Understanding Commercial Property Investments

Do you ever feel that you should be looking more at investments in commercial property in the saturated residential property market? If this is in your mind, you are joining the new wave of investors who wants to diversify their investment portfolio with the unstable economy.

How big exactly is the commercial property market? Generally speaking, commercial property investment is not as straightforward as residential market. In Malaysia, it is almost sure that any piece of residential property will be lapped up the moment it is launched, and everyone at some point of their life will be looking for a house of their own. Some may buy a piece of residential property and rent it out instead. For commercial properties, there are a lot of other considerations.

1. Location

Location is a very important factor when it comes to investment in commercial properties. It may be true that a lot of people are looking into creating their own business, and it will not be too hard to find someone to rent your property start their business, but if the location is not right, the chances for renting out is slim.

When you wish to invest in a commercial property, look around to see whether there are other residential properties which will support the business. You may want to take a good look at the whole development project, and check residential population surrounding the commercial lot that you are aiming for.

Also, do check if the area is a flooding area, or are there any other disadvantages. Parking space is a very important factor of consideration for any business to thrive in this modern world, and you ought to make sure that there are parking spaces near the property you wish to invest in.

2. Features

Sometimes, the success of commercial properties also comes with the features included in the project itself. For example, some properties may be managed by the developer, with facilities such as wi-fi zone, making the commercial blocks into event venues or even being selective about the types of business and brand name to qualify as tenants. Some commercial properties with such strict criteria about tenants include BM Utama in the mainland Bukit Mertajam, and Straits Quay in Penang island.

Both are project examples of two contrasting backdrop. Straits Quay is a high-end sea facing project by E&O, with very high traffic coming from its branded tenants and expensive condominiums and landed property support. Meanwhile, BM Utama is a 7-unit exclusive commercial lot owned by BM Utama’s property developer, DNP Land, and is meant to become part of the lifestyle support for the almost sold-out BM Utama. The 7 units are called The Gallery, which is available for leasing only, to ensure the quality of retailers.

3. Price

Although people are talking about market price, as an investor, you should take into consideration the price and the size of the property. It is important to note that your property lease are usually based on long term contracts, and for some cases may span for 10 years instead of the normal renewable 1 or 2 years for residential properties. Also, you need to remember that returns from residential property comes from the capital value increase, but for commercial properties, it comes from income. Although commercial properties generally will cost more than residential properties, you will still need to sieve through to see if the investment can really bring you back a good return. Is the rental price of that property able to cover the loan that you took for the purchase?

If you are buying the property for the sake of making it into a hub for your own business, then it is up to you to ensure that the business that you are going to do will bring in enough sales and income to cover for the loan repayment of the property.

Commercial property leases provides an average contracted income stream of about 7 years.

4. Ownership

When you buy any property, you need to be very clear about the type of ownership that you have. Is it a freehold or a leasehold property?

Although leasehold properties are usually released with a certain amount of payment when the expiration term arrives, there may also be conditions where the land is taken back for new development. When the lease-land period is almost reached, property prices will drop significantly.

You also will want to check on the previous ownership of the property. Most properties may have more than one owner sharing the ownership of the property, so you should get a background check about this with a trusted lawyer, also to find out if there are any underlying problems to why the property is up for sale. Make sure the property sale gets consent from all legal owners.

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Residential Vs Commercial Property Investments

Before purchasing a new investment property, you should always consider the differences between residential and commercial real estate investments. Depending on your financial means, expectations and investment plan, you will have to decide which one can be more profitable for you. Most people will invest in residential properties, as this seems to be a safer endeavour requiring less money, however, if you have the means, commercial properties can be highly profitable. You should also consider that while traditional residential property investments might not have very high returns on your investment, repossessed or foreclosed properties, can bring you a net yield of up to 12-15%.

Property Types for Residential and Commercial Investments

Houses of four units or less, to rent to private tenants are usually considered residential properties. You can invest in buy-to-let residential properties, which means that you’ll get the rental yields every month, or purchase the property solely for future resale. Residential property investments vary from more traditional buy-to-let investments somewhere near your own home to investments in overseas real estate, below market value properties or foreclosed houses. Commercial properties are for businesses, and include a variety of properties, from apartment blocks and office buildings to hotels, restaurants, warehouses and industrial buildings, just to name a few. Managing a relatively small residential property is obviously simpler than managing commercial properties, where you will often need a professional real estate management company to assist you.

