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Real-estate appraisal and Victoria market Q&A with Scott Humphreys of D.R. Coell & Associates

Scott Humphreys of D.R. Coell & Associates dives deep into the appraisal business on the south Island, and discusses the local real-estate market in February's Ten on the 10th.  Citified.ca

Real-estate appraisal and Victoria market Q&A with Scott Humphreys of D.R. Coell & Associates
Ten on the 10th
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
 
Ten on the Tenth's February, 2024 segment features Scott Humphreys of Victoria-based real-estate appraisal firm D.R. Coell & Associates.
 
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
 
 
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd like to hear from you.

Tell us about DR Coell and what you do?
D.R. Coell & Associates stands as a cornerstone in the real estate appraisal and consulting landscape, providing comprehensive and reliable services to the local community of Victoria and Vancouver Island. As Victoria’s longest running appraisal firm with a legacy now spanning 50 years, our commitment to excellence, innovation, and community engagement is at the forefront of our operations.
 
Founded by David R. Coell in 1974, D.R. Coell & Associates was created to assist both the private and public sectors with their rapidly expanding commercial and residential valuation requirements. Previous ownership included Rick Gordon, Mike Martyn and Jack Miller, along with their team of many well known local senior appraisers. The company's rich legacy is a testament to its unwavering commitment to excellence, integrity, and client satisfaction. 
 
Can you tell us about how you came to be a part of DR Coell?
After 40 years it was time for the previous owners to pass along their knowledge and wisdom and allow new energy to take the helm. In 2013, I acquired D.R. Coell and Associates and shortly after that, in 2014, I brought on Mishelle Martin as my partner. A decade later and the company was completely revitalized with new tools, technology and a full new team of senior and junior real estate experts.  
 
At the heart of our operations is our team of appraisers and administration staff. The recent addition of three Senior Appraisers, Rick Howard, Liam Fast and Alanna Gagliani, along with Principal Partners, Mishelle Martin and Myself, our team of nine dedicated Candidate members and outstanding Administration team, exemplifies the company's dedication to providing clients with unparalleled expertise. These industry veterans, associates and staff bring over a century of combined experience, ensuring that D.R. Coell & Associates remains at the forefront of innovative appraisal practices for years to come.
 
D.R. Coell & Associates offers a comprehensive suite of services tailored to meet the diverse needs of the local community on Vancouver Island and throughout other parts of British Columbia. Our primary focus is on real estate appraisal and consulting, covering a broad spectrum of property types, including commercial properties, development land, residential properties, master planned communities, agricultural properties, marinas, hotels, and self storage, among others. We specialize in appraisals for purchase and sale, financing, litigation, matrimonial disputes, estate planning and probate, expropriation, first nations specific claims and property tax appeal. 
 
Embracing innovation is integral to our approach. Over the last decade, D.R. Coell & Associates has invested in cutting-edge appraisal technologies to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of our services. This commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements ensures that our clients receive the highest standard of appraisal solutions.
 
Understanding the evolving nature of work since the global pandemic, we have seamlessly implemented work-from-home capabilities. This not only enhances our operational efficiency but also emphasizes our dedication to adapting to contemporary work trends while maintaining the quality of our services.
 
In essence, D.R. Coell & Associates is not just a real estate appraisal firm; we are a community partner committed to delivering excellence, fostering growth, and contributing to the vitality of Victoria, Vancouver Island and the rest of British Columbia as a whole. Our rich history, coupled with our forward-thinking approach, positions us as a trusted advisor and an integral part of the local real estate landscape. We look forward to continuing our legacy of service and innovation for many years to come.
 
Describe exactly what goes into an appraisal, and how you weight valuations relative to current zoning/density and potential, and how you as an appraiser can help or hinder acquisitions deals?
In the dynamic realm of commercial real estate, the process of appraisal is a multifaceted endeavor that delves into various aspects to ascertain the fair market value of a property. When discussing commercial real estate appraisals and their correlation with zoning, density, and potential use, as well as the influence of designated appraisers with the Appraisal Institute of Canada (AIC), it's crucial to appreciate the intricate nature of this discipline.
 
