Category Archives: Finance

How to Evaluate an Apartment Property in 5 Minutes or Less

An active real estate investor may have multiple offers cross his or her desk in any given week. Since time is our most precious resource, we need to have a method to quickly eliminate those deals that have no chance to become part of our portfolio. Here’s how I do it.

The most critical number needed to rapidly evaluate a property’s potential is the Net Operating Income, or NOI. This is simply the difference between the gross annual income and the expenses paid to operate the property that year. Mortgage payments are not included in calculating the expense total, nor are capital expenses, those large one-time outlays, such as a new roof or heating system.

Getting accurate numbers from the seller can be problematic at times, but I generally take what’s offered at face value. If I decide to move forward, confirming the income and expense values is an important part of the due diligence process. However, we can learn a lot from the actual numbers they give us.

The NOI combines with the going local cap rate to determine the sale price. You can poll your local commercial real estate brokers to get their take on the going cap rate for each class of apartment. You can also monitor sales yourself and figure the range of cap rates that apply to recent sales (or offering prices) in your chosen category. In the examples that follow, we’ll assume that C class apartments in Colorado Springs are selling in the 8-9% cap rate range.

Sample Deal #1

  • 16 units, all 2-beds
  • Asking $759,000 or $47,400 per door
  • Income $98,634
  • Expenses $51,493 (52.2%)
  • NOI = $98,634 – $51,493 = $47,141
  • Cap Rate = 47,141/759,000 = .062 = 6.2%

This cap rate is obviously way below the market rate. Changing it to a more reasonable 8.4% creates a sale price of $559,000, or $200,000 below what the seller is asking.

Besides being overpriced, the property, built in 1962, still has the original windows and kitchens (including the stylish turquoise and pink metal cabinets). According to the property manager, it also needs both flat roofs replaced. The out of state owner is out of touch with the Colorado Springs market and is unlikely to sell anytime soon.

Sample Deal #2

  • 12 units, all 1-beds
  • Asking $464,900 or $38,700 per door
  • Income $60,240
  • Expenses $20,024
  • NOI = $60,240 – $20, 024 = $40,216
  • Cap Rate = 40,216/464,900 = .082 = 8.2%

The cap rate is reasonable, but the expense percentage is on the low side, especially considering the owner pays for all the water and trash. This probably indicates that the owner has not put much into the upkeep of the property. Again, original windows from 1967. Also, since fewer people are looking for a 1-bed apartment, it’s not as easy to raise the rent as much as with 2- or 3-bed units. We’ll pass on this one.

Sample Deal #3

  • 22 units 1 3-bed, 4 2-beds, 15 1-beds and 2 studios
  • Asking $1,075,000 or $48,900 per door
  • Income $119,760
  • Expenses $24,109 (20.13%)
  • NOI = $119,760 – $24,109 = $95,650
  • Cap Rate = 95,650/1.075,000 = .089 = 8.9%

The expense percentage is too low to be believed. If we double it to $48,000 and bring it to a more reasonable 40% expense ratio, the NOI drops to $71,760 and the cap rate moves to 6.7%, way too low for the market.

Changing the cap rate to a more reasonable 8% moves the price to $897,000 (71,760/.08).

Two other factors working against this one are the less than desirable location of South Nevada Avenue and the fact that the owner felt it needed to be enclosed by a high fence and security gate.

Sample Deal #4

18 units 16 2-beds, 1 1-bed, 1 studio

Purchased for $800,000 or $44,400 per door

Income $124,577

Expenses $52,648 (42.3%)

NOI = $124,577 – $52,648 = $71,929

Cap Rate = 71,929/800,000 = .0899 = 8.99%

This one has a good unit mix, expenses just about where they should be and a cap rate that indicates we got a good price. In addition, within the last five years, both roofs were replaced, new windows, doors and kitchens were installed, and 16 decks had been rebuilt. Oh, and it was full.

As these examples have shown, once you know a full year’s income and expenses, you can use those numbers with your knowledge of the local cap rate to analyze a property in less than five minutes. Then you only spend real time on those worth pursuing.

