Roundtable: the “gap” between real asset valuations and investment value

In March, EVORA Insights’ fourth roundtable focused on integrating climate risk into real estate asset valuation and assessing investment value. The discussion was more diverse than just technical adjustments to acquisition models and IC memos.

Our clients’ focus on achieving actual net mitigation and adaptation, rather than simply de-risking an investment or portfolio, was striking.

In all, it seems that many firms are incorporating climate risks and opportunities into their investment process, but with little consistency in how it’s actually quantified or whether it’s formally embedded into valuation models.

Value vs. Price

A distinction was made between traditional valuation methods that the valuation/appraisal community use, and pricing in the context of transactions.

In the former case, few if any valuers are incorporating climate risk into property valuations. Aside from perhaps EPC ratings where relevant policy is in place; little to none when it comes to other forward-looking climate risks.  

In the case of transactions, some actors are adjusting their pricing. An ongoing challenge is whether those climate risk-adjusted prices actually win deals, when there are still willing buyers who do not account for climate risk. This was noted as especially challenging in hot sectors and markets (i.e. industrial).

Integrating future risk into acquisition models

There is anecdotal evidence of investment managers making adjustments to various inputs and assumptions in acquisition models to price in climate risk.

One method is to budget for additional CapEx for decarbonisation or adaptation measures, depending how much is needed by the asset and how ambitious a fund’s goals are.

Other methods noted include adjusting Cap Rates (particularly on exit) as a proxy for risk, or establishing specific investment criteria (i.e. red lines).

Data and transparency

These are key tools to pricing climate risk, but are cited as an common challenge. The specific data concerns vary across physical vs. transition risks, as well as geographies.

When it comes to estimating physical risks, many of the leading third-party tools and methodologies focus exclusively on direct damage to buildings, often captured in insurance claim data. But this can exclude potentially material impacts to utility expenses from more extreme temperatures, rising insurance premiums, disrupted access to buildings or tenant discomfort, and all of the broader market-level impacts of increasing climate hazards in a given city or region.

On the transition risk side, data concerns centered around how incomplete the carbon performance story is for most buildings. In Europe, Scope 3 emissions data is unsurprisingly a major thorn, and EPC ratings do not paint a picture of an asset’s actual performance. New regulations in France do appear to be making energy and carbon data from buildings more transparent.

Interestingly, the U.S. seems to be ahead in terms of accessing tenant data and historical carbon performance of many assets, largely due to landlords paying for the main meters and recharging tenants plus the mandatory energy benchmarking regulations established by most major cities and counties.

The ubiquity of the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool’s usage in the commercial real estate space was cited as an advantage – buyers can often request a download of the building’s actual energy, carbon, and water performance from the seller, avoiding the need to guestimate its performance.

The notion of a digital ESG passport that sticks with an asset throughout its life-cycle and captures much of what an ENERGY STAR download would include (plus embodied carbon information, in an ideal world) could be a key to appropriate valuation.

Another risk category was cited as critical to consider at the fund and house level: reputational risk. Even if climate risk-adjusted pricing hasn’t reached a tipping point in the markets yet, firms and funds are considering the consequences of continuing business-as-usual investment strategies. Greenwashing is considered a material risk now, particularly in light of the SFDR and new climate disclosure rules from the FCA and SEC.

Policy gaps

The gap between the policy / market realities and the science-based targets was brought up, indicating that markets are not yet reflecting the risks to a timely and orderly transition. Some expressed a belief that legislation was the only way to drive that change by levelling the playing field between competitors as well as opening up access to tenant data. Otherwise, how will pricing adjustments for transition-readiness take hold?

Frameworks such as the TCFD recommendations are encouraging development of the financial quantifications of climate risks, but provide little practical guidance on how to do so by sector.

However, this type of industry collaboration was seen as a positive example of how this agenda could be progressed effectively. As long as it doesn’t duplicate existing initiatives from industry bodies like the BBP and INREV.

Investment strategy and time matters

There remains some hope that, even without strong legislation, institutional investors will be seeking Core assets that are already well on the path to Net Zero, and will be willing to pay more for lower carbon buildings. This can help justify Value-add investments in decarbonisation measures by current owners in anticipation of the sale and potentially adjusted pricing in the future.  In contrast, tenants were not seen to be moving the needle via demand for greener buildings, despite hopes that they would and corporate occupiers’ climate commitments to the contrary. This presents a challenge to underwriting investment in these properties today.

When thinking about longer term risks, a fund with an average holding period of five or six years may coast by just fine without adjusting their approach. However, there is recognition that climate risk awareness and data quality is increasing, and buyers in just a few years’ time may have new demands that could result in depreciation and reduced liquidity.

If the role of Value-Add funds today is to prepare assets for acquisition by Core investors in the future, climate risk (particularly Net Zero readiness) will need to be considered in the investment plan. Many of these considerations — achieving NZC, establishing an internal carbon price, adapting to hotter temperatures, etc. – may be different for REITs than for fund managers of third party assets.

What is a “green asset,” anyway? 

Standards overkill was cited as a distraction from getting real decarbonisation work done. Divergence in definitions of a “green” asset across dozens of certification schemes results in inconsistencies among owners, and muddies the ability to answer this question for standards such as SFDR.

Often these standards obscure the actual performance of a building and the related risks.

In summary

  • Work is being done to integrate climate risk into pricing and investment decision making, with varying degrees of sophistication.
  • The most common levers for integration include CapEx, Cap Rates, and investment boundaries.
  • While investment teams are beginning to upskill on the subject, actual methods of integrating into acquisition models differ significantly. Hesitation persists when it comes to “putting your money where your mouth is,” for fear of reducing competitiveness.
  • More complete data and projections on climate risk are needed to establish consistency in pricing.
  • Legislation may be key in driving this forward. However, the number of standards, frameworks, and reporting requirements are already burdensome.
  • Investment strategies, market cycles, and other structural trends make a difference.

It’s clear there is a great deal of work left to do. It was heartening, though, that almost every strand of this discussion came back to actual impact and progress toward Net Zero Carbon goals. At least for this group of peers (which admittedly has some selection bias), double materiality is top of mind.