commercial loans? - Posted by JJ

Posted by ray@lcorn on November 01, 2002 at 17:43:37:


The overriding issue on the lease is control. Yours ius but one scenario in which title to the property can be affected by events outside of my control. I don’t like that. A lease is as good as it is drafted. The recent fight between Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley over the Empire State Building, which Helmsley has leased, is a good example of a lease “trumping” title. (pun unintended until I saw it!)

As to accruing more debt on a property in return for cash flow- it’s getting pretty hypothetical here. Let’s just say that I am sure there could be some conceivable situation in which accrued interest may be okay for a short while; increase cash flow to capture upside; turnarounds; distress sale; etc.; but as a long term state of affairs it makes no sense.


commercial loans? - Posted by JJ

Posted by JJ on October 26, 2002 at 01:35:30:

I can buy 1-4 units all day long, but the money is in the larger commercial buildings. I am looking for a lender that will allow the seller to carry 10-20% note with the lender financing the rest. Basically a loan program that allows for 100% financing. My state: West Virginia Credit score 720 Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Thank You,

Are you sure? - Posted by ray@lcorn

Posted by ray@lcorn on October 28, 2002 at 08:17:55:


I wonder if you have thought this all the way through. Do you have a particular deal in mind or is this just for reference? 100% leveraged deals are tough to structure without getting burned.

I’ve written an article about the perils of 100% financing and copied it below.


100% Financing:
Stoking the Fire of the Desire to Acquire

At least once a week, someone posts to my commercial newsgroup seeking a way to finance 100% of the acquisition cost for an income property. I suppose it is fueled by the late night infomercials touting no money down deals and using pictures of Class A apartment buildings, never saying the one describes the other, but leaving a strong impression that that is the case. The way it comes across, one would believe that all you have to do to become a millionaire in real estate is to acquire the properties with ?OPM?, meaning Other People?s Money, and then just sit back and collect the big fat checks they like to flash on the screen. Television is a wonderful thing. After the story is told and the product is sold, no one in the TV cast has to stick around and face reality.

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?

I laugh every time I see a dog chasing a car, and think how much he is just like an investor high on the ?desire to acquire.? That?s the peculiar state of mind that surfaces 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.

The Desire to Acquire
In real estate, the same blind pursuit of a highly sought goal can be called ?the desire to acquire.? 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, then you can structure the deal so that there is no money out of your pocket, and 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 are going to eat up all but the tiniest portion of the cash flow. It has to be this way, and I can show you why. Think about it terms of the occupancy level it takes to break even. Think in terms of economic occupancy.

Economic Occupancy vs. Physical Occupancy
Economic Occupancy differs from physical occupancy. Economic Occupancy is calculated as 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 also 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 to run 5% of gross income. In my experience that is a low number. Over the twenty plus years I?ve been in this business, a more realistic figure is 5% for vacancy loss and 5% for delinquency and collection loss, but the standard thinking in the industry is that 5% covers both. In a twenty-unit complex with average rents of $416 per month, that?s equivalent to one apartment vacant for one year. Every investor quickly finds how easy it is 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, just to save the argument, and to prove the point that even using optimistic numbers a 100% leveraged deal is tough to structure.

The Numbers
For an example let?s use 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 (delinquency) loss. Included in the expenses should be a ?reserve for replacement? deduction from the cash flow as well. This is an annual estimate of reserves needed to do 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, then 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, as you’ll see in a minute.

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.

That?s with normal deal structure, and 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. Or, looked at another way, if there are two vacant apartments for twelve months, and the rest of the complex operates normally, the project is going to lose money for the owner. The lien holder (lender) will get paid (in theory!), but the owner won?t. And 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
So now move to a deal that has 100% financing. 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 nowadays, but a fifteen-year term is more typical of local banks, and I?m being generous here, 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 3-5 years.) The seller wants out of town so bad 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, anything, then you?re running negative cash flow. You?re upside down from the get-go. That means you?ve got negative cash flow going in, and few ways to cure it.

