Tag: real estate financing

New Podcast: Investing in Income-Producing Real Estate

I had the privilege recently of recording a video podcast with REICLub, where we discussed investing in income-producing real estate: deciding what kind of property you should buy, how to begin the analysis process, understanding the income stream, estimating value or worth, dealing with long-term projections, recognizing common pitfalls, investing with partners.

I invite you to view it here:

http://www.REIClub.com/FrankGallinelli

—Frank Gallinelli

Crowdfunding Real Estate Investments

Pooling of resources, passing the hat — call it what you will, but collaborative underwriting has probably been around for a couple of centuries. Never one to leave well enough alone, the internet has again risen to the role of game-changer, extending a global reach to individuals and companies looking for backers.

You have probably heard of the crowdfunder Kickstarter, which is a popular donation-based site, aimed primarily at creative projects. Backers who donate to such projects don’t become shareholders or expect any financial return. They may be more akin to patrons than to investors.

But investment-based crowdfunding sites have also emerged. I can’t say that I knew much about them, but I recently attended the annual Yale Alumni Real Estate Association’s National Conference where one of the sessions was devoted to this subject, with presentations by two of the top players in this field: Daniel Miller of Fundrise and Rodrigo Nino of Prodigy Network.

Although this method of funding real estate projects may be just a blip on the radar at present, it does appear that more and more real estate crowdfunding sites like these are cropping up and deals actually are getting funded. So just what is this all about and how is it supposed to work? I’ve tried to take what I learned at the Yale conference and have expanded on it a bit; and so, the following are a few observations from an interested outsider.

For the Project Developer Seeking Financing

Among the top arguments for crowdfunding a real estate project are these:

  • It offers an opportunity to get a project financed more quickly and easily than it would through more conventional channels.
  • By eliminating some of the middlemen usually involved, it can lower transaction costs.

The arguments seem credible, since most bank and institutional financing has become a test of endurance. Some crowdfunding sites offer both debt and equity investments, and most are quite specific as to the types of properties with which they deal. The process may not be entirely a walk in the park, because the typical site screens developers by taking them through a rigorous application and evaluation process.

For the Investor

One attraction for investors is that they typically don’t have to pony up a huge commitment to participate in a single project. Hence, they could spread smaller chunks of cash among several properties or even several developers, thus spreading their risk.

There would appear to be a few murky areas, however. Successful commercial real estate investors generally apply a laser focus on their due diligence. In a crowdfunded scenario one should expect that the developer will be doing that, carefully vetting the property and supplying detailed financial information and projections to the potential investor; but how much detail will they provide and can the investor independently verify that information? With the proliferation of crowdfunding sites, will there be consistency among them in the amount and quality of data they provide? A prudent investor must be certain at least to take a very careful look at the track record of the developer.

Investing through crowdfunding may have particular appeal to inexperienced investors. They should be particularly cautious, understanding that there is not likely to be any liquidity, that their cash could be tied up for a considerable time, and of course that there is no guarantee of an acceptable return or of recovering the initial investment. Sometimes deals simply fail.

How is Crowdfunding Even Possible?

It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of regulations that govern these investment offerings. It appears that most of the crowdfunding sites have been operating under SEC Regulation D, which limits general solicitation and restricts participation to “accredited investors.” These generally include investors with a net worth of at least $1 million (not including the value of their home) and income of $200,000 for the past two years, or $300,000 together with spouse.

One site, which at present seems to be unique, is Fundrise. They have been able to use an obscure SEC Regulation A that allows non-accredited investors to participate in community-based deals with investments as little as $100. There is apparently plenty of hoop-jumping for them to deal with, since this regulation also involves state approvals as well as a limit on capital that can be raised in a 12-month period.

In 2012, Congress passed the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups)  and in September 2013, Title II of that act became effective. Title II allows general solicitation, but only to accredited investors.

Title III of the JOBS Act is called the “Crowdfunding Exemption.” Expected to work its way through the SEC rule-making process sometime later this year, it would allow non-accredited investors to participate in equity offerings. The proponents of investment crowdfunding see this as the real game-changer.

Conclusion

Crowdfunding could revolutionize how real estate investments are financed, but not everyone is convinced that it is the Next Big Thing. A recent BusinessWire article cites a number of concerns, including one that this writer has seen elsewhere:  “Will crowdfunding expose innocent, small-time investors to fraudsters and scam artists?”

Both real estate crowdfunding itself and the regulatory environment that will govern it are in their infancy, so how this will all play out must be a matter of conjecture for now. On the one hand, the real estate industry — to put it as politely as possible — has a long history of being resistant to change. On the other, technology in the 21st century has had a habit of sweeping away things that we confidently viewed as permanent cultural fixtures. To be convinced, I need only to rummage in my basement to dig out my old rotary-dial wall phone and my case of incandescent lightbulbs.

Time will tell the story.

—- Frank Gallinelli

Read more in the recent press about real estate crowdfunding:

Crowdfunding’s Latest Invasion: Real Estate

How Crowdfunding Could Reshape Real Estate Investing

The Big Five in Real Estate Crowdfunding

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Your time and your investment capital are too valuable to risk on a do-it-yourself investment spreadsheet. For more than 30 years, RealData has provided the best and most reliable real estate investment software to help you make intelligent investment decisions and to create presentations you can confidently show to lenders, clients, and equity partners. Learn more at www.realdata.com.

Copyright 2014,  Frank Gallinelli and RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved

The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.

Investing in Real Estate: How Much Analysis Do You Really Need?

More than once – in my writing, my teaching, talking in my sleep – I have been known to say that real estate investing is all about the numbers. There is, of course, great truth in that pithy statement, or so I believe; but there is perhaps more to the story that you should be careful not to overlook.

