Tag: real estate investors

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.

CCIM magazine cites Frank Gallinelli’s latest book

I was pleased to see that Commercial Investment Real Estate, the magazine of the CCIM Institute, featured my latest book, Mastering Real Estate Investment in their May/June 2009 issue Buyers Guide (p. 45). The piece is entitled “Beyond the Basics,” and I think they were right on the money, so to speak, when they said that I was “Responding to a call from readers for less theory and more practice…” Thank you, CCIM.

Cash Flow Analysis — Annual or Monthly?

A reader of one of my books wrote to me recently with a very worthwhile question.  When we build a pro-forma analysis of future cash flows from a real estate investment, why do we annualize those cash flows instead dealing with them on a monthly basis?  After all, rent is typically collected and bills paid monthly.

The quick and facile answer, of course, is because we’ve always done it that way. Back in the day, we didn’t have powerful personal computers and sophisticated real estate software, so one might argue that this annual approach is just a holdover from a golden age that has passed us by.

Then again, there may be some wisdom inherent in this approach. To make monthly estimates of future cash flows requires monthly, rather than annual, estimates of income, expenses and debt service. The task is not impossible, but collecting, organizing, and deploying this amount of data will surely take much greater time and effort, presumably up to twelve times as much. And we all know that time is money.

Is it practical to do this, and if so, is it worth the effort?  It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not performing an accounting function but rather making projections about what’s going to happen in the future. It’s often difficult enough to estimate your annual cost for heating fuel or electricity five years hence. Trying to estimate such costs by the month can be even more problematic and time-consuming.

Assuming that someone else hasn’t already closed on this property while you were playing Hamlet, did you in fact gain any additional insight or advantage as a reward for your extra effort?

A monthly projection of future cash flows substantially increases your “degrees of freedom” in making estimates, so the monthly estimates are not only more difficult to make, but they also provide you with many more opportunities to be wrong. To put it another way, you are just as likely to introduce errors in timing as you are to add precision, thus offsetting at least some if not all of the benefit of your considerable extra effort.

Having said all this, it is also true that a dramatic skewing of cash flow toward the beginning of a year could make a noticeable difference in a particular discounted cash flow calculation. One might feel that is justified to handle such an atypical income stream differently.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the conventional wisdom here actually makes sense. Forecasting the future is an imperfect art; in most situations, annualizing the net cash flow is a reasonable compromise with reality and a task of more manageable proportions.

Frank Gallinelli

RealData

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.

New investment analysis service — and data form

If you subscribe to our e-newsletter, the RealData Dispatch, then you know that we just launched a new service where we will run a property analysis for you, using your data and our software.

All you do is download a questionnaire, fill it in with the particulars about the property you want to evaluate, and email it or fax it back to us. We’ll run your information through the Standard Edition of “Real Estate Investment Analysis” and send the reports back via email.

You can get more details here.

Even if you don’t plan to use the service right now, I’d like to suggest that you download the form. I think you’ll find it to be a helpful guide for collecting data whenever you need to do an investment analysis, whether you’re working with our software or scribbling on the back of an envelope.

And speaking of our newsletter, just one more comment. If you subscribed but haven’t been receiving it, then it’s probably getting stuck in your spam box. It seems to me that spam filters have been getting more aggressive. I know it’s necessary to fight the growing tide, but I’ve been finding more “real” mail getting swept away with the junk.

I would urge that you go to your email program or service and “whitelist” realdata.com. For example, if you’re using Yahoo mail, go to “Options” and add a filter that tells Yahoo to direct anything from realdata.com to your inbox. With Gmail, you go to “Settings” and do the same thing.

That way, our newsletter will reach you. In addition to providing announcements about our products, upgrades, etc., we use the newsletter to tell you when we have new educational content and when we’ve found an online resource that might be valuable to you as as an investor or developer.

If you aren’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Frank Gallinelli
realdata.com

Download sample chapters from my new book, “Mastering Real Estate Investment”

Hello All —

I thought you might like an opportunity to see some sample chapters from my new book, so I’m making two downloads available.

The first section of the book is devoted to 37 key formulas that every real estate investor should understand and know how to use.  One of the most important of these is capitalization rate. 
Chapter 10 discusses cap rate and gives you several examples that you can work through.

