The Income Approach to Real Estate Valuation

Capital Expense vs. Operating Expense in Real Estate
The income approach is one of three techniques commercial real estate appraisers use to value real estate. Compared to the other two techniques (the sales comparison approach and the cost approach), the income approach is more complicated, and therefore it is often confusing for many commercial real estate professionals. In this article, we’ll walk through the income approach to property valuation step by step, including several income approach examples.

What is the Income Approach to Valuation?

The income approach is a methodology used by appraisers that estimates the market value of a property based on the income of the property. The income approach is an application of discounted cash flow analysis in finance. With the income approach, a property’s value today is the present value of the future cash flows the owner can expect to receive. Since it relies on receiving rental income, this approach is most common for commercial properties with tenants.

There are two methods for capitalizing future income into a present value: the direct capitalization method and the yield capitalization method. The difference is that the direct capitalization method estimates value using a single year’s income, while the yield capitalization method incorporates income over a multi-year holding period. Let’s take a look at both methods in some more depth.

Income Approach: The Direct Capitalization Method

The direct capitalization method estimates property value using a single year’s income forecast. The income measure can be Potential Gross Income, Effective Gross Income, or Net Operating Income. Direct capitalization requires that there is good, recent sales data from comparable properties. The comparable sales provide the appropriate market multiplier to use with the subject property. You can find the average market multiplier after finding reasonable comparable sales data. The following formulas are three ways to find the market multiplier using different measures of income:

  1. Potential Gross Income Multiplier (PGIM) = sales price / PGI
  2. Effective Gross Income Multiplier (EGIM) = sales price / EGI
  3. Net Income Multiplier (NIM) = sales price / NOI

After finding the market multiplier, multiply the subject property’s forecasted income by the market multiplier. For example, multiplying the market PGIM by the subject property’s forecasted PGI in the next year yields the current subject value estimate. Direct capitalization requires that the income and expense ratios are similar for the comparables and the subject property and that the next year’s income is representative of future years.

Appraisers often use the capitalization rate, rather than income multipliers, to estimate market value using a single year’s income forecast. The capitalization rate is the inverse of the Net Income Multiplier. In other words, it is the ratio of a property’s Net Operating Income to its value.

Income Approach: The Yield Capitalization Method

The yield capitalization method is a more complex approach to valuation. This method uses net operating income estimates for a typical investment holding period. Therefore, the resulting property value accounts for future expected changes in rental rates, vacancy, and operating expenses. Yield capitalization doesn’t require stable and unchanging market conditions over the holding period. The yield capitalization method also includes an estimate of the expected sales price at the end of the holding period. Let’s take a closer look at how the yield capitalization method works.

Components of the Yield Capitalization Method

Using the yield capitalization method, the subject value estimate is the present value of the future expected cash flows. The present value formula simply sums the future cash flows (P) after discounting them back to the present time. Applying this formula, the cash flows are the proforma estimates of net operating income (P1through Pn), the required rate of return is r, and n is the holding period. Although the formula calculates present value (PV), it should be noted that both Excel and popular financial calculators utilize the net present value (NPV) formula to find the present value of uneven cash flows. This works because you can simply plug in $0 for the initial investment amount, and then the resulting net present value amount will equal the present value.

Here are some more details on the components of the yield capitalization method:

  • Cash Flow Forecasts. Forecasting the cash flows that an income-producing property will generate over the next year is relatively straightforward and accurate. Properties already have tenants with leases in place, and costs should not vary dramatically from their current levels. The more challenge part of cash flow forecasting comes when considering what happens to cash flows over the next couple of years. In addition, any forecasting errors in one year tend to compound themselves in the subsequent years. Holding periods of 5–10 years are the most common, and those estimates require forecasting future market rent, vacancy and collection loss, and operating expenses.
  • Resale Value. Calculations using the income approach assume that the owner sells the subject property at the end of the holding period. Appraisers can estimate resale value using a direct dollar forecast or an average expected annual growth rate in property values. Direct dollar forecasts are not preferred because they don’t directly account for any market expectations. Growth rates consider forecasted market growth rates, but the subject property’s value may grow at a rate that differs from the market average. A third method applies direct capitalization techniques to the end of the holding period. For example, an appraiser considering a five-year holding period would extend the proforma cash flow estimates one additional year. The expected sales price at the end of the fifth year would equal the NOI in the sixth year divided by a market capitalization rate.
  • Discount Rates. In corporate finance, the discount rate in a net present value calculation is usually the firm’s weighted average cost of capital. When valuing an investment, however, the discount rate is usually represented as the required rate of return. Real estate investors may use the required rate of return on their investment properties or the expected rate of return on an equivalent-risk investment.

Income Approach Example Using Direct Capitalization

One of the benefits of direct capitalization is that it provides a way to get a quick valuation estimate. Appraisers can quickly get a market multiplier from recently sold property transactions. Consider two recently sold comparables, one with PGI of $300,000 and a sales price of $2.1 million and another with a PGI of $225,000 and a sales price of $1.8 million. The first yields a PGIM of 7 ($2,100,000/$300,000) while the second yields a PGIM of 8 ($1,800,000/$225,000). So, the market average PGIM of 7.5 can be applied to a subject property’s PGI estimate to provide a quick valuation. If a subject property’s expected PGI next year is $195,000, multiply that by the market PGIM to estimate the subject value.

Subject Value = $195,000 x 7.5 = $1,462,500

Appraisers also use direct capitalization together with residual valuation techniques to find the value of a property when only the value of the land or the value of the improvements is known. The value of the land may be known from a separate analysis using comparable land sales data. From this analysis, suppose the land value is $350,000 with a 9% land capitalization rate. Further, suppose the improvements alone have a 10% capitalization rate.

The portion of the property’s NOI that is generated by the land can be calculated by multiplying the land value and land capitalization rate. The remaining income is attributed to the improvements.

Dividing the return contribution of the improvements by the improvements capitalization rate results in a valuation of $2,185,000 for just the improvements. Adding the land value to the value of the improvements results in a total property value estimate of $2,535,000.

Income Approach Example Using Yield Capitalization

In order to estimate the subject property value using the income approach, the first step is to create a proforma cash flow statement for the anticipated holding period. Using the following market assumptions, let’s estimate the cash flows to the owner over a five-year holding period.

  • The subject property is expected to yield PGI of $200,000 over the next year and currently has a 5% vacancy rate. Operating expenses are currently 45% of EGI, and that is expected to stay the same during the holding period.
  • Market rent is currently increasing at a rate of 3% per year. During the second year, however, it is expected to only grow at a rate of 1% before returning to the current 3% growth rate.
  • The vacancy rate is expected to climb to 7% during the following two years and then return to a stable 5%.
  • The terminal capitalization rate of 9% is estimated from current market cap rates.

This is the proforma cash flow statement under the given market assumptions. The sales price in year 5 is year 6 NOI divided by the capitalization rate.

Now we can compute the present value by discounting the future cash flows back to the present using the investor’s required rate of return of 12%. The cash flows are $104,500 in year 1, $103,323 in year 2, $106,423 in year 3, $111,973 in year 4, and $1,435,241 (the sum of NOI in year 5 and the expected resale value) in year 5. Therefore, the subject value estimate is $1,136,977.


In this article, we discussed the income approach to real estate valuation. We defined the income approach and then explained the two income approach methods appraisers use. First, the direct capitalization method uses a single year’s income to estimate the market value of a property. Second, the yield capitalization method uses a multi-year forecast of cash flows and then discounts these future cash flows back to the present to get a present value for the property. We then walked through an example of both the income approach using the direct capitalization method and another example using the yield capitalization method.



Source: The Income Approach to Real Estate Valuation