Firstly, a commercial real estate appraisal involves a thorough examination of the property, considering its physical attributes, amenities, and overall condition. Beyond the physical inspection, appraisers conduct a comprehensive market analysis, evaluating local and regional trends, recent sales, and economic indicators to estimate the property's highest and best use.
 
There are three primary approaches employed in commercial real estate appraisals: the Income Approach, the Cost Approach, and the Direct Comparison Approach. For improved properties, the Income Approach assesses a property's potential income, factoring in rental rates, occupancy levels, and operating expenses. For vacant properties, the Income Approach is expanded to three different methods: Ground Rent Capitalization Method, Land Residual Method, and Subdivision Development Method. The Cost Approach evaluates the property’s land value, by way of the Direct Comparison Approach and then estimates the replacement cost of the improvements, with considering depreciation, if any. The Direct Comparison Approach involves comparing the subject property with recently sold similar type properties to derive a fair market value. For vacant properties, the Direct Comparison Approach is expanded to three different methods: the Direct Comparison Method, the Allocation Method, and the Extraction Method. These valuation approaches and methods within each approach are utilized throughout the industry are are recognized internationally. 
 
Now, when we introduce zoning and density considerations into the mix, we're entering a pivotal phase. Zoning regulations, which dictate how a property can be used, play a critical role in determining a property's value. Appraisers meticulously evaluate the property's alignment with current zoning regulations and assess the potential for variances. Density restrictions also come into play, influencing the scale and type of development allowed on a property.
 
One of the crucial elements in this process is the determination of the highest and best use of the property. This involves a nuanced analysis of zoning, density, and potential use to derive the property's optimum use that maximizes its value. The outcome of this analysis greatly influences the overall valuation. So to answer your question regarding how an appraiser weights valuations relative to current zoning/density and potential, the answer should be thoroughly explained in the Highest and Best Use Section of any appraisal.  
 
This is where AIC designated appraisers bring a wealth of expertise to the table. Being part of the Appraisal Institute of Canada signifies a commitment to excellence, backed by rigorous education and experience. AIC designated appraisers possess specialized knowledge of the Canadian real estate market, local regulations, and industry best practices. Their role is pivotal in providing accurate and reliable valuations that consider not only the current state of the property but also its potential uses.
 
In the context of acquisitions, the involvement of AIC designated appraisers can have significant impacts. Their expertise empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions, negotiate effectively, and mitigate potential risks associated with zoning and density. A well-documented appraisal by an AIC designated professional adds credibility to the transaction, facilitating smoother negotiations and financing processes.
 
As the real estate landscape continues to evolve, the role of designated appraisers becomes increasingly indispensable in shaping the outcomes of acquisition deals. Their expertise and commitment to industry standards ensure that stakeholders receive not just a valuation, but a strategic insight into the potential of a property in the dynamic commercial real estate market.
 
The second part of your question on how we as appraisers can help or hinder an acquisition is dependent on the market evidence that is used to reconcile a final estimate of value within the appraisal. If an offer is made on a property and part of the due diligence prior to close requires the prospective purchaser to engage an appraiser to estimate the market value as of the effective date, the appraiser will estimate the the market value of the subject property utilizing a variety of different market evidence, depending on what type of property it is. The resulting market value estimate can sometimes be lower or higher than the offer price, or in terms of financing, the market value estimate can sometimes exceed or come up short of the requirements for financing, such as loan to value ratio or debt coverage ratio. In both cases, it is not the appraiser personally that would help or hinder the acquisition, it is actually the sales and lease comparable evidence that the market provides. In some cases, there is very supportable evidence for market value and in other cases the availability of good, recent evidence is scarce. 
 
