Joe Stampone Start a Career 20 Comments

I usually tend to stay away from technical posts because, quite frankly, there is nothing I can write about that hasn’t already been covered ad nauseam. However, in searching NPV vs. IRR, there was little information on the difference between the two and when to use each.

The net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR) are the two most commonly used methods to examine a proposed investment. Until recently, I really couldn’t tell you anything but the major differences between the two. All investors have their personal preference, so I wanted to lay out the facts, using examples, so you could decided which you prefer.

Net Present Value: To calculate the NPV of an investment, you choose a discount rate that you believe is appropriate given the inherent risk of the investment and you discount back  all of the after-tax cash flows at that rate (less your equity). This will allow you to see the amount of profit you might expect to earn above your cost of capital, and to determine whether or not the profit is great enough to warrant the risk and work involved with the investment.


The purchase price is not included in these cash flows because we are calculating how much the investor is willing to pay.  The NPV of the cash flows above, when discounted at 14 percent, is $118,565.

IRR: Alternatively, the internal rate of return shows you what the actual rate of return on your investment is, considering  all of the cash inflows and outflows as well as assuming that interim cash flows can be reinvested at the same rate. Like NPV, we use bottom of the line items.


(click to enlarge)

This is the rate that makes the present value of the projected cash flows equal to the initial investment or the return on the entire property. As you can see from this example the IRR can remain constant although the initial investment, holding period, and payback period may vary greatly.

The Difference between NPV and IRR: Both NPV and IRR take into account when your money is invested and for how long it is invested. However, in deciding which to use, I suggest run both calculations. Sometimes the IRR can be really high, but if the payback period is very short, the money you will make may not be worth the effort. Also, it’s very difficult to compare alternative investments if you only have the NPV in dollar terms.

Whichever you use, the critical thing to understand is what exactly drives the returns. It could be from the cash flow of the property over time, or value-add by raising rents, reducing vacancy, or lowering expenses. Or it could be the future benefits that will result from selling or refinancing the property. Maybe you’re anticipating a change in cap rate at the time of the sale. When using IRR I recommend analyzing both the IRR from the cash flow and the IRR from the reversion. No matter what, it’s important not to get tangled up in the numbers. Look beyond the spreadsheets, in the end, it’s a real property designed for use by real people.

Which do you prefer in your financial analysis, NPV or IRR?

  • Louis Maldarelli


    First off, I've been a fan of your blog for awhile now. I'm a young professional in the NY commercial real estate field for about 4 years now (I'm an appraiser), so reading up on other peoples opinions about the market is something I enjoy doing (plus, I have to know these things since its my job).

    So when I read your recent blog entry about the NPV vs the IRR, I had to let you know where you went wrong. This is a quote from your article:

    “The net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR) are the two most commonly used methods to determine the return of a proposed investment.”

    Now, this statement is half correct. The IRR is one of the two most commonly used methords to determine the return on a proposed investment. But where you seem to be confused is with the NPV. The net present value is the overall return on the proposed investment. The IRR is simply the rate used to discount however far into the future you are going's cashflows.

    The problem with the article is you're comparing the discount rate with the overall value. Apples and oranges.

    What I think you're trying to write about is the IRR vs. the Cap Rate. These are both two different rates that investors use to to determine the return of proposed investment, as you put it. The IRR is the discount rate used to find the NPV of a Cash Flow for multiple years into the future, while the Cap Rate is a discount rate used to capitalize the next years NOI into a value.

  • Louis Maldarelli

    What I think you're confusing here, is that the Net Present Value isn't a method used to examine the return on an investment. The Net Present Value is just that, the overall value.

    You're comparing a discount rate against the overall value, which isn't correct. It can't be IRR vs. NPV because you are using the IRR to get to the NPV. This is why I am bringing up the IRR vs. Cap Rate issue. These are two different rates that investors use to determine the value of an investment using the cash flow.

    As for the profitability index, while it fits into this discussion somewhat, I would figure that is another article all together. It is another way investors determine value, but I personally don't believe it fits into what you are trying to show with this latest article. Maybe a future blog about the profitability index (and maybe income multipliers) as separate forms of determining value for an investor?

  • Louis – Thank you so much for the kind words. I really appreciate your feedback. You're definitely correct in your assessment.

    I've changed that opening line to: “The net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR) are the two most commonly used methods to examine a proposed investment.”

    However, the post is in fact intended to compare IRR vs. NPV.

