Investing in Real Estate – Should You Buy Residential Or Commercial Property?

We hear this often from real estate investors: “What’s the smarter move? Residential or commercial investment property?” It should come as no surprise that there isn’t a one-word answer to this question. You’ll arrive at your best choice — the one that maximizes your chances for success — by working through a decision process that includes some “global” issues, some local and some that are entirely personal.

Definitions

Let’s start with some terminology. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll define as residential any property that derives all or nearly all of its income from dwelling units. Single-family homes, multi-families, apartment buildings, condos, co-ops are all residential. (FYI, the tax code classifies any property in which 80% or more of the gross income comes from dwelling units as residential, so many mixed-use properties can be classified as residential for tax purposes.)

For commercial property, we’ll use a typical layman’s definition: property that derives its income from non-residential sources, such as offices, retail space and industrial tenants.

Why do I say that this is the layman’s definition? Because appraisers and lenders would consider large (>4 unit) apartment buildings to be commercial investment property since they are bought and sold strictly for their ability to produce income and not as a potential personal residence for the owner/investor. However, it will suit our discussion better to treat all apartment buildings as residential properties.

Global Issues

What are the global issues that should affect your choice to buy residential or commercial property? The state of the U.S. economy certainly tops the list. If you believe we are in or are on the brink of a recession, then it makes sense to be cautious regarding commercial property. You will have to rely on businesses to occupy your commercial space, and if they’re struggling to survive or simply deferring their plans to expand, then rental rates may soften and demand for space decline. Replacing a lost tenant — especially one lost unexpectedly (in the middle of a lease, or the middle of the night) because of a weak economy — can take longer than it might in unstressed economic times. When the economy and employment are strong, of course, you are likely to see the opposite. Service businesses need more space, retailers open more stores, distributors need more warehouses.

Another issue is the cost and availability of financing. Interest rates are always important to investors, but there is one situation that may strike you as counter-intuitive. When home loans are readily available and mortgage rates drop, it’s not uncommon to see an increase in apartment vacancies, making apartment buildings less desirable as investments. The reason? Low mortgage rates and easy credit often mean that individuals can own a home at a monthly cost that is the same — or less, after taxes — than renting. So part of your potential tenant pool may be lost to home ownership.

Local Issues

In the real world, each of these global issues comes with a “however” attached. You need to stay on top of your local market because that market may contradict the national trend. For example, highly restrictive zoning regulations can mean that commercial space is always in short supply in a particular location, recession notwithstanding. And the cost of single-family homes in your community may be so high that there will always be a strong demand for rentals. Think globally but act locally (with apologies to environmentalists for borrowing their slogan).

Personal Issues

You could buy a property and then insulate yourself from it by turning over every aspect of its operation to a management company. But if you’ve never operated a property yourself, how would you know if the management firm is doing an acceptable job? Most investors begin as hands-on managers and your chances of success will be greater if you choose a type of property that you’re comfortable with.

So, at the personal level, will residential or commercial suit you better?

Unless you were raised in the woods by wolves, there is a very good chance that you’ve spent most of your life in a residential dwelling unit: a single-family house, a condo or an apartment. You have a first-hand understanding of the rights, obligations and appropriate behavior of a residential occupant. If you were a tenant, you probably also know something about the roles and responsibilities of both tenant and landlord. It is for this reason that first-time investors often lean toward buying a small residential building. You may not know the fine points of leasing and landlording, but you understand the basic ground rules. This is familiar and comfortable territory.

Of course, some novice investors come to real estate with a background in business and perhaps as a commercial tenant. If that description fits you, then becoming a commercial landlord may be an easy transition. You already have firsthand knowledge of how commercial lease deals come together, and what the parties typically expect of each other.

The Pros and the Cons

Like any of your investment choices, each type of property has its pros and cons. For example:

Residential Pros:

1. Residential units are generally easy to rent. Turnover in housing is high, so your pool of potential tenants tends to be large.
2. Leases are generally short, especially for apartments, so you can keep pace with the rental market. This means cash flow tends to be fairly strong with a multi-unit residential property.
3. Financing residential property is usually fairly straightforward. For smaller properties, the process is similar to financing a home.
4. The cost per unit tends to be lower for residential than commercial. The more units you have, the less likely it is that a vacancy will severely impact your cash flow.
5. You could live in one of the units of a multi-family property. Obviously it’s easier to keep an eye on the property if your eye is actually there.

Residential Cons:

1. Residential properties usually require a lot of hands-on management.
2. Residential properties usually require a lot of hands-on management. (That’s not a typo. I said it twice.)
3. With a single-family home, one lost tenant equals 100% lost rent.
4. Multi-family houses tend to be older and therefore may require more repairs and maintenance.
5. Residential tenants don’t keep office hours, so you can get a call or complaint at any time of day or night.
6. Larger multi-unit properties generally have a lot of traffic in common areas and will require greater upkeep.
7. Did I mention that residential properties usually require a lot of hands-on management?

