Tag: Vacancy and Credit Loss

The Mortgage is Due, but Nobody’s Home – What You Should Know about Vacancy and Credit Loss

In an earlier article, Understanding Net Operating Income, I made a passing reference to an allowance for vacancy and credit loss. This allowance is one of the line items that ultimately lead to figuring a property’s Net Operating Income, a key metric of income-property investing. NOI as you will surely recall (read the article and also Understanding Cap Rates if you don’t) is at the heart of estimating the value of an income property, so anything that contributes to getting that number right deserves more than just an offhand comment.

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:

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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.

 

Copyright 2005, 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.
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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

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Copyright 2005, 2013,  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.