It is a curious circumstance that, although accountants generally recognize the value of real estate as an asset, and frequently give evidence of that belief by assigning it a certain pre-eminence when marshalling assets or arranging a balance sheet, there is little literature on the subject of real estate accounting, either here or abroad.
One reason for this may be found in the fact that, until recently, we have been almost entirely dependent upon England and Scotland for our accountancy literature; and in those countries there is not the constant development of wild lands, timber tracts, and suburban properties, nor the large and rapid increase in the growth of cities, so evident throughout the United States; nor is there that habit of quick trading which here has become a second nature. Under such circumstances it is but natural that across the ocean the matter has been overlooked or postponed; and on this side of the water accountants have been so fully occupied in keeping abreast of their work that they have had but little time at their disposal in which to tell others what they are doing.
A writer in the United States treating of this subject, is then, in a sense, a pioneer and may with propriety beg for himself and for his book the consideration and the allowances usually conceded to pioneers in all fields.
While the main foundations of accounts are identical throughout the world, and it is, for example, as unwise in Finland as in Florida to anticipate profits or to allow a fictitious valuation of assets, the structures raised on these foundations may vary as greatly as do the winter quarters of a Finn and those of a Floridian. Under these circumstances it is unavoidable that many of the instances and examples given in the following pages should be almost pointless outside of the United States, although the author has endeavored to present principles in a form so broad, and to give examples of a character so typical, that they may be of some service wherever real estate accounting is employed.
While no originality is claimed for the principles which are enunciated, the methods which are advocated, together with nearly all the forms presented, are the results of the author's personal practice; no merit, however, is claimed for the fact that they have originated with him and have not been "compiled" from other sources, the simple reason for this being that he has been unable to find any sources from which it was possible to compile.
Special attention is given to the treatment of "time sales," and the procedure described is original and is developed to a greater degree than has been general. The rapid growth of "development" companies, the lack of uniformity, and the frequent disregard of the principles involved, all combine in calling for a rather full treatment of this interesting branch of the subject.
Legal questions will frequently arise in connection with real estate accounting, and to a lawyer the legal statements of the present volume may appear meager and crude. The author has, however, attempted to give merely such explanations of these matters as are necessary to enable the real estate accountant to make his entries intelligently and in conformity with legal requirements.
No attempt has been made to give examples of the various legal forms employed in connection with real estate, such as deeds and contracts. They already occupy much space in many volumes; and the general usefulness of such a collection, unless it is complete, is impaired by the fact that the forms, while perhaps excellent for Illinois, for example, may utterly fail to comply in some essential with the statutory requirements of other states.
The object of bookkeeping is to show not only the results obtained by an enterprise, but also the causes of these results - not only to exhibit a gain or a loss, but to show whence came the values gained, or whither went the values lost. The very form of a trading statement or of a profit and loss account shows on its face that this is the object of its existence. But while the truth of this statement is generally acknowledged, many accounts may still be found which fail, in this respect at least, to justify their being.
In real estate accounting, where each item of the inventory has an individuality entirely lacking in the case of merchandise or manufactured goods, both cause and effect may be shown with unusual clearness. In the present work this fact has been kept constantly in view, and the methods of accounting presented will be found to show clearly at all times both the results and the reasons therefor - even for a single lot of a large subdivision.
The present work is intended primarily for the use of accountants, but, inasmuch as it is designed also to be of practical service to the real estate manager, the bookkeeper, and the student, considerable space is devoted to details with which accountants are already familiar. It is assumed, of course, that all those who use this volume have at least a rudimentary knowledge of double-entry bookkeeping.
It may also be said that real estate is so closely related to a large variety of enterprises which are not primarily concerned with real estate, that a study of real estate accounting proper involves some knowledge of these other businesses. While, therefore, the present volume is devoted to real estate accounting, digressions have at times seemed necessary, in order to explain particular points of contact with other kinds of business.
While the author believes that the theories presented and the practice outlined in the present volume are sound, his readers will doubtless discover matters of importance which have been omitted, and other matters which are not presented as clearly as they might be. Suggestions looking to a betterment of the book in any way will be received with gratitude, and will be utilized in the preparation of subsequent editions.
The author's fairly wide professional experience convinces him that one suggestion may not be entirely out of place. A patient might read treatises on the disease from which he suffers, but he would consult a physician to prescribe the remedy; and a wise land owner about to erect an office building would secure all the information on the subject obtainable, but he would engage an architect to draw the plans. In the same way, it is to be hoped that the manager of a real estate concern will not, when important accounting matters of a technical nature are on hand, trust solely to any treatise on real estate accounting, but will seek the assistance of a trained and qualified accountant.
Walter Mucklow. Jacksonville, Florida, June 15, 1917.