# Tag: real estate investors

## 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

####

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.

## 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)

 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

####

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.

## Understanding Net Operating Income (NOI)

In a recent article, we discussed the use of capitalization rates to estimate the value of a piece of income-producing real estate. Our discussion concerned the relationship among three variables: Capitalization Rate, Present Value and Net Operating Income.

We may have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves, since some of our readers were unclear on the precise meaning of Net Operating Income. NOI, as it is often called, is a concept that is critical to the understanding of investment real estate, so we are going to backtrack a bit and review that subject here.

Everyone in business or finance has encountered the term, “net income” and understands its general meaning, i.e., what is left over after expenses are deducted from revenue.

With regard to investment real estate, however, the term, “Net Operating Income” is a minor variation on this theme and has a very specific meaning. You might think of NOI as the number of dollars a property returns in a given year if the property were to be purchased for all cash and before consideration of income taxes or capital recovery. By more formal definition, it is a property’s Gross Operating Income less the sum of all operating expenses.

We have now succeeded in confounding our readers and compounding their problem by replacing one undefined term with two.

Let’s take these two new terms one at a time:

Gross Operating Income: Definitions are like artichokes. You need to peel the layers off one at a time. In this case, take the Gross Scheduled Income, which is the property’s annual income if all space were in fact rented and all of the rent actually collected. Subtract from this amount an allowance for vacancy and credit loss. The result is the Gross Operating Income.

Operating Expenses: This is the term that causes the greatest mischief. Many people say, “If I have to pay it, then it’s an operating expense.” That is not always true. To be considered a real estate operating expense, an item must be necessary to maintain a piece of a property and to insure its ability to continue to produce income. Loan payments, depreciation and capital expenditures are not considered operating expenses.

For example, utilities, supplies, snow removal and property management are all operating expenses. Repairs and maintenance are operating expenses, but improvements and additions are not – they are capital expenditures. Property tax is an operating expense, but your personal income-tax liability generated by the property is not. Your mortgage interest may be a deductible expense, but it is not an operating expense. You may need a mortgage to afford the property, but not to operate it.

Subtract the Operating Expenses from the Gross Operating Income and you have the NOI.

Why all the nitpicking? Because NOI is essential to apprehending the market value of a piece of income-producing real estate. That market value is a function of its “income stream,” and NOI is all about income stream. As heartless as it may sound, a real estate investment is not a felicitous assemblage of bricks, boards, bx cables and bathroom fixtures. It is an income stream generated by the operation of the property, independent of external factors such as financing and income taxes.

In truth, investors don’t decide to buy properties; they decide to buy the income streams of those properties. This is not such a radical notion. When was the last time you chose a stock based upon the aesthetics of the stock certificate? (“Broker, what do you have in a nice mauve filigree border?”) Never. You buy the anticipated economic benefits. The same is true of investors in income-producing real estate.

Those readers who have not yet been lulled to sleep by this dissertation will alertly point out that they have in fact observed changes in the value of income property precipitated by changes in mortgage interest rates and in tax laws. Doesn’t that observation contradict our assertion about external factors?

Go back to our earlier article on the use of capitalization rates, and you will recall that there are two elements to the value equation: the NOI and the cap rate. The NOI represents a return on the purchase price of the property; and the cap rate is the rate of that return. Hence, a property with a \$1,000,000 purchase price and a \$100,000 NOI has a 10% capitalization rate. However, the investor will purchase that property for \$1,000,000 only if he or she judges 10% to be a satisfactory return.

What happens if interest rates go up? In that case, there may be other opportunities competing for the investor’s capital  – bonds, for example –  and that investor may now be interested in this same piece of property only if its return is higher, say 12%. Apply the 12% cap rate (PV = NOI / Cap Rate), and now the investor is willing to pay about \$833,000. External circumstances have not affected the operation of the property or the NOI. They have affected the rate of return that the buyer will demand, and it is that change that impacts the market value of the property.

In short, the NOI expresses an objective measure of a property’s income stream while the required capitalization rate is the investor’s subjective estimate of how well his capital must perform. The former is mostly science, subject to definition and formula, while the latter is largely art, affected by factors outside the property, such as market conditions and federal tax policies. The two work together to give us our estimate of market value.

