|Why Are Small Resorts So Expensive?
Once you understand how resorts are priced you can
plan a workable buying strategy.
Rule #1: You cannot use residential appraisal methods to price a
Rule #2: All resorts are priced for cash buyers, not financed
Rule #3: Despite rule #2, most resorts sell to financed buyers.
Rule #4: Timing is the decisive factor in financed resort purchases.
Rule #5: Emotion is the decisive factor in cash resort purchases.
A "cash purchase" means the buyer pays all cash for
the resort, or a cash equivalent such as a 1031 tax deferred exchange. There are no loan
payments which means the buyer keeps a lot more of the gross annual sales.
A "financed purchase" means the buyer makes a cash
down payment and borrows the rest of the resort purchase money from a lending institution.
Financed purchases result in loan payments which normally take a huge bite out of annual
As a general rule, but certainly not always, a resort sells
at a higher price when the buyer pays all cash. This is why sellers understandably price
for cash sales. It only makes sense to do so. I'll explain why cash sales usually bring
higher prices in a minute.
For a financed purchase, the higher the amount of the
purchase price that is financed, the lower the selling price must be. This is
understandably why sellers don't price for financed buyers. I'll detail this issue in a
Cash buyers are not as common as financed buyers. However
there are enough cash resort sales every year in the small resort market to encourage
sellers to hold out for cash buyers. As a real estate agent I cannot recommend they do
Most resorts do end up selling to financed buyers simply
because sellers, after a period of time, decide to price for buyers who will finance the
purchase. The critical skill needed by all financed buyers is patience. Most sellers will
hold out only so long for that cash buyer. If the cash buyer does not come along, and the
seller really wants to sell, they will lower the price. As soon as the price drops serious
financed buyers move in quickly to make the purchase.
Why Cash Sales Bring Higher Prices
To begin with, it is very important to understand why people buy resorts. It is mostly
about emotional satisfaction, not so much about the money. Of course the resort needs to
support the owners. And a good operation will make you rich. A good resort operation is an
extremely rewarding lifestyle both financially and emotionally. But again, most will buy
for the emotional side. Unfortunately with only some 1,700 small resorts left in America,
the small resort lifestyle opportunity is rare these days.
There are literally millions of Americans who have stayed at
small resorts over the last 30 years. Somewhere around age 40 or 50, many of these guests
start recalling the fond moments they enjoyed at small resorts when they were younger. If
they can get out of the "rat race" into a small resort, life might be fun again.
Anytime you have something that people want badly, and the
desired object is rare, prices are naturally going to climb. Keep in mind that out of
America's 80,000 lodging facilities, only about 1,700 of them are small resorts. The
number of people who truly understand and desire the rewards of small resort operation is
far higher than available resorts!
Keeping this emotional value in mind, now envision a
50-something couple who wants a resort, and they have several hundred thousand dollars in
cash. They walk onto a resort. Within minutes they are looking at each other and saying,
"This is the one". I see this happen every year.
The couple says to me, "Cooley this is the place we
want. How much should we offer?" When I show resorts the prospects will know the
numbers before they walk onto the property. They know the gross sales, the expenses, and
the net profit before tax. The numbers are behind them for the moment.
I respond by saying, "Offer the price you think would be
right for you. But keep in mind others are also looking at this property. I showed it last
week, I will be showing it next week. This is not sales pressure, it is the truth. If you
really want it, don't play hard ball Donald Trump style. Think it over tonight if you
want, and we'll write an offer tomorrow."
These cash buyers don't want "their" resort to
"get away". Because they really want it, and because they will not have the
large loan payments to deal with, they can afford to offer more money than a financed
buyer. They can offer $50,000 or $100,000 or even more than the buyer who has to make loan
approval. Cash buyers don't have to run the gauntlet of bank analysists and the bank
Banks have to be very cautious with resort loans because all
banks have had resort loans that went bad. Believe me, banks are anxious to make resort
loans because good resorts contribute a great deal to the economic well-being of this
area. But the bankers are not stupid. That brings me to the next point.
The Higher The Amount Financed, The Lower The Price
Loan payments take all the fun out of life - if they are too high. Most resort purchase
loans are considered high risk loans. That means only the most qualified applicants get
the good terms, but even then it won't be the sweet deal you got on your last home
Most resort loans require a down payment equal to 20 to 25
percent of the purchase price. (On top of that you'll also need a capital reserve.)