Dealing with commercial tenants is quite different. Ideally, it’s business, not personal. You may require a personal guarantee on a lease, but you should expect to have more of a business-to-business relationship.

Commercial Pros:

1. Typically leases are longer, with built-in rent escalations. Five years, with options to renew is not universal but certainly quite common. Except perhaps for small offices, few businesses would be willing to go to the expense of becoming established in a particular location without a guarantee of more than just one year.

2. Many commercial leases pass through to the tenant a pro-rata share of certain expenses (or a pro-rata share of the increase in certain expenses, over a base). For example, the tenant may be obligated to pay its pro-rata share of property taxes and common-area maintenance. This helps stabilize the cash flow for the landlord and makes that cash flow more predictable.

3. Management is less hands-on than with residential. Renewals are less frequent. Many commercial leases are written to include the requirement that the tenant be responsible for interior repairs, HVAC maintenance, glass breakage, etc.

4. Depending on the type of space (i.e. more common with retail and high-end office), the tenant may fit-up the space to suit itself. The landlord may give a one-time fit-up allowance or a period of free rent, but the interior finish then becomes the tenant’s responsibility to maintain.

5. Because the property’s value is strictly a function of its income stream, you have the opportunity to create value by enhancing that income stream. In other words, you don’t need to rely on general market “appreciation” to increase the value of your property, but can take steps to do so yourself.

Commercial Cons:

1. Trying to purchase a commercial property on a shoestring may not be a realistic plan. Lenders are generally tougher underwriting commercial loans, especially if you have no experience operating commercial property. Down-payment requirements tend to be higher, as do interest rates. Loans are for shorter terms and often have a “balloon” requirement (i.e., must be refinanced before the nominal end of the term). The property will have to pass muster in terms of its projected cash flows and debt coverage ratio.

2. Leasing a commercial space can take much longer than leasing a residential unit. After a tenant is identified and basic terms agreed upon, it is usually necessary for attorneys for both sides to negotiate the language of the lease. The complexity and cost of this process can vary greatly, depending on whether you are dealing with a local or a national tenant.

3. Filling a vacancy can take much longer than with a residential unit. Commercial leases will typically require that a tenant exercise an option to renew well before the lease expires — perhaps six to as much as twelve months prior — so that the landlord can have ample time to look for a new tenant.

4. Financing commercial property can be more complex than with residential. You’ll need to demonstrate to the lender that the property will perform at a level that can can cover the debt service with room to spare.

5. If you don’t have experience being a commercial tenant, then becoming a commercial landlord may require that you get familiar with some concepts and skills that are particular to the commercial world. You’ll want to learn about “tenant mix” if you own retail space, about commercial insurance and about the billing and reconciliation of pass-through expenses.

While there is certainly no right answer to the question, “Residential or commercial?” there is probably a best answer for you. Do you want the hand-on involvement of residential? Do you have the resources for commercial? Do you want the potential for higher cash flow, and with it the possibility of greater risk? Do you prefer a more modest but more predictable return? Consider your objectives and preferences carefully, and evaluate your resources — time, money, skills — realistically. With a bit of luck, the answer should jump off the page.

Why Invest in Commercial Properties Instead of Single Family Homes?

While there are many people who seem to believe that investing in residential real estate and single-family homes is the way to go, investing in commercial properties is much better. Instead of focusing your real estate investing on residential properties focusing on commercial properties is a better option for a variety of reasons.

First of all, when it comes to investing in commercial properties, you will not have to worry about personally qualifying for a loan. The property itself qualifies for the loan. You usually will not have to worry about personally guaranteeing the loans when it comes to investing in commercial properties. Non-recourse financing is the type of financing most often used for commercial real estate investing. If your loan is foreclosed on, the bank will take the property, but they can’t come after you personally. Also, it will never affect your personal credit score.

You will also have the opportunity to deal with professional tenants when it comes to investing in commercial properties, instead of dealing with the tenants that come with residential properties, which is a huge benefit.

Another reason to invest in commercial real estate is to maximize your potential for profit on any one deal. You would have to invest in a lot of single-family homes to generate the kind of profit you can make on one commercial real estate investment.

So, with the proper education and training, it can be the right move to break into the field of commercial real estate investing.

How Much Money Will You Need?

Before you start purchasing commercial properties, it is important that you know how much money you are going to need to get started. Even though you will be able to get financing for your properties there are still going to be some fees that you are going to have to pay for on your own. So, how much money should you have available? Well, for the pre-closing and closing costs you are going to have to pay, you should have about 3-5% of the amount of the loan available, as well as 10-20% of the purchase price for the down payment. While you may not need that much money, it is best to plan on this amount just in case.

