Tactical Asset Allocation

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Commercial Real Estate – Valuing The Cash Flow

Many investors don’t understand the power of commercial real estate. I too had reservations until I understood the power and safety commercial real estate can provide. Commercial real estate is similar to trucks. Trucks come in all sizes and all shapes – a Ford Ranger to an 18 wheeler. Commercial properties come in all sizes and shapes – a standalone building that houses a small restaurant to the Empire State Building. People read in the newspapers that commercial property prices are crashing. People notice the strip malls have a lot of vacancies and it scares them away. Let’s take a look at the power of commercial real estate and a quick note about market cycles. Commercial real estate is a business and is priced based on current cash flows. For simplicity sake, commercial property pricing is based on 10 x annual cash flow, not including debt service (loan). So a property that yields $10,000 in cash flow is worth $100,000. Regardless of the type of property, if you increase rents by 1% ($100) the value goes up a $1000. Decrease expenses by $100 and the value goes up $1000. So what? Let’s look at a simple apartment example.A small apartment complex (10 units) has an annual cash flow of $50,000 and is for sale for $500,000. It has a lot of long-term tenants paying below market rents. You put down 20% or $100,000 (there are ways to make it someone else’s money). We’ll assume it is a positive cash flow property even with the debt service (loan payments). First a storage area is made into a laundry facility that provides $5000 on annual basis. You just increased the value $50,000. Next rents are raised the first year to market rents. Raising rents $50 per unit increases cash flow $6000. You just increased the value $60,000. That means you have doubled your original $100,000 in the first year and you get to keep the $11,000 cash flow. There are many more ways to increase the cash flow including: separate utilities and have tenants pay utilities, decrease vacancy, work out a deal with dish network and get paid, reduce maintenance costs, and more. Just by raising the rent $10 a year increases cash flow $1200 a year and increases the value $12,000. In three to five years you’ll have cash flows of $70,000 to $100,000 (less debt service which remains constant) and you can sell the property for $700,000 to $1,000,000. Now you see the power of commercial real estate.Just like single family homes, not every property is a good deal. First you look for commercial properties in areas that have improving rents, increasing employment, and areas where the entire area is going through gentrification. Next you look for properties that have a value proposition – rents too low, poor management, ability to install laundry or some other measure to increase cash flow. You would be surprised how many buildings are poorly managed or have below market rents.I’ve used an apartment as the example; however this same model works for office buildings, mobile home parks, strip malls and more. All types of real estate (all types of investment) go through cycles. When the economy is booming for example, the vacancy in office buildings goes down significantly (prices go up). Of course the opposite is true during an economic downturn. During economic downturns more people move to apartments, mobile homes and need storage facilities. By observing these cycles one can move in and out of various positions to minimize risk and increase portfolio value.
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Law Offices, Professional Image, and Marketing

