Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Appraisal in Lima, Peru

An interesting cityscape resulting from upzoning approved in the 1990s. Many of the office buildings erected then have a lack of windows.

This was a one-acre site, improved with an old mansion from decades ago, situated in Lima’s main financial district, San Isidro. Per JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle), the office vacancy rate in San Isidro was measured at the end of 2013 at just 1%, so a site such as this one would have great value to commercial real estate developers.

Many Latin American cities are divided into municipios, or municipalities, which are similar in concept to the boroughs of New York City. During the 1990s, the municipio of San Isidro, a sort distance south of Lima’s central business district, was upzoned to building heights ranging from 4 to 32 stories, and most of the banks relocated to this district, making San Isidro Lima’s de facto financial district, but also home to many embassies, too. This is one of the nicest areas of Lima.

Lima and Peru have in recent years undergone rapid economic expansion, averaging 7% per year and predicted to be 6% this year, and the supply of office and residential space has been unable to keep up with rapidly increasing demand from redevelopment ventures. This has resulted in urban land values spiraling upward, quadrupling since 2006.

In places like Manhattan, New York, such land is often appraised on a “value per square foot of allowable building area”, which is based on land prices divided by site area divided by FAR (Floor Area Ratio). Such a method does not work quite so well here in Lima because many lots are so small that high density construction is not efficient, partially because of required setbacks. There are many lots of less than 400 square meters (4280 square feet) zoned for 7 stories of construction, and perhaps their main value is to serve as part of an assemblage of a larger site, which is being done all over the financial district in San Isidro.

The Lima office of Colliers International, which seems to be the most active global broker in Latin America (based on seeing their signs), was generous in providing comps. However, I found that price per square foot of FAR was not working as a unit of comparison; it was seriously undervaluing many sites with allowable building heights of 7 stories, which are selling for more than $3000 per square meter.

Because of the number of available comps, I performed a regression analysis on the data in order to isolate possible adjustments to comparable sales for both building height and for site area. Because of low sample sizes in commercial real estate markets, such regressions cannot meet the high standards of the scientific community, yet they are better than pulling adjustments out of thin air, the last resort of many appraisers. The regression suggested an adjustment of $170 per square meter of site area for extra floor allowed to be built. The adjustment for site area was more understated, a premium of $60 per square meter for every extra 1000 square meters of site area.

This assignment reminded me of a similar assignment in San Jose, Costa Rica last summer. The shortage of land within the central cities of prospering Latin American cities is resulting in a profound amount of redevelopment, and it must be an exciting time to be a real estate developer in many Latin American cities.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Common Denominators Seen in Mexican Land Scams

After six years of appraising in Mexico I’ve seen the following patterns that warn me when I am being deceived.

1. My favorite one is when the loan applicant’s representatives take me to a prime location and then point to their property in the distance. “There it is,” they tell me. I tell them that my client requires me to set foot on the property, which is not really true (setting foot on the property is my requirement), but wouldn’t I look foolish and my client be harmed if I didn’t know find out that the land is a mangrove swamp? Sometimes it’s hard to tell from above, as can be seen in the following photos from Isla Mujeres:

2. Another pattern is when excuses are made as to why I cannot meet the property’s true owner. A common response is “We have power of attorney; it doesn’t matter,” but the document supposedly conveying the power of attorney is not convincing, either that is excessively old, it conveys power to yet another individual who is not present, or it does not actually convey power of attorney and the loan applicants are just hoping that I can’t read Spanish. Some feel compelled to provide a photocopy of the owner’s driver’s license or passport, hardly a standard of proof.

3. The borrower’s representatives all have business cards labeling them as marketing or public relations consultants, yet they claim to be real estate developers. “Show me your development plan” is a good question to flush out fake real estate developers.

4. When I request a current predial (property tax bill) for the property, deceivers instead supply a predial from years before. Years 2008 and 1993 are favorite years. Year 2008 is the year before Mexican tourist land values started crashing. Year 1993 was the year that the peso was devalued by 1000:1, so every assessed value appears 1000 times larger than it actually was. The inability to obtain a current predial might also indicate that the borrowers do not actually currently represent the true land owner.

On a related note, Citibank announced in February fraud-related losses in Mexico of $400 million in their Banamex subsidiary and has also experienced hundreds of millions of dollars in losses in previous years in ill-fated Mexican residential subdivisions.  In 2011, I pitched my own Latin American appraisal services to their chief appraiser for Latin America, who is actually a gringo in Atlanta. I was then told that I cannot serve Citibank because I am "not a national firm", even though the first three years of my career were spent at international firm Jones Lang Wootton, now JLL.

Next year, a client hired me to appraise a proposed residential subdivision outside Mexico City and also hired the local Cushman and Wakefield Valuation and Advisory Services office in Mexico City.  C&W came up with an appraised value 15 times as high as mine and the client got us on a 3-way conference call to resolve this discrepancy. The C&W appraiser was a young girl right out of college.  I noted that her report had incorrect zoning for the site.  She said that she did that because the broker told her to, but there was no documentation that a change in zoning was occurring and the neighboring subdivision had only been able to sell less than 20 lots. My client told her "Don't assume anything".

Perhaps Citibank's insistence on using "national firms" is what has caused them so many losses in Mexico? Perhaps this also explains why Cushman is facing over $10 billion in appraisal malpractice claims.