Researching the Real Estate Market

While you will always need some knowledge of the property market and current conditions to make a successful investment, residential properties are simpler to research and value. It is relatively easy to compare different residential properties, their prices and investment potential in a given area. Commercial properties, however, are often unique and require specialised knowledge to value accurately and to establish an investment plan.

Risks & Yields

Residential properties are generally regarded as low-risk investments. They also tend to cost much less than commercial properties and will thus be more affordable, especially if you’ve just started building up your investment portfolio. The relatively low risks and the low purchase price, however will also mean that your profits are lower, and your return on investment will come mainly from increases in capital value.

Commercial properties, on the other hand have higher risks, but also higher potential returns. The significantly higher prices will also mean, that for personal investors, only collective investment schemes are affordable for larger commercial property investments. The relative unpredictability of the commercial property market will also bring more risks. While residential property prices generally double every 10 years, this is not true for commercial properties. You can expect a net yield of up to 7-10% on commercial properties, which is higher than the net yield from traditional residential property investments, and a large part of your return on investment will be in the form of rental income.

Rental Properties

A successful investment plan for both commercial and residential properties is to rent them out. Residential leases tend to be much shorter, usually around one year, and private tenants are often considered less reliable than businesses. Landlords will be liable to pay for repairs, which might incur unexpected additional costs. Commercial properties, on the other hand, are leased out for a longer time, 5-10 years is not uncommon, and the yearly increase in rental yields will be more significant. Businesses are also often considered to be more reliable tenants and commercial tenants are generally required to pay for repairs. You should also consider that while commercial properties can bring you a secure and high rental income, it is also much more difficult to find commercial tenants.

Exit Strategy for Residential and Commercial Properties

One investment plan is to rent out your property as detailed above. However, property flipping, or future resale can also be a profitable strategy with both kinds of investments. Residential property can be sold quite simply to another investor or somebody who intends to occupy the house, and as long as the property is in a good condition and in a well-chosen location, you should generally be able to sell it at a significantly higher price than its original purchase value. Commercial properties can bring huge profits, but the process of resale is more complicated. The property must be sold to another investor or investor group, and it should have a successful and profitable record, to be attractive to the buyer for investment purposes.

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How to Quickly Determine the Value of Commercial Property for Sale

The value of a commercial property for sale is determined by using some simple formulas that are based upon the amount of net operating income that the property produces each year. So when you are looking at a commercial property for sale, one of the first things that you’ll want to ask the broker for is the profit and loss statement.

Some brokers who have listed a commercial property for sale may refer to this profit and loss statement as an IPOD, or income property operating data sheet. Once you get the IPOD, or profit and loss statement, you can then compare the information provided by the broker or seller to your other sources to help determine what the real numbers are. The challenge when looking at any commercial property for sale is that the broker and/or owner will often tend to exaggerate the amount of income that the commercial property for sale produces while also trying to minimize the amount of operating expenses that are reported.

How to Determine the Value of a Property for Sale

The reason for this is simple. The value of any commercial real estate is based on the amount of net operating income the property creates each year. In fact, each additional dollar of annual income increases the value of the property by roughly ten dollars, depending on where the property is located, and how old it is. Note that this extra net income can come from either getting additional revenue in rents, or from reducing expenses by managing the property more efficiently.

Once you understand that owners of commercial real estate will tend to present unrealistic numbers in an attempt to get a higher price for their property you’ll understand better why it’s necessary when looking at any commercial property for sale to get to know the market you are investing in. When you know what the rental rates in an area tend to be or what the typical expense ratios are for a twenty-five year old apartment building then it’s much harder for the broker or owner of a commercial property for sale to attempt to pull the wool over your eyes.

Verifying the Income and Expenses

The first step in verifying the income of a commercial property for sale is to ask for the rent roll. The rent roll is a list of what each apartment, self storage unit, mobile home lot, or office space rents for. Make sure that you get the actual rent roll because the owner or broker of a commercial property for sale may try to give you a Pro-forma rent roll instead of the actual rent roll. Pro-forma means that there is an expectation, realistic or not, of getting higher rents than the property is currently getting. My response to this has always been, “If you raise the rents up to match the pro-forma, then we’ll use the higher income amounts, otherwise we’re going to base our valuation on what the property is currently producing in income.

