• Login|
  • Contact Us|

  United States




Middle East

Brazil China France United Arab Emirates
Canada India Germany  
USA Japan Greece  
  Singapore Italy  
  Taiwan Kazakhstan  
  Thailand Netherlands  
    United Kingdom  



Identifying and Quantifying Economic Obsolescence


This article was authored by Michael J. Remsha, P.E., ASA, CMI, Vice President and Managing Director


Economic obsolescence:  You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t smell it (at least most of the time), so how are appraisers supposed to quantify it?  No one ever said being an appraiser was easy.  It takes years of training, experience, and hard work to be able to investigate an industry, analyze market data, and derive factors such as economic obsolescence (“EO”).

Economic obsolescence, also referred to as external obsolescence, is the loss in value resulting from influences external to the property itself.  External conditions causing EO may be international, national, industry-based, or local in origin.  Various external factors affect potential economic returns, thus having a direct impact on the market value of an asset or property. 

This paper will discuss a number of procedures that can be used to identify and quantify EO.  The appraiser must study the subject property and its industry, as appropriate, to determine if EO exists, and if it does, how to measure and apply it.  These procedures may not apply to every property or industry, and may not be appropriate in the case of certain U.S. Federal Tax or financial reporting matters where other perspectives may apply.    

To determine if EO is present, a review must be made of the economics of the subject property and the industry in which it competes, as of a chosen point in time - the appraisal date.  This review can be made by examining the earnings history of the subject property and any local or other influences that may affect the economic performance of the subject and its assets.  For typical real estate, especially small generic properties, the effects of local market conditions can be very important.  Zoning, the local economy, unemployment, and industry factors can affect the value of real estate.  Larger real estate properties may not be affected by local economics as significantly, but they can be affected by the regional, national, and even global economy.  Major properties that typically include real estate and significant other capital assets, and going concern influences (business values such as tangible and intangible assets and working capital) can be affected by local economic factors, but usually are more significantly affected by industry-wide economic conditions.

Industry economic conditions affect all aspects of a business, and commonly, entire businesses are appraised, not just real estate or just machinery and equipment.  Some typical properties that would be appraised as a business include cement plants, steel mills, paper mills, petrochemical and chemical plants, and other processing plants; oil and gas production, mining, and other facilities in the extractive industries; and any other assemblies of assets that compete in a specific industry.  Typical sources of data that can be used to review the economics of an industry include annual stockholder reports of companies in the industry, 10K reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission, industry publications discussing product and raw material price changes, investment banking and brokerage reports, and government studies.  By using such data, the appraiser can determine if the earnings in the industry – and hence, of the subject property – have been, are currently, or will be affected by some outside economic influence that will reduce earnings and, therefore, the value of the business and its assets.

Of course, if certain assets in the plant or in the industry are generic such that they could be used by other industries, the EO of the current user may not be appropriate for that specific asset.  For example, EO in the typewriter industry may be significant, but the real estate associated with a typewriter plant could be used by many different users.  Therefore, it would be appropriate to apply the EO penalty to the machinery and equipment used to manufacture typewriters, but not to the buildings.  The appraiser must practice careful analysis.


To quantify EO, an appraiser must first investigate the existence of economic conditions that may reduce the value of a business and, hence, its assets.  Then, the EO must be quantified in an objective manner.  EO may exist in any industry or property where the following attributes are found:

  • Reduced demand for the company’s products
  • Overcapacity in the industry
  • Dislocation of raw material supplies
  • Increasing cost of raw materials, labor, utilities, or transportation, while the selling price of the product remains fixed or increases at a much lower rate
  • Government regulations that require capital expenditures to be made with little or no return on the new investment
  • Environmental considerations that require capital expenditures to be made with little or no return on the new investment

EO is present when better economic opportunities exist for an investment.  The economic principles of supply and demand, and competition drive the loss of value associated with EO.  Typically, EO cannot be reduced by capital investments, but it can change and even decline to zero through changing industry conditions.

