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Income Property Valuation for Real Estate Investment Property

income property

Income property is becoming more attractive to investors looking for a better return on their money. With today's low interest rates, income-producing properties such as apartments and duplexes can be attractive investments.

Income Property

As with any type of property, income property valuation is based on what someone is willing to pay for it. But, income property valuation is primarily based on the net income the property will produce. As we'll see later, the income valuation approach should closely correlate with the market valuation approach under normal market conditions.

Residential income property purchasers will want to know the answer to several questions not normally asked by home buyers. First is the amount of cash flow the property will generate. Second is the actual net income it will produce. Third are the tax benefits that the property will provide the investor.

Cash Flow

Cash flow can be described as the amount of money collected as rental income each month. This is the gross amount of money generated and does not consider expenses. Of course, cash flow is reduced when there are vacancies in the property.

Net income refers to the amount of money left after all expenses are paid. Expenses include repairs and maintenance of the property, legal fees, accounting fees, taxes, insurance and management.

When an appraiser doesincome property valuation, the rents at similar nearby properties are compared to the subject property. These rents are adjusted for factors relating to the size of the rental units, the overall condition, and convenience to transportation, schools and shopping.

Tax Benefits

Tax benefits should be ignored when considering the income property valuation. The tax law may change at any time and if you anticipate increased cash flow based on tax benefits, subsequent changes may produce severe problems.

Appraisers do not consider tax benefits of income properties since they vary from owner to owner. The 1986 tax reform bill eliminated many of the tax benefits of owning income-producing properties for certain investors. Some experts think the elimination of these benefits led to the decline in real estate values over the past several years.

The most important consideration in income property valuation in real estate is determining the rate of return (ROI) you can expect to receive. Since you can put money in a C.D. and expect to earn about a 5 1/2% return, you would certainly want to earn a better rate of return (ROI) for a riskier and more ill-liquid investment such as real estate.

Return on Investment

Rates of return (ROI) are computed on the amount of money invested. Typically, investment property requires a down payment of 25%, which would be the cash, invested. The remaining portion of the purchase price would be financed by a mortgage.

For example, consider an apartment building containing four two-bedroom apartments. Say your purchase price is $160,000 and you put down $40,000.

Assume the apartments can be rented for $600 per month, which translates to $7200 per year. The four units would produce $28,800 in gross annual income. Now, consider the expenses. Conventional wisdom says that the units will be vacant at least 5% of the time. (This number could be greater in areas of high supply or low demand.) Five percent of $28,800 equals $1440 in vacancy expense.

Other expenses include real estate tax, hazard and liability insurance, utilities, repairs and upgrades. As a rule-of-thumb, expenses run about 25 per cent of the gross income of smaller investment properties. When property management is required the expenses are closer to 30 per cent.

And lastly, is the cost of borrowing. Assume the cost of a mortgage to be 10 per cent. Total mortgage payments would be 9% of $120,000 or $10,800 annually for a thirty-year loan.

Below is a summary of how the transaction would look for computing a return on investment. The first column is computed with a mortgage and the second without a mortgage.

Mortgage No Mortgage
Cash down $40,000 $160,000
Gross Income $28,800 $28,800
Less vacancy -$1,440 -$1,440
Effective Gross Income $27,360 $27,360
Less Expense $6,840 $6,840
Net Income $20,520 $20,520
Less Debt Expense -$13,080 0
Cash Flow $7,440
Pre-tax return on investment 18.6% 12.8%

It is apparent that a much better return on investment ratio is achieved by borrowing instead of paying cash. This is known as leverage.

Evaluating Property

When evaluating a specific income property such as the example, the appraiser will use the net income as a determinant of the value. This is achieved by assigning a "cap" rate and dividing this rate into the expected income. Thus a cap rate of .10 (10%) divided into the net income of $20,520 would indicate a value of $205,200 for the property. At a purchase price of $160,000 this property would appear to be a great bargain.

A further word about "cap rates". "Cap" is short for capitalization. The appraiser makes a judgment as to the rate of return on capital that is required in today's market. That rate is used for a cap rate. A few years ago when a higher rate of return was required, the investment property would be worth somewhat less. A 12% cap rate would indicate the property would be worth $171,000, much closer to the purchase price used in the example.

In today's world of low interest rates and an uncertain stock market, real estate investments can provide stable, above average returns on investment.

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