new vacant strip mall

Buying Commercial Property For Beginners: How To Start

Ashley Kilroy7-minute read

September 10, 2021


New investment opportunities pop up every day for bright entrepreneurs. From cryptocurrency to stock to bonds, it’s a wide world out there.

But what about sinking your teeth into a physical asset? For those who want to invest in something tangible with the potential for growth or passive income, you may want to consider buying commercial property. Here’s how you begin.

What Is Commercial Real Estate?

Residential property only includes single-family homes or those with up to four units. Usually, only families or individuals lease them. But commercial real estate (CRE) is generally for business purposes, including five or more units.

You can break commercial real estate into five main categories:

  • Multifamily: Essentially, they are residential properties with more than one unit, like duplexes, garden apartments, or assisted living.
  • Office space: They’re designated as low-, mid-, or high-rise based on size and allow for multiple tenants. Examples include medical offices and suburban office buildings.
  • Retail: This real estate is designated for businesses that sell goods or services to consumers. They’re usually located in places conveniently accessible, with examples being regional malls and strip shopping centers.
  • Industrial: These properties range in size, like office spaces, and they host industrial operations, such as heavy manufacturing or light assembly.
  • Hospitality: This covers establishments that service travelers, whether for meals, accommodations, or entertainment, like hotels and short-term rentals.

Commercial office properties face further classification, broken into three gradings:

  • Class A: Represents the highest-quality buildings available. They’re typically newer with top-tier construction, situated in the best location.
  • Class B: Can still be high-quality properties, but usually older and lower-priced compared to Class A. Many investors flip or restore these.
  • Class C: Are generally distressed and older. They require maintenance and lack an attractive location.

How To Get Into Commercial Real Estate

Figuring out how to buy commercial property isn’t exactly like buying a single-family home. The experiences differ in more ways than one. The costs, for example, can be steep with commercial real estate, and it may be harder to secure funding. In addition, if you don’t already have tenants, then it’s up to you to cover expenses during lengthy periods in-between.

Not only that, but valuation for commercial property is often difficult. It’s generally harder to find comparable properties for commercial real estate than residential. Because of differences like this, investors should be careful before purchasing.

1. Define Your Motivation 

While buying commercial real estate can be a worthwhile investment, plans tend to fall through if you don’t have direction. So, it’s important to reflect on your reasons behind buying commercial property. If you want to narrow down your motivation, consider asking yourself:

  • What is a successful financial return to me?
  • Who do I hope to impact through my investment?
  • What are my long-term and short-term goals?
  • Do I want security for me and/or my family?

Buying Commercial Property For Personal Use 

Sometimes, investors benefit from real estate in more ways than just financially. Others purchase a property for personal use. One method is the owner-occupied commercial real estate (OOCRE) investment strategy. In this, the owner uses the property to conduct business operations.

OOCRE affords you tax advantages, like the ability to depreciate and deduct annual interest on the loan. In addition, owning the property allows you to build equity, which you can sell for more later. Or, you can continue using the property as an income stream through leasing. It’s also much easier to manage the property on-site and control the tenant selection.

However, there are some stumbling blocks. More costs may fall in your lap, such as repair and maintenance. Conflicts of interest can also arise, making it difficult to collect rent. Some tenants avoid properties occupied by owners as well.

Before buying commercial property for personal use, check zoning laws. Certain limitations may apply to specific real estate, like office buildings or other commercial-designated spaces.

Buying Commercial Property For Investment Purposes

Buying a commercial building as an investment property comes with its perks. According to Bank of America, commercial property returns range between 6% – 12% annually; that’s higher than the average on single-family residential properties (around 1% – 4%). There are also tax advantages, cash flow opportunities, and equity appreciation when you buy your commercial property.

Investors employ a variety of tactics depending on things like financial goals and timeline. Here are some of the most common real investing strategies they use:

  • Land banking: The process of purchasing and holding land. Investors do this to protect their money, since it gets tied to a physical and fixed asset, and grow it. They may sell it or develop it in the future.
  • Development: An investor buys raw land to build on, sometimes after waiting for its value to grow. The direction of development, like condominiums versus commercial, depends on zoning laws.
  • Fix and flip: This strategy involves buying property, renovating it and then reselling it for a profit. Investors usually purchase poorly maintained land at a discount.
  • Wholesaling: A short-term real estate investing strategy where the wholesaler buys a contract from a property seller, typically below market value. Then, the wholesaler sells or assigns the contract to an interested buyer.
  • BRRRR: This acronym stands for Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat. Essentially, it’s a passive income strategy that involves flipping a property to rent out to tenants. Once the owner pays the mortgage and builds equity, they can refinance the property to fund future real estate investments.
  • Passive investing: This strategy is for investors who don’t want to be directly involved. Instead, they put capital into a real estate deal through the stock market, crowdfunding, or partnering with a more active investor.