EO can be quantified using many different methods, including the following:

  • Market-Derived Approach
  • Income Approach
  • Utilization Analysis
  • Return-on-Capital Analysis
  • Equity-to-Book Ratio Analysis
  • Gross Margin Analysis
  • Government Regulations Analysis
  • Income Shortfall Analysis
  • Best of the Best Technique

Every method may not be applicable in every valuation problem.  Determination of the appropriate method will depend on the availability of data for review and the type of asset being valued. The following sections discuss each method in greater detail.

Market-Derived Approach
A very simple and direct approach is to derive EO from the market by reviewing sales of similar properties.  This is especially useful for real estate where similar properties are available in the local or regional market and sufficient information is available on properties that have sold. In this approach, the following steps are applied:

Step 1   Deduct land value from the sale price of the property that sold; the result is the value of only non-land assets.  Because EO is an attribute of the cost approach and land is typically valued using the sales comparison approach, the land value is removed from the analysis.
Step 2   Develop the current cost new of non-land assets.
Step 3    Calculate all depreciation and obsolescence, except EO, and deduct it from the current cost new of non-land assets.
Step 4 Deduct the adjusted sale price (Step 1) from the current cost new less depreciation and obsolescence (Step 3).

The result is an indication of EO based on a market transaction, a sale of a similar property.  This approach can be used to calculate EO as a dollar amount, or as a percentage of the cost of reproduction new (“CRN”), cost of replacement (“COR”), or even the cost of replacement less physical depreciation (“CORLD”).  An example follows:

Sale Price of Similar Property $1,000,000
Less Value of Land 200,000
Sale Price of Non-land Assets  $800,000
Cost Approach Indication of Value of Property Sold  
COR  $1,500,000
Less Physical Depreciation   500,000
CORLD  $1,000,000
Less Functional Obsolescence 0
Cost Approach Indication of Value Before EO   $1,000,000
Less Sale Price of Non-land Assets  800,000
Indicated EO   $200,000
Indicated EO as Percent of CORLD   20%


Hence, based on the above, EO is $200,000, or 13% of the COR, or 20% of the CORLD.  The dollar amount of EO is the same, but the percent will vary depending on how it is measured and how it is to be used.

Several sales should be reviewed in the analysis to develop a market-derived conclusion.  Preferably, the sales should be similar in age and location to the subject, and have little or no functional obsolescence, if possible (one less item to analyze).  Sometimes this is not possible, but an attempt should be made to locate comparables that have economic factors similar to those of the subject.  Also, if the calculated EO for the comparables is based on a percentage of their CORLD, then the deduction for EO applied to the subject property must be taken before the deduction of any dollar amount for functional obsolescence.  Percentage deductions must always be deducted first, dollar deductions last.

Income Approach
A common valuation technique used by the financial community is simply to develop the income approach to indicate the value of the property being appraised.  The income approach quantifies all forms of depreciation and obsolescence - physical, functional, and economic.  However, when quantifying depreciation and obsolescence through use of the income approach, EO cannot be separately delineated in the analysis without relying on the cost approach.  A modification of this approach is to develop all aspects of the cost approach, with the exception of EO, as in the market-derived approach previously discussed, then subtract the income approach indication of value from the partially completed cost approach; the difference is EO.  The primary problem with this approach is that the result really relies on just one approach to value, the income approach.  As a general rule, using this technique, the result of the cost approach to value will always equal the result of the income approach to value.  Although EO has been developed, it is totally dependent on the basic assumptions of the income approach.  An example, based on the previous example used in the Market-Derived Approach section, follows:

EO in this example is therefore $100,000.  If the income approach indication of value were to change based on a different set of projections or even a different discount rate, the dollar amount of EO also would change.

Income Approach Indication of Value

Less Value of Land

Income Approach Indication of Value of Non-land Assets

Cost Approach Indication of Value Before EO

Less Income Approach Indication of Value of Non-land Assets

Indicated EO







Utilization Analysis
Other totally independent procedures are available to quantify the effects of EO.  One simple approach is to review the asset’s utilization.  If the asset is being utilized at less than 100% or whatever is the norm for the industry, then EO exists because demand in the industry is substantially less than the available supply.  Mathematically, this is based on the relationship whereby EO equals actual utilized capacity (demand) divided by maximum capacity (supply) with the result taken to an exponent (scale factor), subtracted from 1.  The scale factor is a relationship of cost to capacity, which reflects the concept that as capacity increases, the cost of construction increases at a different rate, typically a slower rate.  Typical scale factors are 0.6 to 0.7, based on data published in engineering and construction texts.