When looking at the expenses from a commercial property for sale, remember that you’re trying to come up with the actual amount that it will cost you to operate the property rather than what the seller’s expenses have been. So while it’s helpful to know exactly what the seller’s costs have been, I’ve learned NOT to rely on the information provided by the seller when looking at a commercial property for sale because this information is almost always inaccurate.

A Simple Formula to Use for Expenses

The expenses will vary depending on the type and age of the commercial property for sale. For example, if you are looking at buying a Class C apartment building which is at least twenty-five years old, then the expenses will run between 45 to 50 percent of the collected income each month. The collected income, known as the Effective Gross Income, is what’s left after the cost of vacancies are subtracted from the total amount of rents on the rent roll from the commercial property for sale.

The final step in determining the value of a commercial property for sale is to divide the net operating income by the capitalization rate, which varies from about 6 to 12 percent depending on the type of property, the age, and the location of the commercial property for sale. The fastest way to get an idea of what capitalization rate you should be using when looking at a commercial property for sale is to ask another broker who is not involved in the transaction.

Using Escape Clauses to Limit Your Risk

Another way of protecting yourself when looking at any property for sale is to make sure that your purchase contract allows you a period of time to get out of the deal if you are not comfortable with anything that you find. Done properly, you can often tie up a property for 60 to 90 days so that you have time to accurately determine the real value. This makes it easier to look at commercial real estate, because you can get out if you have the right escape clauses.

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Commercial Property Investment Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

You’ve probably heard about the commercial real estate bubble, here’s the ugly truth that lenders and other insiders don’t want you to know. Despite all the hype, not every commercial property is in trouble. The key for you as an investor is to avoid certain pitfalls and learn from other investor’s mistakes.

Before the economic and credit boom that has led into the recent downturn, conventional lenders capped loan amounts at 65 percent of the value of the property. This means that your $10 million commercial property would qualify for a maximum loan of $6.5 million. The current problems with commercial property investments started when hedge funds and private equity lenders began offering much higher loan to value ratios, meaning they would lend against your investment property with as much as 80 percent of the value of the real estate.

Mistakes Made by Commercial Investors

Some investors decided to refinance their $10 million commercial property for $8 million and get $1.5 million out tax-free! What seemed like a great deal at the time has come back to ruin the typical commercial property investment. The problem was that these loans needed to be refinanced after five years. Owners who pulled money out of their investments like this began down a path that has led to the troubles we are seeing now.

Fast forward from then to now and you’ll see that the entire economic climate has changed. Most sources of financing for commercial real estate have dried up. Owners with a property that needs to be refinanced are finding that unless the LTV ratio is 65% or less and the property is performing perfectly, it’s almost impossible to get refinancing for their commercial property investment.

You can’t tap into those hedge funds and private equity firms because many of them have gone out of business. So you are left with two options:

1) Create a workout with the existing lender where they refrain from foreclosing against your property in exchange for a slight increase in the interest rate, or other benefit that you can give the lender. In some cases the benefit to the lender is that they don’t need to take your property back. The truth is that the lender really doesn’t want to take back your property if they can avoid it.

2) Bring other investors into your deal by offering them a decent rate of return on their investment along with giving them a chunk of your equity. Make sure to contact a commercial property investment attorney who can help make sure that you meet all of the SEC guidelines if this is the path that you choose to go down.

What Makes a Safe Commercial Property Investment

The problem with many owners of commercial properties today is that they got into a deal with a bigger loan than they should have. Now, these commercial property owners can’t ride out the recession because the loans are coming due and they’re short, or worse, upside-down.

Investment rule #1

-Leave the equity in your property.

ยท Successful property owners don’t pull out their equity at the top of an up cycle; they leave the equity in their commercial property investment so they can ride out the downturns. The “commercial meltdown” doesn’t apply to property owners who left their equity untouched. While it’s true that the commercial property values have come down from a high peak. The typical commercial real estate investment is far more valuable today than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

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Discover the Top 15 Secrets of Successful Commercial Property Ownership!

1.) What’s Your Type?