However, the more money you put down the better off you will be as the resulting loan
payments will be smaller. You don't get rich paying interest.
So many times I have seen people willing to pay more for a
resort than what the bank is willing to lend. Or perhaps the bank is willing to lend the
agreed upon amount, but the appraisal comes back at a value under the agreed upon purchase
price. In other words, it is not you and the owner setting the purchase price, it is the
bank and the appraiser.
In most cases the bank will lend on a purchase price that is
considerably less than what the sellers want, and this price is usually $50,000 to
$100,000 less than what a cash buyer will pay.
Bankers know that if the loan payment is too high, and if
there is a bad year which happens in the tourism industry from time to time (i.e. 9/11),
they'll have a bad loan on their hands. Bankers have enough experience to know what the
safe amount to lend on a resort property will be in this area. I can assure you, it is
almost always way less than what the sellers want!
For Financed Buyers Timing Is Critical
Historically speaking there have been more resorts sold to financed buyers than cash
buyers. While cash buyers are uncommon, they are not rare. Sellers know this. The gossip
gets around faster than the speed of light - here or anywhere else. It's human nature.
When a resort sells for cash, the entire small resort industry here knows it within
seconds, I swear!
Thus for a good many reasons, sellers hold out for cash
buyers. Then the name of the game for financed buyers is to plan, understand, and wait.
This is a tricky game to play, but it is the only way to buy for financed buyers.
At some point in time sellers get tired of waiting for that
cash buyer. They give it a real good run, but if that cash deal does not happen, they
begin to get frustrated. They see a house they'd love to buy. They want to get back to
where they came from to be with their grand children. I get a phone call. They tell me
they want to lower the price. They say they feel okay doing so because they gave it a good
try at the higher price.
That is all most of them want - a good try at top dollar. If
it works, great. But if it does not, then okay, they settle for a little less, or a lot
less. The time factor will vary from resort to resort. The record I have personally seen
is sellers who held out for ten years. As long as they can afford to, or are willing to do
so, there is nothing wrong with this strategy.
Sellers will take a run at the cash market for a year, two
years, five years. It depends on how many other resorts are on the market that compete
with their sale, it depends on how many showings they have had, or any other number of
As a financed buyer plan to be ready for when I call you and
say the price has been lowered. Your key to getting your resort at the right price is not
to drag your feet and nit-pick over contract terms. Get all that out of the way well in
advance. When the price drops, move fast and buy it! Why?
Keep in mind I have several financed buyers waiting for me to
call them to say a price on this or that resort has dropped. The longer a resort stays on
the market, the longer grows my list of prospects waiting for the price to drop. Trust me,
this is NOT sales pressure! When the price drops you need to be ready to pounce on it.
There is plenty of time BEFORE the price drops for you and I to discuss all the contract
terms, to line up the loan, and how to handle the closing. Do NOT wait until the price
drops to plan what you want to do.
Financed Buyer Strategy
I work with a lot of buyers long term. In most cases people buy resorts about a year after
they first come to this area. I've worked with some buyers for several years before they
find the right deal. I don't mind these long term relationships as long as the buyers have
a well thought out game plan. In many cases I help them make that plan. It's what I do
well. I even have certain "trade secrets" in this planning process that I will
not cover here for obvious reasons. Phone me and I'll help you work up a strong plan.
Emotions Drive Price
As I mentioned above, emotions play the leading role in a resort purchase for a
cash buyer. If it was not for the bank, emotions would also play the leading role in a
financed purchase. Yet there is always a certain amount of prudence in a resort purchase,
and after emotions, profit plays the supporting role. Here is a typical example.
Cash buyers obviously will not be making any
loan payments. If a resort has a net annual profit before tax of $50,000, it looks good to
a cash buyer. If a financed purchase results in $40,000 in annual loan payments, then to
the financed buyer this same resort is not a smart buy. Loan payments come out of that
$50,000 net annual profit before tax, which leaves only $10,000 profit before tax for a
If a resort is successful it is only because
the owners love their property. They have a strong passion for the good service they
provide. There are many truly rewarding moments with guests. There are many rewarding
moments looking at the lake under a sunset, or during beautiful clear spring days. There
are many emotional rewards that don't show up in the financial statements!
