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One of the most most challenging issues during the investment process is picking up the business location. While companies like Amazon spend thousands of dollars to pick their business locations, how does small & medium sized companies make that decision with limited budgets. With this presentation I tried to bring some of the important questions to the attention of those companies who struggle to make such a tough decision with limited budget. I also provided some tools I use to help the investors make smart business location selection decision. I hope you will enjoy it.

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As an investment advisor, I am often asked for my opinion on value by property owners or clients looking to purchase a commercial property. Some of these questions are: how do we decide on the value of the property? What makes a property more valuable than the other? What are the key factors we should pay attention to while we are assessing the value of a property? How can we increase the value of a property? Is having a good credit, corporate backed-up tenant good enough to increase the value of a property?

The answer to all of these questions is: first decide on the type of the property and what its highest and best use is. After deciding on the type of the property, there are three approaches you can follow: Replacement Cost Approach, Sales Comparison Approach, Income Capitalization Approach.

Replacement Cost Approach

The Replacement Cost Approach is often used when appropriate comparable properties are difficult to identify. The investment advisor determines the property’s value based on the land value plus the current replacement cost of improvements less depreciation. The cost approach is most accurate when applied to a relatively new structure with no functional deficiencies. Investment analysts usually use this method when appraising special–purpose buildings that do not produce income or when there are few comparable sales around the building being evaluated.

Sales Comparison Approach (Market Approach)

Sales Comparison Approach uses the data of comparable properties’ sales prices to estimate the value of the property. This method is commonly used for valuing residential real estate. To make the properties more comparable, prices are divided by the number of square feet, then the adjustments to each of those alternative properties are made based on its age/condition, location, time, and other factors.

Income Capitalization Approach

The Income Capitalization Approach is typically used in appraising income-producing properties. This approach requires the estimate of future gross income and future operating expenses. Anticipated future cash inflows and outflows are discounted by expected cap rate based upon the market indicators and comparable properties. Consequently, the value of the property is derived from those discounted cash inflows and outflows. In Income Capitalization Approach, estimating the future incomes, expenses and market cap rates are key factors in the reliability of the valuation.

Depending on the highest and best use of a property, an investor might prefer one method over the others or might rely on the results of all of these methods for his/her evaluation. However, in order to get a better picture of the investment and identify the problems and potentials as an investment advisor, my suggestion is to follow a Wholistic Approach in commercial property valuation.

By wholistic approach, I mean, understanding the real dynamics defining the demand & supply for the type of property valued. Namely, in our evaluation process, we need to take into account the answers to the following questions: What is the total stock of that type of building in the area? What is the vacancy rate? Is there any new construction coming into the market? Is there anything happening in the local/international market affecting the construction raw material prices? What is the trend in population growth? What is the unemployment rate? What is the median income? Is government infrastructure expenditure increasing/decreasing? Is there any tax cut/tax increase foreseen? What’s the trend in the interest rate? What is the traffic count?

For instance, if the total stock for that type of building is low and there is no future new development coming to market, vacancy rates are low and the construction raw material becomes more expensive due to new tariffs imposed upon steel imports then we can expect an increase in property values. On the other hand, if the demographic data indicates that there is a decline in the population and decrease in household income, increase in unemployment rate, then one can assume that the property prices will go down. Foreseen tax cuts/increases or government infrastructure expenditure increases/decreases will also have a considerable impact on property prices.

What can we do to increase the value of our property?

Location of the property is a major factor in deciding the value of the property. As we already own the building and we can’t change the location, then there are only three factors left for us to play around to increase the value of a property. You can increase the income, reduce the expenses or secure a low-interest loan.

Increase in Potential Income

You may increase the income by increasing the occupancy rate and the rent for new tenants through renovation, adding new amenities to the building, i.e. coffee shop, gym, daycare or cafeteria. Running a marketing campaign and reaching out to new potential tenants might also increase the occupancy rate of the building. You may also generate new income by adding vending machines, washer/dryer room, rentable meeting spaces etc. Repurposing the building might be another option to increase the occupancy. Old warehouses used as microbreweries are a good example for repurposing.

The other point you might like to pay attention to is zoning, the change of zoning can make your building more desirable, might allow you add more space or open it to a new type of usage or it might limit the usage. Therefore following the changes in city planning is very important in increasing your future return from that property.

Having tenants with good credit rating and corporate back-up might also make the building attractive to buyers. However at this point, one needs to be careful about the lease terms. As seen in the market now, longer-term leases with minimal to none increase in rent might take away the benefits of having a tenant with good credit rating.

Decrease in Operating Expenses

Reducing the operating expenses will also have a very positive impact on Net Operating Income of the property. Having NNN lease with your tenants makes it preferable for the buyers as this type of lease makes future expenses more foreseeable for the buyers as it passes the CAM charges onto its tenants.

Securing Low-Interest Financing With Low Down Payment

Last but not least, helping the future buyer to secure low-cost financing and lower down payments would make your investment more attractive to the buyers and make them be willing to accept a higher sale price with lower cap rate.

That said, we should always keep in mind that the valuation of commercial property has a subjective component and each buyer values property differently based on his experiences, knowledge and future plans. At the end of the day, the value is in the eye of beholder and it is determined by the purchaser and seller at a certain time when they agreed to go with the sale transaction.

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President Trump has recently approved 25% tariff hike on steel imported from the rest of the world except NAFTA partners. While such a tariff increase creates a favorable treatment for the US Steel Producers, it hints for considerable negative impact on the US economy and job market as it hinders fair trade by protecting US Steel Producers with artificial trade barriers and allowing them to increase their profit margins at the cost of US consumers. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, 2016 US Steel Market can be summarized:

The data shown above indicates that construction sector with the consumption of 43% of steel supply takes the first place and will feel the highest negative impact of tariff hike on steel. According to census bureau trade statistics, only 30% of the imported steel comes from NAFTA partners, the rest has to be imported from other countries. Due to the new measure implemented, some of this import will apparently shift to NAFTA partners. However we know that 90% of Canada’s steel export has already been destined to US market, while Mexico’s imports of steel from the USA is higher than its exports to the US.

On the other hand according to an Article “Apartment Construction Delay Estimate: 56,000 Units” published on Axiometrics website it is estimated that some 56,186 units will be delayed into 2018. That figure is up from 50,658 delayed from 2016 to 2017, which in turn was a huge leap from 14,805 from 2015 to 2016. According to Dave Sorter, author of the article, with construction labor shortages and the high cost of building materials, apartment construction delays will likely continue.

This leads to the conclusion that if the US steel producers cannot keep up with the local steel demand and increase its prices as expected in a protected market, the trouble on the supply side of construction sector will worsen. Given the expected strong demand for real estate due to low unemployment, interest rates and strong growth in US economy, one can easily conclude that increase in real estate prices is on the horizon.

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