The typewriter industry circa 1999 will be used as an example of this type of calculation.  Because of the use of personal computers, demand for typewriters has been greatly reduced.  While the manufacturing supply potential is still in place, the demand is not. Let’s say the machinery and equipment at a certain plant has the capacity (supply) to manufacture 100,000 units per year, but demand is for only 1,000 units per year.  The magnitude of EO in the industry and in the assets located at the plant is calculated as follows:





= 1 - (Demand/Capacity)0.7
= 1 - (1,000/100,000)0.7
= 1 - 0.010.7
= 96%

Note that to convert the 96% figure into a dollar amount, one can multiply it by the CRN, COR, or CORLD.  Percentage deductions are always deducted before dollar deductions.  The order of the mathematical calculation is not important; the result will be the same (the associative principle of algebra).

The subject company in our example has some income from production of the product, but the machinery and equipment is severely underutilized and, hence, exhibits a high level of EO, 96%.  The market for typewriters has been replaced due to a new form of office equipment, personal computers.

Some unenlightened practitioners may argue that EO cannot exist if capacity at the subject or in the industry is nearly or fully used.  This is not always true.  It can be true only if earnings in the industry can support the capital investment at a market-based rate of return.  If utilization is at 100%, but the industry (including the subject) is only breaking even or losing money, then EO is strongly indicated.  Utilization can be at what is considered the norm in the industry because of economic influences outside the property, such as high consumer demand, and yet the company may have low levels of profitability because of competition or some other outside influence on the subject property.  An example would be any U.S. company competing with companies located in foreign countries where raw materials or operating expenses are less than in the United States.  A U.S. plant with a maximum capacity of 100,000 units per year and high demand for its products may have an output of 100,000 units per year.  But because of imports from overseas, the price (i.e., value) received for the products produced may just cover expenses; therefore, earnings are low or negative, and the return on the investments in the business are reduced.  The magnitude of EO in the industry, based on utilization only (that is, with a blindfold on), is “calculated” to be zero.  Of course, this is incorrect.

As can be seen in the example above, a company may have low or negative earnings from the manufacture of a product, yet the equipment may still be utilized at 100%.  The plant is likely experiencing financial difficulties because of reduced earnings caused by competition; hence, EO exists and must be quantified using an earnings-related approach.  The practitioner can’t just plug numbers into formulas to calculate a result and call it EO.  Thoughtful, reasoned analysis is required.  Several questions must be investigated and answered:  Are expected earnings reasonable for the subject property?  How do the property’s earnings compare to the industry?  How do the property’s and industry’s earnings compare to those in alternative investments?

If a plant is new and “state-of-the-art,” it still can exhibit EO.  For example, if a plant was built to manufacture a product, and because of changes in government regulations or consumer preferences, the demand for the product or maybe even the primary raw material disappears, EO for the plant and the industry could suddenly be 100%, and the plant would shut down.  This could happen today (2001) in the MTBE industry if the U.S. government follows the lead of California and bans the use of MTBE (a blendstock used in reformulated gasoline) in the entire country.  The MTBE plants would have the option of shutting down or maybe, if even possible, spending capital to modify the facilities to produce another product.  EO can be sudden and significant, especially if a government body is involved.

Return-on-Capital Analysis
Another approach to quantifying EO is a return-on-capital (or investment) analysis.  In such an analysis, the relationship of earnings is compared to the magnitude of investment used to generate those earnings.  A simple and direct approach to apply the return-on-capital analysis is to review the relationships of publicly traded companies in the same or a similar line of business as the subject property as of the appraisal date to a benchmark to determine if EO exists and at what level.  One method is to compare the percent earned on total capital (return on capital) for the year prior to the appraisal date with the percent earned on total capital during a time frame when it was higher (that is, the good old days of more reasonable returns; the time frame may be one year or over several years). 

