Sunday, November 27, 2016

Appraising Vacation Home Subdivisions

New subdivision near San Pedro de Macaris, Dominican Republic
If you have read my previous posts, one common observation is that there continues to be a worldwide oversupply of uncompleted vacation home subdivisions, condo projects and proposed subdivisions whose developers continually search for lot buyers and financing. I get to visit some of them for my lender clients.

I sometimes fly thousands of miles to see a project, only to find a mangrove swamp, jungle forest, steep hillside or a sugar plantation.

Sometimes the developer has obtained development approvals, sometimes not. The development approvals can be valuable in areas of land scarcity, but more often I am driven into a wilderness with pretty views but awkward access and a lack of local services.

It is useful to remember that market value depends upon what can be sold, not necessarily what can be developed.

I also see the same developments marketed to consumers with unrealistic photos of bikini babes in infinity pools, colorful tropical birds, the smiling faces of the grateful local natives, and cocktails at the beach.

Sometimes appraisers and valuers are confronted with the task of evaluating pre-sales contracts for lots. Should these prices be considered as market value?

Here are some things to consider in analyzing the sales:

1. What percentage of lots are currently sold or pre-sold? If the subdivision contains 900 lots, but only 20 are sold, this would represent an oversupply situation in which lot prices would have to be discounted.

2. Where are the buyers coming from? If the developer is from Omaha and the buyers are, too, this is cause for suspicion. These might not be real buyers and real sales. Another cause for suspicion is if the buyers are LLCs (limited liability corporations).

3. Read the sales contracts. Is the transfer of ownership conditional upon improvements completed by the developer? How much cash down payment is required? In some cases it might be only 5%, but if buyers perceive that their property has decreased by more than 5%, they might default on their payments.

4. What has happened on the lots that have been sold? Have they been developed or are there For Sale signs on them?

5. Are there lots already listed for sale in the secondary market? Check brokers and ads.

6. What infrastructure (roads, utilities, promised amenities) has been completed?

The preferred method of valuing a subdivision is a discounted cash flow analysis commonly called “The Subdivision Method”, in which all revenues and expenses are forecasted over time and discounted at a market rate of return. Witnessing very low rates of absorption of lots, however, I presently discourage this method for most vacation home subdivisions.

Whenever possible, I look for actual sales of incomplete subdivisions. These can be very hard to find, however. If such properties are listed for sale, though, that is a good place to start before applying appropriate market-based adjustments.