Tag Archives: multifamily assets

New Construction Utility Expense Management

Getting Your Asset Off to a Good Start from the Ground Up

What if on Day One of the earth moving on your new community you didn’t have to touch the utility aspect of the site?  And, if you wanted to understand what accounts have been created you only need to go to one place to see everything – from what utilities are set up to your current spend? And, what if you could outsource doing everything from powering up the accounts for the trailer right down to installing the last meter needed at the lowest, possible rate available?

Introducing an Energy Manager to the construction team mix in the planning stages will help establish a strong utility expense management structures that carries throughout the life of the investment.

Finding the right person requires a basic understanding of the scope of work and practical benefits. They must have the knowledge to educate you on technology options, as well as the fine details associated with this complex service.

Anyone involved with new construction has experienced the hazards, frustrations, and hair pulling while trying to understand utility bills.

Benefits of Employing an Energy Manager from Day One: 

  • A controlled set up of utility accounts at the right time with the correct, lowest rate available is obviously the best case scenario. Let’s face it, construction companies have the accounts set up at the last minute, rarely worrying about whether the rate is correct. This is a temporary gig for them. You will manage or own the asset long term. An Energy Manager can handle set up based on the construction schedule, on time, at the right rate. No frantic phone calls and unnecessary delays to the project. And, if an issue arises, the Energy Manager sits on the phone with the utility company – not you.
  • The centralization and accessibility of data in an energy management software system is imperative. Imagine no more digging through piles of paper bills trying to find the one number you need. Also, with data being captured correctly and in detail, the ease of accessing it for monthly variance analysis and annual budgets is a breeze. Reports on usage, rates, expenses and exceptions is possible. And, so is making data-driven decisions.
  • Streamlining of A/P processes and the alleviation of work for the accounting and construction, teams, i.e., the rubber stamping of bills versus skilled, audit reviews before payment. For example, the initial paperwork to create accounts, important continuous service agreements and the creation of a standardized process with one point of contact for construction and management can all be handled by an experienced energy manager.

A central point of contact smooths the transition from construction to management with business rules dictating the allocation of bills to be paid based on certificate of occupancy acceptance:

  • Once operational, the Energy Manager continues to add value by eliminating work load for management and expertly handling all your utility needs:
  • Continuous bill auditing using defined metrics. Utility providers never stop making mistakes and rate errors or leaks left unnoticed will cost you big if undetected. Issue resolution on behalf of management is also a critical component. Early detection of problems, such as leaks, and quick resolution are vital to quality utility bill management.
  • Negotiation of procurement contracts is more than just calling brokers and looking for the lowest price. There are dangerous pitfalls of low kWh/high extra fees. A seasoned Energy Manager is crucial to avoiding costly mistakes. Important steps will include reviewing historical usage patterns for your portfolio, aggregating load to gain maximum deal, determining hedging options, scrutinizing hidden fees, finding reputable brokers to contact, manage and negotiate the proposal process, and ultimately present the best options for your consideration. Once a provider is chosen, the Energy Manager maintains and manages the contracts going forward.
  • Failure to connect management and billing. This shouldn’t be a manual process completed on site. Management teams are busy and will miss opportunities to capture all failures to connect problems. An Energy Manager uses a software program designed to capture all failures to connect based on rent roll data versus bill service periods. These would then become exceptions and billed out with an additional penalty fee where allowable by law.
  • If the data is centralized, a budget should be created at an account level based on historical usage patterns, current rate and researched increases triggered to occur in the month forward when actually taking place. Further, anomalies from the previous year, such as leaks, credits or true ups should be scrubbed so the next year’s budget isn’t skewed. This is not the common practice of last year’s expense plus 3-5% increases. It takes a seasoned energy management veteran’s depth of knowledge in utilities to create a realistic budget.

In conclusion, efficient and effective utility bill management is a reality. An Energy Manager will make sure your management associates never open another utility bill envelope.  They will save you time and money and likely make you even more money. Paying a utility bill can cost you upwards of $15 per bill to process. Considering that utilities comprises 16% of your expenses, finding a good energy management program should be a top initiative and not an afterthought.