There are many different types of commercial properties that you can purchase including:

o Office
o Retail Space
o Warehouse Facility
o Restaurant
o Commercial Condo
o Strip Mall

The first step is clearly defining what type of property you want to purchase and how you want to use it. The following information will help you maximize your investment dollars to get the best possible deal when purchasing your property.

2. Build Equity With Your Investment

Equity is Money

Building equity is the primary if not the ultimate reason to buy instead of rent a commercial property. Let’s face it. It’s money in the bank. In fact, it’s better than money in the bank because you can’t get the same kind of return on your money when it’s sitting in the bank as opposed to when you’re building equity. Moreover, if you choose the right financing for your commercial real estate purchase, you can not only build equity through ownership, but you can also leverage your capital saving in order to grow your business, hire additional employees, or even purchase an additional location when the time comes.

Owning beats renting because you can sell your investment once you outgrow the space or sell the business. Even if commercial property in your area has not appreciated (which is unlikely), you can recoup your investment by renting out the space once you move out and by selling when the time is right.

If you plan on growing into your building, buy something larger than your current needs, and rent out the extra space until you need it for expansion. This will provide you with steady income that you can use to help pay your mortgage or invest in your business.

3. Calculate Your Savings And Your Potential Profit

Lower Monthly Payments

Consider buying commercial real estate as a savings for your business. Real estate costs are the third largest business expense, behind payroll and taxes. Long loan amortizations mean that your monthly payments could wind up being less than what you would pay for rent, since landlords usually charge more than their monthly loan payment. In other words, owning your own commercial property may actually be more affordable, depending on current market conditions.

Ask your lender to provide you with an analysis of the current market in your area so that you can see which scenario is best for you (renting or buying). The lender should be able to explain your options in detail with examples of monthly rental costs vs. monthly loan payments and the benefits of each.

Analyze the Rent Value

Upon finding a property that peaks your interest, find out the status of the current tenants (if it is a multi-tenant property) in terms of how much rent they are paying. Check the current market to see if the rents are undervalued, meaning below what you can get in the current market. Your realtor or lender should be able to help you figure out how much you could charge for rent and determine how much of a profit you can make each month.

Tax Advantages

There are many tax advantages to becoming an owner of a commercial property. In most cases, you can deduct part of the value of the building at tax time, as well as improvements you’ve made as depreciation, which can save you more money on your taxes. Buying the property under your business or corporation’s name is also a better tax strategy than under your personal name.

4. Do Your Research

The more you can learn about property types and options, mortgages, financing, zoning and remodeling; the better position you’ll be in to make wise decisions concerning the acquisition of a commercial property.

However, you don’t have to know everything. That’s where putting together a powerful team of professionals proficient in their areas of expertise may be your most important step. Building a team of advisors – people you can trust to steer you in the right direction is critical to your success.

Understand Current Market Conditions

Keep your eyes open for news articles pertaining to the commercial real estate market. Is it “hot” right now? Is it a buyers’ or sellers’ market? What kinds of interest rates are available?

The Internet is a great place to start. Conducting a Google search for “commercial real estate market,” for instance, will give you results that include news and resources for national trends, analytics and market research.

In addition, many realtors, lenders and lawyers across the country offer free and timely articles on their websites that shed light on current commercial real estate trends nationwide. Again, make sure you listen to both sides of the story.

Tap Expert Resources

National market research companies can give you specific information about the area where you’re preparing to locate your business. You can also find information on demographics including the median age, household income, breakdown of ethnicities, and more from censuses available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Also contact commercial lenders or realtors for additional resources. In looking for help, it’s usually better to talk to a lender or realtor with nationwide experience and up-to-date information than a small-time operation that might not have recent data for you. If the lender/realtor hasn’t gotten updated demographics since 1996, you’ve essentially wasted your time. Also, a lender or realtor that specializes in the type of property you’re looking for will be more likely to have the specific information you need, which will save you time in research.

Study the Current Vacancy Rate

Research what the vacancy rate has been over the past few years for the area you’re taking into consideration. If there seem to be high levels of vacancies, try to find why. Is it a bad neighborhood? Talk to store owners in the immediate area and find out how long they’ve been doing business there. Ask if they have any concerns that you as a potential property owner should know about the area.