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 so many times.

Is This Your Story?
I had a call a few weeks back from a fellow that bought a small apartment project we had looked at about a year ago in a town about thirty miles from our office. He wanted to sell, and called us because we are fairly well known as buyers in the market. He started describing the place and it sounded familiar, so I asked if he had bought it from ?Mr. Jones?. He said yes, and I knew it was the same deal we had looked at. I asked how much he wanted, and he said he was willing to take what he had in it, which was about $240,000, and it had more land next door that could be developed with more units. (I remembered we 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 we 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, twenty percent 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 twelve percent unemployment for the last couple of years, and is 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, and 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 how to figure cash flow before jumping into a deal. He didn?t think it all the way through.

Pigs Get Fed?
If all of this doesn?t give you pause to think twice about high leverage, then consider this. If the building in our example is full, there are twenty tenants with payments due each month. That?s 240 payments due each year. That?s also twenty potential stories each month as to why you can?t get your money, 240 potential stories each year. What is the probability that of the 240 potential payment events per year, somebody won?t pay on time? That should make you wonder how well the tenants you inherit from the Seller were screened. Or did he just get warm bodies to fill the place to sell?

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 to better the odds of success. I also have credit lines set up to be ready for just such situations so I don?t have to take hard terms.

The deal above that we didn?t get was just such a case. We structured our offers so that either way we could win. It had the potential to cash flow in the present, and wait for the market to recover some strength and then 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 bad enough to do whatever it took to acquire it. 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 another saying that comes to mind here, ?Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.?

We may get another shot at the 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 from this discussion 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 what the costs are 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.?


Posted by IZZY on November 23, 2002 at 23:36:05:


Re: Are you sure? - Posted by James Buster

Posted by James Buster on October 29, 2002 at 21:34:49:

The sorts of deals I’ve seen proposed for 95-100% leveraged properties, that appear they might actually work cash-flow-wise, are:

  1. nnn lease. with the right terms (long, cheap) you might not even care you don’t own the fee.
  2. cash flow mortgage
  3. accrual of (preferably) simple interest, if you can make the principal payments

Other words of wisdom I’ve heard are:

  1. Negative amortization is a deal breaker
  2. So are accruals if back end projections don’t work
  3. No balloons unless you have a reasonable escape. Hard deadlines have a way of happening when most hurtful.

What’s your wisdom on these strategies?

Re: Are you sure? - Posted by Marcos

Posted by Marcos on October 29, 2002 at 13:02:32:

Right on the money as always Ray. Thanks for your personal insight.


Re: Are you sure? - Posted by Ronald * Starr(inNo CA)

Posted by Ronald * Starr(inNo CA) on October 28, 2002 at 19:46:36:

Ray Alcorn (AKA @lcorn)----------------

Thanks for the post. I suggest that you sock it away as an article on this forum. It will not go out of style in the next umpteen years.

Good InvestingRon Starr*****

Excellent post…Right on the money - Posted by Bill

Posted by Bill on October 28, 2002 at 16:59:00:

Ray, that has to be one of the finest pieces of information on buying commercial property that I have seen in the 30 or so years I have been doing it.

Re: cash flow mortgage? - Posted by Charles Clarkson (TX)

Posted by Charles Clarkson (TX) on December 01, 2002 at 14:35:45:

What is a “cash flow” mortgage?

Re: Are you sure? - Posted by ray@lcorn

Posted by ray@lcorn on October 31, 2002 at 19:01:18:


NNN is a different class of investment, and very well suited for high leverage. There is a whole sub-niche of NNN investment grade bond leases that are marketed with financing in place as “zero flow” properties, for those investors that do NOT want the cash flow for tax reasons.

The other strategies you mentioned may work in some cases, as will a lot of things. Cash flow mortgage is really one step away from a master lease. I don’t like accruing interest for any reason. But when it comes to deal structure there are so many permutations dependent on the particular situation that there is no way to anticipate what will work in a situation and what won’t.