Where to Get the Money

Once you know how much money you will need, you are probably wondering where you can actually get the money. There are a variety of different places that you can get the money you will need. Commercial mortgage brokers are one choice. There are also some private lenders that may be able to provide you with the money that you need, so be sure to consider all of your options.

Using the Money

When you actually are ready to get the loan for your commercial property you will probably have to explain to your lender what you are going to use the money for. This means that you’ll need to be able to communicate to the lender what you are going to do with the money. There are several things that you may have to do with the money. You may need to use the money to acquire or purchase the property, and in this case, the lender will probably be able to loan you about 80-90% of the money you will need. In some cases you may need to use the money for a refinance of a property and the same amount will probably be available to you for refinancing as well. You may also need to have the money for construction of the property, including renovations, rehabilitations, and building that occurs on the property.

Keeping Yourself Protected

When you decide to invest in commercial properties, it is important that you keep yourself legally protected. Many people sue over a variety of things in today’s world, which means you’ll need to have plenty of protection. Be sure that you never own the properties in your own name, or you could be sued personally. You need to have a LLC or a corporation. This way, any lawsuit would be directed at your company and not at you personally.

A Good Team is Important

If you are going to get involved in commercial real estate investing, it is important that you have a good team to work with you. You should begin to form a good team immediately. You can ask for some recommendations from other people who invest in commercial real estate so that you are sure to get good people for your team. Some of the people that you will need to have on your team include a good commercial mortgage broker, a real estate attorney, a real estate accountant, a good insurance agent, a realtor that specializes in commercial real estate, and a company that works in property management.

Finding the Right Properties

One of the most important things when you are involved in commercial real estate is going to be finding the right properties to invest in. The following are several ways that you can find some great commercial properties to invest in.

– Commercial Realtors – One of the best ways to find good commercial properties to invest in is by using commercial realtors. Good realtors who specialize in commercial real estate can help you find the properties you need and they can also help you do your due diligence as well. If you are going to pick an agent, consider interviewing several agents to make sure that you find one that you can work well with. You can get online and go to the National Association of Realtors to find a good realtor or you can get some recommendations from other commercial real estate investors that you know.

– Internet – Another place that you can look for great commercial properties to invest in is on the Internet. There are a variety of different websites that can help you find the properties you are looking for. You will find both paid and free sites; however, for serious investors, going with the pay sites may be the most beneficial for you.

– Networking – Many investors overlook networking when it comes to finding good properties to invest in. There are a variety of networks and investment groups that can help you find great properties. Try getting involved in Chamber of Commerce meetings or get involved in some associations that will help you find the properties you want.

Consider the benefits; getting a non-recourse loan, dealing with professional tenants and the opportunity for much greater profits on any one deal. When you think about it, it is a smart move to choose investing in commercial real estate rather than investing in single-family homes.

Commercial Property for Sale in Mexico

If ever there was a great place to run a B&B, it is in a charming colonial town in Guanajuato, Central Mexico. Villas are perhaps preferred at the beach, but the home quality of a bed and breakfast has real appeal for the weekend or short term traveller. In particular, Mineral de Pozos high in the Sierra Madres, a new Pueblo Magico in Mexico, fascinates the senses with historic gold and silver mines, grand ruins from hundreds of years ago, a 400 year old church, desert and mountain landscapes set against the big, blue skies, the sunshine, the cactus. The fresh air full of humming birds, bees and butterflies induce tranquility and a shift from city life. A home away from home is Pozos.

With the economic downturn a B&B is a great way to add an income stream and still enjoy the quiet Mexican life with loads of sunshine and the cultural experience. Here in Pozos, ruins of old colonial homes represent prime houses for sale in Mexico and perfect for an enchanting bed and breakfast. Express yourself through interior spaces and architectural elements. Mexico is known for its’ iron work, furniture making, glass making, tile work, stone work… and more. Creativity abounds. An artist exists in everyone.

Additionally, many options exist for keeping the guests busy in Pozos. Canyon rides on horseback, if you so inclined to construct stables and the business of horses; mountain bike riding from your doorstep. A vacation lifestyle, as I like to call it, can include anything a heart desires. Sharing your visions with people who are passing by, is where the magic lies. Buying commercial property for sale in Mexico can expand your passion and your income stream. Entrepreneurial adventures take some thought, some work and money, but most importantly, they take heart and commitment.It’s a great combination for a great life and success.

If existing property is not for you, take land for sale in Mexico and build with the vernacular stone and adobe. The romance and history will be sure to come through. The indigenous giant magueys and swaying pepper trees. All of the terrain is captivating. The authentic Wild West, the experience of the last frontier. The cobblestone streets, the cowboys on horseback, the vistas at sunset on horseback. Enchanting to the core. In the hustle of industrialized life, the simplicity stands out to all and the natural ways of Pozos escape no ones imagination.