The second part of the book provides case studies where I take you step by step through different kinds of property investments.  In Chapter 38 I discuss using a single-family house as a rental property.  This download is a seven-page excerpt from the chapter, which continues with a thorough discussion of the single-family rental.

I hope you find these samples useful, and welcome your comments.

Frank Gallinelli
realdata.com

Is Now the Time To Buy Real Estate for Investment?

“Give me a one-armed economist!”  That’s what Harry Truman said as he grew weary of economic advisors who seemingly could never give a straight-out recommendation without adding, “…but on the other hand….”

I believe serious investors understand that they can succeed in both good economies and in bad. They also know that they may have to adjust their approach to fit the circumstances.   Has anyone seen Warren Buffet hiding under a rock?

Income-producing real estate – that is, rental properties – offer investors an excellent opportunity to build wealth over the long term.  It’s important to understand that the value of a typical income property doesn’t necessarily rise and fall in step with the home market.  Investment properties are bought and sold for their ability to produce net income.  So, if you buy a property at a sensible price relative to its income and you manage it well, you should enjoy a good return over the long term.

Everyone expects their investments to succeed in a hot market, but what about now, when the economy is struggling?  It’s not uncommon to see apartment properties do well at times like this.  When money is tight and it’s difficult for buyers to come up with down payments and to afford mortgage terms, demand for apartments typically rises.

Take a look at the medical office buildings in your market.  Health care doesn’t go out of fashion, and with boomers getting older, there’s a good chance that demand will rise.  Look also at university towns.  The turnover of students and faculty typically translates into high demand.

I’ll say more about these and perhaps some other areas of opportunity in future posts.

And finally, what about that one-armed economist?  Is there a, “…but on the other hand?”  As much as we would like every decision to be unambiguous, all investments involve risk.  Otherwise there would be no reward.  So what are the caution flags?

First, remember that all real estate is local.  Your local job market, for example, may be atypically strong, with new employers moving in; or especially weak, with important job sources shutting down.  View all generalities through the prism of your local market.

Remember that cash is king, especially in a weak economy.  It’s all right to try to acquire a property using as little of your own cash as possible (provided, of course, that the deal works on those terms).  But there’s a big difference between using very little cash and having very little cash.  If you have nothing in reserve to fall back on, the risk of a highly leveraged investment may be greater than you can deal with.

This may not be the time to buy with no cash and flip for a profit tomorrow, but it can be an excellent time to buy for the long term.  Do your homework, run the numbers, and prosper.

My latest: Mastering Real Estate Investment

I’m hoping that, by now, you’ve heard I have a new book out: “Mastering Real Estate Investment: Examples, Metrics and Case Studies.” It was released just a few weeks ago, and like any proud author I’m pleased to say it’s doing well.

And so…  what’s it’s all about?  An why did I think anyone would read it?

I’d probably describe it best as being two books in one.  Quite a few readers of my first book, “What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know About Cash Flow…,” told me they wanted to see more examples of the 37 key calculations I discussed there. That’s an entirely reasonable request; most of us learn better from examples.

So, I began with the idea of creating a workbook of sorts.  For each of my 37 metrics I created a series of sample problems that the reader could work through.  And, of course, I provided the step-by-solution for every problem.

I would humbly submit (all right, maybe not so humbly) that this was a good idea, because to master anything you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved with it.  You can’t just read about these concepts, you have to practice them if you expect to internalize them as part of your approach to investing.  And that, by the way, is how “Mastering” got into the title.

It’s one thing to master these concepts, but it’s yet another to understand how to integrate them and apply them — and that’s why I wrote the second part of the book, the case studies.  I took four different type of properties — a single-family rental, a development project, and apartment building, and a commercial property.

What I tried to do here was to take real-life situations, where you have to deal with asking prices that may be realistic or not; where you encounter seller representations that may be accurate or not; where you have to make judgments and forecasts using imperfect current knowledge.

One of my goals in this part of the book was to show you how to play, “What if…” with your forecasts so as to give you a sense of the range of possible outcomes for your investment if things like rent projections, interest rates, resale costs varied.  Also, in a departure from some of my usual topics, I tried to show how to look at a re-hab project — specifically, how to estimate an appropriate price for a property that you plan to re-develop into an income-producing investment.