A convenient publication to utilize in this analysis is Value Line Investment Survey (“Value Line”).  Value Line publishes a significant amount of current and historical financial data on thousands of publicly traded stocks on a continuous basis.  One of the components of a Value Line analysis is percent earned on total capital.

Value Line defines percent earned on total capital as“ a company’s return on its stockholders’ equity and long-term debt obligations.”  As defined in the financial community, the summation of long-term debt and stockholders’ equity represents the total invested capital of a business or the business enterprise.  When the economics of the industry are good, the return on capital will be high; when poor, low.  Hence, a return-on-capital analysis is a meaningful indicator of economic obsolescence.

To develop an example analysis, returns for a typical industry were reviewed based on data published in Value Line.  A review follows, showing Value Line-type data for a sample industry:  

Company  Five-Year Mean 1990-1995 (%)   Current Data (%)
Algoma Industries 14.7 10.1
Kewaunee Industries 12.6 8.7
Manitowoc Mfg. 11.0 7.1
Menomonee Cos. 10.9 12.1
Okauchee Services 8.3 8.0
Sheboygan Industries 11.1 10.1
Waukesha Mfg 9.1 6.1
Low 8.3 6.1
High 14.7 12.1
Median 11.0 8.7
Mean 11.1 8.9
Conclude 11.0 9.0

EO can be determined using the following formula:

EO = Five-Year Mean - Current Data
Five-Year Mean

Therefore, using the data presented above, EO in this example can be calculated as follows:

EO = 11.0 - 9.0
= 2.0
= 18%

Accordingly, based on the return-on-capital analysis, the economic penalty, or EO, on assets in the sample industry is 18%.

This is a meaningful indicator of EO when the practitioner can identify companies followed by Value Line that are in an industry similar to the subject property and have a minimal amount of diversification.  For example, if the subject property were an oil refinery, several companies followed by Value Line would be considered good comparables because they are primarily oil refining companies with few other assets in other sectors of the oil and gas industry, or other industries.  In other words, the economics of the subject property would be influenced by the same or similar factors as the economics of the comparable companies.  If the subject property were a single tissue (paper) mill, this approach may not be as meaningful because Value Line does not track any companies that own just tissue mills.  All the paper industry companies followed are diversified and, hence, may experience different economic factors than the subject.

After finding the comparable companies, the second step is to study the history of the industry to find a period of time when the return on capital was good (that is, again, what industry insiders would call “the good old days”).  For the oil refining industry, this can be identified as the late 1970s, and 1988, the years before supply and demand disruptions and expensive government regulations. 

The practitioner must study the subject property’s economics and locate companies to be used as comparables that are as similar as possible to the subject.  Of course, no comparable will be perfect. The goal is to locate comparables that are in a similar economic environment.

Equity-to-Book Ratio Analysis
Another method for determining the EO present in an industry is to analyze investors’ perceptions of investment in that industry using common stock (equity) prices.  Indicative of investors’ perception of the obsolescence present in the investment is the ratio of price paid for common stock relative to its book value.  Book value of the stock relates to the original capital contributed to the firm in exchange for the stock plus retained earnings which have accumulated since the initial investment.

From a legal perspective, stockholders own the firm in which they have invested.  From an investor’s viewpoint, stock ownership is considered to represent a net ownership position in the firm’s assets.  At any point in time, if the total value of all assets is considered and all liabilities are deducted, the net amount is representative of the total value of the common stock or the value of the common equity in the firm. Thus, an investor purchasing shares of common stock is making a decision on the value of the total assets.

The book value of common stocks of publicly held companies is calculated with reasonable consistency for most publicly traded companies due to accounting regulations.  The regulations involve not only the general methodology used in the calculations, but also the type of data available to investors.  Because of the consistency of reporting, book values are useful as a benchmark for certain types of measurements.  However, book values will not specifically represent fair market value of the assets, primarily because they are based on historical costs.

