Tag Archives: commercial real estate

Should You Be a Passive Apartment Investor?

Many people today are unhappy with the returns they’re getting from their current investments and are looking for alternatives. Of course CDs and savings accounts don’t return enough to keep up with inflation and the stock market is such a roller coaster that it’s hard to feel comfortable putting your entire retirement nest egg there.

With so many homes in foreclosure, some folks have tried buying a house to fix up and resell. If you know what you’re doing you may be able to work on it for a few months and sell at a profit. This strategy does come with obvious risks, but with proper training, mentorship and a good team, you can make a tidy sum on each property. However, unless you want to make a career of it, doing fix and flips requires a lot of time away from your regular job.

If you’ve been looking for alternative investments you’ve probably read about the opportunities in commercial real estate. One way to get in on these investments is through a Real Estate Investment Trust, or REIT. Investing in a REIT is a lot like buying a mutual fund, but the managers are acquiring portfolios of apartments, office buildings or shopping malls instead of stocks. You can get quarterly distributions based on the cash flow produced and are a part owner of the properties.

In today’s economic environment, both offices and retail centers are dealing with high vacancies. Since all real estate is cyclical, these property types should rebound sometime in the future, but apartments are doing well now, since everyone needs a place to live.

One reason investors favor apartments right now is the continued growth in the 18-34 year old age group, which makes up the bulk of apartment residents. In addition, houses are no longer viewed as the great investment people thought they were a decade ago. Not only have thousands lost their home during the economic downturn, but the banks have tightened up the lending requirements so much that even people with decent jobs are having trouble qualifying for a loan.

Even if you believe apartments may be a good place to invest, you may not be attracted to the returns and control of a REIT. Unless you’re very wealthy, it’s not practical to buy an apartment building yourself. Is there another way to participate safely and wisely in this current boom without having to deal with tenants and toilets?

As a matter of fact there is. You could pool your money with other investors to buy, manage and sell an apartment property. But what if you don’t personally have the knowledge, experience and team to pull this off? Now what?

You may be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who does these kind of deals who can offer you a spot in one of their syndications. A syndication is a group of investors who go in together on a project that none could pull off by themselves. Hollywood movies are often the result of a syndication, but they can be assembled for many purposes, including the purchase of commercial real estate.

Before putting your money into Uncle Bill’s syndicate, there are several things to consider. First of all, do you already believe in commercial real estate as an investment tool? Specifically, do you think the need for affordable housing will continue to grow? Have you seen that new construction has not been able to match the current demand, leading to lower vacancy rates and rising rents? I’d suggest that you don’t let anyone fast-talk you into this model if you don’t already believe in it yourself.

Once past this hurdle, there are several more to go. First of all, do you feel comfortable with the promoter/sponsor of the deal? You will be partners for several years, so you absolutely must not only trust, but actually like, this person. You will be putting some substantial cash into their hands, so pay attention to your gut feelings. Sometimes the best deal you ever do will be the one you avoided. At the same time, they will be judging if they want to be tied to you for the length of the project. If you’re hard to get along with, or are a micro-manager, they may well decide it’s not a good match to have you in the group.

You also want to consider the sponsor’s experience with this type of project. If they’ve done similar deals and they’ve worked out well for the investors, that’s all a plus. Everyone has to do a first deal, so if that’s the case, you need to feel that their experience in smaller real estate endeavors has prepared them for this specific offering. If they’ve owned and operated several fourplexes, you may feel comfortable trusting them to pull off a smaller apartment complex, but maybe not one of several hundred units. It’s your call.

Make sure they have a professional team in place. No one does this alone, so they should let you know about their real estate attorney, securities attorney, management company, commercial broker, accountant and title company. Feel free to call them as a reference.

Consider your timeline for this type and size of investment. Most apartment projects will need you to commit your funds for several years. If you think you may need your cash back sooner than the projected holding period, this is not a good investment for you.

Once you feel good about all these considerations, it’s time to get more information about the specific offering being presented to you.

If you are looking for current cash flow, make sure the property is throwing off enough cash to provide your required return. The sponsor will probably provide you with a spreadsheet that projects expected gross income, less all the operating expenses. This number is the net operating income, or NOI, and it’s the basis for figuring the value of the property. After that, the mortgage payments are subtracted and the result is the before tax cash flow. This should be greater than what has been promised to the investors so that you can feel comfortable that even if things don’t go exactly as planned, you will still get your promised return.

The group of investors will most likely be promised a percentage of ownership in the deal. You will collect your pro-rata share of this once the property is sold. The combined result of distributions from ongoing cash flows, plus the chunk you receive at the end is called the Internal Rate of Return, or IRR. You’ll want to make sure this number is substantially higher than what you are getting with your current investments.

Even though apartments seem to be a great investment today, all investments come with some risks involved. Don’t invest any money you can’t afford to lose, and whatever you do, don’t take out a loan to put into any investment, including the “can’t fail” deal Uncle Bill has for you.