Are you seeing an influx of clients from out of town interested in investing in Greater Victoria, and if so why and what asset classes?
Prior to 2020, there was pretty consistent demand on the Vancouver Island market, in particular Victoria and Nanaimo, as secondary and tertiary markets for investors out of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and predominantly Vancouver. In fact, this has been proven historically to be the case since the 70’s when our company was formed. 
 
However, since the initial scare of Covid 19 wore off mid 2020, and the federal government started printing obscene amounts of money while at the same time lowering the interest rates to all time lows, the investment market here in Victoria and across the country rallied to highs that our country had never seen before. 
 
During this historical investment period we saw a significant influx of clients from outside of Vancouver Island investing in Victoria and other parts of the Island like Nanaimo and Campbell River. It’s hard to nail down specific asset classes as we saw increased demand in all property types, including office which was, at the time, struggling with the beginning of the work from renaissance, and retail which seemed to be hanging on for dear life since Amazon. If I were to choose two asset classes that outperformed the rest during this period from mid 2020 to mid 2022, I would have to say Industrial and Multifamily (both market and rental). 
 
After interest rates started being raised in mid 2022, we saw a slow decline in demand throughout the investment market (all asset classes, including land) and by the time interest rates reached their recent highs in the summer of 2023, it was as if someone turned the lights off and most investors had run for the hills. It was a very slow investment market in the fall of 2023, however, on a positive note, the Bank of Canada lowered its bond yield from around 4.5% to close to 3.0%, during the same time. This significant drop in bond yield rate typically sends a message that its time to start lowering interest rates. Lower interest rates typically means the cost of an investment is less and therefore, there should be more money available in the market for real estate asset acquisitions. 
 
We are cautiously optimistic going into 2024, with hopes that the investment market will pick back up and the development community will continue to be able to assist our community with producing more housing to accommodate what seems to be an endless supply of national and international immigration. Understanding the relationship between inflation and interest rates will be the key factor for us this year as we sit back on the sidelines and watch the battle between costs, debt and demand.
 
How have valuations for land and investment properties overall held up versus a year or two ago?
Carrying on from the previous question, the last 12 to 24 months have been the most volatile real estate market we have seen since 2008. Due primarily to the significant increases in both construction costs and interest rates, land values are now experiencing significant downwards pressure on price per unit. It seems every week there are another 2 or 3 fully permitted development sites being listed for sale instead of proceeding with the proposed development. Long story short, nothing seems to paper anymore, or make sense financially, for the development community and most of our development clients are now sitting on the side lines waiting for something to change. 
 
What are single-family-home assessments going to yield with 'missing middle' up-zoning and the other provincial measures suddenly impacting all of the region?
Good question. While it seems the provincial government is trying to support the development community with this new legislation, and on the surface seems to be a breath of fresh air for the single family and townhouse development community. However, our clients do not seem to be rushing out to purchase single family homes in hopes to build a tri-plex, four-plex, or even a six-plex if you’re close enough to a main bus stop. The reality is, land costs, construction cost and financing costs area so high that not even the largest type of project proposed by this new legislation is profitable. There may be some activity going on to keep construction crews going through this profitless period, however the numbers just don’t add up. One factor that may breathe some fresh air into this situation is that the new legislation effectively puts an end to all public hearings, so although development planning and permitting will still be required, there should be no more developments shut down due to intervention from neighborhood committees and the like. 
 
What are your expectations for values in the year ahead with the assumption that interest rates will soften and the government will get a handle on inflation?
When I look into my crystal ball, with those 2 assumptions, you will have values increase by 20%, compared to the previous 12 months!
Haha, no one has that crystal ball but with those 2 assumptions being in affect, things are looking pretty good for Victoria (as usual). 
If interest rates soften in 2024, it could potentially stimulate demand for real estate. Lower interest rates generally make borrowing more affordable, encouraging homebuyers to enter the market. This could lead to increased demand and potentially put upward pressure on real estate values.
 