To estimate EO affecting assets in a sample industry, information in Standard & Poor’s (“S&P”) Analyst’s Handbook was analyzed for a sample industry’s stock, on a per-share basis.  The information represents indices that are based on stock prices (the annual high and low are reported) and also an index for the industry book value (one number is reported).  For baseline comparison purposes, the same information is available on a group of industrial companies known as the S&P Industrials, which represents the S&P 500 after removing any nonindustrial stock.  Comparisons of stock price and book value are possible based on these annual data for the subject industry and also for the benchmark Industrials.  To calculate the equity-to-book ratio for this study, the mean common stock price is divided by the book value per share as published in the Analyst’s Handbook. The sample analysis follows:

EO can be determined using the following formula:

EO =

Industrials - Sample Industry

Therefore, using the data presented above, EO in this example is calculated as follows:

EO = 4.8 - 3.5
= 1.3
= 27%

This relationship is indicative of investors’ relative valuation of the sample industry assets when compared with general industrial stocks.  Owners of general industrial stocks appear willing to pay about 27% more for such stocks than they would pay for stock in the sample industry, based on the equity-to-book-value ratio.  By this method, EO of 27% is indicated.  To the extent that EO exists in the general industrial companies used in this analysis, the EO conclusion for the sample industry is somewhat understated.

Gross Margin Analysis
Another method that can be used to quantify EO is the study of company or industry returns by comparing gross (profit) margins over time.  Simply put, the gross margin is a company’s revenues less its cost of raw materials.  Revenues can be measured by multiplying the number of units produced by the value of those units in the market.  The cost of raw materials can be developed in a similar manner.

An appraiser should be able to gather information on the company being appraised by reviewing the last five to ten years of the company’s financial data.  This analysis is typically developed on a unit-of-production basis (dollars per pound of production, or dollars per barrel of throughput [inputs to the plant], for example).  If gross margins have been declining, or currently are lower than in the past, EO may be present even if utilization is high.  Of course, if EO does exist, then the industry must first be analyzed to find the reasons for the obsolescence.  Typical reasons could be an overcapacity of products available, which is driving prices down; an increase in the cost of raw materials caused by a shortage in the market; or maybe just “cutthroat” competition.  Remember, EO is commonly caused by supply-and demand problems and competition.  If gross margins are lower than in the past, EO can be measured using the following formula:

EO =

Past Gross Margins - Current Gross Margins
Past Gross Margins

An example of this technique follows: 

Past Gross Margins  $2.00 per unit
Current Gross Margins  $1.00 per unit 

EO = $2.00 - $1.00
= 50%

Generally, EO is considered incurable, as investments typically cannot be made to make it go away.  But it can change and even decline to zero if industry economics change.  If a competitor’s plant suddenly goes out of business, a shortage of products may occur.  When demand is constant and supply goes down, economic theory says that prices will tend to increase.  When prices increase for the products produced, revenues will go up for the plant.  EO may be reduced or even disappear until another new plant is built, increasing supply, or imports arrive from other parts of the country or from foreign countries.

Government Regulations Analysis
The implementation of government regulations can cause EO, as well.  The government’s regulation of public utilities provides a good example.  For much of the 20th century, state and federal governments structured public utilities’ earnings on the investment in the tangible assets used to serve the public in a monopoly situation.  Because the public utilities were allowed to have a monopoly, the government wanted to protect the public by controlling the utilities’ earnings.  This was done through “rate base” regulation.  Rate base is defined as the original cost of the assets being used to serve the public less allowed (rate base) depreciation.  The public utilities would supply the government body information created using unique utility accounting practices for this purpose. The government would permit a certain allowed return on this investment, the rate base, which was determined by actual costs of debt and a market-based allowed return on equity.  If the utility earned the allowed amount, good; if the utility earned less, too bad (poor management?).  If the utility earned too much, the excess earnings had to be returned to the rate payers through a rate adjustment.  To increase earnings, the utility would have to file a request (rate case) to have its allowed return increased.  If the rate case took too long to come before the review board and equity returns were rising, a level of EO resulted from the regulatory lag (that is, the allowed rate of return was not permitted to be increased fast enough, and the utility was not being given the opportunity to earn on its rate base at current market rates).  The level of EO can be measured by the following formula:

EO = Current Market Return - Allowed Return
Current Market Return

An example of this technique follows: 

Allowed Return  10%
Current Market Return  13%

EO = 13% - 10%
= 3%
= 23%

This means, because of regulatory lag (bureaucracy), the utility in our example is not able to earn at market rates, and therefore, the owners of the utility must accept a lower level of earnings.  This loss of earnings is a form of EO that reduces the value of the utility’s property.