Part 2 of the book can stand on its own, so if you’re comfortable with concepts like NOI, cap rate, discounted cash flow and IRR, go ahead an read this part first.

You’ll find more about this book, and my others, here.

NPV, PI, IRR, FMRR, MIRR, CpA — Stirring the Alphabet Soup of Real Estate Investing, Part 2

IRR – Internal Rate of Return

Internal Rate of Return (IRR) seems to befuddle many investors, but if you understand Discounted Cash Flow and Net Present Value, then you already understand IRR. That’s because it is really the same process, but one where you are solving for a different unknown.

In DCF, you believe you know what the future cash flows will be, and you believe you know the rate at which those cash flows should be discounted. Your mission is to figure the Present Value of the cash flows.

With IRR, you still believe you know what the future cash flows will be, but now you know the Present Value and want to find the discount rate. How is it that you know the Present Value? This is a deal happening in the real world. The PV is the amount of cash you are paying for those future cash flows.

When you solve for the IRR, you are looking for the discount rate that accurately describes the relationship between those future cash flows and the money you put on the table on Day One.

When you’ve found the discount rate that makes the PVs of the future cash flow equal to your initial investment, you’ve found the IRR. You can express this another way: When you’ve found the discount rate that makes the NPV equal zero, you’ve found the IRR.

Admittedly, the math to find the IRR is ugly, but if you’re reading this then you probably have a computer (or a highly sensitive gold filling that also picks up the BBC on the Internet); there are plenty of tools, including Microsoft Excel and our own RealData software that will do the job for you.

IRR is the measurement of choice for many investors because it take into account both the timing and the magnitude of your cash flows. Consider this example:

You still have that $300,000 to invest, and you can invest it in the property you saw in the first example, yielding these cash flows and IRR:

Year 0 Initial Investment:
(300,000)
Year 1 Cash Flow:
10,000
Year 2 Cash Flow:
20,000
Year 3 Cash Flow:
25,000
Year 4 Cash Flow:
30,000
Year 5 Cash Flow:
385,000
(includes the proceeds of sale)
IRR = 10.32%

Or you can acquire this property:

Year 0 Initial Investment:
(300,000)
Year 1 Cash Flow:
80,000
Year 2 Cash Flow:
50,000
Year 3 Cash Flow:
30,000
Year 4 Cash Flow:
10,000
Year 5 Cash Flow:
300,000
(includes the proceeds of sale)
IRR = 12.97%

If you add up the cash inflows and outflows for both properties, you will find that each has $300,000 going out in Year 0, and a total of $470,000 coming in over the next five years. However, the second property shows a significantly higher IRR. Both properties have the same total number of dollars going out and coming in over five years, but the second property shows a greater return on investment. Why?

Because IRR is indeed sensitive to both the timing and amount of cash flow. The first property has a big payday, but you have to wait five years to get the money. In the meantime, annual cash flows are relatively modest.

In the sale year the second property returns combined cash from operation and resale that is only as much as you originally invested to acquire the property. However, the intervening cash flows are much larger, especially the earlier ones. The early cash flows are especially valuable because you don’t have to wait long to receive them and therefore you don’t have to discount their values so greatly.

But Wait…

This sounds terrific; we’ve found the perfect way to measure our investment’s return. But wait – on closer inspection, IRR has a few warts. Sometimes its results are imperfect, sometimes even misleading. In the third installment of this series, we will look at the problems with IRR and at some potential solutions. We’ll examine FMRR and Modified IRR, and how they provide us with a means of dealing with the shortcomings.

—Frank Gallinelli

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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 2008, 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.

NPV, PI, IRR, FMRR, MIRR, CpA – Stirring the Alphabet Soup of Real Estate Investing, Part 1

NPV, PI, IRR, FMRR, MIRR, CpA–It may seem like a witch’s brew of random letters, but truly, it’s just real estate investing. You can handle it. Any or all of these measures can be useful to you, if you understand what they mean and when to use them.

NPV – Net Present Value

NPV, or Net Present Value, is connected to what all good real estate investors and appraisers do, namely discounted cash flow analysis (aka DCF, if you’d like some more initials).