    Maye something I should mention is that people should look at the profitability index, that is the ratio of NPV to the total investment.

    Does this make sense?

  • I agree that the profitability index is material for a future blog post.

    I understand that the NPV is calculated in terms of a value where as the IRR is calculated in terms of a percentage return. Despite being different, they are two ways to examine/analyze a proposed investment.

    IRR is not really used in a DCF, but rather a discount rate, which is not exactly the same. The discount rate is market derived/ determined somewhat arbitrarily based on a number of factors including; alternative investments, risk premium, time etc. IRR is determined formulaicly.

  • brodericksmith

    It would probably be helpful for readers to point out the simplest of the relationship between NPV and IRR – when your IRR is zero, your NPV is zero.

  • Broderick, thanks for your comment. You make a very good point, stepping back and looking at it from a simplistic view definitely helps. To add, the IRR is a Discount Rate, but the Discount Rate isn't the IRR.

  • Nathan

    “The IRR is the discount rate used to find the NPV of a Cash Flow for multiple years into the future.” The IRR is equal to a discount rate that will make your NPV calculation equal zero. IRR also assumes that an investor is able to immediately reinvest the cash flows at the same return. This is usually not the case. A more accurate measure of return would be a modified IRR.

  • Nathan

    IRR can be tricky as some investments may have multiple IRR's due to the volatile nature of the cash flows.

    It is also important to note that the IRR equation does not take into consideration the scale of the initial investment nor the cash flow patterns (relevant when the higher npv project has a longer duration). With regard to scale, a smaller investment may have a larger IRR when compared to a larger investment, but a smaller NPV. Would you rather return 100% on $10 or 50% on $100?

    In my opinion, when evaluating a multiple projects a NPV calculation will always help clarify the return potential but the IRR calculation will not.

  • Nathan, thanks for your comments. The IRR is definitely tricky, and you're right, the equation doesn't take into consideration the scale of the investment nor the cash flow patterns (see the example).

    I also agree, it's important to run both an IRR and NPV calculation to understand exactly where the return is coming from.

    How was your experience at the Cornell Real Estate Program? What are you up to now?

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  • RoryGrant

    I have a question: Though the IRR is a discount rate that brings the NPV to zero for that given period, can it not then be seen as the break even point for your investment assuming you borrowed at that rate? Inotherwords, if your IRR is 20%, that means that if your cost of capital was 20% you would still break even on your investment?
    You could then infer that if the real cost of capital was only 6%, your actual rate of return would be something approximating 14% (20%-6%)?

  • Hey Rory, thanks for your comment. The way you walked through it and backed in to the return makes perfect sense to me.

    Regardless, the key is understanding where your return comes from. Is it from the cash flow or the reversion and how to changes to certain assumptions effect your IRR…

    I love a comment I heard from Peter Linneman. I’ve never seen a play that didn’t work in the playbook. However, once on the field, not every play works and even the plays that do work, they usually didn’t go as planned.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Brad B

    Sorry, that’s absolutely NOT true. The IRR is the discount rate that makes the NPV of an investment equal to zero. 

  • Brodericksmith

     You’re right – I must have been moving a little to fast there or too late at night.  What i probably meant to say is IRR is the discount rate that makes your NPV equal to zero. 

  • Hey Brad, can you clarify your comments? I apologize, this is an old post…

  • which One should I choose, the project with high IRR or Smaller IRR? why?

  • which One should I choose, the project with high IRR or Smaller IRR? why?

  • Dominic Zabriskie

    Hey Joe, This is a great post – for newbies and veterans.

    We (LeaseMatrix) just built a web-based application which calculates the NPV and IRR of any CRE deal. Dubbed “” you can check it out at

    Hopefully, some of your readers will find it useful.

  • Gaston Becherano

    Doing research on this and your blog came up. Thanks for the explanation, Joe!

  • Kannapiran Chinna

    For a detailed understanding of the IRR and NPV please review the following articles:

    ” New Method to Estimate NPV from the Capital Amortization Schedule and an
    Insight into Why NPV is Not the Appropriate Criterion for Capital Investment
    Decision” – This paper is available in the following link:

    Title: IRR Performs Better than NPV: A Critical Analysis of Cases of
    Multiple IRR and Mutually Exclusive and Independent Investment Projects

    These papers question some of the points discussed as acceptance or rejection criteria.Please let me have any comments.