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Quick Thoughts on Evaluating Real Estate Investments Without Opening Excel

In our industry (commercial real estate), the ability to quickly evaluate investment opportunities is crucial for staying competitive. I know I’ve found in my professional career, that having a clear framework for evaluating – and then either passing or spending more time on – investments is crucial to managing an efficient pipeline. Thus, being able to quickly evaluate CRE investments, especially without the need for a detailed financial model, is often the difference between hitting annual targets or not.

In this summary post, we share ideas from an episode of the A.CRE Audio Series season two where we discuss how to quickly evaluate real estate opportunities without opening Excel.

Note: This article is based on insights from an episode of the A.CRE Audio Series, which you can listen to or watch by clicking here.

I. Understanding the Market and Investment Criteria

The first step to evaluating CRE investments quickly involves understanding the market and having a clear definition of your investment criteria, commonly known as your ‘investment box’. This strategic framework is necessary for filtering opportunities and aligning them with your investment goals. It includes several key components:

Property Types

Know the property types you are interested in. This could range from office buildings and industrial sites to retail spaces or multifamily units. Each type of property has unique characteristics, market dynamics, and investment potentials. For example, office spaces in urban centers may offer different returns and risks compared to industrial properties in suburban areas.

Geographic Focus

Second, define the geographic regions where you intend to invest. This could be as broad as a country or as specific as a neighborhood within a city. Different regions have varying economic drivers, real estate demand, and regulatory landscapes, all of which can significantly impact your investment outcomes. For instance, investing in a rapidly growing city might offer higher growth potential but could also come with increased competition and higher prices.

Market Conditions

In addition, make sure you understand the current market conditions in your chosen location. This includes factors like average occupancy rates, rental yields, property price trends, and economic indicators such as employment rates and GDP growth.

Investment Goals

Clearly articulate your investment goals. Are you seeking short-term gains through value-add strategies, or are you more interested in long-term appreciation and steady cash flow? Your goals will dictate the types of properties and projects you consider, influencing everything from risk tolerance to capital allocation.

Risk Assessment

Every investment carries risk, and understanding these risks is integral to your investment box. Assess factors such as market volatility, tenant stability, and economic downturns. Identifying potential risks associated with different property types and locations can help you make informed decisions and prepare mitigation strategies.

Capital and Resources

Finally, evaluate the capital availability and the resources at your disposal. This includes not only the financial aspects but also the human resources needed to manage the properties effectively. Knowing your budgetary limits and operational capabilities can help refine your search for feasible investments.

Through these components, you can establish a well-defined investment box and more efficiently sift through numerous opportunities. This will not only streamline the evaluation process but also enhance the likelihood of successful investment outcomes.

II. Key Metrics and Techniques for Quick Analysis of CRE Investments

When evaluating CRE investments, essential metrics like cap rates, net operating income (NOI), and yield on cost are critical. These metrics offer a high-level view of an investment’s potential performance and can be quickly calculated without the need for complex models. Understanding and applying these metrics allows you to efficiently gauge the financial health and expected returns of a property.

To further streamline the evaluation process, employ simple back-of-the-envelope calculations. Techniques such as comparing the yield on cost to the market cap rate quickly provide a comparative snapshot of potential returns against current market conditions. This method can enable you to assess whether a property is likely to perform above or below market averages and facilitating quicker investment decisions.

III. Developing Intuitive Assessment Skills

Seasoned professionals in commercial real estate should develop an intuitive sense of quickly evaluating investments through extensive experience. The foundation for this intuitive sense is a comprehensive understanding of market conditions and fundamental metrics. Over time, you will be able to almost instinctively gauge the viability of a project based on initial data points, without needing to dive into spreadsheets for every calculation.

Additionally, employing rules of thumb for specific markets or property types significantly speeds up the evaluation process. These rules of thumb are practical generalizations made from historical data and market trends, such as typical leasing costs, average vacancy rates, and expected stabilization expenses for different kinds of properties. For instance, knowing that a certain type of office space in a specific city typically achieves a certain occupancy rate or rental price per square foot can indicate whether your projected performance aligns with market norms.

Intuitive Evaluating CRE Investments

IV. Learning from Experienced Professionals

Finally, engaging with experienced professionals is invaluable for both new and seasoned investors. Gaining insights into the rules of thumb used by veteran investors can reduce the learning curve and enhance your ability to evaluate potential deals quickly. Learning from those who have navigated multiple market cycles can give you a nuanced understanding of how various factors influence property values and investment returns.

Mentorship and networking with seasoned professionals offer practical, real-world insights that are often not covered in textbooks or formal education. Moreover, engaging with industry veterans will give you access to a broader network of contacts, including potential partners, clients, and financial resources. It also opens the door to co-investment opportunities and collaborations that might not be available through traditional channels.


To improve your skills in evaluating CRE investments quickly, it’s crucial to understand your market, use simplified financial metrics effectively, and learn from experienced professionals. This approach allows for rapid, informed decision-making that can give you an edge in a competitive market.

About the Author: Born and raised in the Northwest United States, Spencer Burton has over 20 years of residential and commercial real estate experience. Over his career, he has underwritten $30+ billion of commercial real estate at some of the largest institutional real estate firms in the world. He is currently President and member of the founding team at Stablewood. Spencer holds a BS in International Affairs from Florida State University and a Masters in Real Estate Finance from Cornell University.