The relationship between risk and return is important for real estate investors to understand. Therefore, one of the basics of real estate investing is to understand what different types of property classes are for investing, and what does each class mean.
I’ve been investing in real estate for over 20 years and own properties in San Francisco, Honolulu, and Lake Tahoe. I also have 18 different commercial real estate crowdfunding investments all around the heartland of America. The majority of my commercial real estate investments are Class A because I’m focused on steady returns and lower risk because I retired in 2012 off my passive income investments. But you might have different risk parameters.
Let’s review the various property classes below.
The Different Types Of Property Classes For Real Estate
Most private real estate investments can be grouped into one of four broad categories that are distinguished by the degree of potential risk and return applicable to the property:
Core: Generally considered to be a lower-risk/lower-return strategy, this approach uses relatively low leverage and focuses on stable, fully leased, multi-tenant properties within strong, diversified market areas. The properties generally do not require significant improvements or renovations.
Core Plus: This approach also focuses on core-like properties, but with an increased opportunity for potentially improving the property’s net operating income through modest measures such as rent increases upon lease rollovers or by modest property improvements. This is generally considered to be a moderate-risk/moderate-return strategy.
Value-Add: This approach is considered a medium-to-high-risk strategy which generally involves making relatively significant property improvements so that the market may assign a higher value to the property. Properties may be considered candidates for a value-add strategy when they exhibit management or operational problems, require physical improvement or suffer from capital constraints. This approach may offer medium to high return objectives.
Opportunistic: Typically considered to be a high-risk/high-return strategy involving development properties, the redeployment of markedly underutilized properties or other extensive enhancements. The best way to add value is to expand i.e. build at a lower cost than selling price.
A Note about Value-Add Property
Investments listed on the RealtyMogul platform generally focus on value-add opportunities in middle-market commercial properties, cases where a sponsor sees an opportunity to reposition the property to a higher and better use. RealtyMogul is my favorite real estate crowdfunding platform for accredited investors.
Individual projects vary, but generally speaking, our value-add opportunities involve property upgrades or operational improvements that require only limited or moderate renovations, repositioning, re-tenanting or redevelopment. The end goal is to increase the net operating income of the property, causing it to potentially appreciate in value
The value-add strategy generally involves greater risk than “core” or “core-plus” approaches. By the same token, it can offer potentially higher return objectives.
Projects with more extensive development plans may likely feature less current cash flow and more appreciation potential.
The value-add strategy generally involves greater risk than “core” or “core-plus” approaches, notably by an increased reliance on greater leverage, renovation or development, and a focus on secondary markets. By the same token, it can offer potentially higher return objectives. Projects with more extensive development plans may likely feature less current cash flow and more appreciation potential.
Asset diversification may play a role in the investment objectives of many investors, and a mix of real estate investments involving properties at different points along the risk / return spectrum may be a desirable strategy for those investors.
Class A, Class B, and Class C Properties
Properties may also be described as “Class A,” “Class B” and “Class C.”
These property classifications are sometimes used to designate a different level of risk and return for a property, and thus may also factor into an investor’s return objectives.
These classifications tend to reflect a “grade” of a property’s physical characteristics, and sometimes of its location. The grades consider the age, location, and amenities of the property; its rental income and appreciation prospects; and its likely tenant income levels.
There is no precise formula by which properties are placed into classes, but the breakdown is generally as follows:
Class A: These properties are generally newer properties built within the last 15 years with top amenities, high-income earning tenants, and low vacancy rates. Class A buildings are well located in a market and are typically professionally managed. They typically demand relatively high rents and have very few deferred maintenance issues.
Class B: These properties are generally older, tend to have lower income tenants and may or may not be professionally managed. Rental income is typically lower than Class A, and the properties may have some deferred maintenance issues. Generally, however, these buildings remain relatively well maintained. These are often properties that sponsors seeking “value-add” opportunities may tend to chase because through renovation and common area improvements the property can often be repositioned to be marketed at higher rental rates. Buyers are generally able to acquire these properties at higher cap rates (i.e., lower purchase price relative to net operating income) than for Class A properties, because Class B properties are viewed as somewhat riskier prospects.
Class C: Class C properties are typically more than 20 years old and located in less than desirable locations. The properties are generally in need of renovation, including updates of a building’s infrastructure, and tend to have lower rental rates compared to other local properties. Some Class C properties need significant redevelopment work before they can be expected to provide steady cash flows.
What do Property Classes Mean for Investors?
Property classifications tend to represent different levels of risk and reward. Return objectives thus tend to reflect the associated risk of a project. Higher return objectives signal higher risk; lower return objectives tend to be associated with lower risk.
Class B and C properties tend to be available at lower relative prices and may present interesting opportunities.
“Core,” Class A properties tend to be “top tier” properties that are often at less risk in times of a recession (unless high-income renters suffer disproportionately from that economic downswing). Foreign and institutional investors may often prefer these properties because they are viewed as relatively low risk real estate investments.
Class B and C properties, though, tend to be available at lower relative prices (since investors demand to be paid for the additional risk), and may present interesting opportunities — since significant property improvements or improved management can sometimes cause those properties to be re-positioned to higher potential operating incomes and valuations.
Return objectives thus tend to reflect the associated risk of a project. Higher return objectives signal higher risk; lower return objectives tend to be associated with lower risk.
Which Is The Best Class Of Property To Invest In?
Class A “core” and “core-plus” properties may be an appropriate investment for investors seeking a degree of capital preservation, or for those simply seeking to diversify into less risky projects with a steady IRR or rental payout.
Class B and C value-add or opportunistic projects, however, may be more suited for investors seeking higher returns and capital appreciation. These projects are best at the beginning of the real estate cycle.
As we’ve had quite a bull run since 2010-2012, it’s probably better to invest in Class A properties at this stage in the cycle. Further, I’d focus on the heartland of America, where real estate values are lower and net rental yields are higher compared to expensive coastal city real estate markets which are softening.
Invest On The Best Platforms
With real estate crowdfunding, you don’t need to risk $100,000 or more to invest in commercial real estate. Instead, you can invest for much lower amounts such as $5,000. The best real estate crowdfunding platforms today are:
1) RealtyMogul, founded in 2012 and primarily for accredited investors. So far, RealtyMogul has distributed over $100M, have 170K members, and have funded over $2B in property deals. I’ve spoken to their CEO, Jilliene Helman at length, and she is focused on building a multi-decade long business with the highest quality commercial real estate deals.
2) Fundrise, founded in 2012 and available for accredited investors and non-accredited investors. I’ve worked with Fundrise since the beginning, and they’ve consistently impressed me with their innovation. They are pioneers of the eREIT product. Most recently, they were the first ones to launch an Opportunity Fund in the real estate crowdfunding space to take advantage of new tax laws.
Both of these platforms are the oldest and largest real estate crowdfunding platforms today. They have the best marketplaces and the strongest underwriting of deals. Investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives when assessing the gamut of real estate opportunities that are available. Remember, too, that real estate investments have many risk factors, so it is important to review the full offering materials for any investment that is being evaluated.
About the Author: Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 as a way to make sense of the financial crisis. He proceeded to spend the next 13 years after attending The College of William & Mary and UC Berkeley for b-school working at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse. He owns properties in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Honolulu and has $810,000 invested in real estate crowdfunding. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $220,000 a year in passive income. He spends time playing tennis, hanging out with family, consulting for leading fintech companies and writing online to help others achieve financial freedom.