 

 

Use a Cost Segregation Study to Improve Your Bottom Line

The IRS gives a tax break called depreciation to commercial property owners. According to the rules, an apartment building will be worthless after 27.5 years of ownership. That means a building depreciates about 1/27, or 3.64% per year. Therefore, each year the owner is allowed to deduct 3.64% of the building’s value from the property’s income before computing the tax liability.

Non-residential commercial property is depreciated over 39 years, so each year 2.56% of its value can be deducted as an expense.

It must be noted that land does not depreciate, at least according to the IRS. Many property owners use an 80/20 rule to value the building versus the land. In the case of an $800,000 purchase, the building(s) would be valued at 80% of that or $640,000. The land would therefore be worth $160,000. Starting at this point, an apartment owner could deduct $640,000 x 3.64%, or $23,296 each year. For an owner in the 28% tax bracket, that’s a real savings of $6,522.88 a year.

However, through a formal procedure known as a Cost Segregation Study (CSS), much greater savings can be realized. The IRS allows you to speed up depreciation on certain elements that make up the property. For instance, many land improvements such as parking lots, fences, sidewalks, sewer lines, etc. can be written off over a 15-year period. Items classified as personal property can be depreciated over a 5- or 7-year period. Examples include carpets, appliances, window coverings, countertops, cabinets and more.

From the perspective of saving on taxes, the savvy commercial property owner will label as much property in the 5-year category as possible. If $100,000 of personal property was so designated, for each of 5 years the owner could take $20,000 as depreciation expense, lowering his taxable income. If that much property had not been segregated out, it would have depreciated over 27.5 years, resulting in only $3,636 saved per year. Over the 5 year period, just this one category would save over $81,000 in taxable income.

Let me give you a real life example. We recently purchased an 18-unit apartment property for $800,000. As noted above, if we just took 80% of this as value of the buildings and depreciated it over 27.5 years, we could expense just over $23,000 a year.

Now let’s see what happens when we do a Cost Segregation Study. To be in compliance, you need to have a third party perform the CSS. We picked a local engineering firm that specializes in this process.

They went into one unit of each type: studio, one bedroom and two bedroom. They measured the carpet, the countertop space, the cabinets, floor molding, window covers, electrical outlet covers, lights, interior doors and shelves, etc. Outside they inventoried the exterior lights, parking lot, fencing, retaining walls, planters, handrails, sidewalks and more. They ended up with almost 100 items put into the 5-, 7- or 15-year categories.

Here are the totals in each category:

5-Year: $86,775

7-Year: $66,543

15-year: $66,369

27.5-year: $511,916

Taking the first number, you can take 1/5 of the $86,775 or $17,355 as an expense every year for the first 5 years you own the building. Similarly, you can take 1/7 of the $66,543 or $9,506 each year for 7 years and 1/15 of the $66,369 or $4,425 per year for 15 years. And you also get 1/27 of $522,916 or $18,615 per year for 27.5 years.

So in each of the first 5 years you can deduct $49,901 from the property’s income before figuring your taxes. If you have a loan and are deducting the interest payments, that’s also deductible, along with your usual operating expenses. Thanks to the great power of the CSS, it’s actually possible to have a property throw off great cash flow and still show a loss on your investors’ K-1s. So they can have an income stream as well as a deduction on their personal taxes.

When you sell the property, the total amount you claimed as depreciation will be taxed (currently) at 25%. Still, you’ve saved way more than that upfront, so it’s still a great thing to do. And if you take advantage of a 1031 exchange when you sell, you can push that tax even further into the future.

Be sure to have a good conversation with your accountant before you get into this. It can really save you a lot of money over the long haul, but it’s best to leave the details to the experts.

My First Real Estate Syndication: Lessons Learned

I recently closed on an 18-unit apartment in my town using money from a syndication I put together. There were so many unexpected twists and turns getting to the closing table that I realized others just getting started could benefit from my experience. Perhaps my story will help you better anticipate, and therefore avoid, some of these bumps in the road.