The data that you collect about an income-property – the current rental income and operating expenses, the financing options, and the resulting cash flows and potential resale– are all essential to making an informed analysis of a property’s value and its appeal as an investment. So too is an understanding of the key metrics. What are the expected Debt Coverage Ratio, Capitalization Rate and Internal Rate of Return, and what do they all mean?

A wise investor realizes that this information represents the foreground, but not the complete picture. There is a context, a background, in which these data reside, and you ignore it at your peril.

When I teach real estate investment analysis to my graduate students, I begin by telling them that they absolutely must learn how to run and interpret the numbers. But I also stress (sometimes to the point of becoming really annoying) that they have to look behind the numbers, to read the information about the property as if it were a story. The financial facts and figures about a property that you uncover today may be entirely accurate, but can you rely on them them to persist? What are the long-term risks and opportunities, the indirect factors, and how do they inform the numbers that you will plug into your projections?

For example, if you have commercial tenants, how strong are their businesses? One of the case studies I give my students is a mixed-use property with retail tenants whose business models are on the decline. Those tenants have leases with options to renew, but if their customer bases are shrinking, isn’t it more prudent to suspect that they may not choose to renew? Shouldn’t you also consider what could happen to your cash flow in a worst-case scenario, where they go bankrupt before their current leases are up?

Rather than simply assuming an ongoing revenue stream from the current leases, perhaps, as I tell my students, you need to look beyond the current numbers. If you see some significant risk going forward, maybe you should build rollover vacancy, leasing commissions and tenant improvements into your projections of future performance. You’re still going to run the numbers, and they still matter; but now, taking a broader view may alter your perspective on possible future cash flows.

One way to widen your field of vision is to go beyond the specific property and take into account some intangibles, both local and global. Real estate, like politics, is very much a local game. How strong is the local economy? Is unemployment a problem? What is the trend in the absorption of space – are vacancies growing or declining? Where is your city or town’s budget heading? Are there bond issues on the horizon that could materially affect your property taxes? The answers to questions like these will connect directly to the kinds of assumptions you make concerning the risk of future vacancy loss, and the rate of growth, if any, in your rents.

Then there’s the global view. You want to look at how the overall economy might affect your property. For example, it is typically the case that in times of tight credit, or in a miserable economy such as we’ve seen for the past several years, demand for apartments tends to increase. There is nothing surprising in this. Folks can’t get mortgages because their incomes have dropped and perhaps because banks aren’t lending freely. People who would otherwise be prospective homebuyers or who would be able to stay in their current homes are now renting apartments, thus reducing vacancy and often pushing rents upward.

The same causes – a wounded economy and lack of credit – might lead to an opposite effect on office and retail space, where businesses have to downsize because their customers have less money to spend.

So, if you find yourself rolling into a particular economic cycle, then you will want to adjust your projections for the future accordingly. In the example above, you would begin with whatever revenue stream you find in place; then, in the case of apartments, you would probably project declining vacancy loss and increasing rental rates for a few years, but you would probably do the opposite for retail and office. Same starting point, but different paths into the future.

What is our takeaway here? First, that real estate investing really is about the numbers. You’re going to scrutinize every lease, every operating expense, every financing option to understand how you believe the property will function on the day you acquire it. There is no substitute for crunching these numbers, and no reason to dismiss what they tell you.

But then you’ll pause to recognize that you’re probably going to own the property well beyond that first day. That’s when you need to look up from your spreadsheet. You need to look both at and beyond the current data and metrics, to visualize the property and your expectations for it in the context of its larger environment. The numbers truly matter, but so does the sometimes dicey, not-so-tidy real world in which they dwell.

–Frank Gallinelli

Copyright 2012, RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved

The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in blog posts and articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.

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Refi Existing Investment Property to Purchase Another?

One of our Facebook fans, Tony Margiotta, posed this question, which I’m happy to try my hand at answering here:

“Could you talk about refinancing an income property in order to purchase a second income property? I’m trying to understand the refinance process and how you can use it to your advantage in order to build a real estate portfolio. Thanks Frank!”

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The Good News

Your plan – to extract some of the equity from an investment property you already own and use that cash as down payment to purchase another – is fundamentally sound. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I started investing back in the ‘70s, so to me at least, it seems like a brilliant idea.

Of course, you need to have enough equity in your current property. How much is enough? That will depend on the Loan-to-Value Ratio required by your lender. The refi loan has to be small enough to satisfy the LTV required on the current property, but big enough to give you sufficient cash to use as the down payment on the new property.

For example, let’s say your bank will loan 70% of the value of your strip shopping center, which is appraised at $1 million. So, you expect to obtain a $700,000 mortgage. Your current loan is $550,000, which would leave you with $150,000 to use as a down payment on another property.

Given the same 70% LTV, $150,000 would be a sufficient down payment for a $500,000 property, i.e. 70% of $500,000 = $350,000 mortgage plus $150,000 cash.

But Wait… Some Issues and Considerations

Unfortunately, it’s not the ’70s or even ’07 anymore, so while the plan is sound, the execution may present a few challenges. Best to be prepared, so here are some issues to consider:

    • In the current lending environment, financing can be hard to find, and the terms may be more restrictive than what you experienced in the past. Notice that I used a 70% LTV in the example above. You might even encounter 60-65% today, while a few years ago it could have been 75-80%.  In order to obtain the loan, you might also have to show a higher Debt Coverage Ratio than you would have in the past – perhaps 1.25 or higher, compared to the 1.20 that was common before.
    • How long have you had the mortgage on the current property?  Some lenders will not let you refinance if the mortgage isn’t “seasoned” for a year or even longer.
    • How long have you owned the property? A track record of stable or growing NOIs over time will support your request for a new loan.  You need to make a clear and effective presentation to the lender showing that the refi makes sense, especially in a tight lending environment.
    • You need to run your numbers and not take anything for granted. For example, will your current property have a cash flow sufficient to cover the increased debt?
    • Keep in mind that you’re adding more debt to the first property, so the return on the new property has to be strong enough to justify the diminution of the return on the first.
    • Have you compared the overall return you would achieve from the two properties using the refi plan as opposed to the return you might get if you brought in some equity partners to help you buy the new property?