— Frank Gallinelli

####

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.

## “Love Your Hat!…” What is Your Lender Really Looking at When You Apply for a Commercial Mortgage?

When you purchase a piece of income-producing real estate you typically need to secure mortgage financing to complete the deal. It can be helpful and sometimes essential if you know what your lender is looking at when underwriting that loan. If you guessed that he or she is not admiring your millinery, you qualify to read on.

Perhaps the most basic underwriting guideline is the Loan-to-Value ratio. This is the relationship between the amount of the loan (all loans, if more than one is involved) and the value of the property.

Loan-to-Value = Amount of all loans / Lesser of selling price or appraised value

Value has a particular meaning here in “mortgagese.” It’s the lesser of the selling price or the appraised value. If your cousin, the appraiser, brings in a fantastically high value — higher than the purchase price — don’t expect the lender to offer you X% of that higher amount. The lender wants to be certain that you have a meaningful chunk of your own money committed to this deal. The more cash you invest, the less likely you are to bail out; and the more likely the bank or mortgage company is to recover the full indebtedness if it has to take back the property and sell it.

Loan-to-Value is just the flip side of down payment. If you make a 10% down payment, you have a 90% Loan-to-Value. When you purchase a home, you can often obtain a loan with a very high Loan-to-Value like 90% or even more, but that is seldom the case with investment property. 80% LTV may be possible, but you’ll find that 70% is quite common. The required ratio may be even lower if the property has a highly specialized use.

You can be confident that the lender will also be looking at your property’s Debt Coverage Ratio. This measure expresses the relationship between how much money you have available after paying your operating expenses and how much you need to make the mortgage payments. More specifically, it is the ratio between your annual Net Operating Income (Gross Operating Income less operating expenses — see our earlier article, Understanding Net Operating Income); and your Annual Debt Service.

Debt Coverage Ratio = Annual Net Operating Income / Annual Debt Service

If you have exactly the amount of net income needed to meet the mortgage payment, then these two amounts are equal and the ratio is 1.00. Be assured that the lender will not be happy about this. It means the property is producing just enough cash to pay the mortgage. Each lender sets its own DCR requirement, of course, and you need to find out what your lender demands. You should expect that you’ll need to meet a DCR of at least 1.20 to 1.25.

An interesting parlor trick that you can perform with DCR is to estimate the maximum loan amount that a property’s income could support under a mortgage that has a given rate and term. To do this you have to figure out something called the mortgage constant. A mortgage constant is nothing more than the payment amount on a mortgage of \$1 at a particular rate and term. For example, if you find the payment for a \$1 mortgage at 8% per year for 240 months, you’ll have the monthly constant for that mortgage — 0.0083644.

Once you have the monthly mortgage constant, calculate the following:

Net Operating Income / Debt Coverage Ratio / (Monthly Mortgage Constant x 12)

Say that you have a property with a \$12,500 NOI and you’re trying to secure a loan as described above. Your lender has a DCR requirement of 1.25.

12,500 / 1.25 / (12 x 0.0083644) = 12,500 / 1.25 / 0.1003728 = \$99,629 (round to \$100,000)

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get \$100,00, but it is a good indication that you’re not going to get more.

In addition to the objective measures, there is a subjective consideration that you should take into account: the presentation you make to the lender. If you want to be treated as a professional, you need to make a professional presentation. You should not assume that the property’s numbers will speak for themselves or that the lender has all of the necessary and correct information.

If you examine some of the output from our Real Estate Investment Analysis software, in particular the Real Estate Business Plan, you’ll see that we put a great deal of empahasis on presentation. This is no accident. It’s not enough simply to figure out for your own benefit what the Debt Coverage Ratio or NOI or cash flow will be this year and for the next 20 years. When you make your bid to obtain financing, you want to show the lender that the numbers work and that you know how they work.

What type of information should you present? The Business Plan Report is designed to provide essential information about the investment and to show key rates of return and investment measures — DCR included — without overwhelming the reader. If and when the lender requires more detail, you can then use the Annual Property Operating Data, Rent Roll and Cash Flow and Resale Analysis.