Remember that all season sellers hear their
guests complain about their jobs "back home." They don't want to leave the
resort. The week they spent went way too fast. As they leave they tell the owners how
lucky they are to have the resort owner's lifestyle. This from educated, successful guests
who make a good annual income!
Many owners tell me, "Cooley, it is not
so much about the money. We know we will not get rich. We'll make good money, and live
well, but we'll not get rich, but we don't care. The emotional rewards are worth more than
gold to us."
Sellers know the emotional value of their
property. Sellers know there are people who will pay a premium for that emotional value.
As a real estate agent I can say that sellers are very right in their opinion. I work with
many people who want to own a resort with all their heart, mind, and soul.
And so, like the very old saying goes,
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".
A Closer Look At 1031 Exchanges
What are the chances of the sellers getting cash? Better than you might think. It
is not so much the pure cash transactions that occur, but 1031 Tax Deferred Exchanges,
which are equivalent to cash. Yet in addition to 1031 deals, each year I work with a
growing number of cash buyers. Some years I see 1 out of every 2 resort sales as cash.
What makes the 1031 a very emotional event is
that the buyers have a limited amount of time to act. They can't drag their feet for long.
In a 1031 exchange the buyers are selling a property, which is called the
"relinquished property". The property they are buying is called the
From the moment the buyers transfer their
relinquished property to their qualified intermediary (QI), they have exactly 45 calendar
days to identify three properties they are interested in buying. They have exactly 180
days from the moment they transfer their relinquished property to their QI to purchase one
of those properties.
Smart exchangers go looking at properties
before they relinquish their property. However, when an offer comes in on the property
they wish to relinquish (sell), they'll need to accept it if it is a good one. Now all the
sudden they don't have much time. Their clock is running.
This is one of the reasons that 1031 buyers
move quickly. Each year I see more and more 1031 deals. I love them. So does everyone
else. The word is out on 1031s. If you are a qualified financed buyer who is serious about
owning a resort, the 1031 is yet one more reason you need a well planned buying strategy,
because the 1031 buyers are as motivated as buyers can be.
Commercial Real Estate Pricing is NOT
Residential Real Estate Pricing!
Where I see both buyers and sellers get all messed up on resort pricing is
thinking that commercial property is appraised the same way as residential property. This
mis-understanding leads to the biggest mistakes made in resort management. It goes like
this . . .
Buyers think "Well, if all else fails, I can sell it.
What with property prices on the rise around here, I'll make out okay."
Sellers think, "Well hell! That house down the road just
sold for $350,000! Our place ought to be worth twice that!"
Nothing could be further from the truth! Nothing, and I mean
NOTHING (except perhaps not having indoor plumbing) will cause you to lose your nest egg
faster than assuming that your resort property value appreciates annually just like
residential property. While the commercial property land value will appreciate somewhat,
it is not the leading consideration in commercial value. Cash flow is the value
To illustrate this very important point I will use an example
of a 3 acre, 10 unit resort, with a commercial boat dock, in the middle of a residential
neighborhood. Let's say this resort also has a "killer" lake view to boot. This
resort borders three residential single family homes, each also on 3 acres of land, and
each also having the killer lake view, and each has a residential boat dock.
Let's say that back in year 2000 those three homes each sold
for $150,000. Then in 2006 they all sold again for $300,000 each -that is, they all
doubled in value, which establishes an obvious appreciation trend in our example
Regarding the resort value, let's say the owner's paid
$500,000 for it in 2000. The extra $350,000 is because it not only has a house, but has 10
cottages and the commercial boat dock, and a cash flow. Now let's say the resort owners
try to sell in 2006 for $1,000,000. After all, the homes doubled in value, thus in the
resort owner's mind, so has his resort, right? Wrong!
Commercial property value is determined by that property's
ability to generate a cash flow, nothing more. Location, Location, Location is all about
Cash Generation, Cash Generation, Cash Generation when it comes to commercial property.
When it comes to residential property, Location, Location, Location is all about Emotional
Value, Emotional Value, Emotional Value. I'll give a few examples to make it crystal clear
because this difference in understanding is the whole basis for becoming a Small Resort
Millionaire - you can't sit back saying time is on your side.
