Flowers & Roots

Alec J. Pacella

I’m always pleased to see comments from loyal readers. Most of the time, these are complimentary. But as a wise Yoda once told me, “Compliments grow flowers, but criticisms grow roots.” And while one of the comments I received in response to last month’s column wasn’t a criticism, it was insightful.

The gist was a historically limited viewpoint from the lender’s perspective. The comment wasn’t wrong; prior to the concept of 365/360 loan amortization covered last month, it had been a few years since anything related to the lender’s perspective was considered. And make no mistake – lenders are a dominant part of the commercial real estate landscape. Last year, nearly $4 trillion of capital invested in commercial real estate came from lenders, as compared to $2.7 trillion of equity. Given the significant role that lenders play, this month will be a bit of a ‘two-fer’ and follow up on some basic metrics that a lender uses to determine the appropriate level of participation in an investment.

One of the most common (and easy to understand) metrics used by a lender is the loan-to-value (or LTV) ratio. This approach considers the underlying value of the real estate as compared to a ratio established by the lender. For example, the lender determines a property to have a value of $1 million and has established a 75% LTV ratio.

In this instance, the lender would be willing to provide a maximum loan of $750,000 ($1,000,000 x .75). Another metric related to LTV but less common is the leveraged ratio. It measures the amount of equity as compared to the total investment. In the example above, the leveraged ratio would be 4:1, which means that every dollar of equity equates to four dollars of total value ($1,000,000 divided by $250,000). LTV and leveraged ratio are both focused on the underlying value of the real estate, but a lender will also look at the income characteristics of the asset. A primary measure with this focus is known as the debt service coverage ratio (or DSCR), which helps to ensure the property has sufficient cash flow to make the loan payments. LTV and leveraged ratio are simple and only require one step. DSCR is a bit more involved and requires two steps. The first step is to determine the maximum annual debt service given the property’s income, as represented by net operating income (NOI) and the DCSR established by the lender.

This ensures there is not just enough but more than enough income to service the debt. Assume a property has a NOI of $80,000 and the lender establishes a DCSR of 1.25. In this instance, the maximum annual debt service would be $64,000 ($80,000 divided by 1.25). This ensures a measure of safety for the lender, as the NOI could fall by up to

Another metric that has risen in popularity over the last decade is known as debt yield, which represents the percent of NOI as compared to the original loan amount. This is a helpful measure of risk for a lender as it illustrates the yield that a lender would realize if they were to come into a direct ownership position due to a default by the borrower. It is also a valuable metric as it helps to ensure the loan amount is not inflated by low cap rates, low interest rates or a long amortization period. Calculating this is straight-for- ward: dividing NOI by the loan amount. Again, using our example and assuming a $750,000 loan, the debt yield would be $80,000 divided by $750,000 = 9.375%.

The last metric I would like to discuss is also one that has been around the longest  the venerable loan constant. It measures the annual debt service, including principal and interest, as compared to the original loan amount. Using our example and again assuming a $750,000 loan, the loan constant would be $61,910 divided by $750,000 = 8.255%. At the risk of sounding like the kid that had to walk to school and back uphill and in two feet of snow, a loan constant was used to calculate loan payments in the days before financial calculators. The cutting-edge real estate tool back then was a little book with a red cover entitled “The Ellwood Tables.” It was filled with pages upon pages of tables with eight-digit numbers.

At the risk of sounding like the kid that had to walk to school and backup hill and in two feet of snow, a loan constant was used to calculate loan payments in the days before financial calculators. The cutting- edge real estate tool back then was a little book with a red cover entitled “The Ellwood Tables.”

To use it, you would match up the columns for the lender’s nominal interest rate and loan amortization period. Once the corresponding eight-digit number was found, you multiplied it by the initial loan amount and, shazam, the annual debt service would be known. In the example above, matching up the column for a 20-year loan amortization with the row for 5.5% interest would result in a factor of .08254667.

Upon reviewing a sampling of past articles, the topics associated with mortgages and the debt market are indeed far and few between. And if it wasn’t for some- one taking the time to point this out, this month’s article would likely have been centered around internal rate of return, net present value or cap rates.

Keep those comments coming, gang! AP

Published in Properties Magazine July 2022

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