Another form of government-caused EO is rent controls.  In certain areas of the United States, rent in apartment buildings is controlled by the local government.  The intention is to provide affordable housing for existing tenants.  While the market may be changing the market rental rates of apartments in an area (generally increasing with inflation), local government laws sometimes prevent landlords from increasing rental rates.  This regulation causes EO, which is manifest in a reduction in the value of the property.  EO in this situation can be determined by the following formula:

EO = Current Market Rental Rate - Current Allowed Rental Rate
Current Market Rental Rate

An example of this technique follows:

Current Allowed Rental Rate $500 per month
Current Market Rental Rate $1,000 per month

EO = $1,000 - $500
= $500
= 50%

Again, because of local government controls, EO exists, and the value of the property is reduced.

Consider the position of a potential buyer.  If a potential buyer knows that the earnings will be reduced by local government rent controls, will a purchase offer be based on the property’s earnings limited by local regulations, or on current market rental rates that do not apply to the property?  Of course, the prudent investor will base the offer to purchase on the property’s permitted earnings, not on market earnings that do not apply.  Rent controls reduce the value of a property because earnings are controlled, reduced.  That’s economic obsolescence.

Another form of government-regulation-based EO is the lack of return on investments made for pollution control equipment or mandated environmental remediation.  The Clean Air Act of 1990 Amendment required many heavy industries to invest in pollution-control-related equipment that did not increase capacity or profits.  In fact, in many cases, the new equipment actually increased operating expenses through higher labor requirements and more energy consumption, thus reducing earnings.  The plants had two choices: invest in the pollution-control equipment, or shut down.  The investment is considered a necessary capital expenditure or a form of curable functional obsolescence, and the resulting reduction on the return on investment, a form of EO.  Government regulations constantly require industry to make new plant investments.  When the required investments do not generate income, EO is the result.

Income Shortfall Analysis
Another means of indicating EO is an income shortfall analysis.  This approach is similar to those discussed above for regulatory lag or rent control techniques, except that the income shortfall is caused by “the market.”  For example, suppose the subject property is in a very competitive industry.  The company has made large investments to modernize and meet environmental requirements, and essentially to invest in long-term future operations.  Because of supply and demand economics and competition, earnings are not available to support the investment in the plant assets.  The company had the option of investing in the new environmental equipment or shutting down.  EO exists because the earnings generated by the plant do not support the level of investment made in the plant. In an income shortfall analysis, EO can be determined using the following formula:

EO = Required Return on Investment - Current Return on Investment
Required Return on Investment

Therefore, continuing the example above, the calculation is as follows:

Required Return on Investment 15%
Current Return on Investment 10%

  EO = 15% - 10%
= 5%

Another way to calculate the EO caused by an income shortfall is to calculate the differential in earnings.  This can be determined by the following formula:

EO = Calculated Return - Projected Return
Calculated Return

An example of this method follows:

Current Investment $1,000,000
Current Income $100,000

EO = Current Income
Current Investment
= 10%

Projected Investment $1,500,000
Projected Income $100,000

  Projected Return = Projected Income
Projected Investment
= 7%


EO = 10% - 7%
= 30%

This income shortfall calculation of EO is very similar to the first calculation, in which the required and current returns were known.  In this example, the returns are calculated based on the investment in the property and the return received or projected after a new investment is made that provided no additional income.  The result is similar:  EO exists and is significant.

Best of the Best Technique
The “Best of the Best” technique was derived in the 1960s by Lionel Thatcher, Professor of Business and Economics at the University of Wisconsin, and Richard Dubielzig, Director of the Utilities Tax Division of the Wisconsin Department of Taxation.  This method of quantifying EO involves selecting several economic performance indicators for comparable companies, such as rate of return, gross or net margins, and utilization, among others, for comparison against the subject. Three steps are used:

Step 1  Select the best economic performance indicators of the comparable properties or companies. 