Research Commercial Realtors

It’s important to research commercial realtors that specialize in the type of space you’re looking for. Grill the realtor you are considering selecting on the entire purchase process so you know what to expect. Ask how long the process usually takes so that there are no surprises. Check their references and their track record (more on finding a Commercial Realtor in #5).

Examine Experienced Commercial Lenders

Choosing a lender and financing program is just as important as choosing the property. Again, find out the entire process of financing, as well as your different options. Don’t assume that just because you’ve had a relationship with your bank for years that using their financing is the best choice.

Banks don’t always offer the lowest rate for commercial loans, and sometimes have a far longer turnaround than non-bank lenders. Some banks require that you transfer your accounts to them in order to qualify for a loan. Be aware of any stipulations when seeking a bank for a commercial loan.

5. Choose the Right Commercial Realtor

As mentioned before, you need qualified partners to help you with the process of buying commercial property. Start with a terrific commercial realtor.

Some commercial realtors work exclusively with individuals interested in investment properties. Others work with owners/users of commercial real estate, and among those some specialize in property management, which can be an added value to you.

Who Do You Know?

Referrals from trusted sources are usually the best way to find a good commercial realtor.

Ask Questions

Set up a meeting with more than one potential commercial realtor. Find out as much as you can about their professional background, education, and experience with your type of property. You can ask for a list of recent transactions to give you an idea of what they deal with on a regular basis, and how many properties they’ve actually sold in the last year or two. And most importantly, ask for client references (testimonials)! Real client feedback is the most effective measure for potential success.

The Right Match

Make sure you choose a realtor that understands your specific needs. If you are a small business, you don’t want to work with a realtor that normally handles multi-million dollar deals. Your project may become less of a priority when that particular realtor gets a bigger commission to worry about.

6. Consider Your Time Frame

If the reason you are looking for commercial property is because your lease is ending, think twice before jumping into a decision you might regret. Finding just the right space, securing financing and going through the process of obtaining a commercial property can take months. If you don’t have that kind of time, you may need to rent month-to-month for now.

Take Your Time

While you may be in a hurry to move into a space, take your time. Buying any kind of property is a major decision, and buying commercial property is even more important for the development and growth of your business. Selecting a property in the wrong area, or a space that doesn’t allow you to grow can hinder your company and even cause it to fail, so plan carefully.

If the realtor or lender gives you an estimate of three months from start to close, plan for longer – just in case. Keep in mind there are many people involved in the process of buying property, from the seller, realtor, lender, appraiser, surveyor, paperwork approvers, secretaries, and more and this process can often take slightly longer.

7. Location, Location, Location

One of the most important factors in considering commercial property is location. If a property is located on a busy corner that is difficult to get to, your business may not do well (in fact, that’s probably why the property is for sale). If you want to operate a dog kennel and the property you’re considering is in a residential area, not only will your business disturb the residents, the zoning laws may prevent you from operating there.

Foot Traffic

For a retail business, look for areas with high foot traffic that will give you the exposure and increased walk-ins you need to be successful.

If you are looking for an industrial or manufacturing facility, then you can stay out of the retail limelight and buy something in a warehouse district. These areas are usually cheaper than retail space.

Easy Access

Make sure your location has easy access from the road. Look to see if the site is at a difficult intersection. Is there construction going on that seems like it won’t be ending any time soon? On the other hand, what’s the potential once the construction is completed?

Check out the Competition

If you want to open a bistro in a neighborhood that has several bistros, you might want to try somewhere else with less competition. However, a healthy population of restaurants usually means a healthy population of customers.

Know Your Customer

Find out the demographics of the area you’re interested in. If you want to move your sports apparel shop to a new location, you’ll probably want an area with a high percentage of youth and active adults. An urban area with a lot of pedestrian traffic might be better for this kind of retail shop than a suburban area in a retirement community.

8. Free Parking

We’ve all spent time driving around and around looking for a parking spot. It can be very frustrating, especially when you’re running late. Whenever possible, you want a location that has ample parking for your visitors.
If you have a retail store, restaurant, or other high-traffic business, estimate how many customers or visitors you’re likely to have at any given time and consider rejecting any properties that have fewer available parking spaces than your estimates. Again, use your best judgment and consult your realtor.