In a nutshell, refinancing an existing income property to purchase another is a time-honored and proven technique, but it in a challenging lending environment be certain you do your due diligence and run your numbers with care.

Of course I never miss an opportunity to promote my company’s software, so consider using that not only to analyze the deal and its variations, but also to build the presentations that will optimize your chances of obtaining the financing and/or the equity investors.

Frank Gallinelli

5 Mistakes Every Real Estate Investor Should Avoid

In my nearly 30 years of providing analysis software to real estate investors, and almost a decade of writing books and teaching real estate finance at Columbia University, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with thousands of people who were analyzing potential real estate investments. Some of these people were seasoned professionals, many were beginners or students, but just about all were highly motivated to analyze their deals to gain the maximum advantage.

I’ve seen some tremendous creativity in their analyses, but I’ve also seen some huge missteps. Here are some of the pitfalls you will want to be sure to avoid.


1. The Formula That Doesn’t Compute

If you are attempting any kind of financial analysis, then a full-featured spreadsheet program like Excel is almost certainly your tool of choice. You might opt for professionally built models, like my company’s RealData software, or you could attempt to construct your own.

  • One of the most common problems I see in do-it-yourself models is the basic formula error. A robust financial analysis involves the interaction of many elements, and it is really easy to make any of several errors that are hard to detect. The simplest of these is an incorrect reference.  You entered your purchase price in cell C12 and meant to refer to it in a formula, but you typed C11 in that formula by mistake. You may (or perhaps may not) notice that your evaluation of the property doesn’t look right, but it can be difficult for you to find the source of the problem.
  • You used to have a formula in a particular cell, but you accidentally overwrote that formula by typing a number in its place. The calculation is gone from the current analysis, and if you re-use the model, you’ll always be using that number you typed in, not the calculated value you expect.
  • Cutting and pasting numbers seems innocent enough, but it can scramble your model’s logic by displacing references. Simple rule: Never cut and paste in a spreadsheet.
  • Perhaps the most insidious is the formula that doesn’t do what you thought it did. Let’s say you have three values that you enter in cells A1, B1, and C1. You want to write a formula that adds the first two numbers and divides the result by the third. It’s easy to say this in plain English: “I want A1 plus B1, divided by C1.” So you write the formula as =A1+B1/C1. Wrong. Division and multiplication take precedence, so the division happens first and that result gets added to A1. Not what you expected. The formula that does what you intended would be =(A1+B1)/C1, where the sum of A1 and B1 is treated as a single value, divided by C1.


2. The Modern Art Syndrome

Even if you get all of your formulas correct, your job is only half done. I harangue my grad students constantly with this pearl of wisdom: Sometimes you create a pro forma analysis of a property strictly for your own interest. You will never show it to anyone else. Most of the time, however, successful completion of a real estate investment deal means you have to “sell” your point of view to one or more third parties:

  • You may be the buyer, trying to convince the seller that your offer is reasonable;
  • You may need to convince the lender that the deal should be financed; or
  • You may need to show an equity partner that his or her participation would be profitable.

Most of the homebrew presentations that I see look to me like a Jackson Pollock painting with numbers superimposed. The layout usually has a logic that I can’t discern, and I find myself hunting for the key pieces of information that the presenter should have designed to jump off the page.

The layout needs to be orderly and logical: revenue before expenses and both before debt service.

Labels need to be unambiguous:

  • If you mention capital expenditures, are they actual costs or reserves for replacement?
  • Is the debt service amortized or interest only?
  • When you label a number as “Price,” are you talking about the stated asking price, or your presumed offer? Be clear.

Lenders and experienced equity investors will be looking for several key pieces of information before they scrutinize the entire pro forma, items like Net Operating Income, Debt Coverage Ratio, Cash Flow and Internal Rate of Return.  If these items don’t stand out, or if the presentation is disorganized, you might as well add a cover page that says, “ I’m Just an Amateur Who Probably Can’t Pull This Deal Off.”


3. Errors, We Get Errors, Stack and Stacks of Errors

You may be too young to know Perry Como’s theme song (by the way, it was “letters,” not “errors”), but the tune goes through my head when I look at some investors’ spreadsheets.

  • The #NUM error can appear when you try to perform a mathematically impossible calculation, like division by zero, or also when attempting an IRR calculation that can’t resolve.
  • #VALUE usually occurs when you type something non-numeric (and that can include a blank space, letters, punctuation, etc.) into a numeric data-entry cell. If there are formulas in your model that are trying to perform some kind of math using the contents of that cell, those formulas will fail. In other words, if you try to multiply a number times a plain-text word, you’re violating a law of nature and Excel is going to call down a serious punishment on your head, a sort of high-tech scarlet letter.

It can get really ugly really fast because every calculation that refers to the cell with the first #NUM or #VALUE will also display the error message, so the problem tends to cascade throughout the entire model. Unfortunately, I often see investors who then go right ahead and print out their reports with these errors displayed and deliver the reports to clients or lenders.

Your objective in giving a report to a third party is typically to try to convince the recipient to accept your point of view. You will not accomplish that if your report has uncorrected errors.


4. What’s Wrong with This Picture?

It’s the errors you overlook – the ones that don’t have nice, big, upper-case alerts like #VALUE – that can cause the greatest mischief of all; and these can be troublesome even if the analysis is for your eyes only.

It may be an unwanted and unintended side effect of the computer age that we tend to accept calculated reports at face value. Be honest: How often do you sit at a restaurant with a calculator and verify the addition on your dinner check?

This presumption of accuracy can be dangerous when you are evaluating a big-ticket item like a potential real estate investment. As I discussed earlier, you could have bogus formulas that give you inaccurate results. But even if you use a professionally created tool like RealData’s Real Estate Investment Analysis software, you are still not immune to the classic “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome.

