Among commercial real estate investment strategies, value-add real estate investing has historically offered some of the highest potential for returns on your initial capital; its track record has framed it as an attractive option for commercial real estate (CRE) investors. However, executing this investment strategy requires plentiful research and background understanding of the factors in play.
In this article, you will learn the fundamentals of value-add real estate investing and how to employ this strategy in your portfolio. Additionally, this article covers alternatives such as core plus investing to address all risk preferences and investment goals. Read on to learn more.
Also known as value-oriented real estate, value-add real estate is any commercial property with existing income but significant opportunities for improvement via operational enhancements, market repositioning or redevelopment. In other words, value-add properties are those that have some income but are not yet at their maximum income potential.
The basic strategy behind value-add real estate investments is to increase the income of a property while the total value of the property appreciates simultaneously.
Because value-add real estate generates income, it has significant opportunity for improvements. It presents a moderate-risk approach for CRE investors who are looking for stable income and capital appreciation. When you invest in the right properties, value-add real estate has the potential to provide durable in-place income.
Investing in value-add real estate is a solid strategy for many investors, but it is not the only strategy. Other commercial real estate investment strategies you may find suitable could include one or more of the following approaches:
1. Core investing
2. Core-plus investing
3. Opportunistic investing
Each of these strategies offers a different level of risk and requires a different amount of capital and accreditation. Location, the condition and age of the property and the tenant mix can all affect which category of investment a commercial property fits into.
A “core” real estate investment is the purchase of a property that is likely to generate stable long-term income. These properties are well-kept and already occupied by long-term tenants, typically on multi-decade leases.
The strategy behind investing in core properties is much like the strategy behind investing in bonds. While the returns are not guaranteed, they are extremely predictable and require very little active management on the part of the investor.
Here are some of the pros and cons of core real estate investing:
As you can see, core investing and value-add investing are similar, but they are far from the same thing. They both involve the acquisition of income-generating assets, but the risk and potential for appreciation are much lower for core properties. In fact, core property investing is often considered a particularly low-risk investment.
A “core plus” real estate investment is the acquisition of a property that is generating relatively stable income but in need of some light repairs or renovations. Core plus properties can be more than a decade old in many cases, and the income they generate may be slightly offset by the cost of future repairs.
The strategy behind core plus investing is similar to that of core investing: Invest in properties that are in relatively good condition and generate relatively stable income. The key difference is that the risk is slightly higher, more active management is required and the potential for appreciation is higher — all thanks to the added room for improvements made to core plus properties.
Here are some of the pros and cons of core plus real estate investing:
If you are learning about value-add real estate investing, core plus properties present only a limited amount of risk — thanks in large part to the property conditions that are somewhat more in need of attention.
The upside of the added risk, of course, is that there is room for higher ROI in terms of appreciation and, once improvements are complete, cash flow.
The name of “opportunistic” real estate investments is fitting because these investments are all about opportunity. These properties are usually in bad condition with little or no cash flow. They may require total renovation and/or repositioning to generate reliable income. While the initial investment is among the riskiest you can make in CRE investing, the potential for return can also be the highest.
The strategy behind opportunistic real estate investing is one that is best executed by working with a team of trusted advisors. The idea, of course, is to significantly improve these properties and generate returns.
Here are some of the pros and cons of opportunistic real estate investments:
Opportunistic real estate is considered a higher-risk investment. While the idea of improving the property and benefitting from both appreciation and potential cash flow is one shared with value-add real estate investing, the two strategies differ significantly in their level of risk. Value-add real estate is considered a more moderate-risk investment than opportunistic but higher risk than core and core plus.
Now that we’ve covered alternative CRE investment strategies to value-add investing, let’s discuss why value-adds’ investment potential for income and meaningful growth while still balancing risk and reward is a great middle ground.
Now, taking a closer look at strategies within the field of value-add real estate investing, here are three common strategies to consider:
The operational value strategy involves investing in CRE — whether through individual properties or a portfolio — that may derive and provide value from improvements in operations.
Improvements in operations can take many forms, but one readily available example can be found in improvements for energy efficiency. For example, replacing traditional light bulbs with LED lights can save thousands of dollars in operational costs, making the property more efficient.
When you invest in a commercial property or portfolio that presents the potential for appreciation via renovations or similar physical improvements, you are participating in a renovation or physical value value-add investment strategy.
For example, if you purchase an office building that has little in the way of common areas, gyms, dining options and similar amenities, you can add value by adding these features to increase occupancy. That, in turn, creates the potential to increase cash flow.
The location or reposition value strategy is a method of value-add investing that relies on properties’ physical locations or potential to change functions. ROI depends on the inherent value of a prime location or the value added by repositioning a building to occupy a more valuable function.
For instance, you might add significant value by converting a low-traffic retail center into a high-occupancy office park. Alternatively, you might derive value from purchasing an empty or low-occupancy property that is located in an area that is quickly developing or undergoing gentrification.
At Hartman Income REIT, we see enormous potential in value-add real estate. That is why we have invested heavily using a value-add investment strategy. Over time, we have acquired a portfolio of real estate properties that offered the perfect blend of potential and current income.
Here are a few examples of value-add properties Hartman has leveraged in its portfolio:
Hartman acquired Ashford on the Bayou in March of 2019 for just over $9.1 million. This Houston property offered nearly 127,000 leasable square feet and an incoming occupancy of 55%. Just under two years later and after improvements, occupancy in this 1983 office building had reached 76.94%.
Three Forest Plaza is a Dallas commercial property that includes more than 366,000 leasable square feet. Hartman acquired it in 2017 for around $35.7 million. At that time, the property was already home to major tenants that were providing consistent and stable cash flow. Due to re-tenanting and other value-add strategies, occupancy increased to just under 80% by the end of 2021.
While value-add investing can be a solid investment, it does come with some risks. However, these risks are inherent in almost all kinds of CRE investing — not just value-add. Nonetheless, these are some of the risks to consider when you are considering an investment:
There is no doubt that value-add CRE investing presents some risks, which we have outlined in detail above, but there is also the potential reward to consider. The opportunity to re-lease, reposition, redevelop and otherwise improve these properties presents an expansive potential for ROI.
Particularly, when executed correctly, value-add investment strategies present opportunity for income growth through improvements, capital appreciation and, ultimately, increased cash flow and/or dividend payouts to investors.
To learn more about alternative investments, check out our article about investing in an inflated economy.