The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute categorizes real estate as an alternative investment that includes residential and commercial properties as well as mortgage-based securities and real estate investment trusts. For most real estate investors, these investments are characterized as income-generating properties that see revenue from rent earned and capital appreciation from the increase in market value. Since this investment vehicle depends on the net operating income (NOI), maximizing cash flow is key to a successful real estate investment.
To fully understand the importance of cash flow to real estate investment, it is necessary to know that the value of the property is directly linked to the NOI. Unlike residential homes that get their value from comparable sales, income-generating real estate value is calculated as the annual NOI multiplied by an industry standard rate of return, called the capitalization rate. For instance, if the property has an annual NOI of $100,000 and a 10 percent capitalization rate, then the property would be valued at one million dollars. Since NOI is calculated after expenses and both property value and return on investment are depended on NOI, it is important to maximize income and minimize expense.
The Risk/Return Profile
Commercial real estate increases in value based on two components. The first is capital appreciation from the increase in the surrounding market. As a neighborhood becomes nicer and properties sell at higher prices, the value of the commercial asset increases. There is very little that an investor can do to mitigate the risk of market increase or decrease.
The other component to value is the cash flow from income. Revenue is something the property owner has a large amount of control over and which the risk and return balance can be finely tuned. To lower risk, the operating pro forma should have both estimated market rate returns and lowest logical returns. Most cities have a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 program in which the municipality pays a tenant's monthly rent. Since Section 8 units are in demand, these rent amounts are a safe low-end income value for your property. The HUD website has the maximum fair market rental amounts for each county in the United States.
REOs and Arbitrage Opportunities
Of course, getting a good deal is the foundation of any real estate investment. A low investment amount and high revenue make for a good return on investment. Bank-owned and government-owned homes often offer properties at amounts under market value. These properties are generally in disrepair, so rehabilitation costs should be factored into the price equations.
The website Equator handles bank-owned properties, and HomePath has extensive databases of distressed properties owned by the government. A knowledgeable real estate agent with expertise in this form of alternative investment makes it easier to identify opportunities for high returns. For active investors, a real estate analysis seminar helps maximize their investment.
As an alternative investment, real estate is historically poorly correlated to the stock market, making it a good investment to diversify a portfolio. During times of stock market loss, real estate continues to offer returns. Real estate is positively correlated to inflation, meaning that it generally increases in value as inflation increases. This makes real estate a good inflation hedge.