Discounted Cash Flow is a pretty straightforward undertaking. You project the cash flows that you think your investment property will achieve over the next 5, 10, even 20 years. Then you pause to remind yourself that money received in the future is less valuable than money received in the present. So, you discount each of those future cash flows by a rate equal to the “opportunity cost” of your capital investment. The opportunity cost is the rate you might have earned on your money if you didn’t spend it to buy this particular property.

Consider this example, where you invest $300,000 in cash to earn the
following cash flows:

Year 1 Cash Flow:
10,000
Year 2 Cash Flow:
20,000
Year 3 Cash Flow:
25,000
Year 4 Cash Flow:
30,000
Year 5 Cash Flow:
385,000
(includes the proceeds of sale)

If you discount each of these cash flows at 10%, then add up their discounted values, you’ll get 303,948:

Year 1, Discounted:
9,091
Year 1, Discounted:
16,529
Year 1, Discounted:
18,783
Year 1, Discounted:
20,490
Year 1, Discounted:
239,055
Total PV of Cash Flows:
303,948

Now you have the Present Value of all the future cash flows. However, you also had a cash flow when you initially purchased the property (call that Day 1 or Year 0) – a cash outflow of $300,000, your initial investment. To get the Net Present Value, you find the difference between the discounted value of the future cash flows (303,948) and what you paid to get those cash flows (300,000).

NPV = PV of future Cash Flows less Initial Investment
NPV = 303,948 – 300,000 = 3,948

What does that mean to you as an investor? If the NPV is positive, it suggests that the investment may be a good one. That’s because a positive NPV means the property’s rate of return is greater than the rate you identified as your opportunity cost. The more positive it is in relation to the initial investment, the more inclined you’ll be to look favorably on this investment. Your result here is not stellar, but it is at least positive.

If the NPV is negative, the property returns at a rate that is less than your opportunity cost, so you should probably reject this investment and put your money elsewhere.

That’s all fine, to the extent that you’re confident about that discount rate, your opportunity rate. You estimated 10% in the example above. What if you adjust that estimate by one-half of one percent either way?

NPV @ 9.5%
= 10,284
NPV @ 10.0%
= 3,948
NPV @ 10.5%
= (2,244)

How about one full percent?

NPV @ 9.0%
= 16,789
NPV @ 10.0%
= 3,948
NPV @ 11.0%
= (8,238)

Clearly, the NPV here is very sensitive to changes in the discount rate. If you revise your thinking just slightly about the appropriate discount rate, then the conclusion you draw may likewise need to be revised. As little as a half-point difference could change your attitude from luke-warm to hot or cold. The prudent investor will test a range of reasonable discount rates to get a sense of the range of possible results.

While we’re beating up on NPV, let’s also note that it doesn’t do you much good if your goal is to compare alternative investments. To have some kind of meaningful comparison, you need at least to keep the holding period for both properties the same. But what if one property requires that $300,000 cash investment, but the alternative investment requires $400,000?

PI – Profitability Index

Fortunately, NPV has a cousin that can help you with that problem: Profitability Index. While the NPV is the difference between the Present Value of future cash flows and the amount you invested to acquire them, Profitability Index is the ratio. It doesn’t tell you the number of dollars; it tells you how big the return is in proportion to the size of the  investment.

So where the NPV in the example above was equal to 303,948 minus 300,000, the Profitability Index looks like this:

PI = 303,948 / 300,000 = 1.013

If, quite improbably, you expected exactly the same cash flows from the property that required a 400,000 investment, you would expect your Profitability Index to be much worse, and it is.

PI = 303,948 /400,000: = 0.760

A Profitability Index of exactly 1.00 means the same as an NPV of zero. You’re looking at two identical amounts, in one case divided by each other so they give a result of 1.00 and in the other case subtracted one from the other, equaling zero.

An Index greater than 1.00 is a good thing, the investment is expected to be profitable; an Index less than 1.00 is a loser. When you compare two investments, you expect the one with the greater Index to show the greater profit.

There is a good deal more stirring about in our alphabet soup, so join us for the next installment when we look at IRR – Internal Rate of Return.

—Frank Gallinelli

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