This article won’t address finding or analyzing your project. You’ve gone through the home study course, attended a bootcamp (or two) and hopefully have a mentor who can help you with all that. This will start with the assumption that you will need to pool funds from investors to make the deal happen.

First of all, when writing up your offer, try to put the closing date out further than you think you’ll need. Try for 75-90 days, and if you can only get 60, add in an option for a 30 day extension, even if you have to pay for it by letting part of your earnest money go hard. Unless you already have the down payment in the bank, count on  delays that will have you sweating bullets and losing sleep.

As a corollary to this rule, examine the calendar and try to avoid going through major holidays before closing. I first started working on this apartment deal in early October, and was thrilled when I had a signed contract by October 26. Little did I realize, a 60-day closing put us at December 26, the day after Christmas. Not only was this a holiday, since Christmas fell on a Sunday, but people start taking time off in the week before. Not much gets done between Christmas and New Year’s for that matter. You may be willing to give up family time to get the deal done, but it’s just not as critical for lenders, title companies or brokers. Also, Thanksgiving was in there and took at least another five days off the schedule. Luckily for me, the seller was willing to push the closing to mid-January, but you sure can’t count on that.

If your investors will not be actively running the project with you, but will depend on your efforts to make a profit, you’ve probably created a security. In that case, you’ll need to hire a securities attorney to draft your Private Placement Memorandum, Subscription Agreement and Operating Agreement. You won’t begin that process until you have a signed contract and the clock is ticking. Count on 30 days to get that back. With a 60-day closing date, you’ll only leave yourself a month to get these to your investors, with barely enough time to read through and understand the docs, run them by their accountant or financial advisor, make a decision and get the money into your account.

It’s very important to have more investors interested in working with you than you’ll actually need. I had a list of 26 folks who had expressed interest in being commercial real estate investors, but in the end, only six actually signed up and sent in their money. If it had only been five, I would have been in a tough spot. If you don’t close, you not only lose your upfront cash, you also lose credibility with the investors who now get their money back. Good luck in getting them interested in your next project, and try not to think about how they may represent their experience with you to their friends.

One way to mitigate some of this is to have a range of funds you’re going to raise. Your PPM can let you break impounds (start spending your investors’ money) when you’ve raised enough to cover the down payment and closing costs. Then you have an upper limit you can continue to raise, even for several months after closing. That’s the money that will pay your syndication fee and build reserves. I’m still waiting on one investor’s money to come in, but at least I had enough to close.

The reason his money hasn’t arrived yet is because he recently found out his so-called self-directed IRA custodian wouldn’t let him invest in real estate. So at the last minute, I had to help him roll his IRA to a new custodian that allows this kind of investment. If any of your investors will be using their retirement fund to get into your deal, make sure you know the custodian allows full self-direction of funds, and expect it to take longer than just writing a check. The custodian won’t give their OK until they’ve seen your PPM and Operating Agreement (at the very least).

Finally, when you’re recruiting investors, see if they’re fine with submitting their financial statement and tax returns to the lender, and then signing personally on the note. Most banks will want this from you, as well as anyone who will own 20% or more of the LLC. Even if everyone is below that threshold, they may want at least one of them to sign as a guarantor on the loan. Don’t be surprised if they want their spouse, and yours, to sign personally on a full-recourse loan as well.

I wish I had know all this back in October when I put this together. I would still have done it, and plan to do it again, but at least I wouldn’t have had so many surprises coming at me so quickly. I hope this will help you as you move into your first syndication. Good luck!

Do I Really Need a PPM (Private Placement Memorandum)?

A PPM is the legal document you give to your investors so they have all the information they need to make an informed decision about investing in your project. Some syndicators decide to skip this step to avoid the upfront costs and to avoid revealing all the risks and conflicts of interest that are required. However, if you’ve created a security, you risk legal action from the SEC as well as investors if you fail to provide the private placement memorandum. Following the SEC rules is not that difficult if you employ a registered securities attorney to advise you and develop your documents. This video will explain the parts of the PPM, how you create a security, and how to get an exemption from filing with the SEC.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not to be construed as legal advice. Always consult appropriate counsel when pooling money for an investment.