Go to the meeting with your lender well-prepared. Have the APOD, Rent Roll and cash-flow projections in your briefcase. Have copies of leases, if possible. Prepare a professional Personal Financial Statement as well and bring it with you — don’t wait for the loan officer to hand you a form. (We have done this enough times ourselves that we developed a great and inexpensive program just for this purpose:Personal Financial Statement.)

You’re accomplishing two important goals here. You’re taking the initiative with the presentation of facts, assuring that the lender is at least starting off looking at the same information as you. You’re also demonstrating that you’re not a back-of-the-envelope scratcher but rather a serious and knowledgeable investor. I don’t believe there are any underwriting guidleines for a borrower’s minimum IQ, but if you were lending your own money to a third party wouldn’t you feel more inclined to do the deal with someone who exhibited some financial acumen?

Your marching orders are these: Start by finding out not only the lender’s loan terms but also the underwriting requirements — Loan-to-Value and DCR — for the type of property you want to finance. Then make your financial projections. Determine your NOI, forecast your cash flow, see if you can meet the DCR with the loan amount you’re seeking. If the numbers don’t work, re-evaluate the deal before you go to the lender; maybe you’ll need to invest more of your own cash to reduce the debt service. If and when the numbers do work, build a professional presentation; get the loan; make the deal.

## Estimating the Value of a Real Estate Investment Using Cap Rate

Why do you invest in income-producing real estate? Perhaps you are looking for cash flow. Possibly you anticipate some tax benefits. Almost certainly, you expect to realize a capital gain, selling the property at some future time for a profit.

Your projection of the future worth of the property, therefore, can be a vital element in your investment decision.

#### APPRECIATION

A fairly simple approach to this issue is the use of an appreciation rate. You bought the property today for X dollars. You make a conservative estimate as to the rate of appreciation, apply that rate to your original cost and improvements and come up with presumed future value.

The use of appreciation as a predictor of future value typically makes sense when the desirability of the subject property is based on something other than its rental income. The most common example, of course, is the single-family residence. Consider also a single-user rental property such as a small retail building on a main thoroughfare. The owner of a business operating as a tenant in such a location is probably willing to spend more for the building than an investor would pay. In general, rate of appreciation as a predictor of future value may be appropriate when comparable sales work well as a measure of present value (i.e., “Commercial buildings on Main Street are selling for \$200 per square foot by next year they will be up to \$225.”).

#### INCOME CAPITALIZATION

With most other types of income-producing real estate, what you paid for the property is not likely to make much of an impression on a new buyer. Witness the rapid run-up and even faster collapse of prices in the late ‘80s, and again in 2008. The typical investor will be interested in the income that the property can generate now and into the future. He or she is not buying a building, but rather its income stream.

That investor is likely to use capitalization of income as one method of estimating value. You have probably heard this referred to as a “Cap Rate” method. It assumes that an investment property’s value bears a direct relation to the property’s ability to throw off net income.

Mathematically, a property’s simple capitalization rate is the ratio between its net operating income (NOI) and its present value:

#### Cap. Rate = NOI/Present Value

Net operating income is the gross scheduled income less vacancy and credit loss and less operating expenses. Mortgage payments and depreciation are not considered operating expenses, so the NOI is essentially the net income that you might realize if you bought the property for all cash. If you purchase a property for \$100,000 and have a NOI of \$10,000, then your simple capitalization rate is 10%.

To use capitalization to predict value requires just a transposition of the formula:

#### Present Value = NOI/Cap. Rate

The projected value in any given year is equal to the expected NOI divided by the investor’s required capitalization rate.

To use capitalization rate as a predictor of future value, in short, is to use this logic: “I am buying this property with the expectation that its net operating income will represent a return on my investment. It is reasonable to assume that whoever buys the property from me in the future will have a similar expectation. That new investor will probably be willing to purchase the property at a price that allows it to yield his or her desired rate of return (i.e., capitalization rate).”

If you project that the property will yield a NOI of \$27,000, and that a new buyer will require a 9% rate of return (capitalization rate), then you will estimate a resale price of \$300,000.

You must never forget that, while the algebra involved here is simple, the judgments you need to make in order to achieve an accurate prediction of value are more complex. Your assumptions as to future years’ income and expenses have to be realistic.