Government policies and inflation can also impact real estate markets. If the federal government successfully manages inflation, it may contribute to economic stability, which is generally positive for real estate. Policies that promote economic growth and stability can positively influence real estate values.
 
It is important to consider local factors specific to Victoria, BC; these may include population growth, employment rates, local economic conditions, and housing supply. Victoria has been experiencing population growth and a robust economy in recent years, which has contributed to a competitive real estate market.
 
Keep in mind that real estate markets can be dynamic and subject to various influences, and outcomes may vary based on unforeseen events, economic shifts, and other factors. Additionally, market predictions always carry a degree of uncertainty, and individual property values can vary based on location, property type, and other specific factors. 
 
However, the inflation is heavily driven by immigration which has been on a record-breaking streak since the current federal government passed their new immigration objectives circa 2021. In my opinion, even if interest rates soften and construction costs come down, our inflation will continue to increase nationally and that will put upwards pressure on interest rates. 
 
With property taxation, material replacement costs and insurance costs all rising so rapidly, are we nearing a point where these carrying or operating costs will negatively impact assessments and appraised values?"
The valuation of investment properties is driven by Net Operating Income (NOI), which is the balance of gross revenue after deductions for vacancy and operating expenses. Most commercial investment properties, other than multifamily buildings or special use properties such as self storage, in our region operate on fully net basis, whereas the tenant is responsible for paying a Base Rent as well as all additional operating expenses, known as Additional Rent. In this case, as operating costs such as property taxes, repairs and maintenance, and insurance increase, so does the overall rent for the tenant. This becomes a larger economic issue as those businesses leasing space to provide goods and services to the community are then forced to increase their prices to cover the increase in rent. It’s a vicious cycle, and for the most part, is driven by government spending and taxes. 
 
Tax increases on properties, utilities, good and services etc, are one of the main drivers behind our increasing cost of living, whether it’s reported by the news or not. As appraisers we do a deep dive into the financial feasibility of each property we appraise, and we continue to witness the negative affects of inflation and where it starts. 
 
A good example of this is property tax. In our province, BC Assessment oversees assessing each property every year as of July 1 of the previous year. Assessment Notices are typically delivered at the end of the year, and if you want to appeal your assessment, you have until January 31 of the following year to submit an appeal. The assessments are then utilized by each municipality to determine the property tax amount for each year. Each municipality has their own multiplier for determining property tax called a Mill Rate. Each Assessed Value is divided by 1,000 before the Mill Rate is applied to determine the property taxes for each property.  
 
Commercial properties typically have much higher assessed values than residential properties, therefore the resulting property taxes are typically much higher. Each year our valued commercial clients are presented with their annual Notice of Assessments at which point they give us a call to review whether or not they should pursue an appeal. In a very timely manor, our appraisers then conduct a preliminary review of each assessment and notify the clients which assessments to pursue and which to leave alone. Some years our office manages a significant number of appeals, while others are not as much. Either way, every year we are appealing commercial property assessments for our clients in January and when we are successful in lowering their property taxes, it brings our appraisers great joy to know that we are effectively fighting back against government induced inflation. 
 
However, the costs of an appeal can range depending on the magnitude of the property and depth of appeal and, in some cases, involve significant legal fees. Unfortunately, even when the appeal is successful, these costs are the responsibility of the client and cannot be recovered. Therefore, our commercial clients are effectively guilty until proven innocent, and when proven innocent, they foot the bill. This is the reality of our current taxation system and we will continue fighting for our clients to help ease the cost of living for all that live in our community.
 
To answer your question whether rapidly rising costs are nearing a point where they will negatively affect assessments and appraised values, the answer is yes, and we are already seeing it happen in almost all asset classes. Purpose built multifamily properties for instance typically operate their leasing practices on a gross or semi-gross basis, meaning the tenant pays a gross rent and the landlord is responsible for all or a portion of expenses. So as costs go up, rents are typically increased to cover these rising costs. 
 