The mistake that I see far too often is a failure to apply common sense. For example:

  • “Gee, this investment looks like it will have a 175% Internal Rate of Return. Looks good to me.”  (Reality: You entered the purchase price as $1,000,000 instead of $10,000,000. You should have been saying to yourself, 175% can’t be right; what did I do wrong?)
  • “Wow, this property shows a terrific cash flow.” (Reality: You entered the mortgage interest rate as 0.07% instead of 7%.) Again, results outside the norm, either much better or much worse than you would reasonably expect, are your tip-off that a mistake is lurking somewhere. It is essential that you develop the habit of examining every financial work-up – those you create, and also those that are presented to you – very closely to see if the calculations appear reasonable.


5. What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

The final item in our list of big-time mistakes goes beyond the mechanics of spreadsheets and formulas and into the realm of fundamentals. You can be the most proficient creator of spreadsheet models on the planet, but if you don’t really understand the essential financial concepts that underlie real estate investment analysis, then you will neither be able to create nor interpret an analysis of such property.

The examples that I’ve seen are numerous – I can’t possibly list more than a few here – but they all revolve around the same issue:  A lack of understanding of basic financial concepts as they apply to real estate.  Some of the most important:

  • Net Operating Income – This is a key real estate metric, and calculating it incorrectly can play havoc with your estimation of a property’s value. Basically, NOI is Gross Operating Income less the sum of all operating expenses, but I have frequently seen all kinds of things subtracted when they should not be. These have included mortgage interest or the entire annual debt service, depreciation, loan points, closing costs, capital improvements, reserves for replacement, and leasing commissions. None of these items belongs in the NOI calculation.
  • Cash flow – I have seen NOI incorrectly labeled as “cash flow,” and have seen cash flow miscalculated with depreciation, a non-cash item, subtracted.
  • Capitalization rate – Cap rate is another key real estate metric and is the ratio of NOI to value. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered some folks who have used cash flow instead of NOI when attempting to figure the cap rate and have ended up with a completely erroneous result – not only for the cap rate itself, but then also for the value of the property.

Clearly, there are two vital problems with these kinds of basic errors. First, is that they completely derail any meaningful analysis. If your NOI is not really the correct NOI and your cap rate is not really the correct cap rate, then nothing else about your evaluation of the property can possibly be correct. And second, if you give this misinformation to a well-informed investor or lender, your credibility will evaporate.


The Bottom Line

What is our take-away from these five disasters waiting to happen? You could avoid many of these errors by using the best, professionally developed analysis models – but then, of course, you would expect me to say that because that’s what we do for a living.

Let me suggest three other important steps you can take:

  • Understand that there is no substitute for careful scrutiny of any financial presentation, whether it is someone else’s or your own. Be diligent always and  apply the test of reasonableness.
  • Recognize that any real estate analysis you create is likely to be a representation to a third party of the quality of your thinking and professional competence. You wouldn’t be careless or casual with a resume; you should give the same care to your real estate presentations.
  • Finally, recognize that you need to make a commitment to mastering the fundamental concepts and vocabulary of real estate investing. There is no substitute for knowledge.

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Want to learn more?

The Flavor of the Month: Apartment Investing

It comes as no surprise to those of us who are a bit long in the tooth: The recent economic environment has been bad for almost everything, but it’s good for multi-family investment property.

When credit flows freely, almost anyone who can buy a house will buy a house. (Whether they can pay for it after the closing is of course another matter.) On the other hand, when credit tightens or dries up almost completely, then the subprime prospects are frozen out of the housing market, along with a sizeable group of perfectly responsible borrowers who now find they can’t clear the considerably elevated qualification standards. It doesn’t take tremendous insight to realize that most of these people are now candidates for apartment space. Remember Econ 101?  Supply, demand, etc.

If you read the financial press (or follow our tweets) then you’ve seen ample evidence lately that apartment properties are hot. The Wall Street Journal  cites a Marcus and Millichap report stating the the values of apartment buildings rose 16% in 2010 after falling 27% between 2006 and 2009. In that same article, WSJ says that the supply of new apartment buildings is at a two-decade low. There’s that supply and demand thing again.

Reuters  recently reported that apartment vacancies showed a steep drop in the first quarter of 2011. At the same time, Investor’s Business Daily noted that even the smallest buildings — those with four units or less — were in high demand. An advantage here for the small investor is that this kind of property can usually qualify for Fannie- or Freddie-backed financing, and perhaps on even more favorable terms if the investors lives in one of the units.

After a long period when it seemed like investors were in duck-and-cover mode, it’s good to see this resurgance of activity.

(self-serving footnote: If you’re doing an apartment deal, be sure to run the numbers first, Either the Express or Professional Edition of Real Estate Investment Analysis will do a great job with apartment buildings. If you’re raising capital from equity partners, then use the Pro Ediiton — it will give you presentations for individual partners.)

Five More Rules of Thumb for Real Estate Investors

In a previous article – Six Rules of Thumb for Every Real Estate Investor – I offered some guidance that might reasonably be held dear by every income-property investor. Woe to him or to her who doesn’t take a property’s vital signs, such as Debt Coverage Ratio, Loan-to-Value, or Cap Rate, to heart before making an investment decision.

Hidden below these very objective measures, however, is a sub-stratum of more subjective issues to consider when you invest. It would be a stretch to suggest that these considerations apply to every investor or to every situation. Your mileage may vary. Still, these are issues that should be worthy of your attention whenever you invest in real estate.

Small Property or Large?

By “small” and “large” I am referring to the number of rental units, not to the physical size of the property. I often hear from people who are investing in real estate for the first time and are choosing to buy a single-family home to use as a rental property. I suspect that these folks have not taken a pencil to paper (or even better, used one of RealData’s investment analysis programs) to see if they could reasonably expect to enjoy a positive cash flow from that property.