The same is true of your estimate of a new buyer’s required cap rate. Look at the investment from the new buyer’s point of view and remember that there are other opportunities competing for his dollar. Would you buy an office building with a projected cap rate of 9% if you could buy a bond that yields 7%? What if mutual funds are rocking and rolling at 15% and more? To attract a buyer, your property may need to be priced so that its cap rate is competitive with alternative investment options. The higher the cap rate, the lower the price. In our example above, the property with the \$27,000 NOI capitalized at 12% might attract an offer of \$225,000.

Our discussion here has been limited to simple or “market” capitalization rates. If you would like to delve further into this topic you may want to look into “band of investment” or derived cap rates. In addition, follow our blog as we go into greater depth as to how investors look at a property’s projected long-term income stream when deciding if and on what terms to purchase an income property.

—Frank Gallinelli

####

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.

## Rate of Return on No Money Down (and Other Tales from the Deep Woods)

We frequently hear a question that goes something like this: “I’m considering the purchase of an income property where the seller will take back a second mortgage for the entire down payment. Why can’t your software figure out the rate of return on a zero-cash-down investment?”

You’ve surely heard the excuse, “It’s not the software’s fault” more times than you care to recall. This time, however, the blame really does not fall upon the software, the hardware, the astronauts, Bill Gates, el niño or any of the other usual suspects.

The problem lies in the question itself: “What is the rate of return on a zero-cash-down investment?” Let’s try posing this query a few other ways:

“What’s my return on investment when I make no investment?”

“What’s my rate of return on nothing down?”

“What’s my rate of return on nothing?”

You can see where we’re going with this. You cannot calculate the return because there is no such thing as a zero-cash-down investment. If you invest nothing, then you have no investment. You might just as well ask, “What is the height of an adult unicorn?” because you would get the same answer. No such animal.

This is not just clever semantic swordplay. Fundamental to the concept of investment is that you put your own capital at risk. (For the alert reader, capital could take a form other than cash. I once witnessed a deal where the buyer signed over a sports car as his down payment. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just refer to the buyer’s investment as cash, with or without wire wheels.)

No-money-down violates the letter, the spirit and the algebra of conventional investment. Return on investment, by its simplest definition, is the amount of the return divided by the amount of the investment. Anything divided by zero is infinity. Hence, even a one-cent return on a zero-dollar investment would be an infinite rate of return.

In short, if you as the buyer put no cash into the deal, you have made no investment and hence you cannot calculate a rate of return. Even if the acquisition of an income property with no outlay of cash should not be called an investment, such deals do happen and can even succeed (although perhaps not as effortlessly as in the mountain of books and tapes showing how you too can amass great wealth with no cash).

If you cannot measure the potential success of a no-money-down deal using rate of return, is it time to put away your computer, trust your instincts and not bother with any kind of financial analysis? Quite the contrary. Even if you can’t measure the rate of return, you can still perform some essential analysis. In fact, caution may demand that a “non-investment” such as this, with little margin for error, be scrutinized with even greater than usual care.

In particular, there are two important issues that require careful examination: Cash flow and resale. If you are going to try to finance 100% of a property’s purchase price, you are obviously going to have to service more debt than you would if you had put some meaningful amount down. Can the property’s income cover all of its operating expenses as well as these debt payments? If not, then you’ll have to reach into your own pocket to make up the difference (so much for the “no cash, no problem” scenario).

Here is where you have to take a very hard look at the numbers. The burden of debt payments on a property with 100% financing leaves you very little wiggle room. Are the income figures realistic? Are you relying on immediate rent increases to cover your costs, increases that could initially result in vacancies rather than additional revenue? Are your expense projections based on verifiable sources and do you have the resources to handle unwelcome surprises?

A second key issue is the property’s potential resale value. (If you haven’t done so already, you should read our previous articles on “Understanding Net Operating Income,” and “Understanding Real Estate Resale.” and even take our e-course or read my books to help you understand the relationship between income and value.) Since your financing is likely to eat up most of your cash flow, the eventual resale of the property is where you will typically have the greatest chance of making money. Once again, realism is of paramount importance. Why might a new buyer give you more than you paid? Can you make physical improvements and management improvements that will make this property attractive and more valuable to an investor?

To recycle an old saying, if no-money-down deals were easy, everyone would do them. Even though you can’t calculate a conventional rate-of-return, be sure that you do the rest of your homework — cash flow projections and estimated resale — before you take the plunge.