However, with the current provincially regulated rent controls, landlords can only increase their rents to a maximum percent each year. In 2022, the rent increase limit was 1.5%, and in 2023, a 2% cap was applied. Moving into 2024, the maximum rent increase in BC is capped at 3.5%. Rent increases were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic and last year’s rental cap was below the 12-month inflation rate of 5.4 per cent, according to the B.C. government. 
 
It has been reported that since 2019, landlords have shouldered significant hikes in all expenses, ranging from 8 per cent to 250 per cent. With more expenses and less revenue, investors are feeling the pinch and values are taking a hit. One can only hope that some relief for landlords may come in the form of lower taxes, but we aren’t holding our breath…
 
What was it like taking over an established, 40-year old real estate company at a time when the market was still recovering from the Great Recession and new technology was becoming a necessity to survive?
The aftermath of the subprime mortgage crises posed many challenges in the real estate market which was still in the process of recovery in 2013 when I had the opportunity to acquire D.R. Coell. Managing the company through economic uncertainties required a careful balance of risk and resilience. Established companies often have entrenched processes and D.R. Coell had the same processes since the 80’s! Adapting to new market realities and technological advancements meant confronting any resistance to change and fostering a culture of innovation within the organization. The necessity of incorporating new technologies into daily operations was crucial. Implementing and integrating these tools required not only financial investment but also a commitment to training and upskilling the existing team.
 
Embracing new technologies, such as digital marketing tools, data analytics, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enhanced the company's efficiency and competitiveness. It enabled more targeted marketing strategies and streamlined internal processes.
 
Overhauling the legacy D.R. Coell systems and introducing cloud-based platforms streamlined internal processes significantly. This not only improved efficiency but also facilitated remote work capabilities, aligning with the evolving work trends. It took the first 5 years of our ownership to develop our new cloud-based company and we have spent the last 5 years implementing and enhancing these systems to align with our new technologically inspired team.
 
Recognizing the power of digital marketing, the company invested heavily in a robust online presence. This included a user-friendly website, social media engagement, and digital advertising campaigns tailored to target audiences. 
 
While challenges were present, the strategic approach to navigating the post-recession era and embracing technology contributed to the company's resilience and growth. Adapting to the changing landscape allowed the company not only to survive but to thrive in a market characterized by recovery and technological transformation.
 
Congrats on turning 50 years old this year, what an accomplishment! As the third generation leading this company, where do you see yourselves taking the company over the next 10 years?
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our company, we are honored to be part of the third generation leading this legacy. Reflecting on our rich history, our focus is firmly set on charting a course that will propel us forward over the next decade. Here's where we envision taking our company:
 
In the ever-evolving landscape of real estate, technology will be at the forefront of our strategy. We plan to continue embracing cutting-edge technologies. These tools will not only streamline our internal processes but will enhance the overall client experience, providing innovative solutions in property valuation and real estate consulting.
 
Our commitment to delivering top-notch services and maintaining the highest standards of professionalism remains unwavering. We will continue investing in the professional development of our team, ensuring they stay ahead of industry trends and maintain the excellence our clients have come to expect.
 
The real estate industry is dynamic, and we recognize the importance of adaptability. Over the next decade, we will remain agile in responding to market shifts, economic changes, and emerging trends. This adaptability will ensure that we continue to thrive in an ever-changing business environment.
 
Diversity and inclusion will be integral to our company culture. By fostering an environment that values diverse perspectives and backgrounds, we aim to attract and retain top talent. This inclusivity will not only contribute to the vibrancy of our workplace but also enhance our ability to understand and serve a diverse client base.
 
In essence, our vision for the next 10 years revolves around a commitment to innovation, expansion, excellence in all things we produce, community engagement, adaptability, and inclusivity. By staying true to our values while embracing the opportunities presented by a dynamic real estate landscape, we look forward to the continued success and growth of our company. C

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