Step 2  Compare the subject property’s indicators against the best indicators in the market to obtain a relationship to the standard, or Best of the Best. 

Step 3  Calculate the subject’s average relationship to the standard and subtract from 1 to develop an opinion of EO.

The above method was commonly used in the valuation of railroads for property tax purposes.  A simple example follows:


Using the 70% indication of the subject’s relationship to the Best of the Best results in an EO indication of 30% (1 - 70%).  This method could be applied to any subject, or in any industry, where reliable economic performance data are available for similar properties.   The primary problem with this method is obtaining reliable economic performance data.

The choice of which method to use depends on the availability of data to utilize and the type of property being valued.

Entrepreneurial Profit
Entrepreneurial profit is the anticipated profit an investor requires to construct and sell a property.  It is a reward to the entrepreneur for the inherent risks of investing time and money in the construction of a property.

Entrepreneurial profit must be market based; it is not automatic.  The market will not automatically reward an entrepreneur for hard work and risky investments.  Most likely, this type of profit will exist in generic industrial, commercial, and residual properties in an expanding market where demand is greater than supply.  It will not exist in unique or special-purpose properties that are built by users and are not for sale in the general marketplace.  Of course, if EO exists, entrepreneurial profit is negative.  Both cannot exist at the same time (that is, both cannot be positive or negative).

A lack of new construction is generally an indicator that EO may exist.  However, EO can exist in the presence of new construction, as well.  Sometimes, a large corporation will replace an old functionally obsolete plant with a new, modern, state-of-the-art plant to reduce operating costs and create a stronger presence in the industry.  While EO still exists in the industry, which reduces the earnings of the company, the reduced operating expenses resulting from a new plant will make it a stronger participant in the industry and potentially even help to drive out the competition.  This may reduce and even eliminate some of the competition and, also, reduce or eliminate EO.

Economic obsolescence is present when better economic opportunities exist for an investment.  When a government entity steps in and attempts to control the market through regulations, EO is created externally and reduces the value of assets.  The loss of value associated with EO also is caused by the economic principles of supply and demand, and competition.  EO typically cannot be reduced by capital investments, but it can change, and even decline to zero through changing industry conditions.

An enlightened appraiser will investigate the existence of EO and quantify it based on market indicators.  Ideally, more than one method will be utilized and the results correlated to conclude the magnitude of the EO.

This text has covered a number of procedures that can be used to quantify the effects of EO.  These procedures will not apply to every property or industry, and other more appropriate indicators may apply.  The appraiser must study the subject property and its industry, as appropriate, to determine if EO exists, and if it does, how to measure it.  Careful analysis and study are required, and the process described herein may not be appropriate for matters pertaining to certain U.S. Federal Tax or financial reporting.

You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t smell it, but you can measure it using the appraiser’s proper valuation tools.  It’s in the market, and if an informed appraiser is alert, it will be heard.  When the market speaks, appraisers listen.



Hartman, Donald and Michael Shapiro. 1983.  Depreciation: Incurable Functional Obsolescence and Sequence of Deductions, The Appraisal Journal, July.

Herman, Robert. 2001.  Measuring External Obsolescence in Complex Properties - (Real Estate).  Paper presented at the 25th Annual Conference, June 2001.  Institute for Professionals in Taxation.

Hinshaw, Andrew. 1963.  Functional and Economic Obsolescence of Industrial Installations, Technical Valuation, American Society of Appraisers, February 9.

Iannacito, Alan. 1998.  Economic Obsolescence, The M & E Appraiser, January/April, Volume 5, Number 1.

Kinnard, William, and Gail Beron.  1984. Quantification and Measurement of Economic Obsolescence.  Paper presented at the Real Estate Valuation Symposium, November 14.  Institute of Property Taxation.

Landretti, Greg. 1986.  Annual Economic Adjustments and the Special Purpose Industrial Property, Assessment Digest, International Association of Assessing Officers, September/ October, Volume 8, Number 5.

Miles, Les. 1993.  Economic Obsolescence, The M/TV Journal, American Society of Appraisers, Fall, Volume 10, Number 2.