Now you say I speak with forked tongue. Way up above I went
on and on about how a resort purchase was emotionally driven. Now I am saying it is cash
flow driven? Ah yes! Now we see where the confusion comes in, and why so many resort
owners and buyers try to value resorts like homes. Time for a deeper look into the matter.
Pretend we have a three bedroom two bath 2,500 square foot
home for sale. It sits on a half-acre lot bordering a large Wal-Mart Super Center, which
is only 150 feet away from the house The Wal-Mart is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Would
you want to live in this house? Of course not. Who would?
Now let's say you want to open a 24-7 liquor store. Would the
house make a good place for the liquor store? (Assume for the ease of this example the
Wal-Mart does not sell booze.) Sure! Bulldoze the house and build the store on that
half-acre lot. What a deal!
Why is the house property good for a liquor store and not a
family home? Real simple. Again, commercial property is appraised and valued according to
its ability to create a CASH FLOW. Nothing else! A private residential home is valued by
its ability to provide PEACE OF MIND, nothing else!
Using this concept of cash flow vs. peace of mind, look at
our example killer lake view again. Many people today will pay a premium for a home having
a lake view. That is because every time they look at the lake, they get enjoyment from it.
I live on the lake and I love it. It's that peace of mind thing, and people are willing to
pay a premium for that emotional factor.
However, the killer lake view will cause the value of the
resort property to rise ONLY if guests are willing to PAY to come see that killer lake
view from the resort property. If tourists are willing to pay $200 per night to stay at
our example resort because of that killer lake view, but are willing to pay only $100 per
night at resorts that do not have the killer lake view, then that killer lake view has
high COMMERCIAL value. You'll make a killing with your killer lake view.
But if tourists say, "Well, yeah, that resort has a
killer lake view alright, but I'm not willing to pay $100 a night more just to sit and
stare at the bloody lake. Why hell ! I'm out on the lake all day fishing and boating, why
pay that kind of price? I enjoy the lake all day anyway."
Now your killer lake view has little commercial value. The
residential property right next door with that killer lake view will double in value, but
the resort value will not. That is because the same few people living in the residential
property find value in that lake view on a regular basis. But unless a LARGE number of
people are willing to PAY for seeing that same view at your resort, . . . well you get the
Let's escalate the problem.
We'll say not only does this example resort have a killer
lake view, but the owners have also spent $300,000 on improvements like remodeling the
cottages, putting in a new boat dock, and adding several rental boats.
The sellers then reason that since the real estate has
doubled in value ( in their opinion) from $500,000 to $1,000,000, and since they have also
spent $300,000 fixing the place up, then it must be worth at least $1,300,000. And their
time and work to make all these improvements must be worth something too. So they add
another $100,000 for their sweat equity. They want to put the resort on the market, so
they get a real estate agency to list the place at a ten percent commission. Thus the
final listing price grows to a whopping $1,555,000. Will it sell for that?
Maybe to the right cash buyer, but certainly not for a
financed buyer. Look at what happens to the numbers.
Let's say that back in 2000 the gross annual sales for this
resort were $75,000, and operating expenses were $45,000. We'll say that each year,
because of the $300,000 worth of improvements, sales grew by around 15 percent per year.
That is a healthy growth rate. This means gross annual sales go from $75,000 in year one
to $86,250 in year two to about $100,000 in year three, then $115,000 in year four,
$132,250 in year five, and about $152,000 in year six.
Will this truly admirable growth rate jusifty the asking
price to a financed buyer? Is it really a good growth rate? As always, the answer will
differ between a cash and a financed buyer, and as always, the seller will hold out for
the cash buyer. Watch how it happens.
As annual sales increase, so will annual expenses. More
guests mean higher utilities, more sheets to wash, and other related expenses. So let's
say expenses increase 15 cents for every additional sales dollar. This means that for our
$152,000 in gross sales we have also seen expenses increase by $11,500. That brings us to
operational expenses of about $56,500 a year on gross sales of $152,000 leaving a net
profit before tax of about $95,500.