2. Secure Financing From A Lender

Finding a lender for your commercial property early on is essential. Compare several lenders before you settle on one, though. While you want to secure financing, you should ensure your lender promises what you need. They should offer options according to your credit score range and at an affordable interest rate. Also, ask them about possible fees and penalties so that you know ahead of time.

Look out for the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, or how much they’re willing to loan, and whether they ask for collateral as well. A recourse loan lets the lender go after additional personal assets if you default. Whereas a nonrecourse loan only gives them the option to seize agreement-specific collateral.

As you ponder purchasing a commercial property, you may wonder about your lending options. Some of the most common are permanent loans, SBA loans, bridge loans and hard money loans. It’s important to note that Rocket Mortgage® does not offer commercial property financing.

3. Hire A Team Of Trusted Professionals

Everyone has to start somewhere, but first-time investors shouldn’t begin alone. It’s better to have people with experience and knowledge on your side. That way, the process moves smoothly and efficiently, which will save money in the long run. Some professionals you may want to think about hiring include:

  • REALTOR®: A commercial real estate REALTOR® usually goes through more training than a residential REALTOR® and needs specific degrees, like business or finance. They help with many responsibilities, such as researching potential properties or negotiating terms for their clients.
  • Attorney: A professional attorney saves you time closing on a deal, protects your interests during negotiations, helps you understand applicable laws, get better pricing, and ensure the agreement is legitimate.
  • Accountant: This group handles the financial side of things, preparing budgets, creating monthly reports and generating any necessary statements for tax purposes.
  • Mortgage broker: A mortgage broker matches you with the best lender for your needs. They can submit multiple loan applications, increasing your approval chances, and track down agreeable pricing.
  • Contractor: These professional construction workers or companies oversee the site, materials, and more during the course of the project. They may also come with a team of specialized interior designers.
  • Property manager: This individual supervises the property and ensures it has tenants who contribute to the real estate’s value. They also facilitate or address repairs for on-site issues in the building. Other responsibilities include collecting rent, hiring contractors, and meeting with potential clients.

4. Find The Perfect Opportunity

Numerous factors play into a commercial property’s value to an investor. But it also needs to be desirable to your potential tenants who will lease it.

Some things you may want to think about while searching:

  • Economic and industry trends
  • Networking potential through tenants, business owners, and commercial brokers
  • Affordable leasing
  • Zoning laws and land use
  • The property’s design
  • Potential for growth
  • Market data like rental rates, vacancy rates, and construction costs

5. Run The Numbers

Due diligence plays a crucial role in real estate investing. Essentially, this entails taking steps to ensure you meet all legal requirements while purchasing or selling the property. That involves fact-checking and assessing the real estate.

Before the actual purchase, this generally involves:

  • Evaluating the location, market and comparing properties
  • Assessing the condition of the property

There are a few formulas and tools you can use to estimate a property’s value. Some are:

  • Cost approach: How much it would take to rebuild from scratch
  • Market approach: How much the property is worth based on other similar, recently sold properties
  • Income capitalization approach: The estimated income from the property
  • Gross rent multiplier (GRM): The potential value based on the property’s price, divided by its gross income
  • Value per door: The worth of a building, primarily apartments, according to the number of units

6. Make An Attractive Offer

After calculating potential costs and profit, you can make an offer. You can negotiate broad terms using a Letter of Intent (LOI) and more specific terms with a Purchase and Sale Agreement. An attorney can help you review your terms before finalization. You may also want to think about asking an accountant for help. They’ll review your terms as well and explain the tax consequences.

A back-and-forth may ensue. Meeting in person may help you resolve any problems, but always follow up with written confirmation of any changes or agreements. Again, having professionals involved from the start minimizes the chances of issues.

The Bottom Line On Buying Commercial Property

Buying commercial property isn’t simple. It involves finding the right property for your goals, securing financing, hiring the professionals who can guide you, and locking down on a favorable deal to both you and the seller. However, after all that, you have an attractive investment opportunity. Returns are higher than average real estate, and your money is tied to something physical, securing it.

If you’re not quite ready for commercial property but prefer a residential property, consider speaking with a Home Loan Expert to learn more.

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Ashley Kilroy

Ashley Kilroy is an experienced financial writer. In addition to being a contributing writer at Rocket Homes, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.