your software for download? You can still get a free CD – just email us after placing the order.

– Applies to U.S. and Canada addresses only.
– Total of items ordered must be greater than $50.
– Does not apply to calculator and e-course.
– Regular fees apply to other shipping methods (i.e., Fedex, Priority Mail)..

New version 6 of ‘Commercial / Industrial Real Estate’ released

Our big news today is about a major upgrade to one of our top software apps. Since 1983 income-property developers have been using “CID” to help them with project cost analyses and budget pro formas for build-and-hold as well as build-and-sell scenarios.

So — if you’re developing an apartment building, shopping center or other commercial property from the ground up — or if you’re renovating or expanding an existing property — take a look at this new version and check out its new features. It can help you plan your project, evaluate its feasibility, solicit partners, and make your case for financing.

You can get all the details here.

Extend RealData Programs To Fit Your Investment Property Or Development Analysis

One of the great advantages to using Excel as a development platform for our software products is the ability for you, the user, to make customizations to fit your analysis objectives.  We encourage our customers to add to the software rather than changing formulas so the base product remains unchanged.

It is very easy to add a user worksheet.  All RealData products have an “Add User Worksheet” feature in the RealData menu.  Just add your own worksheet and begin adding your own formulas which link back to our product.

In our Learn section, we have an article on expanding our popular development program, On Schedule, to accommodate long term rental income when analyzing distressed, partially-built development projects such as housing developments and condominium buildings.

Support is included with the purchase of RealData’s products.  If you would like advice on creating your own extension to your copy of our software, open a support ticket or give us a call.

Excel 2007 – New File Types, Macro Security and Other Mysteries

When Microsoft released Excel 2007 it deployed some of the most extensive changes to the product in many years.  It introduced an entirely new user interface, a new menu format called the “Ribbon,” enhanced security, and an entirely new data structure for its files.  With this new data structure came an array of new file types.

Many of these changes have implications that are not always obvious to the user and, from our point of view at least, are not always entirely welcome.

This will be the first of what may be several posts on the RealData blog where we try to address what we feel are some of critical changes you need to know about in Excel 2007 so that you can use it successfully.  We’re writing these posts with users of RealData software in mind – particularly users of our more sophisticated Excel-based products like “Real Estate Investment Analysis,” “On Schedule” and “Commercial/Industrial Development” – but we feel strongly that it’s information all Excel users should have.

So – let’s begin with by comparing the file types in the old Excel vs. the new Excel.

How Things Were:  Two Key Facts to Remember

  1. If you have used earlier versions of Excel, you probably know that you used workbooks, called .xls files – and templates, called .xlt files.  Workbooks are collections of worksheets, sometimes accompanied by built-in programming code called “macros.”  Templates are a special kind of workbook.  When you launch a template, it leaves the original unchanged and presents you with a new workbook file based on that template.  That way you don’t accidentally overwrite the original.
  2. If you used RealData software, or perhaps certain other commercial Excel-based applications, the Excel file included hidden macro code.  You never saw it, but you know it was there because Excel would ask you if you wanted to enable the macros. Such code is typically essential for the functioning of a complex Excel-based program.  For example, our “Real Estate Investment Analysis” uses more than 12,000 lines of such code to provide menus, format reports, add/delete data records, and so on – functions that can’t be accomplished with simple spreadsheet formulas.  If you lose the code, the program will no longer function properly.

How Things Are: The New File Formats and How They’re Different

New to Excel 2007 are the .xlsx, .xlsb and .xlsm formats which Excel refers to as “Excel Workbook,” “Excel Binary Workbook” and “Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook,” respectively.  It’s important to understand the differences among these file types, and which can be used with RealData software products.

Each of these new formats is based on what Microsoft calls an “Open XML File Format.”  Without getting more technical than we need to here, the short version is that one can openly view and read the data from these files and convert them to other formats if necessary.  This ability is part of a trend toward an open and universal standard for documents so that data is not tied to a particular proprietary software product or company.

If you used earlier versions of Excel, then you know you customarily saved your workbook as a .xls file.  Let’s look at each of the new file formats and compare them to that original .xls Excel file format:

1. The .xlsx format is a lot like the old .xls format, but with one key difference:  It intentionally does not support macro code and will remove any macro code from a file that contains it. Remember what we said about RealData software and other products that rely on macros to provide their advanced functionality?  Right.  Without the macros these programs won’t work.  If you open a macro-driven .xls file and save it in the new Excel .xlsx format, the macros will be deleted and the program will no longer work as expected.