How Your Down Payment Affects Your Bottom Line Return

When apartment investors evaluate a potential new property, they have many points to consider. If their preliminary analysis looks promising, they’ll eventually start figuring how to finance the project.

At this point they will check with various lenders to discover their current loan parameters. What loan-to-value (LTV) percentage will they honor? What debt service coverage ratio do they look for? What interest rate do they offer, and for what length of time before the balloon? For how many years will they amortize the loan?

In addition to the debt side of the equation, the sponsor must look to his or her investors for equity to cover the down payment, loan and acquisition fees, and reserves for known or anticipated capital expenses. They will poll their potential investors to discover how much they might contribute, as well as their tolerance for risk. They might also ask if any of them need to do a 1031 exchange, or need help setting up a self-directed IRA.

Once all this is done, they calculate how much equity to raise to complete the purchase. Most often, a sponsor hopes to raise just enough capital to meet the target LTV their favored lender is looking for. Currently, most lenders require a minimum of 25-35% down. So for a million dollar purchase, an investor group might look at raising a minimum of $250,000 to $350,000 for the down payment. However, not all groups want to get in for the minimum amount down. For their own reasons, they may prefer to put half down, or even pay all cash. How do these decisions affect the bottom line return after the holding period and subsequent sale?

In order to determine the answer, we’ll compare the internal rate of return (IRR) for three different scenarios. The IRR reflects the total return on investment, taking into account annual cash flows and final profit at the sale. All the following numbers reflect pre-tax dollars.

Assumptions

  • Purchase price (all-inclusive) = $1,000,000
  • Buy at 8% cap rate ($80,000 net operating income first year)
  • Vacancy rate = 7%
  • Rent income escalators = 3% per year
  • Expenses = 50% of gross operating income
  • Expense escalators = 3% per year
  • Expense of sale = 7%
  • Loan interest rate = 6%
  • Amortization period = 25 years
  • Loan term = 7 years
  • Sell at end of year 5
  • Sell at 8 % cap rate

If you’d like to see how the following numbers were derived, the spreadsheets are included below.

Down Payment

Year 1 cash flow Year 5 cash flow Sale @ 8 cap Sales Proceeds

IRR

$1,000,000 (all cash)

$84,600 $95,218 $1,225,932 $1,140,117

11.17%

$500,000 (50% LTV)

$45,942 $56,560 $1,225,932 $690,457

15.66%

$250,000 (75% LTV) $65,271 $75,899 $1,225,932 $915,287

24.16%

Upon close inspection, you will see that compared to putting 25% down, buying with all cash will give you better cash flow, but an overall smaller return. Putting in an intermediate amount gives intermediate results.

So why doesn’t everyone go for the maximum return? In these variations, putting in the smallest amount gives the biggest bang for the buck because you’re leveraging your money with the loan. It must be easier to raise $250,000 than a million dollars, so why do some folks buy for all cash?

One reason might be the ability to get a discount for an all cash purchase, where the seller doesn’t have to wait to see if your loan will go through in time, if at all.

It might also have to do with the mindset of the investors in the group putting up their cash. Younger investors with many years to go before retirement usually have a steady and growing income from their job and are often looking to work for a big payday down the road. Their risk tolerance may be relatively high since they have a long time to make up for any errors they make now.

People approaching retirement or already retired may place a higher value on a more robust cash flow today to supplement their fixed income. They may also be worried about that balloon payment a few years down the road when the loan term expires. They simply don’t have as high a tolerance for risk as they did in their younger years.

Many of the deals we see today are the result of projects not being valuable enough in the current market  to refinance the loan to pay off that debt coming due. So, paying with cash means there is no loan, so there is no balloon. As with all investments, the greater the return, the greater the risk. Therefore, successful sponsors will match the equity required with the risk-tolerance of their investors.

All Cash

50% Down

25% Down