Most investors recognize that Macy's (M 1.57%) owns a valuable real estate portfolio. In fact, Macy's real estate is probably worth more than its total enterprise value these days.

The biggest prize in this collection of real estate is the massive Macy's flagship store on 34th St. in Manhattan. The vast majority of Macy's square footage is located in traditional malls, though. Many investors seem to assume that this real estate isn't worth much, due to the supposed "death of the mall."

The exterior of the Macy's Herald Square flagship store

Macy's flagship store in Manhattan isn't its only valuable property. Image source: Macy's.

That couldn't be further from the truth, as shown by Sears Holdings' (SHLDQ) recent real estate deals. Let's take a look at just a few of Macy's extremely valuable mall-based properties.

Macy's is in many of the best malls

When real estate analysts compile lists of the most productive --and thus most valuable -- malls in the U.S., several names pop up repeatedly. The Bal Harbour Shops and the Aventura Mall in South Florida, Orlando's Mall at Millenia, the Mall at Rockingham Park and the Pheasant Lane Mall in suburban New Hampshire, Honolulu's Ala Moana Center, and The Grove in Los Angeles are all regularly cited as being among the 10 most productive malls in the U.S.

Macy's has stores in five of those seven malls -- all but the two most exclusive, which are the Bal Harbour Shops and The Grove. Thus far, Macy's has been reluctant to monetize any of these highly successful stores -- but the opportunity isn't going to disappear anytime soon.

Five stellar malls

The highest-performing mall with a Macy's store is the Mall at Rockingham Park. Along with the Pheasant Lane Mall, it serves the Boston metropolitan area while being located in New Hampshire, which has no sales tax. The Mall at Rockingham Park generates sales per square foot of more than $2,000.

Macy's other "premier mall" stores are mainly in tourist areas. The Aventura Mall, the Mall at Millenia, and the Ala Moana Center benefit from tourist traffic to Miami, Orlando, and Hawaii, respectively. All of those properties generate sales per square foot of at least $1,400.

The two New Hampshire stores -- both of which Macy's owns outright -- are on the small side. The Mall at Rockingham Park store is 166,000 square feet, while the Pheasant Lane Mall store is 150,000 square feet.

By contrast, Macy's has a 276,000-square-foot store at the Mall at Millenia. The company's upscale Bloomingdale's chain also has a store there, with 237,000 square feet of space. Macy's owns both store properties outright. At Ala Moana Center, Macy's leases a 325,000-square-foot store, as well as a 155,000-square-foot Bloomingdale's store.

The Aventura Mall takes the cake, though. It has two Macy's stores, covering 275,000 square feet and 238,000 square feet, respectively. It also has a 252,000-square-foot Bloomingdale's store. All three of those stores are ground leased, meaning that Macy's owns the buildings but leases the associated land for a fairly nominal amount.

These properties are hugely valuable

Every property is unique, and major real estate deals at the top malls are fairly rare. As a result, it's impossible to offer a precise valuation for Macy's top mall-based locations. However, many of these stores are likely worth more than $100 million.

Look no further than Sears Holdings' recent real estate deals. In 2012, it sold the leasehold interest in its Ala Moana Center Sears store back to mall owner GGP for about $200 million. That part of the mall has been redeveloped for upscale tenants, including the Bloomingdale's store. This demonstrates that leases can sometimes be assets rather than liabilities.

Just this year, Sears made another big real estate deal, selling the roughly 300,000-square-foot store it owned at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, California for $187 million -- or more than $600 per square foot. (As it happens, Macy's has three ground-leased stores at South Coast Plaza, totaling 564,000 square feet, along with an owned 291,000-square-foot Bloomingdale's store.)

The exterior of the Macy's home and furniture store at South Coast Plaza

Macy's has three ground-leased stores at South Coast Plaza. Image source: Macy's.

South Coast Plaza claims to generate sales per square foot of $800. This ranks it among the top several dozen malls in the U.S., but well below the other malls discussed here. All else equal, stores in top-10 malls like Aventura, Millenia, Rockingham Park, and Pheasant Lane should be worth more on a per-square-foot basis.

Indeed, retailers are often willing to pay rent equal to 10%-20% (or more) of their annual sales at the best malls. For malls with sales per square foot in the $1,500 range -- like most of those mentioned here -- stores owned or ground leased by Macy's and Bloomingdale's could be worth upwards of $1,000 per square foot.

If that's true, Macy's real estate in the top 10 malls could be collectively worth about $2 billion. Furthermore, Sears Holdings' recent sale of its South Coast Plaza store shows that there is lots of real estate value at the next rung down in terms of mall productivity. Given the extent of Macy's real estate holdings, it's easy to see how the company's real estate could be worth more than its $13 billion enterprise value.