Thursday, October 21, 2021

Appraisal of Coastal Land on a Pacific Island

Notice the proximity of the cliffs and the calm, reef-protected waters. 

Some of my appraisal assignments call for “second opinions”. This one called for a third opinion, as appraisal reports had been respectively submitted by two MAIs who resided on the island. The estimates of value were more than $50 million apart. Who was right? Who was wrong? 

A survey measuring more than 250 acres had been done 8 years previously after an assemblage of smaller lots had been rezoned to hotel use. This survey was officially accepted by the local government, but the survey had a strangely unprofessional appearance. The survey was two-dimensional except for a central portion of the site which was described as “cliff face area” and drawn 3-dimensionally, including ravines within the cliffs, and this area was given a significant amount of site area, 63.5 acres, even though the cliffs appeared to be almost vertical. Had “vertical” become the “new horizontal” on this quaint island? Upland area had been measured at 110 acres and beachfront area had been measured as 105 acres.

These cliffs are mislocated on the survey

Google Earth now gives us tools in measuring land, and the differences between the satellite view and the survey were quite apparent. The survey showed the cliffs by the shore at only the northernmost part of the property, whereas they seemed to be touching the shore in 3 different places from south to north in the satellite photo. 

Measuring all site area below 50 feet in elevation, I found only 36 acres of beach land, not 105 acres. 

Surveys of tropical beaches often have to be redone every few years due to beach erosion or accretion as a result of tropical storms, and this island experiences plenty of storms, but the loss of 70 acres of beach land seemed to be too much to be believable for a coral reef-protected beach like this one. 

I had to conclude that the survey was inaccurate to begin with, due to its strange measuring conventions, seemed almost to exaggerate this site's beach land and overall site area. 

In addition, as I have constantly maintained on this blog, the most accurate technique for valuing beach land is the use of “price per lineal meter” or “price per lineal foot” as the unit of comparison. The use of price per square foot or price per square meter yields less precise results, as the value on the beach side of the property is so much more than the value of inland area. Every statistical analysis I have done indicates that price per lineal measure provides the least variance among possible beach land valuation results. 

Nevertheless, the appraisers were both using price per square meter as their metric. I asked one why, and the response was that there was no public data on beachfront or waterfront length on this island, so price per square meter is what they felt that they were limited to.

For certain comparable sales and listings, though, there were satellite photos, some of which were sufficient to make estimates of the beach length. Some times using the right metric requires some extra effort.  The comps for raw beach land were in a range of $1650 to $2500 per lineal foot of beachfront.

That's enough of today's lesson, but I want to discuss the politics I sometimes have to contend with on foreign assignments such as this. The politics typically comes from loan salesmen and/or jealous, mediocre appraisers.

1. "These are the acknowledged appraisal experts for this island! They are MAIs! How dare you challenge their expertise in their own land. You are geographically incompetent!"

First of all, these grand poobahs did not even agree on value. One estimate was almost three times as high as the other one.  They did not even measure the length of the beach, the most important part of the property. They used outdated sales from prior to the pandemic, and did not notice beach property listings at much lower prices than yesterday's sales. I have always wondered why The Appraisal of Real Estate, the most comprehensive real estate appraisal textbook in the U.S today, spends less than one paragraph explaining how listings can be used to estimate market value in declining markets.

I have had no prior experience with this island, but I have spent the last 15 years appraising beach properties in Fiji, Hawaii, Brazil, Barbados, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, U.S. and Canada.  So that is my statement of geographic competency.