Face it. Financial bottom lines are affected by the fact we live in a world that judges a book by its cover. Pretty singers sell more records, court cases rank higher in the news if the person is attractive, and politicians are elected based on their image as much any other factor.Looking at your own industry, don’t you have to fight the public’s perceptions? We see it on TV and in movies every day. More often than not, young lawyers, paralegals, and others just starting out in the profession are portrayed as cheap, petty, low-rent, and usually called “ambulance chasers.”It’s not right, but this issue of image is one that you have to live with and learn to work with.Let’s cut to the bottom line which is this: In today’s business climate, everyone should realize that a professional image is crucial to reputation and everyone could stand to improve theirs to some degree or other. It’s what you need to do to keep your individual firms alive. Therefore, let’s cover some opportunities for improvement using the acronym A.L.I.V.E.:Appearance – Your physical persona and the way present yourself.Letterhead – The level of professionalism demonstrated in your printed marketing materials.Information – Accuracy and honesty; the keys to presenting the data gathered during a case.Voice – How you communicate to everyone you’re associated with.Education – The continual improvement to your professional knowledge base.Appearance: People base a large percentage of their first impression on your appearance. When a client meets you for the first time, they’re sizing up your credibility, your ability as a legal professional, and deciding just how well you might conduct yourself in public. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, so let’s look at a few pointers.Always dress in a professional manner. For men and women both, the attire should be “business professional,” which for men means suit and tie whenever possible, and for the ladies, business suits, nice skirt and blouse, or dresses. If you look unkempt or “second rate” the client will wonder how you’ll represent them while working their case.A close cousin to dress is personal grooming. Simply put, make sure your hair, facial hair, hands, nails, and teeth are all clean and well kept. By the way, how’s your breath? Always keep some mints handy.Another key opportunity to exhibit a professional image is in court. Make your trial presentations well-organized and polished works of art. You’ll notice down in our bio box we have a link to a free ebook that will help you create a very professional trial notebook.Letterhead: In some cases, the first contact someone may have with you might be one of your business cards. For our purposes though, “letterhead” refers to any printed material (paper or electronic) anyone outside your office might see.Business cards are a must. Make them distinctive, but with minimal content. Let your website or brochure carry the heavy content.On business cards, stationery, and your website stay away from trite, cliché, or negative icons such as someone running after an ambulance. In your web address, phone numbers, or email addresses, stay away from negative phrases like “[email protected].” These might seem cute, but to many potential clients, they’re a turnoff.For stationery, choose quality paper and have your letterhead and envelopes, as well as your contracts, professionally produced by the same people who do your business cards. Make sure their color themes match. Your local print shop or office supply store should have everything you need. If there’s any one place you want to spend a little money, this is near the top of the list.Stay away from blank notepads and manila folders. They’ll both get too messy too soon and not only will that make you look unprofessional and disorganized, but blank notepads make you look unprepared, and lost or disorganized notes lead to inaccurate reports and invoices. Invest a little time and/or money into buying or developing a comprehensive set of forms or an organizer system to use while assembling your case.Information: In the legal business, the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s 50%. And, unless you know what’s in it, don’t speculate. “Just the facts Ma’am.” One of the biggest opportunities for a good impression, and naturally the most important, is the timely delivery of honest, accurate, information. Nothing will kill your image, reputation, and livelihood, like incomplete, inaccurate, biased, or late case work. Likewise, an inaccurate invoice can cost you by being either too low or too high.Rule one is, always has been, and always will be, “Use a good case management system.” Make sure everyone working for you uses the same system, and that your standards of accuracy start at the beginning, and continues through the whole case and through any follow-up you may ever have with that client. Then treat all of your other clients the same way.Use nice presentation folders for all your reports; even the “small dollar” ones. Each client is important to you from a marketing standpoint and therefore deserves to be treated with respect. Putting your work product on better stationery, in a well-organized format, and in an attractive presentation folder will provide a greater perceived value to your client. These people have probably paid a hefty sum for your service and a more professional report will help assure them that it was money well spent.Voice: Voice is a general term used to describe not only the actual verbal communication you have with your clients and others, but the “tone” your business has with those it deals with.When you answer the phone, do so cheerfully and actually smile. You can tell when someone’s not happy to be on the phone and so can others. This phone call might be your first contact with the next big client, so make it count.If you can’t personally answer every call, the next best thing is to have a receptionist or answering service. A person is always better than voice mail. Go with what you can afford, but since the phone call is one of your opportunities for a first impression, anyone answering the phone should be trained to be courteous, cheerful, informative, and as professional as possible.Education and intelligence are just as necessary as a cheerful hello. You want people to know that you are every bit as qualified and capable as they could hope for. Therefore, when speaking with people, speak clearly, and choose your words carefully. They don’t have to be big words, but they do have to make sense, and grammar is important.The written word should follow the same rule. Make sure your business cards, letterhead, brochures, reports, invoices, and all other written documents use correct spelling and proper grammar. Though your client may be enamoured enough with your abilities as a legal professional to overlook a minor grammatical error, you never know who else of importance might see your report or correspondence.Education: Here we continue where your writing skills leave off and cover the actual knowledge or skill base upon which your legal expertise is founded. Experience is the best teacher, but classroom education can certainly help keep you informed and up to date. Also, the fact that you are continually updating your expertise is impressive to most potential clients.Many states require continuing education. If your state does, you should publish this fact in your firm’s literature. If your state does not require CEU, you should still take it upon yourself to keep your own training updated and make that fact a prominent component of your marketing materials.Join professional organizations where possible. Many of them will offer various classes and training programs and the benefits of networking are considerable.Keep your library stocked. Many people learn as much from books and videos as they do in a classroom setting.As you attend some of these educational functions, take the opportunity to look around you and either further your own education on this issue of appearance by studying your colleagues, or help improve the way they represent you by helping educate them as to the benefits of a more professional image.