by | Feb 19, 2022

Imagine spotting an old coffee table sitting out on the curb. You pull over to check it out, and since it’s in good shape, you proceed to lug it home and give it a fresh coat of paint.

A few years later, you sell the coffee table to someone else who claims to have the perfect spot for it.You took something that had been overlooked, committed some sweat equity, and breathednew life into it.

This is the essence of value-add, and it’s a commonly used strategy in real estate investing.

The Basics of Value-Add Real Estate

In the case of commercial real estate, the process of buying a run-down property, remodeling it, and then selling it for profit, is commonly referred to as fix-and-flip. Your sweat equity and ability to see a diamond in the rough is rewarded monetarily, and the new owner gets an updated, move-in ready property.

Value-add commercial real estate deals follow a similar model, but on a massive scale. Multiple units get renovated at a time year after year, instead of just one single-family home or property over a few months.

A great value-add property may have peeling paint, outdated appliances, or overgrown landscaping, which all affect the curb appeal and the initial impression that a potential renter will form. Simple, cosmetic upgrades can attract more qualified renters and increase the income the property produces.

In value-add properties, improvements have two goals:

1) To improve the unit and the community (positively impact tenants)

2) To increase the bottom line (positively impact the investors)

Value-Add Examples

Common value-add renovations can include individual unit upgrades, such as:

● Fresh paint

● New cabinets

● New countertops

● New appliances

● New flooring

● Upgraded fixtures

In addition, adding value to exteriors and shared spaces often helps to increase the sense of


● Fresh paint on building exteriors

● New signage

● Landscaping

● Dog parks

● Gyms

● Pools

● Clubhouse

● Playgrounds

● Covered parking

● Shared spaces (BBQ pit, picnic area, etc.)

On top of all that, adding value can also take the form of increasing efficiencies:

● Green initiatives to decrease utility costs

● Shared cable and internet

● Reducing expenses

The Logistics of a Multifamily or Office building property Value-Add

The basic fix-and-flip of single-family homes is very familiar to most people, but when it comes to multiples units at once, the renovation schedule and logistics aren’t as intuitive. Questions arise around how to renovate property while people are living or working there and how many units can be improved at a time.

When renovating a multifamily or Office building property, the vacant units are first. In the case of 100-unit complex, a 5% vacancy rate means there are five empty units, which is where renovations will begin.

Once those five units are complete and as each existing tenant’s lease comes due for renewal, they are offered the opportunity to move into a freshly renovated unit. Usually, tenants are more than happy with the upgraded space and happy to pay a little extra.

Once tenants vacate their old units, renovations ensue, and the process continues to repeat until most or all the units have been updated.

During this process, some tenants do move away, and it’s important for projects to account for a temporary increase in vacancy rates due to turnover and new leases.

Why We Love Investing in Value-Add Properties

When done well, value-add strategies benefit all parties involved. Through renovations, we provide tenants a more aesthetically pleasing property, with updated appliances and more attractive community space. By doing so, the property becomes more valuable, allowing higher rental rates and increased equity, which makes investors happy too. The property-beautification process and the fact that renovated property is more attractive to tenants is probably straightforward. But let’s dive into why value-add investing is a great strategy for investors.

First, Yield Plays

To fully appreciate value-add investments, we must first understand their counterparts, yield plays. In a yield play, investors buy a stabilized asset and hold it for potential future profits.

Yield play investments are where a currently-cash-flowing-property that’s in decent shape is purchased and held in hopes to sell it for profit, without doing much to improve it. Yield play investors hold property in anticipation of potential market increases, but there’s always the chance of experiencing a flat or down market instead.

In a yield play, everything is dependent upon the market.

Now, Let’s Get Back to Value-Adds

Value plays and yield plays are the opposite. In a value-add investment, significant work (i.e., renovations) takes place to increase the value of the property and doing such improvements carry a significant level of risk.

However, value-add deals also come with a ton of potential upside since the investors hold all the cards. Through physical action steps that improve the property and increase its value, value-add investors don’t just hold the asset hoping for market increases.

Through property improvements, income is increased, thus also increasing the equity in the deal (remember, commercial properties are valued based on how much income they generate, not on comps, like single-family homes), which allows investors much more control over the investment than in a yield play.

Of course, a hybrid yield + value-add investment is ideal. This is where an asset gets improved as the market increases simultaneously. Investors have control over the value-add renovation portion and the market growth adds appreciation.

Now, before you get excited about the potential of a hybrid investment, there are risks associated with any value-add deal.

Examples of Risk in Value-Add Investments

In multifamily or office building value-add investments, common risks include:

● Not being able to achieve target rents

● More tenants moving out than expected

● Renovations running behind schedule

● Renovation costs exceeding initial estimates (which can be a big deal when you’re

renovating hundreds of units)

Risk Mitigation

When evaluating deals as potential investments, look for sponsors who have capital preservation at the forefront of the plan and who have several risk mitigation strategies in place. These may include:

● Conservative underwriting

● Proven business model (e.g., some units have already been upgraded and are achieving

rent increases)

● Experienced team, particularly the project management team

● Multiple exit strategies

● The budget for renovations and capital expenditures is raised upfront, rather than

through cash flow

Value-add investments can be powerful vehicles of wealth, but they also come with serious risks. Therefore, risk mitigation strategies are important – to protect investor capital at all costs.

Recap and Takeaways

No investment is risk-free. However, when something, despite its risks, provides great benefits to the community and investors, it becomes quite attractive.

Properly leveraging investor capital in a value-add investment allows drastic improvements in multifamily communities, thereby creating a cleaner, safer places to live and making tenants happier. Because investors have control over how and when renovations are executed, rather than relying solely on market appreciation, they have more options when it comes to safeguarding capital and maximizing returns.

The way for a win-win!