Before you send in your check, be sure to read any and all legal documents the sponsor provides. Most apartments are purchased via a Limited Liability Company, or LLC. You will be a member of the LLC and will actually own a membership in the LLC, not a portion of the real estate itself. Be sure to read and understand the LLC’s Operating Agreement, as it spells out in great detail how the project will be run from start to finish. I recommend you have your accountant, attorney or financial advisor review it and answer any questions you have. If you’re not comfortable with the risks and benefits, don’t do the deal.

If you go to a luncheon put on by a promoter, or are otherwise introduced to one you don’t know personally, proceed with caution. Most likely putting a group purchase together creates a security, so SEC regulations must be followed to the letter. They require the sponsor to have a substantial personal or business relationship with you before presenting you with an offer to invest, so make sure you’ve had enough time to get to know them and their history, and they know enough about you to feel good about your ability to participate in this kind of opportunity.

Real estate syndications can be a great way for a sophisticated or accredited investor to participate safely and profitably in a commercial real estate deal. If you understand and follow the suggestions put forth here, you’re well on your way to a successful investment.

Good News for Colorado Springs Apartment Investors

Stories from three different areas point out the continuing investor interest in Colorado Springs.

2012 was a very good year for apartment sales in Colorado Springs. In fact, the $198 million total was the largest volume of sales since 2007, at the start of the recession.

Apartments are a strong investor magnet nationally, and for several reasons. First of all, the returns operators are getting are high enough to attract institutional investors, such as insurance companies and pension funds, who might otherwise invest in stocks and bonds. They also like the relative stability of well-run assets compared to other commercial real estate categories. In addition, apartments remain one of the easiest commercial types to obtain both equity and debt financing.

Apartment Building

Apartment Building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Colorado Springs is now getting on the radar of investors who have shopped in Denver, but found the competition there has driven prices way up recently. In fact, a great majority of apartment sales here have been brokered by Apartment Realty Advisors of Denver, which doesn’t even have an office in the Springs.

Prices paid for apartments here have been rising as well, boosted both by competition and rising rental rates. Most of the recent sales were of 1980s product, and they averaged over $120 per square foot.

Read the complete story here.

In more good news for Colorado Springs, WallSt24/7.com recently compiled a list of the best- and worst-run cities in the country. Of the 100 largest cities studied, Colorado Springs came in 14th, just ahead of Portland and Omaha. Factors that helped our city rank so well include its low crime rate and excellent credit rating. They also noted that our housing values stayed basically flat from 2007-2011, when those in the rest of the country was declining by an average of 10%.

Here’s the complete report.

It’s always flattering to be highly ranked in some national survey, but it may mean even more when someone is willing to bet real money on the future of the city.

For instance, billionaire Ray Kroenke, who owns the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Rams, in addition to vast real estate holdings, recently purchased two Colorado Springs shopping centers for $31.5 million.

Uintah Gardens is a popular 215,00 square foot center on the west side, anchored by a King Soopers and includes a Walgreens, Petco and Big 5 Sporting Goods among others.

Academy Place is on north Academy at Union Boulevard. The Kroenke group bought all the retail shops between the Safeway and Target anchors.

Another Kroenke enterprise, THF Realty, is planning a 350,000 square foot retail mall on the south side that will be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Sam’s Club store.

Local commercial brokers believe it’s a real vote of confidence for the local economy that an investor of Kroenke’s clout (he’s on the Forbes Top 100 list) has turned his attention to Colorado Springs.

Here’s more on his local activities.

As you can tell from all this good news, many are feeling bullish on the Colorado Springs apartment market. However, with the deep pockets of institutional investors starting to buy up local properties, it’s getting harder for smaller investors to locate a deal that makes sense.

The Apartment Market Forecast in Headlines

Multifamily Industry Expects Strong 2011

Multi Housing News (MHNonline) 11-29-2010

Apartment Market at Tipping Point

Colorado Springs Business Journal 2-4-2011

Distressed Debt Investors Prefer Real Estate in 2011

Forbes.com 1-7-2011

CRE Sales Deal Volume Returning to “Normal Levels”

CoStar Group 1-5-2011

Colorado Exceeded Only by Texas as 2010 Relocation Target

denverpost.com 1-4-11

Apartment Operators Regain Pricing Power as Vacancy Recedes to 10-Year Low

Marcus & Millichap 2011 Annual Report (Denver)

As you can see, apartments are the current darling of the commercial real estate world in the United States. The major factors in this trend include a huge number of 18-34 year olds forming their own households, continued high number of residential foreclosures, general population growth via births and immigration, and a lack of any significant apartment developments completed recently or in the pipeline.