The math surrounding vacancy and credit loss allowance is certainly simple enough. You start with your top line – Gross Scheduled Income – which represents a perfect-world situation where all units in your property are rented and all your tenants pay on time with good checks. From that you subtract an allowance to account for the warts of an imperfect world, in this case the potential rent that may be lost to vacancy and the revenue lost due to the failure of tenants to pay. Typically you will estimate the allowance as a percentage of the Gross Scheduled Income.

The result is called the Gross Operating Income (also known as Effective Gross Income). From that subtract the property’s operating expenses and the result is the Net Operating Income, the number you will capitalize in order to estimate the property’s value. An example should make this easy to see:

In this example you’ve assumed that about 3% of your potential income will be lost to vacancy and credit. As you examine this table, you’ll recognize that the greater the vacancy and credit loss, the lower the NOI and hence the lower the value of the property. There’s a lesson here, of course. The vacancy and credit loss projections you make, for the current year and for the future, are going to have a direct impact on your estimate of the property’s value. If you’re careless about these projections you risk skewing that estimate of value.

#### Vacancy Loss

Behind the numbers are some truisms that you want to keep in mind. The first, of course, is that vacancy and credit loss are generally unwelcome. Loss is loss. However, experienced investors will usually not fall on their swords at the first sign of an empty unit. Conventional wisdom among veterans is, “If you never experience a vacancy, your rents are too low.” I’ve never seen anyone break out the champagne upon learning of a vacancy, but there is some merit in this seemingly self-delusional chestnut. One certain way to find the top of the market is to push past it. When you reach a rate where you no longer can find tenants in a reasonable amount of time, you can pull back. The vacancy you experience will cost you something, but you’ll be sustained by your expectation that the loss will be offset by the higher revenue you can earn by maximizing your rent.

Another reality to keep in mind is that not all vacancy allowances are created equal. In general, commercial space takes longer to rent than does residential and larger spaces take longer to rent than smaller. If you have a large retail space whose lease is coming up for renewal, it might not be unreasonable to allot six months or more of rent as a potential vacancy loss. At the other extreme, a properly priced studio apartment should rent quickly in most markets, so a minimal allowance would suffice.

When making projections about future vacancy, start by looking backward. How quickly has new space been absorbed in the past? Then look forward and consider what might change. What is the likelihood of new, competing space being built? Are there reasons to expect demand to rise or fall – reasons such as new employers moving in or established businesses moving out?

Remember that your objective is to forecast as accurately as possible how this property will perform for you in the future. You can and should look at best-case, worst-case and most-likely scenarios for vacancy just as you would for income and expenses, and don’t try to convince yourself that only the best case is real.

#### Credit Loss

Avoiding credit loss is a problem you get one shot at solving, and that shot occurs before you sign the lease. Would you sell me your used car in exchange for an I.O.U. or a personal check? You would expect cash or a bank draft. Why would you turn over an even more valuable asset, your rental property, without similar caution? That caution, at minimum, takes the form of a credit check and some good faith money up front in the form of security deposit and advance rent.

There are numerous companies online with whom you can establish an account for checking an applicant’s credit history. Any reputable source of credit reports will expect you to provide proof of your identity and to present written authorization from the prospective tenant to obtain the report. The simplest way to accomplish the latter is to include that authorization as part of the signed rental application. A landlord association often can help you gain access to a reliable source of credit reporting.

Credit losses are a part of doing business and you’re not likely to succeed in eliminating them completely. Your best single defense against is to establish minimum acceptable credit standards and then resist the temptation to trust your instincts and make exceptions. Everyone has a dog-ate-my-homework explanation for poor credit history. Some of the stories are probably true. Nonetheless, the single best predictor of a collection problem is past history. If he didn’t pay his cell phone bill, he probably won’t pay you either.

Some investor’s simply ignore vacancy and credit loss when making their cash flow projections. You might want to call that the emperor’s-new-clothes approach, where you see what you want to see and pretend you don’t notice what’s missing. That’s not much of an investment strategy and it won’t work for very long – reality has a habit of happening whether you plan for it or not. The more prudent investor will do his or her best to minimize these losses, but at the same time work with projections that are realistic.