Reilly, Robert. 1988.  The Identification and Quantification of Economic Obsolescence, Business Valuation Review, American Society of Appraisers, June.

Rhodes, Lester.  2001.  External Obsolescence and Complex Properties.  Paper presented at the 25th Annual Conference, June 2001.  Institute for Professionals in Taxation.

Skogstad, Tor. 1983.  Estimating Economic Obsolescence of Operating Industrial Plants, Assessment Digest, November/December.

Thatcher, Lionel, and Richard Dubielzig. 1967.  Obsolescence in Railroad Ad Valorem Tax Assessments, Wisconsin Commerce Reports, The University of Wisconsin, May, Volume VIII, No. 2.

This paper is based on a presentation given at the 2001 Property Tax Symposium in La Jolla, California, sponsored by the Institute for Professionals in Taxation; the presentation was based on an article published in the Machinery and Technical Specialties Journal of the American Society of Appraisers, Volume 16, Number 1, 2000.

About the author:
Michael J. Remsha is a vice president and managing director with American Appraisal Associates, Inc., in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In this capacity, he provides direction and technical support on the valuation of special-purpose and personal property.  He has been a full-time appraiser since 1977.  He has testified as an expert witness before various county and state tax boards and courts in 15 states.  Mr. Remsha is an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) of the American Society of Appraisers.  He served as a committee member and/or officer on the Machinery & Technical Specialties Committee from 1994 to 1999, and on the Technical Valuation Committee as a committee member and/or officer from 1989 to 1994.  Mr. Remsha is certified in Wisconsin as a Professional Engineer (PE), is licensed as a Certified General Appraiser in several states, and is a Certified Member of the Institute (CMI) in the Institute for Professionals in Taxation.

About American Appraisal:
American Appraisal, the world’s only truly glocal valuation firm™ is a leading valuation and related advisory services firm that provides expertise in all classifications of tangible and intangible assets.  It is comprised of 900 employees, operating from cities throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North and South America.  Our portfolio of services focuses on four key competencies: Valuation, Transaction Consulting, Real Estate Advisory and Fixed Asset Management

Since its founding in 1896, American Appraisal has played a key role in creating and shaping the valuation profession—while forming long-term Client relationships based on integrity and performance.  Our commitment is reflected by our passion to lead our profession from the podium, in print and through significant participation in many of our profession’s governing bodies and associations, including the American Society of Appraisers, Appraisal Issues Task Force, FASB Valuation Resource Group, The Appraisal Foundation, China Appraisal Society and International Valuation Standards Committee.

American Appraisal focuses exclusively on valuation and related advisory services.  That independence guarantees our greater objectivity.


Click to open PDF





Business Combinations

Impairment Testing

Equity-Based Compensation

Financial Instruments
Fresh Start Accounting


Purchase Price Allocation
Corporate Tax Valuation Services
IRC §409A and Stock Valuation
Gift & Estate Tax

Cost Segregation

Transfer Pricing

§861 Interest Expense

Property Tax

Property Insurance
Appraisal &

Building Insurance Appraisal
& Inspection

Equipment/Personal Property Insurance Appraisal & Inventory

Property Insurance
Appraisal Update

Web-Based Reporting

Fixed Asset Management

Fixed Asset Inventory & Reconciliation

Fixed Asset

IT Asset Inventory

Property Record
Outsourcing Services


Fairness Opinions

Solvency Opinions

Asset Purchase,
Sale or Lease

Asset Financing



Litigation Support

Appraisal Reviews

Intellectual Property Valuation

Bankruptcy & Restructuring

Real Estate Advisory

Portfolio Valuation

Right of Way Appraisal Services






Aerospace & Defense

Agribusiness, Food & Beverage


Consumer Products & Services

Financial Services & Transaction Processing



Higher Education

Hospitality & Gaming



Media & Entertainment

Metals & Mining

Oil & Gas

Paper, Packaging & Forest Products


Professional Services

Real Estate

Technology & Electronics



Utilities & Power Generation


Follow us


Privacy /
Terms of Use / Corporate Governance