Fortunately, if you do try to save a file in this format, you will receive a warning message before the macro code is deleted:

Keep in mind that macros can be used by malefactors to deliver viruses. If you download an Excel file from some source other than a trusted commercial vendor, you run a risk as you would downloading a file from any unfamiliar source.  You’ll want to keep the macro code in a program from a trusted source like RealData, but you should be wary of any file containing macros if it comes from a source with which you’re not familiar and confident.

If you want to be certain to keep the macros intact in your RealData program, the simplest and most certain solution is this: Click “No” and return to the “Save” dialog.  Where you see a pulldown that says “Save as type,” choose “Excel 97-2003 Workbook (.xls).”

2. In contrast, the .xlsb and .xlsm formats do support macro code.  The .xlsb file is a streamlined format intended to speed up the process of opening and saving the file.  Like the .xlsm format, it can save an equivalent Excel workbook in a significantly smaller file size than the traditional .xls format.  The information in each of the cells is saved as plain text (you could view the information in Notepad if you wanted to) but the  macro code is encrypted.

Is it all right for you to save your RealData program as a .xlsb or .xlsm file and save some disk space?  The answer is a resounding maybe.

To re-open one of these files once you’ve saved it as .xlsb or .xlsm, Microsoft requires that you have installed on your computer an antivirus product capable of scanning and reviewing encrypted macro code before the file opens.  If this scan process does not happen, then the macros will be disabled in your software.  If you’re alert, you’ll  know this is so because of an inconspicuous warning message that appears in a horizontal bar above the Excel work area:

Click on “Options” and you should see something like this:

The default choice is “Help protect me….”  If you are confident that this file came from a trusted source, you can choose “Enable this content.”  If the file has a security certificate attached, the details of that certificate will be displayed and you can choose “Trust all documents from this publisher.”  RealData does have a security certificate attached to its program files.

Unfortunately, not all antivirus software is able to scan encrypted macro code. From our own experience we can confirm that Version 8.0 of the AVG  product appears to work without problems ( http://www.avg.com).

If you were getting ready to breathe a sigh of relief, hold it.  What we describe above is how .xlsb and .xlsm are supposed to behave.  Some users, however, have reported to us that, if they see the “macros disabled” message and click the options button, they get only one choice, and it’s not the one they want:

Why does this happen sometimes, but not always?  If we could answer questions like that, we’d be so famous you wouldn’t even be able to talk to us.  Seriously.

Which brings us back to bullet-point #1, worth repeating;

If you want to be certain to keep the macros intact in your RealData program, the simplest and most certain solution is this: Click “No” and return to the “Save” dialog.  Where you see a pulldown that says “Save as type,” choose “Excel 97-2003 Workbook (.xls).”

This should be your choice if you want your analysis to be compatible with both Excel 2007 and other computers which may have an earlier version of Excel installed on them.  RealData software products automatically detect if you are using Excel 2007 and set the default file type to be .xls, although you can override this if you so choose.

The Short Version

  1. RealData delivers its macro-powered programs using the Excel 97-2003 file format, i.e., .xls. If you always save your work in that format, you should have no problems with Excel 2007 opening or running the macros in RealData programs.
  2. If you save a file in .xlsx format, Excel will strip out all of the macro code and that particular RealData file will no longer function properly.
  3. If you save in .xlsb or .xlsm format, then when you re-open the file, Excel will be looking for antivirus software to scan the encrypted macros.  If it doesn’t find it, you will have to instruct Excel to open this content; some users have reported being unable to do so.


Excel Template Formats

As mentioned above, RealData delivers it programs as template (.xlt) files. When you launch a template, it leaves the original unchanged and presents you with a new workbook file based on that template.  That way you don’t accidentally overwrite the original.

Excel 2007 contains two new template file formats, so now there are three flavors:

  1. .xltx called “Excel Template”
  2. .xltm called “Excel Macro-Enabled Template”
  3. .xlt called “Excel 97-2003 Template”

RealData software is currently distributed in .xlt format.  You could convert this file to .xltm and it should work fine on your computer, assuming that you have anti-virus software capable of scanning encrypted macros.

But why tempt fate for no reason? We recommend that you stick with the .xlt format.

Excel 2007 File Icons

Each of the file formats has its own icon.  As you can see from the image below, these icons are very similar in appearance.  The template file types share a common horizontal yellow bar across the top edge.  You may find these images helpful when you try to recognize different Excel file types by their icons.

Stayed tuned to our blog for more about Excel 2007.

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