Although it’s possible to get a good cash flow from a one-family house, it is certainly not something you should take for granted. Whether you’re purchasing a single-family house or a 40-unit apartment building, that structure is going to sit on a single piece of land; and typically, the land cost-per-unit is likely to be higher – perhaps much higher – with a single-family house.

The more you pay per unit for the land, the more rental revenue per unit you will need to generate to cover your costs. In short, generating a positive cash flow in this scenario could prove to be a challenge. The deck may be stacked against you, so run your cash flow projections before you buy. Add up the cost of your mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance, maintenance and miscellaneous expenses. Will your rent be greater than the total of these costs?

Another perilous characteristic of the single-family as a rental property concerns vacancy. Simply put, if you lose one tenant, then 100% of your property is vacant. Consider again that 40-unit apartment building: Lose one tenant there and you lose just 2.5% of your revenue.

Finally, there is the issue of what drives value. A single-family house’s value is customarily based on market data, i.e., comparable sales, while the so-called commercial property (generally defined as one having more than four rental units), is valued based on its ability to produce income. This difference is important to you as an investor because you have the opportunity to create value by enhancing the commercial property’s income stream, an opportunity you will not have with that single-family.

All this is fine and makes good sense, but you may just not be built for starting off your investment career on a large scale. If thatss the case, then consider a multi-family house – ideally one with more than four units, but even smaller if you must – as your starter investment. Learn from that, then move on to bigger things.

Residential or Commercial?

I used the term “commercial” above to refer to properties with more than four units. Such properties are commercial in the sense that they are bought and sold for their ability to produce income. In more common parlance, however, the term “commercial” is often used to describe real estate that is occupied for business purposes and not as dwellings for families or individuals.

In a separate full-length article, I discuss in some detail the pros and cons of investing in each property type, but for our discussion here let’s just consider a few key points. If you’re a first-time investor, the most basic issue is that of comfort level. It is very likely that you have a good deal of personal familiarity with residential property. Chances are that you already know something about residential rent, leases, security deposits, utility bills, and the like. If you have never had similar experience with commercial property – renting your own office or retail space, for example – then you may feel more comfortable dealing with a property type that is more familiar to you.

There are plenty of potential advantages to owning commercial property, such as longer-term leases with built-in escalations, and tenant responsibility for certain operating expenses. Once you have expanded your comfort zone by owning and operating investment property, commercial real estate can be a very good long-term strategy.

Local Market vs. Hot Market

It seems like everyone is telling you that the demand for real estate is running wild in Last Ditch, Wyoming. Should you head, checkbook in hand, straight for the Ditch or stay close to home? Keep in mind an old axiom that applies to all kinds of investing: By the time you or I hear of a great deal, all the money that’s going to be made already has been made by someone else.

I have no doubt that you can find investors who have made a killing in some remote real estate market. You can probably also find someone who has won the Irish Sweepstakes. An important part of your strategy should be to optimize your chances of success, and you will do that best by staying close to home – perhaps very close.

I usually tell new investors that they should choose a location where they know every crack in the sidewalk. Information that you may take for granted can prove to be truly priceless. You probably know how well local businesses are doing, if the city needs to spend money soon on new schools or infrastructure, if a major employer is thinking of moving in or out of town, if a new transportation hub is nearing the final stages of approval, or if the local college is increasing its enrollment. In short, you know the likely trends that will drive demand for residential and commercial space, and you have a sense of where local property taxes are headed. You’re plugged in to your market, and nothing is more valuable to an investor.

Equity Partner vs. Debt Partners

Unless you have the resources to buy property for all cash, you have partners. When you finance an investment property, the bank (or whoever is lending you money) is your “debt partner.” They will very definitely get a piece of the action. In fact, they will expect their piece even if there is no action – no cash flow – at all.

In the current economy and with the state of the financial markets as it has been, we see an increasing number of experienced investors looking for more equity partners and less financing. It may not be as romantic as going entirely on your own, but it can be more successful. Financing has been difficult to obtain of late; the less you ask for in relation to the value of the property, the better your chances of securing it and the better the terms are likely to be. With less financing, you improve your chances of achieving a positive cash flow, even if you have to share it with your partners. Partnering up may be a good strategy for the times.

Professional Management vs. Do-It-Yourself

The question of whether or not to hire a professional property manager is one that you need to answer on a case-by-case basis. There may be no better way to learn how rental property works than to roll up your sleeves and run it, personally, like a business. But as with any business, you need to weigh the risks of on-the-job training.

For example, it may be prudent for you to use an experienced agent to find tenants and to check their references. That can be time-consuming work, and signing up a troublesome tenant can prove costly and consume even more of your time.

On the other hand, getting involved directly in overseeing maintenance, repairs and general management can help you recognize if your property is a good and desirable product in the marketplace. What is the appeal of your property, compared to others that compete for tenants in the same market? Your tenants will probably let you know if you work with them directly.

In addition, I have always believed that most tenants will not respect your property unless you do. You are more likely to sign up and retain responsible tenants if they see that you care about keeping the property in top shape and that you will respond to reasonable requests for maintenance or repair. As in any business, when you are directly involved in setting the tone and the standards, you have best chance of seeing those standards met. Eventually, as you build your real estate empire, you may have too many units for this hands-on approach to be practical; but if you are just starting out, this can be an effective way to develop your set of expectations for whoever will manage in your name in the future.

The Bottom Line?

True confession: These five rules are not really set-in-stone rules at all, but options that every real estate investor needs to weigh on his or her personal balance scale. Unlike a nice metric such as Debt Coverage Ratio, there is not really an unambiguous choice for any of these. You must take into account your own personal skills, experience and resources, your available time, and the nature of the property in which you are investing – and then choose wisely.

Copyright 2010, RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved
The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.
You may not reproduce, distribute, or transmit any of the materials at this site without the express written permission of RealData® Inc. or other copyright holders. The content of web sites displayed or linked from the realdata.com is the copyrighted material of those respective sites.