I like your dealbreakers, every one. I would add that I never go into a deal without knowing how I can get out.


Re: Excellent post…Right on the money - Posted by ray@lcorn

Posted by ray@lcorn on October 28, 2002 at 18:33:07:


Thank you for such a generous compliment. Coming from someone with that much experience it means a lot.

If it keeps one person from making the mistakes it was well worth the effort.

Best of investing to you,


Re: cash flow mortgage? - Posted by James Buster

Posted by James Buster on December 02, 2002 at 16:01:10:

It’s a mortgage where the payments are tied to the cash flow of the property, rather than being fixed.

Re: Are you sure? - Posted by James Buster

Posted by James Buster on October 31, 2002 at 21:07:21:

>NNN is a different class of investment, and very well suited for high leverage.

I was thinking of NNN more as an acquisition vehicle for marginal-but-could-be-improved properties. Still, I get your point about NNN credit-tenant deals.

>Cash flow mortgage is really one step away from a master lease.

Is there a reason to prefer one over the other? If you can get a long-term master lease with good terms, it offers the appearance of being practically as good as fee ownership.

>I don’t like accruing interest for any reason

What’s your thinking on this? If the interest rate otherwise made sense e.g. you would normally be happy paying it out of current cash flow, why wouldn’t you want to accrue it? Inflation is your friend.

>There is a whole sub-niche of NNN investment grade bond leases that are marketed with financing in place as “zero flow” properties

Is that “bond” as in “guarantee” or as in “debt security”? What’s an investor’s profit on a “zero flow” lease?

Re: Are you sure? - Posted by ray@lcorn

Posted by ray@lcorn on November 01, 2002 at 11:03:46:


Great questions… let me see if I can take them in order.

On NNN as an acquisition vehicle- That’ll work, but see comments about master leases next.

Cash Flow Mtg. vs. Master lease- I’ve done the former, not the latter. I prefer the mortgage because it comes with ownership, hence giving me total control. A lease always has an element of risk not present in fee ownership. Unless title is transferred out of the owner’s name then the property is still subject to judgment claims out of my control. Even with title transferred to a title holding entity (trusts, LLCs, etc.) things can get a little sticky in proving equitable interest in the event of a suit. I have yet to see a bulletproof deal.

Accrued interest- I lived through the highest interest rates in history (1980-81), and I have a real aversion to paying interest on interest. To me that is equivalent to giving the lender a piece of the appreciation, unearned. I agree that in an inflationary economy there can be a rationale for paying back today’s dollars with tomorrow’s cheaper dollars. But the fact is, all indicators point to this economy being headed in a deflationary direction, and an asset declining in value while accruing more debt is quickly derogatory to net worth.

Bond lease- With the same payment priority as a bonded (guaranteed) debt obligation.

Zero Flow profit- Investor’s “profit” on zero flow deals comes from tax benefits, principal paydown and appreciation. Properly structured, these deals are excellent exit strategies in estate planning and 1031 transactions for high-income taxpayers.


Re: Are you sure? - Posted by James Buster

Posted by James Buster on November 01, 2002 at 16:46:54:

>Cash Flow Mtg. vs. Master lease

So is the concern that the fee owner won’t deal with the judgement “properly”, and when the judgement holder gets control of the fee they will attempt to repudiate your leasehold?

>Accrued interest- I lived through the highest interest rates in history (1980-81)

I’m old enough to remember 20% inflation and gas shortages. So I appreciate your perspective.

>I have a real aversion to paying interest on interest.
>To me that is equivalent to giving the lender a piece
>of the appreciation, unearned.

Remember that one of my “deal breakers” was negative amortization. What objections or issues would you have
if the accrued interest did not earn interest? The only objection I can think of off hand would be the temptation to spend the cash flow and be unable to pay the accrual when necessary.