Avoid Headaches

Also pay attention to how your parking is situated. If it’s located just off a major road, it may provide a headache for people trying to back out of the parking space, and may even cause accidents. When visiting the property, see how well you can maneuver the parking. If it’s a hassle for you, it will be doubly so for a potential customer or visitor.

9. Get in the Zone

Before you begin the negotiation process for a commercial property, make sure to investigate the zoning laws, as well as what types of businesses you are able operate there. There are zoning laws about the type of business that can be conducted in certain spaces.

For instance, some spaces do not permit food and beverage to be served, or may have restrictions on how late a business can operate. The typical zoning districts in most cities include: residential, commercial, industrial and mixed-use.

Don’t Assume

Zoning can be tricky, so do your due diligence on this topic. Don’t assume that just because the previous tenant of the space had a restaurant that the property you’re looking at is necessarily zoned for food and beverage. Many businesses slide under the radar for months or years while violating zoning laws. Making assumptions can cost you big time and big money when it comes to zoning.

Regulations

Zoning laws can regulate not only the type of business that can operate, but also parking, signs, water and air quality, waste management, noise, appearance of building and more. Find out any and all regulations regarding the property in advance.

Visit your local library or zoning office to get information on all the zoning laws, rules and regulations that apply to the property you’re considering for purchase. Talk to people at the zoning office if you have concerns or questions prior to making the investment. Ask your realtor to double-check your efforts to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.

10. Inspection

Normally, if you are considering buying a home, you have an inspector look at the structure, pipes, electrical system, etc. A commercial property requires even more of a stringent inspection, not only to meet your needs, but also the requirements of the local government.

Before purchasing commercial property, hire professionals to thoroughly examine the electrical system, including the sprinkler and security system, as well as the plumbing, phone, and Internet systems. Since you will have already done your homework on zoning and regulations, you will be aware of the building codes. With the results from your various inspections you can get an estimate of how much work, if any, will need to be invested in order to get the building “up to code.”

A Good Foundation

Hire an architect or engineer to examine the foundation and structure, especially if you have frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes in your area of the country.

Communication

If you are looking at an older building, there may be quite an investment up front to either meet city standards or meet your own standards. Don’t overlook the importance of a high-tech phone and Internet system, especially if you have a lot of employees. If there is not already a T1 or fiber optic network in place, build this cost into your purchase, as it will save you money and headaches in the long term over more traditional (and older) phone and Internet systems.

Make sure to hire an expert to tell you if the changes you need are possible and within your budget. With most commercial real estate loans, you can include these remodeling costs in your financing. Again, make sure to ask.

11. Map Out Your Plan

As a business owner, you understand the importance of carefully planning every move. Buying a property requires no less preparation. Before you begin looking for a building, sit down with your finances and figure out how much of a mortgage you can afford to take on.

Create a Budget

When calculating your budget for buying property, don’t leave out taxes, insurance premiums, and repair and maintenance, as well as costs involved in customizing the space to meet your needs. Failing to create a budget for these often overlooked expenses will quickly put you in the hole with your new property. If you need help creating this budget, ask your realtor or your commercial lender for advice.

Room to Grow

To determine the amount of mortgage you can afford, assess your income and expenses. Your mortgage and property expenses should leave you enough room to operate your business without cutting into your normal expenses.

Sometimes it is necessary to take a cut in profit in order to purchase the kind of space you need to grow. Think of it this way: buying a larger space will allow your company to stretch its wings, which will result in more profits down the road. It’s a risk you sometimes need to be willing to take if you want to grow. Remember, if you buy more space than your company needs immediately, you can acquire tenants who will provide rental income that can significantly offset your monthly mortgage obligation.

Planning Ahead

It’s almost always a good idea to buy slightly more room than you currently need. You can lease out the additional space until you need it. If this is your plan, map out how this will bring in income to help subsidize your mortgage. Remember, however, that you may have periods when some of the space is unoccupied, so don’t rely on the rent coming in to cover your mortgage every time. Make sure you can cover the mortgage on your own.

Have an Exit Strategy

So, how does it all end? Hopefully with big dollar signs. After all, that’s why you’re investing, isn’t it? To eventually cash in on your investment. Therefore, you need to have an exit strategy.

You might choose to hold onto your commercial property through retirement, as real estate is a great asset that can provide you with a steady passive income stream: a lucrative retirement strategy.

12. Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

Having a carefully drafted contract is key in your commercial real estate deal. You are required by law to have a written sales contract, and it is to your advantage to have one with each detail of the transaction documented.

Also, make sure to leave ample time for due diligence and closing, especially if any construction is involved!

Details

Despite the stories of real estate contracts being thicker than phone books, all you really need is a contract that lays out the important elements of your agreements. First, it needs to describe the property and the purchase price, as well as whether the price is due at closing or in installments.

Equipment, etc.

The contract should include any equipment, machinery, or personal property that is included in the purchase price. It should list any contingencies that must be met prior to completing the purchase. A common example of a contingency is whether you are able to obtain a loan to finance the purchase.

Don’t Forget…

The contract should cover how the property taxes and utility bills will be pro-rated between you and the seller, as well as what type of title insurance you must provide. The date for closing and delivery of possession should be in the document, as well as what legal recourse either the buyer or seller has in the event that the other party defaults on the agreement.

And Always…

Once the contract has been drafted, have a lawyer review it prior to signing it. A lawyer may be able to help you negotiate a better deal than what is originally presented.

Unfortunately, not all property sellers are honest, and some will try to hide their true purpose in technical legalese within a contract. Having a trusted lawyer and commercial realtor review your contract will keep you safe in your transaction.

13. Choose a Lender with Care

There are many types of lenders available to assist you with your commercial real estate financing. But keep in mind: not all are created equal. Do your homework in finding a lender that meets your specific needs.

It’s important to find a firm that can give you broad access to capital, understand your priorities, offer you the best deal on your loan and complete the process in a timely manner.

Types of Lenders

There are three basic categories of lenders: direct lenders, indirect lenders and hybrid lenders. Direct lenders lend their own funds. Some examples of direct lenders include commercial real estate lending institutions, banks, and private lenders. Indirect lenders place funds on behalf of others, and include mortgage brokers and mortgage bankers, as well as financial intermediaries. Hybrid lenders both lend their own funds and lend on behalf of others, and include certain investment banks, investment advisors and credit companies.

Banks usually generalize in services, and offer a wide array of products. While this may sound good, think about it for a moment. Would you rather have a lender that knows a little about many financing options, or a lot about three or four products designed specifically for you?

Lending institutions are more specific in nature, and are experts in the products they offer. Banks are more traditional in their financing products, while lending institutions are more entrepreneurial and creative.

Banks often require that you move all of your financial relationships under their umbrella, including deposits, LOCs, etc., while non-bank lenders only work with your real estate loan.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great resource for small companies looking to expand their business or purchase real estate for commercial use. The SBA offers tools that can help you plan your next move, as well as loan programs for a variety of business purposes. The SBA itself does not offer loans, but works through banks and non-bank lenders to provide small businesses with loan programs that meet their needs.

Get Started Early

It is important to choose your lender early in the process so that you can maximize leverage and get a lower cost of funds. Your lender will ask for certain forms in order to determine your eligibility for financing, as well as to figure out what kind of deal you can negotiate.

You will need to provide your income and expense statement, balance sheet and personal financial statements from all prospective owners of the property. If you don’t have them written already, you will need to create profiles of the management team, including information on education and employment background, as well as experience relevant to your business. Other documents needed include a property appraisal, contract of sale, and plans for the use of the property. Providing these documents early can help streamline the process. Again, your realtor and lender will help you through the process.

14. Know Your Financing Options

While you are in the “shopping” phase of looking for a commercial property to purchase, you should begin to research your financing options. There are many kinds of commercial financing options available, so it is important that you find the one that best suits your needs. It’s also very important to know how much you’re qualified to borrow. This will help you and your real estate broker find the right type of property for you faster.

No matter what type of loan you wind up getting, negotiating the loan will be based on the same basic factors: anticipated use of the property, expected returns from the property or business conducted there, geography, type and size of real estate, perceived risk to lender and market conditions. There is no one rate applicable to all commercial financing. The rate you receive will be based on your specific situation.

If interest rates are low, securing a low fixed rate will mean you pay less interest over the entire mortgage. A variable rate, which is considered by some to be more risky, can give you a lower payment for a period (before it increases), which will let you use the money saved for other investments.