Six Rules of Thumb for Every Real Estate Investor

Life can be hard, especially as we try to climb out of the Great Recession. Real estate investing can be a challenge, as well; and while we surely won’t presume to suggest how to deal with life’s big issues, we can offer a few thoughts as to how you might maintain some equilibrium when you look at investment property.

Those of you who follow our content at RealData.com — newslettersbooksFacebook and software — know that we stress maximizing your chances for success through understanding the metrics of investment property. We don’t tell you that you’ll get rich by thinking positive thoughts, raising your self-confidence, and charging fearlessly into the fray. Instead we urge you to learn about the the financial dynamics that are at work in income-producing real estate. Whether you’re scrutinizing a piece of property you already own, one you want to sell, or one you may choose to buy or develop, you need to master the metrics. The numbers always matter.

And so here are our “6 Rules of Thumb for Every Real Estate Investor.”

1. Vacancy

— Let’s begin with a simple one. What percentage of the property’s total potential gross income is being lost to vacancy? Start off by collecting some market data, so you will know what is typical for that type of property in that particular location. Does the property you own or may buy differ very much from the norm? Obviously, much higher vacancy is not good news and you want to find out why. But if vacancy is far less than the market, that may mean the rents are too low. If you’re the owner, this is an issue you need to deal with. If you’re a potential buyer, this may signal an opportunity to acquire the property and then create value through higher rents.

2. Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)

— When the financial markets return to some semblance of normalcy, they will probably also return to their traditional standards for underwriting. One of those standards is the Loan-to-Value Ratio. The typical lender is generally willing to finance between 60% – 80% of the lesser of the property’s purchase price or its appraised value. Conventional wisdom has always held that leverage is a good thing — that it is smart to use “Other People’s Money.”

The caution here is to beware of too much of a good thing. The higher the LTV on a particular deal, the riskier the loan is. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that in the post-meltdown era, the cost of a loan in terms of interest rate, points, fees, etc. may rise exponentially as the risk increases. Having more equity in the deal may be the best or perhaps the only way to secure reasonable financing. If you don’t have sufficient cash to make a substantial down payment, then consider assembling a group of partners so you can acquire the property with a low LTV and therefore with optimal terms.

3. Debt Coverage Ratio (DCR)

— DCR is the ratio of a property’s Net Operating Income (NOI) to its Annual Debt Service. NOI, as you will recall is your total potential income less vacancy and credit loss and less operating expenses. If your NOI is just enough to pay your mortgage, then your NOI and debt service are equal and so their ratio is 1.00. In real life, no responsible lender is likely to provide financing if it looks like the property will have just barely enough net income to cover its mortgage payments. You should assume that the property you want to finance must show a DCR of at least 1.20, which means your Net Operating Income must be at least 20% more than your debt service. For certain property types or in certain locations, the requirement may be even higher, but it is unlikely ever to be lower.
Not to preach, but planning a budget with a bit of breathing room might be a good principle for every government agency, financial institution and family to follow.

4. Capitalization Rate

— The Capitalization Rate expresses the ratio between a property’s Net Operating Income and its value. Typically it is a market-driven percentage that represents what investors in a given market are achieving on their investment dollar for a particular type of property. In other words, it is the prevailing rate of return in that market. Appraisers use Cap Rates to estimate the value of an income property. If other investors are getting a 10% return, then at what value would a subject property yield a 10% return today?
Remember first that the Cap Rate is a market-driven rate so you need to interrogate some appraisers and commercial brokers to discover what rate is common today in your market for the type of property you’re dealing with. But you also need to recognize that Cap Rates can change with market conditions. In our long and checkered careers we have seen rates go as low as 4-5% (corresponding to very high valuations) and as high as the mid-teens (very low valuations), with historical averages probably bunched closer to 8-10%. If you are investing for the long term, and if the cap rate in your market is presently pushing the top or the bottom of the range, then you need to consider the possibility that the rate won’t stay there forever. Look at some historical data for your market and take that into account when you estimate the cap rate rate that a new buyer may expect ten years down the road.

5. Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

— IRR is the metric of choice for many real estate investors because it takes into account both the timing and the size of cash flows and sale proceeds. It can be a bit difficult to compute, you may want to use software or a financial calculator to make it easy. Once you have your estimated IRR for a given holding period, what should you make of it? No matter how talented you are at choosing and managing property, real estate investing has its risks — and you should expect to earn a return that is commensurate with those risks. There is no magic number for a “good” IRR, but from our years of speaking with investors, we think that few would be happy with anything less than a double-digit IRR, and most would require something in the teens. At the same time, keep in mind the “too good to be true” principle. If you project an astoundingly strong IRR then you need to revisit your underlying data and your assumptions. Are the rents and operating expenses correct? Is the proposed financing possible?

6. Cash Flow

— Cash is King. If you can first project that your property will have a strong positive cash flow, then you can exhale and start to look at the other metrics to see if they suggest satisfactory long-term results.

Negative cash flow means reaching into your own pocket to make up the shortfall. There is no joy in finding that your income property fails to support you, but rather you have to support your property. On the other hand, if you do a have a strong positive cash flow, then you can usually ride out the ups and downs that may occur in any market. An unexpected vacancy or repair is far less likely to push you to the edge of default, and you can sit on the sideline during a market decline, waiting until the time is right to sell.

Overambitious financing tends to be a common cause of weak cash flow. Too much leverage, resulting in greater loan costs and higher debt service can mark the tipping point from a good cash flow to none at all. Revisit LTV and DCR, above.

We’re all thumbs, so to speak, so if you found these rules helpful check out more of our booksarticlessoftware, Facebook page and other resources.

Copyright 2009, RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved
The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide  legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.
You may not reproduce, distribute, or transmit any of the materials at this site without the express written permission of RealData® Inc. or other copyright holders. The content of web sites displayed or linked from the realdata.com is the copyrighted material of those respective sites.

