Using the Income Approach to Value Non-Income-Producing Properties

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No one wants to pay more for something than it’s worth; however, determining what something is worth isn’t always straightforward. The difference between market value and investment value can sometimes blur the lines when appraising or assessing real estate, especially for owner-occupied properties. Market value is defined as a property’s likely sales price in an arm’s length transaction (in a competitive and open market) between a buyer and seller, both acting knowledgeably, prudently, and without compulsion. Investment value is unique to each buyer and, as a matter of perspective, it can include tangible and intangible considerations. As a result, when a buyer is purchasing real property for their own use a subjective element is introduced into an otherwise objective (valuation) process.

There are three main valuation methods used to appraise/assess a property’s value: 1) cost approach, 2) direct capitalization approach, and 3) sales comparison approach. The cost approach is primarily used for insurance purposes because only the value of the improvements are insurable. This method calculates the cost to build an equivalent property (minus depreciation) and then adds the value of the land. The direct capitalization approach is used for income-producing properties and calculates value by “capitalizing” (dividing) a property’s net operating income by the appropriate (cap) rate. Cap rates, expressed as a percent, reflect the return an investor is willing to accept for each dollar of NOI based on an all-cash purchase. For example, an investor that is willing to accept a 10% return would be willing to pay $1,000,000 for a property with a net operating income of $100,000 ($100,000 ÷ 10% = $1,000,000). Market cap rates vary based on property type, age, etc. and are calculated through analyses of recent market sales of income producing properties.

The sales comparison approach compares recently sold properties with similar characteristics to the property being valued, including location (within the same building, project, neighborhood, submarket, market, etc.). Price adjustments are made for differences between the sales comps and subject property to determine a value that is consistent with recent market activity (typically within 6 months). This method is most commonly used to value residential properties, both because of the large number of sales (sample size) and due to the fact that owners enjoy beneficial occupancy of the property (not income-producing). Because owner-occupied commercial real estate also provides beneficial occupancy rather than rental income, the sales comparison approach is also commonly used valuation analyses for such acquisitions.

The biggest problem in using the sales comparison approach to value commercial real estate is the issue of sample size. The number of residential properties exceeds that of all commercial properties (office, retail, flex, and industrial combined) by many orders of magnitude. Leasing makes up the overwhelming majority of commercial transactions and, as a result, there may be few, if any, sales to use as a basis of comparison. This is evident in assessed values that remain the same year after year. Assessors use the direct capitalization (income) approach to assess income-producing real estate, but generally use the sales comparison approach when valuing owner-occupied commercial properties. When there are no comparable sales in the year of assessment or other data to support an increase or decrease in a property’s assessed value remains the same. Because assessors often value properties at an assessment-to-sales ratio (ASR) below 100%, many (brokers and laymen, alike) believe that a property’s assessed value reflects the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of market value. As alluded to earlier, this is not necessarily the case and as certain properties, property types, etc. age and become functionally obsolete, the reverse may be true. A lack of comparable sales may indicate that there is no market for a particular property (type) and is likely evidence of a decline in value and in a property (type) being over-assessed.

As the title of this article suggests, there is a way to use the direct capitalization approach to value for owner-occupied properties. As mentioned previously, most residential transactions involve the purchase and sale of real estate, while leasing dominates commercial real estate. As a result, leasing comps are nearly as numerous, on a proportionate basis, in commercial real estate as sales comps are in residential. In order to use the direct capitalization method to calculate the market value of an owner-occupied commercial property, one must perform a hypothetical investment analysis of the subject property using actual market data, rates, etc.; treating it as if it were being purchased as an income-producing property.

Market Analysis

Prospective buyers and/or brokers must first conduct a search for comparable properties that are available for lease. Search parameters such as square footage (range), building age (range), location, etc. should be as narrow as possible. The resulting (short) list of properties should produce an accurate market rent (range) for the property. Rents quoted in triple net terms allow for a quick and easy calculation of net operating income (rental rate x square footage = NOI). Full-service gross leases present more of a challenge and require all costs of ownership (real estate taxes, operating expenses, utilities, cleaning, & insurance) be added together and subtracted from the rental rate on a per square foot basis. The resulting number is the triple net equivalent rent which can then be multiplied by the square footage to calculate the property’s net operating income.

After calculating the subject property’s potential net operating income, more market research and analysis is required to determine the appropriate market cap rate to apply to the income stream. There are a number of sources which provide cap rate information based on submarket, property type, etc.; however, as before, the narrower the focus the more accurate the resulting valuation. Assessors will add basis points to cap rates based on age, vacancy, etc. thereby lowering the value relative to NOI. For example, if the market cap rate for industrial properties in a particular submarket is 7% with average vacancy rate at the time of sale of 50%, a property that is 0% vacant may justify a 0.5% reduction in the cap rate while a property that is 100% vacant may require a 0.5% increase to account for risk. For a property with an NOI of $100,000 the resulting difference in value would be $205,128.21 = ($100,000 ÷ 6.5%) – ($100,000 ÷ 7.5%). Relevant/current data coupled with market knowledge and experience will produce the best, most accurate estimates of value.

Case Study

Ryan Rauner is interested in purchasing 123 Industrial Ave and plans to occupy and use the 25,000 SF property for his storage and distribution business. Due to a lack of comparable sales in the surrounding area, Ryan is having trouble determining how much he should pay for the property. After researching leasing rates for comparable properties within the same submarket, he determines that the market rent is about $10.00-$11.00/NNN; resulting in a potential net operating income of $250,000-$275,000. The current market cap rate for industrial properties in the subject submarket is 7%; however, the submarket’s vacancy rate is slightly about the market average. Ryan knows that investors would likely require a higher rate of return to account for the risk associated with the property’s vacancy and thus adds 1 basis point to the cap rate as a risk premium. He then capitalizes the potential NOI by 8% for a resulting valuation of $3,125,000-$3,437,500.

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