In addition, REITs have apparently stopped waiting for the predicted wave of distressed deals and are scooping up Class A properties in high-barrier-to-entry markets such as Washington, D.C., New York City and San Francisco. Since they’re buying in the 5-5.5 cap rate range, it’s apparent they believe in these purchases as long-term holds. Insurance companies, dormant in the field for the last few years, are also returning to the market as both buyers and lenders.

All this has combined to make the next few years perhaps the best time to buy apartments we will see in our lifetimes.

Marcus & Millichap Apartment Forecast January 2011

In a webinar presented on Jan. 11, 2011, the Marcus & Millichap team gave an upbeat report on the current state of the U.S. apartment industry.

As usual, Hessam Nadji began with an economic state of the union address. After acknowledging nine different problems the economy is now facing, he presented another nine positive indicators. Among them is the fact that retail sales are now higher than they were before the recession. The GDP is back to 2007 levels. The rate of job growth is higher than both of the last two recessions. Worker productivity is at an all-time high.

There are 2 million young adults living at home with their parents. Many of these will move out in the next few years. Their confidence is bolstered by the fact that 65% of all new jobs created in 2010 were filled by those in the 20-34 year old category. Most of these new households formed will be renters, not owners.

Apartments in St Leonards, New South Wales

Image via Wikipedia

On that note, he moved to a slide entitled, “Apartments Entering Rapid Recovery.” Here he mentioned that 2010 was a very good year for the industry. The vacancy rate plunged a full percentage point. He expects another full percentage point drop in 2011, followed by a strong 2012. This is because there is almost no building going on at a time when demand is coming back so strongly. Given the difficult environment for developers, he predicts a good 4 to 5 year run for apartments.

Next up was Bill Hughes, who spoke about the capital markets. Commercial real estate financing got better through 2010 with apartment fundamentals providing the boost. Apartment values went up, lenders started showing more confidence, and Fannie and Freddie continued to provide most of the funding to the industry.

Looking ahead to 2011, Marcus & Millichap believes that in addition to the current sources of capital, insurance companies will once again start to loan on apartments. Several new commercial banks will begin to lend, and the CMBS package will start to reappear.

10-Year Treasuries should stay in the 3.5%-4% range. As the economy starts to rebound, expectations of inflation will push the rates up.

Lastly, he listed sources of debt for three groups of investors. The smaller investor, working in the $1-10 million range, will rely on Fannie and Freddie, commercial banks and some life insurance companies. They will find LTVs in the 70-75% range. Some lenders are taking the DSCR as low as 1.15 to accommodate the smaller investor. Most of the loans will be recourse loans.

Medium investors, looking at deals in the $10-20 million range, will find a wider array of financing options. This is where finance companies come in with mezzanine and bridge financing, and CMBS starts to play a role as well. The debt service coverage ratio will be around 1.20 and the LTVs once again in the 70-75% zone.

Investors needing over $20 million will find the larger banks will work with them on both recourse and non-recourse loans. DSCR and LTV will match the medium group. With more data available in the marketplace now, lenders are growing in confidence. Continue reading

GRM, Cap Rate and IRR: When and How to Use Them

Gross Rent Multiplier (GRM), Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) are three terms you’ll often encounter in commercial real estate. By the time you finish this short article, you should have a good idea about what they are, why and when you would use them, and what their limitations are.

Internal rate of return
Image via Wikipedia

The GRM is the easiest to calculate, as well as the least informative number you’ll hear when evaluating commercial real estate. If you know the asking or selling price of a property as well as the annual maximum income that can be generated from the current leases, you can calculate the GRM.

As an example, let’s take a multifamily property. Assume the asking price is $1 million. There are 20 one-bedroom units, each renting for $500 per month and 20 two-bedroom units each bringing in $650 a month. Assuming no vacancies, losses or concessions, that totals $11,300 per month, or $135,600 of potential rental income per year. Dividing the purchase price by the Gross Potential Rental Income gives you the GRM, in this case 7.37.

By itself, that number has virtually no meaning. It tells you nothing about vacancies, concessions, expenses or taxes. About the only way you could use this number is to compare it to other GRMs for similar properties in the same general area. Only if one stood out from the pack would you use this to eliminate a property from further consideration, or to follow up with additional inquiries. Most investors don’t even consider the GRM, but jump straight to the Cap Rate.

The Cap Rate uses the Net Operating Income, or NOI, as its starting place. Since the NOI reflects vacancies, losses and expenses, and also adds in other income as from an on-site laundry, it’s a much better reflection of the actual operation of the property.

The Cap Rate is used mainly when buying or selling a property. You can calculate the Cap Rate if you know the NOI and the selling or asking price. To find out what the cap rate was on a recent comparable sale, divide the NOI by the purchase price. So, if the NOI is projected to be $100,000 next year, and the sale price is $1,000,000, doing the division yields a Cap Rate of 10%. This is equivalent to putting $1,000,000 into a bank account at 10% interest and getting interest payments of $100,000 per year. Continue reading