Making the Case for Your Commercial Refinance, Part 1

Since we released the original version of our Real Estate Investment Analysis software in 1982, our focus has been on pro forma financial analysis of real estate investments and of development properties – projecting the numbers out over time to help users gain a sense of what kind of investment performance they might expect from a particular property or project.

And for lo, these many years, our customers (and from time to time, we ourselves) have used the software to help make decisions as to whether or not to buy a property, and at what price and on what terms. Customers have used it to model how things might play out in the worst case, or in the best case, or somewhere in between. They have used it also to compare alternative investment opportunities.

This type of decision-making process has by far been the most common use of our software. More and more, however, we’ve seen an increased use of these pro formas for the purpose of making presentations to potential equity partners and to lenders.

Which brings us at last to the point of this article. When the economy is blazing away at warp speed, everything is – or at least seems – a bit easier. Forecasts are easier to meet, and partners and lenders are easier to find. But sometimes the economy is not so good, and presents us with new challenges. At this writing, we find ourselves in the middle of a bad case of credit lockjaw. Nothing lasts forever (which in this instance is a good thing), so eventually our credit markets and overall economy will rediscover their equilibrium.

This is all fine, unless you’re holding a property today with a mortgage that will balloon in the near future. In that case, you need to find a new loan, and you’re probably going to have to work for it. That means doing some homework, understanding the process, and building the most compelling case you can for approval of that new loan.

If you were trying to refinance your home, you would be dealing with recent sales of comparable houses, your personal income and debt, and your credit score. With the possible exception of working to get your credit report in order, there’s not a great deal you would do personally to build a case for your re-fi. With an income property, however, a carefully prepared presentation can go a long way in helping you convince a lender – or even a new equity partner – that you have a viable investment.

Re-enter your friend, the pro forma analysis. You may have thought he was on vacation until sales of real estate revived, but in fact he’s as busy as ever with financing and partnerships. If the numbers do indeed work for a property whose balloon is coming due – and sorry, don’t expect to transform a bad investment into a good one with just a pile of color charts – then a detailed pro forma may be that property’s best friend.

Don’t even think about starting that pro forma until you’ve done a bit of legwork and preparation. First you’re going to need some information that is external to the property itself. You need to know the prevailing market capitalization rate for properties of the same type as yours (i.e., office, retail, apartment, industrial, etc.) and in the same market. This information will be critical to estimating the current value of the property. Perhaps the best place to seek this information is from a local commercial appraiser. The bank will certainly use an appraiser, and the appraiser will certainly use a cap rate, so don’t get left out of the party. For the sake of the example we’re going to construct here, say that the commercial appraiser tells you the prevailing cap rate for properties like yours in your market is 11%.

Next you need to learn about underwriting criteria from your potential lenders. Specifically, you need to know the probable interest rate and term of the new loan; the lender’s maximum Loan-to-Value Ratio; and the lender’s minimum required Debt Coverage Ratio. Don’t assume that these criteria will be identical across all lenders or across all property types. In fact, they probably will not. It should not surprise you that different lenders quote different interest rates, but you must also recognize that the same lender may be willing to lend 80% of the value of an apartment complex, but only 65% of the value of a shopping center. Know the lender’s terms before you ask for the loan.

For the purpose of this example, let’s say you’ve called your current lender and found that their maximum Loan-to-Value Ratio for a property like yours is 75%. They require a Debt Coverage Ratio of at least 1.20, and if all looks good, they will loan at 7.75% for 15 years.

We’ll discuss these criteria in detail in a moment, but for now let’s stay focused on collecting information, this time about the property itself. You need to assemble the amount of actual current rent income from each unit and identify the market rent of currently vacant units. You need to make realistic estimates of rental income for the next several years, taking into account the terms of leases now in place. You must figure your current year’s operating expenses, keeping in mind that certain expenditures such as debt payments, capital improvements and commissions should not be included. Nor should you include depreciation or amortization of loan points, which are deductions but not operating expenses. Once again, you have to make some realistic estimates as to how these expenses may change over the next several years. Finally, of course, you have to learn the balance of your current mortgage, so you’ll know how much of a re-fi you require.

Let’s return now to the underwriting criteria you identified, and start with the Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV):

Loan-to-Value Ratio = Loan Amount / Lesser of Property’s Appraised Amount or Actual Selling Price

If this is a re-fi, then there is no “selling price,” so the value here will be the amount for which the property is appraised. If your financial institution has not taken leave of its senses (in general, if it has not appeared in the headlines or before a Congressional subcommittee in the last six months), then it should be reluctant to loan you or anyone else 100% of the value of a property. They expect you to have some skin in the game, and the question is merely how much.

The lender will quote you their maximum LTV, and before you get anywhere near an application form, you are going to perform your own calculation with your particular property. How much of a loan do you need to replace the existing financing, and how does that relate to the current value of the property?

It should be clear enough that the lower your actual LTV, the more likely you are to secure the loan. The lower the LTV, the more you, the borrower have to lose and the less likely you are to walk away. A low LTV may even earn you more favorable terms. You know how much of a loan you need, so to determine the LTV of your proposed loan, you must estimate the value of the property. Find that value with the same method the lender’s appraiser is likely to use: by applying a capitalization rate to the Net Operating Income (NOI). You already called around to find the prevailing market cap rate, so now you need to calculate the NOI. The most direct way to do this is with the venerable APOD form, where you list your annual income and expenses:

sample APOD for commercial refinance

The total of your scheduled rent income for this year should be $219,600, but because of vacancy and credit losses you will actually collect $210,816. Your various operating expenses total $51,050, leaving you a Net Operating Income of $159,766.

Remember that an appraiser told you the prevailing cap rate for this type of property in your market area is 11%. You have what you need to estimate the value of the property:

Value = Net Operating Income / Capitalization Rate
Value = 159,766 / 0.11
Value = 1,452,418

Round that off to $1.45 million.

