The numbers have been crunched, a broker has been hired, and the marketing has begun. It's official: it's time to sell the self-storage facility. Whether it's retirement, cashing out on a successful investment, or simply a search for a new business challenge, many self-storage professionals are busy navigating their ways through the murky waters of commercial real estate buying and selling. And those waters are becoming increasingly rough. The real estate slowdown and equities market woes seem to lead the evening news nightly, and many self-storage investors are left wondering how well their properties will fare on today's open market.
With this in mind, pricing is becoming an increasingly important part of ensuring a successful sales transaction. Of course, pricing a self-storage property correctly is easier said than done. Over the past several years, values assigned to self-storage facilities have increased dramatically as the asset class has become more desirable to investors.
Class A properties have become especially pricey as more institutional investors have entered the self-storage market. Looking at the sales prices from previous years, many believe values will continue to rise exponentially, while others feel their areas have topped out and even become overpriced. This adds to the overall confusion over what the correct asking price is for a self-storage asset.
It is important to carefully examine the facts and data to determine a facility's real value. Generally, net operating income is the driver of value of an existing self-storage property, says Pierce Owens, senior associate at CB Richard Ellis in Houston, Texas. However, many people calculate net operating income in different ways. For example, some buyers include a third-party management fee in calculating income. There are many different opinions as to what the right net operating income should be.
Not so long ago, many buyers used projected rent and income figures to determine a self-storage property's value. However, this practice has become less common. Buyers now have more of a focus on historical performance, rather than more of a focus on historical performance, rather than a rosy proforma, says Owen. With the current credit market, most lenders will no longer provide funding based on future estimates. Instead, they focus only on actual net operating income figures.
A property's place in the market also has an affect on its value. In an area with huge barriers to entry and a high cost for building new facilities, a property may be worth more than a similar store in a less restrictive market. In addition, the number of nearby competitors and the store's name recognition are also important indicators of overall worth.
Another methodology for the valuation of self-storage property involves the use of optimal underwriting. With optimal underwriting, buyers determine the appropriate expense load a facility should carry, says Steve Ekovich, first vice president, regional manager, and national director of the self-storage group at Marcus & Millichap in Tampa, Fla. The expenses would then be factored to derive a CAP rate. Next, income figures are calculated using both the gross potential rent of the facility and the site's current vacancy rate. Both physical and economic vacancy rates are analyzed as well.
You have to look at the collected income on a monthly basis for two to four months to get a feel for occupancy, Ekovich says. This takes into account the length of time it takes to turn the units and concessions offered to tenants.
The result effective gross income would then be analyzed using the expected expenses for the new owner, including taxes, insurance, and management fees. In addition, salaries, maintenance expenses, and comps would also be studied to ensure they are in line with current market averages. These numbers all serve to give the new owner a realistic picture of what their expenses will be.
Looking At The Market
Over the past few years, self-storage prices seemed to skyrocket. There was an 18-month period where the laws of supply and demand took over, explains Aaron Swerdlin, senior managing director at Houston, Texas-based Storage Investment Advisors. At that time, there were many more buyers than sellers.
As a result, prices rose dramatically, and many people believed property values were ballooning too quickly. There is perception that prices were going so high that things were getting out of hand, says Swerdlin. But, for a long time, self-storage was ignored by the institutional investment community. Once it caught on, it took a while for values to catch up. People weren't overpaying or making deals that they shouldn't be doing. We weren't seeing properties selling for more than they should.
Investors are still actively pursuing self-storage properties in spite of the current real estate slowdown. One reason for this is that capital is generally less expensive for institutional investors than it is for private individuals to obtain. Another driving force behind the influx of investors includes the fact that self-storage is both a business and an investment.
There are more groups looking at self-storage than there were three ago, says Marc Boorstein, principal at Chicago, Ill.-based MJ Partners Real Estate Services. One of the reasons so many new groups are looking to invest in self-storage is that there are fewer defaults in storage than in any other commercial property. You're not dependant on one tenant like you are with retail.
Many investors believe that self-storage is more stable than other business classes. Investors like self-storage because they perceive that the risk adjusted profile on returns is attractive compared to other assets, says Owens. There is also a perception that self-storage is more recession proof than other assets.
For the most part, however, institutional investors tend to target the newer properties located in the largest markets. Over the last couple of years, institutional investors have increased their appetites for Class A, fourth-generation properties, Ekovich says. The more leverage you have, the more someone can pay for an asset. Leverage also affects the CAP rate and has had a profound affect on underwriting.
Although institutional investors seem to be focusing most of their attention on Class A self-storage facilities, Class B and C properties are also seeing a bump from investors' new found interest in the industry. There is a pretty big disparity between Class A properties and Class B and C, says Owens. As the industry welcomed an ever increasing number of new participants, sellers of A Class sites were getting top dollar whenever properties changed hands. Nevertheless, the supply of these assets is limited. There are not a lot of Class A properties, says Owens, so buyers end up chasing B Class properties.
Last year, the price gap between Class A and B was narrower, he adds. This year, it has widened more. Banks and lenders have much tighter underwriting standards today, and they are most likely to lend on very attractive Class A properties.
Knowing The Players
Occasionally, institutional investors will go after a grouping of B and C class properties. Institutional money is going after B properties, but only if you can get a portfolio together, says Boorstein. As you get to smaller markets, you must have a portfolio of three or more properties. It gives the buyer a presence in the market and the advantages of economies of scale.
If self-storage sellers believe their properties will attract the attention of commercial investors, they should set their asking prices accordingly. Sellers need to have a strong understanding of who their buyer might be-a private individual, a regional buyer, or an institutional investor, advises Owens. They should also know how a lender will underwrite and lend on their property.
In general, buyers prefer to use debt financing when possible. However, the cost of funds and debt is going up and, as a result, CAP rates are climbing. Sellers need to understand how that plays into what buyers can pay for the property and how it will be funded.
The benchmark is the 10-year T-bill, and the T-bill has gone down but spreads have gone up, causing interest rates to increase, Ekovich says. The more leverage you have, the more someone can pay for an asset. Leverage also affects the CAP rate and has had a profound affect on underwriting.
With the problems of tightening credit standards, sellers are unlikely to see the same type of debt structures available that were easily attainable only several months ago. Today, most buyers must use more of their own money to close a deal. You used to be able to get 10-year interest-only financing, but now you can only get interest for 2-years, says Boorstein. Very aggressive loans are now less aggressive. Now, the buyer has to put in more equity, and interest rates are higher.
In spite of credit concerns and a softening real estate market, many buyers are still aggressively pursing high-end self-storage properties. Sellers with solid portfolios or successful Class A properties are still likely to garner strong offers. However, sellers who are simply interested in testing the waters may not like what they find. The choppy tides can be extremely unfriendly as property prices have dropped off in some areas.
Nevertheless, the best stores will always attract the attention of a variety of buyers, ensuring smooth sailing for those who are staying the course to get the highest prices and best returns when selling their self-storage facilities.