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Cap Rate: Defined And Explained

Sarah Sharkey5-minute read

June 03, 2022


As a commercial real estate investor, the cap rate is a very important property metric. You can use the cap rate to evaluate properties and seek out a good deal. While Rocket Mortgage® does not offer commercial real estate loans, it’s important to understand cap rates if you are interested in this type of investment.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Are Cap Rates?

Capitalization rates, also known as cap rates, are measures used to estimate and compare the rates of return on multiple commercial real estate properties. Cap rates are calculated by dividing the property’s net operating income (NOI) from its property asset value.

Cap rates can provide valuable insight into a property. But the cap rate is not the only metric used to determine an investment’s risk. With that, this should not be the only metric you consider when evaluating properties. Other factors, including the property’s individual characteristics and location, should also be taken into consideration.

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How To Calculate The Cap Rate

The cap rate of a property is determined based on the potential revenue and the risk level as compared to other properties. Importantly, the cap rate will not provide a total return on investment. Instead, it will indicate an estimate of how long it will take to recover the initial investment in the property.

In order to effectively use this metric, you’ll need to learn how to calculate the cap rate. The formula you’ll need to calculate the cap rate is simply net operating income (NOI) divided by the property’s current market value.

Let’s walk through an example of this calculation to illuminate this formula.

1. Calculate The Property’s Net Operating Income

First things first, you’ll need to learn how to calculate the net operation income (NOI). The NOI is essentially the sum of the property’s income streams minus the sum of the property’s expenses.

In order to add up the property’s income streams, you can include any form of income it can produce, such as rental income, fees, and onsite amenities that require additional fees. For example, let’s say you’re considering a property that brings in $5,000 per month in rental income without any additional income streams available.

Next, you’ll add up the property’s expenses. The obvious expenses to include are property taxes, insurance premiums, repairs and legal costs. However, there are less obvious expenses that should also be included such as potential vacancies. Most investors assume an average of 10% vacancy, but you can do some research in your local area to determine an accurate estimate of the property’s expected vacancy rate. For the property you are considering, the total expenses are $1,000 per month which includes a 10% vacancy expectation.

Once you’ve determined the property’s income and expenses, you can subtract the costs from the income. At that point, you’ll determine the NOI. In our case, the net operating income for the property is $4,000 per month or $48,000 per year.

2. Divide By The Current Market Value

The next step is to divide the net operating income by the current market value. Although there is some debate among investors on whether the current market value or purchase price should be used, the majority of investors work with the current market value of the property.

With that in mind, we will stick to the more widely accepted formula and divide the net operating income by the current market value. You can find the property’s current market value by checking out the property details and exploring one of the many home valuation estimation tools available.

In our example, the current market value of the property is $480,000. With that, we can divide $48,000, which leads to 0.10.

3. Convert Into A Percentage

The final step is to convert the product of your division into a percentage. You can do this by multiplying the result by 100.

In our case, we can simply multiply 0.10 by 100 to arrive at a cap rate of 10%. This percentage is how the cap rate is represented.

Factors That Impact Cap Rates

You use the cap rate to influence your investment decision. But it’s important to realize that there are many factors that can impact the cap rate. A few to consider include market, location, and property type.

Here are a few of the factors that can have a noticeable impact on cap rates:

  • Location: As with all things in real estate, the location of the property can have a big impact on cap rates. A riskier location will often accompany a higher cap rate.
  • Market size: A large competitive market may have lower cap rates than a smaller market where there is more risk involved.
  • Asset stability: The projected stability of the property value can come into play.
  • Potential for growth: A property with a lot of potential in a growing market could see an affected cap rate.
  • Capital liquidity: The amount of capital you put into the property will have a big impact on the cap rate because that will directly impact your NOI.

Of course, these aren’t the only factors that can affect cap rates. But these could make the biggest impact.

When And When Not To Use Cap Rates

Cap rates are typically used by real estate investors comparing the risk involved in buying multiple commercial properties. Although you can use cap rates to inform other real estate investment decisions, it may not be as helpful.

If you are considering the cap rate as a way to evaluate potential properties, don’t forget that there are many tools to help you. You can use other metrics to determine risk levels and the potential returns of an investment property.

Cap rates can be an effective tool for commercial properties. But you shouldn’t use this formula to determine the value of single-family homes, properties with irregular income streams, or properties that you intend to flip immediately.

What Is A “Good” Cap Rate?

Although it can be tempting to seek out a universally “good” cap rate, the realities of the market dictate that there is no cap rate number that will be “good” for every property. Instead, the cap rate can be used by investors to determine if a property meets their individual comfort levels.

As a general rule, the formula will determine a higher cap rate for properties that have a higher net operating income and lower valuation. On the flip side of the coin, properties with a lower net operating income and higher valuation will have a lower cap rate.

Typically, investors view properties with a lower cap rate as less risky but should expect a longer timeframe to recoup their initial investment. As an investor, you should take some time to consider what an acceptable cap rate is for properties in your portfolio. With a number in mind, you can quickly pass on properties that don’t meet your risk tolerance.

The Bottom Line

The cap rate formula can be a useful way to compare commercial and multi-family properties. However, it is not the only metric you should consider as you explore your real estate investment options.

If you are struggling to implement the calculator effectively in your search, then I recommend reaching out to a local real estate agent for more help. They can provide more information about the local market which will put the cap rates you are calculating into the appropriate perspective.

As you continue your search for the right investment property, make sure to research the best practice for buying an investment property. Taking the time to educate yourself can pay off in a big way as you venture into real estate investing.

Take the first step toward the right mortgage.

Apply online for expert recommendations with real interest rates and payments.

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Sarah Sharkey

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer that enjoys helping readers learn more about their finances. She has an MS in Business Management from the University of Florida. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram @adventurousadulting.