In weighing your financing choices, remember that some debt is good. Don’t assume you should take the loan with the highest down payment requirement so you can “pay off your debt faster”. Putting down more money means you have less to invest in your business.

Term Loans

Based on how much money you need to borrow, there are different financing options available. One option is a term loan. Term loans can be used for a variety of purposes, including financing permanent working capital, new equipment, refinancing, expansion, acquisitions and, of course, buildings.

There are loans specifically designed for commercial real estate or equipment. Banks typically lend up to 80% of the value of the real estate to be financed, and the loans must be repaid in 15 to 20 years. If you are able to come up with the remaining 20% on the cost of the property (and don’t have anywhere better to invest the money), this is an option to consider.

Up Up and Away

Beware of balloon payments. While paying a very low monthly amount at the start sounds great, you often end up spending additional money to refinance your commercial mortgage as lenders reset interest rates or reexamine you and your business over the life of the loan.

Credit Line

If you want a more flexible loan, you may have the option of a credit line that can provide you with cash on an as-needed basis, up to a cap amount. Credit lines almost always have a variable rate, and have interest-only payments for the first one to three years.

Equity Financing/Joint Ventures

Equity financing involves joint ventures with investors that have the capital you need. Usually, the investor will receive a percentage of your business’ profit in exchange for the capital you need to purchase the building or stock in the company if it is public.

Some investors will take a back seat to your executive decisions, while others will want a say in the operation of your company. Joint ventures are not for everyone, so keep in mind all of these factors when considering one.

The SBA 7(a) Loan Program

The SBA has a variety of financing products that are ideal for small businesses. The most commonly used SBA loan is the 7(a) Loan Program. The loan is provided through banks or non-bank lending institutions.

In order to be eligible for a 7(a) loan, your business must be for profit, and you cannot purchase real estate for investment purposes. There are many other guidelines to qualify for a 7(a) loan. The maximum amount a business can borrow from a 7(a) loan is $2 million. Furthermore, all SBA 7(a) loans have prime-based floating interest rates. This type of interest rate structure can leave you vulnerable to monthly/quarterly interest rate swings that can have a significant impact on your monthly mortgage payment.

Now you can see why it is so important to find a commercial lender who can help you digest all of this information and take the time to explain your options.

15. The Best Kept Financing Secret

One of the main reasons small businesses choose to rent instead of purchase their own commercial real estate property is the perception that they can’t afford the down payment. Many of them are not aware that SBA-guaranteed loans are available to qualifying applicants and can provide up to 90 percent loan to cost financing.

In fact, the 504 loan program was designed to assist small businesses in building or purchasing properties while spurring business growth in the local economy.

Only 10% Down

While in some parts of the country, use of the 504 loan program is widespread, there are other areas, such as those east of the Rocky Mountains, where this program isn’t getting the attention it deserves. If you are unable to put down much of the loan cost, the 504 is worth looking at: it only requires 10% – and there are no closing costs in addition to the 10% down! (Please note that there are certain basic criteria you will need to have to qualify for the 10% down program. A good lender work with you to do his or her best to help you qualify for this benefit.)

The other 90% of the financing comes from two places: up to 50% of the total cost (land, building, renovations, and soft costs) is paid for by a senior lien from a private-sector lender, and up to 40% comes from a junior lien from a Certified Development Company (this portion is backed by a 100 percent SBA-guaranteed debenture).

Smaller Payments

Since most banks and loan programs require a minimum of 20-30% of the property cost, and do not fold in soft costs and closing fees, 504 loans are a great way to get the best of everything: by paying only 10% down, you retain more capital and are able to make smaller payments over the life of your mortgage.

Because you have two separate loans with the 504, you end up getting a blended rate that is below market. The first loan is either fixed or variable, and is at or slightly higher than conventional financing rates. The second mortgage (the 40% loan) is considerably lower than market interest rates, and is fixed for the life of the loan. Having a lower interest rate lets your company retain more capital.

504 loans can close in 30 days or less, saving you time, and helping you get into your new property sooner. Another advantage is that there are usually fewer “hoops” to jump through to get approved, as long as you are dealing with a lender who specializes in this type of loan as opposed to one who might process one or two a year. The specialist knows this loan inside and out and can streamline the process, as well as make sure you are receiving all the benefits.

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