Okay, now here you come, you want to buy this resort. That
killer lake view really speaks to your soul (emotion). If you live here, you get the best
of both worlds - the emotional satisfaction of a lake view like the residential neighbors
next door, plus it also makes you money while you enjoy it. What a deal! You decide to
offer full price because the owner has made it clear through their agent they just won't
take a cent less.
You offer to put 25 percent down ($388,750) and finance the
balance of $1,166,250 at 7.5 percent over 18 years. Will the bank make the loan? And if
they do, will the property appraise for the purchase price? Not even close on both
accounts! Unless you pay cash, this purchase does not work, even after that nice healthy
ramp up in annual sales!
First of all, your annual loan payments will come to $118,255
just on interest and principle. That puts you $22,755 in the red. In other words, the
$300,000 worth of improvements, and the killer lake view have not earned higher gross
sales. Your killer lake view will kill you!
But the cash buyer will come out with that $118,225 in her
hand at the end of the year.
In other words, the $300,000 worth of improvements were a bad
investment because they did not result in greatly increased gross sales? While sales did
ramp up, they did not grow anywhere near what would be needed to justify a financed
purchase. However, for the 1031 buyer, this might be a dream come true.
Will the bank be willing to make a higher loan? Not likely.
Banks look at a commercial property like a black box designed
to crank out cash. Banks don't care what is inside the black box. All that matters to them
is if you put a dollar bill in one side of this black box, then two dollars had better
come out the other side. And those two bills better show up pretty darn fast at that!
The bank could care less what is inside the black box that
converts a one dollar bill into two dollar bills. Nor do they are how much the guts of the
box cost. If the black box can take in a dollar bill and kick out two dollar bills every
minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that black box generates a gross profit of
$525,600 a year. Not bad - unless it cost $1 million to maintain the box each year!
If you put a dollar bill in and only $1.20 comes out the
other side, its not so good. Like I said above, the bank does not care how much it cost to
build the black box, or what is in it that makes it work. Banks don't care how much money
an owner has invested in new furniture, new boats, etc. Like the black box, those new
chairs and those new boats had better increase annual sales.
All that matters is how much money comes out of the black box
every time you put a buck in it. If you put that killer lake view and the $300,000 of
improvements inside this black box, and only $1.20 comes back out when you put a dollar
in, the bank says the sellers made a bad investment on those $300,000 worth of
improvements, and the killer lake view is not making a killing!
So, based on cash flow, how much is our example resort with
the killer lake view and $300,000 worth of improvements really worth? That is where you,
the buyer, come in. Most buyers understandably think only in terms of how much money can
they make each year, regardless of that killer lake view. Of course, the amount of annual
profit a buyer thinks is enough will vary considerably from person to person.
Let's say you think to yourself something like, "You
know, if I could get this place at a price that would allow me to make a net profit before
tax of about $45,000 a year, I'd buy it." Well, using the same loan terms of 20 to 25
percent down, 7.5 percent interest amortized over 18 years, the price would need to drop
down to around $650,000. Of course with such an offer the seller is insulted. Who can
blame them? Yet as insulting as this low ball offer is, it does not change the fact that
the seller will need to increase the cash flow to get their price - or sell to a willing
cash buyer - if one comes along . . .
It takes keen management and smart advertising to get cash
flow and room night occupancy rates up past a certain point. This is where those buyers
having middle and C-level management experience have the advantage over owners who do not
have similar experience. Knowledge is power in this case.
What would the annual gross sales need to be in order to
justify that financed price of $1,555,000 if you wanted a net profit before tax of around
$45,000 a year? Gross sales would have to be at least $220,000 a year. That is $22,000 per
year per unit for our 10 unit example resort. In an area that has a 150 night season, this
means each unit will have to rent for $145 per night. Will guests pay this, or will they
go to a competitor offering cabins for less? If guests won't pay your needed price can you
offer something besides lodging to compensate? And how much of an investment will it take
to put the compensator on line?
What about rental boats adding to the income stream? Okay,
let's assume that $70,000 of the $220,000 in annual gross sales is from rental boats. That
leaves $150,000 in gross sales from lodging. That drops the needed nightly rate down to
$100. As of 2006 the average nightly hotel/motel/lodging room night in America is $86.26.
You're over average.
Can you get $100 per night for 150 nights a year for all 10
units in an Ozark resort? That is 1,500 room nights. For average operations, not likely.
