People are always seeking a way to finance 100% of income property. It’s fueled by the late-night infomercials touting no money down deals.
The way it comes across, all you have to do to become a millionaire investing in real estate is acquire the properties with “OPM,” Other People’s Money, and then just sit back and collect the big fat checks they flash on the screen.
The quest for 100% financing in real estate reminds me of that joke about a dog chasing a car…what’s he going to do when he catches it? I wonder, has he thought this through?
The desire to acquire
I laugh every time I see a dog chasing a car. I think how much he is like an investor high on the “desire to acquire.” That’s our state of mind when the target of our desires looks so good that we don’t stop to think it all the way through.
Marriages happen that way. In the Blue Ridge Mountains where I live, deer hunters talk about a crazed state called “buck fever” and tell tales about hunters so crazed with the pursuit of a big buck they start shooting and can’t stop.
Some people get so full of the “desire to acquire” that they are willing to do anything to get a deal, any deal. After all, once you own real estate you’re on your way to the good life, right?
So they tap their home equity, or find a seller that will owner finance, and use their good credit to get a bank loan. They’re in, but have they thought it through? Let’s take a look at what happens when you “catch” the 100% leveraged deal.
The infomercial gurus teach that if you find the right seller, you can structure the deal so there is no money out of your pocket. They leave the impression that there will be plenty of money in your pocket after you do the deal. More often than not, that’s not the result.
Let’s say that you do find a lender that will loan 80% and a seller that will carry 20%. In all but the rarest of cases, the combined debt payments will eat up almost all of the cash flow. It has to be this way, and I can show you why.
Economic occupancy is the actual gross cash collected (after vacancy, credit, and collection loss) as a percentage of the total potential rents.
Delinquency in apartment rent rolls is a fact of life. You are not going to collect 100% of the money due, on time, 100% of the time. It is not uncommon for even well-run apartment buildings to run a 5% delinquency rate, and poorly operated projects may run over a 10% delinquency rate.
Let’s face it, the deals that we look at with decent prices, motivated sellers, and opportunities for turnaround or upside are usually not the cream of the crop. If it were an “A” property, with well-screened tenants it probably wouldn’t be on the market at a price that would interest us anyway.
So it’s pretty likely you’re going to inherit a less than stellar group of tenants. The first advice here is to factor delinquency into your projections to avoid a rude awakening later. In the same way, vacant apartments are a fact of life in the apartment business. Vacancies are actually phantom expenses that only show up in an economic occupancy analysis.
Together, vacancy and collection losses are typically projected at 5% of gross income. In my experience that is a low number. A more realistic figure is 5% for vacancy loss and 5% for delinquency and collection loss. In a twenty-unit complex, that’s equivalent to one apartment vacant for one year.
It is easy to “tweak” these numbers on paper to make the bottom line more attractive. I prefer to err on the side of reality, and would advise that you, “Tweak at your peril.” But we’ll use the 5% figure for this discussion to prove the point that even using optimistic numbers a 100% leveraged deal is tough to structure.
For an example let’s use a twenty-unit apartment building with potential gross income of $100,000. That works out to average rents of $416 per month. If it is a normal building, there will be about 40% expenses ($40,000), including management, but not including vacancy and collection loss.
A “reserve for replacement” should be deducted from the cash flow as well. This is an annual estimate of reserves needed for capital improvements over time. An average figure is between $200 and $250 per unit per year. While many owners do not actually reserve the funds, most lenders will deduct the amount from the cash flow before calculating the debt coverage ratio.
Lastly, if you use the standard projection of about 5%, ($5,000) for vacancy and collection loss, the building must have an economic occupancy of 45% just to operate. (40% operating expense + 5% vacancy and collection expense).
That leaves a net operating income (NOI) of 55%, or $55,000. We call it NOI, but the lenders call it, “funds available for debt service.” Ever wonder why? Read on.
Most lenders require a minimum 1.25:1 debt coverage ratio (DCR) to fund a deal. Some are higher, very few are lower. There’s a good reason for that. At a 1.25:1 DCR, 80% of the NOI is used for debt service. (1/1.25=.80). In our example, the debt coverage would be $44,000, ($55,000 x 80%), or 44% of the gross POTENTIAL rent.
Add the 45% of expenses to the 44% of the debt service, and you need 89% economic occupancy to break even. That leaves 11%, or $11,000 for profit, pre-tax. The debt service will carry a loan up to about 80% of the cost of the building. At $416 average rent, the profit margin is equal to just over the annual rent on two of the twenty apartments.
In other words, if there are two vacant apartments for twelve months, and the rest of the complex operates normally, the owner will lose money. The lender will get paid (in theory), but the owner won’t.
