One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? In my experience, this can’t be more true.
Consider the events that occur when an old bookshelf is discarded on the curb. Before the trash truck arrives, you see value in it and know that with a little elbow grease, it could be the perfect addition to your study. So, after a thorough inspection, you hoist it into the back of your SUV and haul it home.
You’re a busy professional, but a little time away with a hobby project brings you such peace, you can’t wait for the weekend! Then, you take such care with each pass of the sander and apply layers of pride with each fresh coat of paint. When the bookshelf is complete, you’re beaming with feelings of accomplishment, strength, and efficiency as you’ve just saved an excellent, useful piece of furniture from cluttering the landfill.
You took something that had been overlooked, committed some sweat equity, and breathed new life into it. This is the essence of value-add, and it’s a commonly used, well-practiced strategy in real estate investing.
The Basics of Value-Add Real Estate Syndications
In the case of single-family homes, the process of buying a run-down property, remodeling it, and then selling it for profit, is commonly referred to as fix-and-flip. Your sweat equity and ability to see a diamond in the rough is rewarded monetarily, and the new owner gets an updated, move-in ready home.
Value-add multifamily real estate deals follow a similar model, but on a massive scale. Hundreds of units get renovated over years at a time instead of just one single-family home over a few months.
A great value-add property may have peeling paint, outdated appliances, or overgrown landscaping, which all affect the curb appeal and the initial impression that a potential renter will form. Simple, cosmetic upgrades can attract more qualified renters and increase the income the property produces.
In value-add properties, improvements have two goals:
- To improve the unit and the community (positively impact tenants)
- To increase the bottom line (positively impact the investors)
Common value-add renovations can include individual unit upgrades, such as:
- Fresh paint
- New cabinets
- New countertops
- New appliances
- New flooring
- Upgraded fixtures
In addition, adding value to exteriors and shared spaces often helps to increase the sense of community:
- Fresh paint on building exteriors
- New signage
- Dog parks
- Covered parking
- Shared spaces (BBQ pit, picnic area, etc.)
On top of all that, adding value can also take the form of increasing efficiencies:
- Green initiatives to decrease utility costs
- Shared cable and internet
- Reducing expenses
Multifamily Value-Add Syndication Logistics
The basic fix-and-flip of single-family homes is pretty familiar to most people, but when it comes to hundreds of units at once, the renovation schedule and logistics aren’t as intuitive. Questions arise around how to renovate property while people are living there and how many units can be improved at a time.
When renovating a multifamily property, the vacant units are first. In a 100-unit complex, a 5% vacancy rate means there are five empty units, which is where renovations will begin.
Once those five units are complete and as each existing tenant’s lease comes due for renewal, they are offered the opportunity to move into a freshly renovated unit. Usually, tenants are more than happy with the upgraded space and happy to pay a little extra.
Once tenants vacate their old units, renovations ensue, and the process continues to repeat until most or all of the units have been updated.
During this process, some tenants do move away, and it’s important for projects to account for a temporary increase in vacancy rates due to turnover and new leases.
Why We Love Investing in Value-Add Properties
When done well, value-add strategies benefit all parties involved. Through renovations, we provide tenants a more aesthetically pleasing property, with updated appliances and more attractive community space. By doing so, the property becomes more valuable, allowing higher rental rates and increased equity, which makes investors happy too.
The property-beautification process and the fact that renovated property is more attractive to tenants is probably straightforward. But let’s dive into why value-add investing is a great strategy for investors.
First, Yield Plays
To fully appreciate value-add investments, we must first understand their counterparts, yield plays. In a yield play, investors buy a stabilized asset and hold it for the monthly cash flow and potential future profits.
Yield play investments are where a currently-cash-flowing-property that’s in decent shape is purchased. The property provides a recurring stream of income from the rents collected – the yield. There is obviously a hope to sell it at some later date for a small profit, but there is no business plan to renovate, force appreciation, improve the asset and realize a larger gain at sale. Yield play investors hold property in anticipation of potential market increases, but there’s always the chance of experiencing a flat or down market instead.
Now, Let’s Get Back to Value-Adds
Value plays and yield plays are different. In a value-add investment, significant work (i.e., renovations) takes place to increase the value of the property and doing such improvements carry a level of risk.
However, value-add deals also come with a ton of potential upside since the investors hold all the cards. Through physical action steps that improve the property and increase its value, value-add investors don’t just hold the asset hoping for market increases, they force increases through improving the asset, raising rents and lowering expenses.
Through property improvements, income is increased, thus also increasing the equity in the deal (remember, commercial properties are valued based on how much income they generate, not on comps, like single-family homes), which allows investors much more control over the investment than in a yield play.
Of course, a hybrid yield + value-add investment is ideal. This is where an asset gets improved, cash on cash yields are high and the market increases simultaneously. Investors have control over the value-add renovation portion and the market growth adds appreciation.
Now, before you get too giddy about the potential of a hybrid investment, there are risks associated with any value-add deal.
Examples of Risk in Value-Add Investments
In multifamily value-add investments, common risks include:
- Not being able to achieve target rents
- More tenants moving out than expected
- Renovations running behind schedule
- Renovation costs exceeding initial estimates (which can be a big deal when you’re renovating hundreds of units)
When evaluating deals as potential investments, look for sponsors who have capital preservation at the forefront of the plan and who have a number of risk mitigation strategies in place. These may include:
- Conservative underwriting
- Proven business model (e.g., some units have already been upgraded and are achieving rent increases)
- Experienced team, particularly the project management team
- Multiple exit strategies
- The budget for renovations and capital expenditures is raised upfront, rather than through cash flow
Value-add investments can be powerful vehicles of wealth, but they also come with serious risks. This is why risk mitigation strategies are important – to protect investor capital at all costs.
Why Value-Add Real Estate Syndications Deserve A Spot In Your Portfolio
No investment is risk-free. However, when something, despite its risks, provides great benefits to the community AND investors, it becomes quite attractive. As you enjoy cash flow and market appreciation on your investment, tenants’ sense of pride is simultaneously being restored.
Properly leveraging investor capital in a value-add investment allows drastic improvements in apartment communities, thereby creating cleaner, more updated, safer places to live. When you get to invest your hard-earned capital, have it generate returns in exchange for virtually no effort, and be a contributing factor in making hundreds of families’ lives better, stock market investments pale in comparison.
Remember, you as a passive investor aren’t onsite managing the renovation crew and aren’t directly calling any shots. You get to exert control upfront over which value-add properties you invest in, making the careful decision to select value-add real estate syndication deals whose business plans contain improvements you desire, see value in, and with timelines that make sense. This way, rather than relying solely on market appreciation, you have more options when it comes to safeguarding capital and maximizing returns.