Anyone that has been reading my articles knows I love a regular home with a suite or a duplex property, and for over a decade I’ve been pretty faithful to these residential investments, but recently I have had my attention fixated on a more alluring beast, and that is multi-family investing (apartment buildings) and I have to say, I have a new obsession. It combines my favourite two aspects of real estate, Cash-flow and Value-adding, except it puts both on steroids. Now before I start, many people may have already checked out after reading the headline. Apartment buildings? That’s out of our league, or that’s too risky! I’m here to challenge that limiting belief. For starters, obtaining a mortgage on a building that has been run like a business for years is surprisingly less challenging to finance with banks than a residential property. With residential they focus on the strength of the applicant. In multi-family lending they look at the strength of the building’s financials. In terms of risk, it may seem like because the numbers are higher that the risk is higher, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In an apartment building you have only one roof to worry about, one heating system, one property tax bill etc. There’s an economy of scale here. For example, a roof for an apartment building is worth approximately $20,000. If you had 10 duplexes and had to do all 10 roofs you would be looking at closer to $100,000 in costs. What about the risk of vacancy putting strain on your cash-flow? Consider that 5 of your 20 apartment units could suddenly vacate, and you would still be cash flow positive. If one side of your duplex vacates you are faced with an ugly negative cash-flow situation. Risk aside, my favourite part about apartment buildings is that their value is based on the Net Income. More technically speaking, it is the Net Operating Income divided by the local, current CAP rate. A CAP rate is the expected return on investment for banks and investors. In the Okanagan Valley in 2014, banks are lending against a value that is based on a CAP rate of 6%. This is a fairly high overall yield as compared with larger centers like Vancouver, that only offer 2-3% CAP rates. For example a building with a net operating income of $120,000/yr divided by a CAP of 6% is worth $2,000,000. Another way of putting this would be that an investor would have to invest 2 million of their own and the bank’s capital for an income stream of $120,000 or 10k per month. Typically you would require 25% of your own funds and 75% bank financing. Read all the way to the last paragraph for a free e-book on raising money for a down payment. So with that knowledge, how does an investor take something from being a solid investment and really turn it into a gold mine? I’m talking raising the value by as much as a million dollars in 2-3 years through a process called normalization. In simple terms, get the rents up to maximum market price and the expenses down as low as one can negotiate them. What happens once you start down this rabbit hole is about as exciting as anything you will find in the world of investment, period. Are you ready for it? Here’s the basic principal. $50 dollars added to the bottom line monthly, equals $10,000 in increased value. Pretty cool right? But don’t forget that when you have 20 units that multiplies into $200,000! So if $50 dollars/month equates to a $200,000 gain, then let’s explore how an ordinary investor could profit $1,000,000 (tax free) by systematically going after the lowest hanging fruit over a 2-3 year period. This is a case study of an average 20-unit apartment building in the Okanagan Valley. I prefer something built in the 1970’s as many were built in that era. The reason this era provides for the best opportunity is that due to its age, you can count on the majority of the big ticket items like roof, windows and boiler systems having been upgraded in the past decade. Also, it is very likely that its current owner has not kept up with rental increases over the years and because they don’t have debt on the building typically, they are not overly concerned with maxing out the rents. Often they are happy making their 100-120k per year off the building. Now in their 70s, they are ready to sell this investment and exit the landlord business. Here in lies the opportunity! Our buying Criteria is a building where the current rents are approximately 100-150/mo low for an average unit compared to the market. You would be surprised at how often this is the case. When looking at the financials of a building look for things like utilities being included, which once eliminated can provide an instant increase in cash-flow of about $75/month per unit. That move alone adds $300,000 to the valuation. The other item we are looking for is a high expense ratio. This means that the expenses are high in relation to the Gross income. Anything 40% or higher is the sweet spot. Our job will be to lower expenses by at least 5%.

So here is a basic Income and Expense scenario for our hypothetical 2 million dollar, 20-unit apartment building:

  • 20 Units with an average rent of 800/mo
  • $192,000 Gross revenue
  • $76,800 In expenses including utilities (40% expense ratio)
  • Net operating Income $115,200
  • Market Value based on 6 CAP equals $1,920,000


  1. Raise average rents to 950/mo
  2. Stop including utilities in rent
  3. Reduce remaining expenses by 5%

These objectives will take some time to complete (allow for 2 to 3 years to fully normalize a building) but trust me, it’s well worth the investment of your time and energy. Now let’s look at our investment after we’ve accomplished our three missions.

  • 20 units at an average rent of $950/mo
  • $228,000 Gross Revenue
  • $55,860 Expenses (After utilities removed and 5% reductions on all contracts)
  • $172,140 Net Operating Income
  • Market Value based on 6 CAP is now $2,870,000
  • Net Gain $950,000

Obviously this is a staggering profit, and anyone would kill to be part of something like this. The simple fact is, very few people will ever make the leap. I consult a very small group of investors on how to acquire, normalize and sometimes even further develop multi-family property. It’s something I am deeply passionate about and have begun investing in myself. A few months ago I closed on my first apartment building and have another one pending as I write this. The deal in the case study is only an example. You can find small 5-plexes for as low as $500,000. An 8-plex will run you about $900,000. A 12 unit building will be about $1,200,000. A general rule of thumb for buildings with 10 units or more suggests you can expect to pay about $100,000 per unit. Slightly less as you go up in price (more economy of scale). In closing I just want to point out that you should not let a lack of capital stop you from pursuing this dream. Raising investment money from people in your inner circle is very doable. Partnering with people to do multiple deals is as profitable and fun as any business venture.

Posted by AJ Hazzi on


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