You’re ready now to perform your first underwriting calculation. Recall that your lender’s maximum Loan-to-Value Ratio is 75%. Your current loan – the one that is about to balloon – has a balance of $975,000.

Loan-to-Value Ratio = Loan Amount / Lesser of Property’s Appraised Amount or Actual Selling Price
Loan-to-Value Ratio = 975,000 / 1,450,000
Loan-to-Value Ratio = 67.2%

Assuming the lender’s appraiser agrees with your estimate of value, you’ve cleared your first hurdle. Being a cautious individual, however, you want to know your worst-case scenario. What is the lowest appraisal that would still allow your $975,000 re-fi to meet the lender’s LTV requirement? Simply transpose the formula to solve for a different variable:

Property’s Appraised Amount = Loan Amount / Loan-to-Value Ratio
Property’s Appraised Amount = 975,000 / 0.75
Property’s Appraised Amount = 1,300.000

Any appraisal over $1.3 million will be good enough to satisfy the 75% Loan-to-Value requirement.

You will want to build a pro forma that goes out a least five years, so you can demonstrate to the lender that your anticipated cash flow and debt coverage are solid and likely to stay that way. Before you do so, however, there is a formula you can use that will give you a quick estimate of the maximum loan amount that the property’s current income can support. Remember that the strength of an income property lies in the strength of its income stream. This is how the lender will look at your proposal, so it’s what you need to do as well. Here is the formula:

Maximum Loan Amount = Net Operating Income / Minimum Debt Coverage Ratio / (Monthly Mortgage Constant x 12)

You know that your Net Operating Income is $159,766, and the lender has told you the Minimum Debt Coverage Ratio is 1.20. But what’s this Monthly Mortgage Constant?

A mortgage constant is the periodic payment amount on a loan of $1 at a particular interest rate and term. If you know the constant for a loan of $1, you can multiply it by the actual number of dollars of the loan to find the payment amount.

Readers of my books have access to a web site with a variety of tools, including a table of mortgage constants. You can also calculate the Mortgage Constant using this formula in Microsoft Excel:

=PMT(Periodic Rate, Number of Periods, -1)

In the Excel formula, the amount of the loan must be entered as a negative number. In the case of a mortgage constant, we want to use a loan of $1, hence the -1. In the case of a loan at 7.75% for 15 years, the formula would look like this:

=PMT(0.0775/12, 180, -1) = 0.00941276

Since this loan is going to be paid monthly, you express both the rate and the number of periods as monthly amount. Format your answer to display at least eight decimal places.

Now you have all the elements to plug into the formula for maximum loan amount: the Net Operating Income, the minimum Debt Coverage Ratio, and the Mortgage Constant.

Maximum Loan Amount = Net Operating Income / Minimum Debt Coverage Ratio / (Monthly Mortgage Constant x 12)
Maximum Loan Amount = 159,766 / 1.20/ (0.00941276 x 12) Maximum Loan Amount = 133,138.33 / (0.00941276 x 12)
Maximum Loan Amount = 133,138.33 / 0.11295312 Maximum Loan Amount = 1,178,704

Keep in mind that rounding could alter your answer by a few dollars.

(An aside: If you’re the sort of person who does not like to play with long formulas, or who tends to tap calculator keys with a closed fist, we have a solution for you. The RealData Real Estate Calculator – Deluxe Edition, will do all of these underwriting calculations for you, as well as perform a host of other useful real estate functions, including amortization schedules for loans with a variety of terms. There are sixteen modules in the Calculator. Find more info at http://realdata.com/p/calculator.)

Your lender will surely round this result, probably down to something like $1.175 million. But you’re looking for just $975,000, so it appears that your income stream will support this loan request. You will want to verify this by calculating the property’s Debt Coverage Ratio going out five or more years. You’ll do that as part of your property pro forma, in the next installment of this article.

Up to this point, however, you’ve accomplished quite a bit: You learned what information you need to assemble about your lender’s underwriting process, about your property’s income, expenses and loan balance, and about the prevailing cap rate in your market. You’ve learned to use some of that information to estimate the current value of the property, then taken that result to determine if the property will likely satisfy the lender’s Loan-to-Value requirement.

You’ve learned about another underwriting metric, Debt Coverage Ratio, and about mortgage constants. You’ve seen how to combine those to test your property’s income stream to see if it’s strong enough to support your loan request.

Not bad for an hour or two of work.

Next time you’ll see how to assemble this information and more into the kind of professional presentation you can give to a potential lender or equity partner.

Copyright 2009, RealData® Inc. All Rights Reserved

The information presented in this article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of RealData® Inc. The material contained in articles that appear on realdata.com is not intended to provide  legal, tax or other professional advice or to substitute for proper professional advice and/or due diligence. We urge you to consult an attorney, CPA or other appropriate professional before taking any action in regard to matters discussed in any article or posting. The posting of any article and of any link back to the author and/or the author’s company does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the author’s products or services.
You may not reproduce, distribute, or transmit any of the materials at this site without the express written permission of RealData® Inc. or other copyright holders. The content of web sites displayed or linked from the realdata.com is the copyrighted material of those respective sites.

Making the Case for Your Commercial Refinance

Many of you surely have commercial property loans that are coming up for refinance during 2009.  We have a new article (actually, the first installment of a two-part piece) on realdata.com that we think you’ll find helpful.

In Part One of “Making the Case for Your Commercial Re-Finance,” we tell you what information you must gather before you apply for the loan. We help you understand the loan underwriting process as the lender sees it, and show you how to estimate the maximum amount of financing you can reasonably expect to get.

In Part Two, we’ll demonstrate the process of building a presentation that you can use to make a strong case for your commercial refi.

To view this article, go to realdata.com and click on the “Learn” tab.  You’ll find a link to this and a whole library of articles for investors and developers.