That doesn’t take into account any increases in utility costs, insurance costs, property taxes, fix-up cost for a trashed apartment, or any other of a hundred things that can and do change during the year. Now can you see why the lenders are so tough on debt coverage ratios?
Pushing the limits
Say you find the above building and the owner just has to get out. He’s willing to take $500,000. That’s an 11% cap rate on the $100,000 NOI and sounds like a great deal.
You’ve got a bank that will work with you on high-leverage deals, and they offer to finance the deal with terms of 80% of cost, 7% rate, and twenty-year amortization.
That’s probably a little high on rate, but a fifteen-year term is more typical of local banks, and I’m being generous, assuming you’ve got great credit, high net worth, and are an experienced real estate operator. The loan would also likely have a balloon in three to five years.
The seller wants out of town so badly, he’ll finance the rest at 8%, with twenty-year amortization, but a balloon in three years. He wants out, but he does want his money.
The annual debt service on the first mortgage ($400,000) with the bank will be $37,214. The annual debt service on the second, seller held mortgage ($100,000) would be $10,037. That’s total debt service of $47,251, or 47.3% of gross potential income, and a cumulative debt coverage ratio of 1.16:1.
Add 45% expense and a conservative vacancy/collection loss allowance, and the break-even economic occupancy level is increased to 92.3%. Or stated another way, the best-case profit is 7.7%, or $7,700 per year.
The most you can make is $641 per month, if everybody pays on time and nothing happens. That’s a cushion of one and a half apartments per year over break even, before any unanticipated costs or expense increases. That is a razor thin margin.
Now go back to the more realistic 10% vacancy and delinquency loss and the break-even economic occupancy becomes 97.3%. If anything outside the perfect world of the paper projection happens, then you’re running negative cash flow. You’re upside down from the get-go.
So now tell me: You’ve caught this deal, now what are you going to do with it? Can you imagine yourself a year from now being a “don’t-wanter” seller? I’ve seen it happen just that way many times.
Is this your story?
I had a call a few weeks back from a fellow who bought a small apartment project I had looked at about a year ago in a town about thirty miles from my office. He wanted to sell, and he called me because I’m fairly well known as a buyer in the market.
He started describing the place and it sounded familiar, so I asked if he bought it from “Mr. Jones.” He said yes, and I knew it was the same deal I had looked at. I asked how much he wanted, and he said he was willing to take what he had in it.
It had more land next door that could be developed with more units. (I remembered I had offered $200,000, owner financing, no money down, and the development parcel next door free and clear, or $175,000 all cash. The seller didn’t take either offer, and I walked away.)
I asked a few questions. Nothing much had changed. He had painted the place, but the rents were the same. I asked him how much he owed, and he said $240,000, 20% of which was financed by the seller.
He was three payments in arrears on the seller’s note because there had been two vacancies he couldn’t get filled. (This town has had 12% unemployment for the last couple of years. It’s a tough market.)
He mentioned that this was his first real estate investment, and he really didn’t know what to do. I could hear the strain in his voice. He really wanted out. I said I was sorry, but I couldn’t help him.
I didn’t preach this sermon, figuring he was already paying tuition for an advanced degree in the proper use of leverage. His desire to acquire was stronger than his desire to learn to figure cash flow before jumping into a deal. He didn’t think it all the way through.
Don’t get me wrong; there are situations where 100% leverage is possible and profitable. I’ve done it a number of times, but in every case there was considerable upside available or a development opportunity that I could capitalize on. I also have credit lines set up to be ready, so I don’t have to take hard terms.
This deal was just such a case. I structured my offers so that either way I could win. It had the potential to cash flow until the market recovered some strength. Then I could develop the property next door. We walked when we couldn’t structure the deal to make sense. Someone else came along and wanted the deal badly enough to do whatever it took to acquire the property.
Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered
Now the seller has a non-performing note behind a first mortgage that is barely being serviced, both secured by a property that is declining in value because of poor management and a tough market. Did anyone really win?
There’s a saying that comes to mind here, “Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.” That’s a barnyard expression to describe what happens when we reach for more than we’re entitled.
It looks as though we may get another shot at this property…on the courthouse steps. I never throw away a deal file, even the ones I don’t get, because you just never know when it will come up again.
I hope you can see why high leverage is a strategy that requires the experience, capital, and resources to use it properly. Be careful when you contemplate highly-leveraged deals. Figure the break-even economic occupancy rate. Know the costs going in. Know the market. Know your own capabilities and be able to move quickly to capitalize upside. Above all, do not tweak the numbers to support your own “desire to acquire.”
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