But some do it. If you are a good manager and a good marketer, yes, it can be done. And
this is the risk factor that many buyers come up against. This is why you must have
confidence in yourself - because the bank will not.
Cash Flow Measures - The Easy Way To Know What Prices
Need To Be
Now that we have been through all the theory I'll give you a quick little
formula that is fast, easy, and accurate. It is called the Gross Income Multiplier, GIM
The world of commercial real estate uses about 30 different
common formulas to place a value on cash flow of commercial properties. Some of the most
common measures are Net Present Value (NPV), Discounted Net Present Value (DNPV), Internal
Rate of Return (IRR), Cash-On-Cash Return, Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR), Cap Rates,
and so on.
For resort purchases these measures are worthless. They work
very well for office buildings, shopping malls, and similar commercial properties where
the time value of money is driving the purchase. However, I've never had a resort buyer
say to me, "Well Cooley, you find me a resort with an IRR of 9.5% and I'll buy it
All you need to know for financial gibberish for a resort
purchase is that GIM.
The Gross Income Multiplier (GIM) is one measure that most
people love to knock about because it is fast and easy, and does not require an HP 10B2 to
calculate. Yet the simplicity of the GIM can lead to very mis-leading market information
conclusions. Be careful with it! The old axioms you hear are "A business is worth
five times it's net income." or "A business is worth three times it's gross
sales". However, there is no universal GIM that can apply to any and all businesses.
GIMs are a function of local markets only.
If you don't know what the GIM is for any given market, don't
For example, let's say three similar resorts in an area all
sell for about $600,000 each, and each had gross annual sales of about $200,000. Then in
this market it is safe to say that the GIM is about three times annual gross sales in this
Historically, in my area, many Ozark small resorts have sold
for about 5.25 to 6 times their gross annual sales, some a little more, some a little
less. Thus if gross annual sales were $100,000, the resort sales prices ranged between
$500,000 and $660,000. At these GIMs a person can make a living, and the banks are also
willing to make the loans.
The difference in the spread between 5.25 and 6 times gross
annual sales comes from the same topic this entire article addresses - cash vs. financed
purchases. The higher GIMs result historically from cash sales. The lower GIMs
historically result from financed sales.
Using a GIM of 5.25 for a financed purchase is a quick
indicator of what the top limit is you can expect to pay for a financed purchase. Using a
GIM of 6 will indicate what the top purchase price will be for a cash purchase. Like any
rule of thumb, these GIMs are not set in stone. But they will be accurate 95 percent of
the time. In the unusual conditions where they are lower or higher, it is due to something
very very bad, or very very good.
Always compare apples to apples, and oranges to oranges with
the GIM. A good example is some resorts have full-sized convenience sales, gasoline sales,
lodging, boat rentals, guide services, a restaurant, a bar, etc. You can't compare a
resort like this to one that has just lodging and boat rentals.
Cash buyers rarely pay more than 6 times gross annual sales
for a small resort in this area. I see most cash sales come in around 5.75 to 5.85. For
well qualified financed buyers the sales price will rarely fall below 5.25 times gross
sales. Anything less and the sellers will not agree to the low price. For the bank to
accept the higher risk, the borrower needs to be well qualified.
There you have it. Now you know why resorts seem so expensive!
If you have questions, give me a call. If my examples seem a
little over-simplified, you are right. I reserve my top-shelf knowledge for those who
phone me and engage my services. All I try to do in this article is give a general idea of
what affects sale price. Besides, I really enjoy what I do. If I give away all my secrets
here, I don't get to talk about them with you! Hint: Ask me how to hedge resort property
using residential property, and how to make a killing doing it!
Information For Resort Buyers & Sellers
|1. Cooley's Guide To Buying A
A candid and comprehensive look at finding, buying,
and operating a small Ozark resort. Explains what to look for, and how to determine if the
resort owner lifestyle is really for you. Based on over 35 years experience of those
within the industry. A definite must-read for the serious would-be resort owner!
You Need A Real Estate Agent?
Not a sales pitch to use an agent, but a realistic look at the experience
needed for anyone buying or selling small resorts.
3. Frequently Asked
Questions - For Buyers and Sellers
to Main Cooley's Resorts For Sale Page
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