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How to Calculate and Increase the Cap Rate on Your Multifamily Asset

The financial market has changed in the past decade with an emphasis on less speculative valuing of investment properties and more reliance on hard numbers. Investors evaluating multifamily assets are far more conservative in valuing a potential purchase for income growth in both the short and long term.  As a result, it is critical to understand a property’s net value and continually look for areas to improve cash flow.

While market location and prospective neighborhood improvements are enticing, today’s buyer is more interested in the capitalization rate (Cap Rate) as a true measure of worth. Cap Rate is defined as the ratio of a property’s net income to its purchase price. The obvious first step in understanding a property’s value is to calculate the Cap Rate.

Let’s take this example:

A property of 300 rental apartments with a gross annual rent of $300,000

According to a 2013 NAAHQ survey, a master metered community spends about 46% of its income on operating costs. Of that amount, 13% is utilities. Conversely, a submetered or individual metered property spends about 53% of its income on operation costs with a cost of 6.2% for utilities.

A master metered property with an income of $300,000 will spend $138,000 in
operating expenses

A submetered property with an income of $300,000 will spend $158,000 in
operating expenses

The value of a property is calculated using a Gross Rent Multiplier or GRM.  If the property is in a good neighborhood with good occupancy, take the Annual Income x a Range of 9-11 multipliers to get what the property value should be.

GMR = $300,000 x 11 = $3.3 million

Now put it all together to get your Cap Rate:

Master Metered Property with a Net Operating Income of $138,000/$3,300,000 valued asset
= 4.27% Cap Rate
Or
Submetered Property with a Net Operating Income of $158,000/$3,300,000 valued asset
= 4.8% Cap Rate

8 Tips to Increase a Property’s Income and Reduce Expenses to Improve the Cap Rate:

  1. Never underestimate relentless collection actions – For example, if your residents know you will begin to call, email and send letters 5 days after the rent was due, they will know you mean business.
  2. Carefully screen all residents through a proven application process to avoid delinquent payers and property damage.
  3. Additional income opportunities, with little to no investment, such as coin operated laundry machines, paid parking for premium spots, storage, pet deposits and premium apartment locations are easy to implement on new move-ins and renewals.
  4. Utility recovery can be done two ways where allowed by law: submetering and allocation. A 300 unit community with a cost of $397 annually per unit and a $35,100 investment will recoup about $31,266 the first year, $85,737 year two and $97,387 year three assuming a 2.5% turnover and a 15% common area expense. Simply put, submetering requires an investment and measures each apartment’s utility use, allowing the owner to bill the resident back. A typical payback is 12-13 months. Allocation has no investment and is a billing method that assigns a portion of the utility expense to each apartment based on a number of possible calculations: by occupant count, square feet, number of bathrooms, etc. All residents signed up at move in and renewal would result in net income.
  5. Conservation of common areas in the area of lighting, building envelope, insulation and central system upgrades can greatly reduce utility expenses. Each likely upgrade would need to be carefully vetted to determine the payback so you would know exactly when to expect an increase in income.
  6. Reduce vacancy. Keep in mind that every day an apartment sits vacant on a rent of $1,000 per month, you are losing approximately $33. At a 5% vacant rate, that’s $495 a week and $14,850 a month. Make sure your leasing staff is dedicated, skilled and focused on leasing as a top priority. To borrow a hospitality phrase – “Heads in beds!” – is what the daily goal should be.
  7. Raise rents annually so residents expect an increase and are prepared for it. A lower, consistent annual increase is better than trying to increase rents drastically and losing residents.
  8. Property improvements: If there is an improvement you can make that you can charge for and show a payback within a reasonable period, consider it.

It’s worth taking the time to determine and understand your Cap Rate. Once you do, you can review your options for increasing income. Each property has the potential to increase its Cap Rate. The question is how will you make it happen and what’s the best way to do it?