Investing in commercial real estate, like any investment, is an assessment of risks and potential rewards. Like any commercial venture, there are always risks, and there are tools in place to help you reach those rewards, often for incremental increases in risk.
One of the easiest tools to use (and misuse) in commercial real estate development is debt and credit. We’re going to characterize the money you get from lending as “soft money”, money you pay to have access to, as opposed to hard money, where you’re taking an outside investor on to your property.
Fundamentally, paying interest in money is paying someone else for the privilege of using their funds to make your projects work out. Interest rates are driven by the Prime Lending Rate, which you’ve no doubt heard news stories about. The prime lending rate is the rate that banks charge other banks for loans, and is generally set by the Federal Reserve. All other interest rates made in a given quarter have their rate set as the prime late plus a small addition to the rate (or, in some cases, a large addition.)
To determine what sort of money you’re going to want, understand that the banks are in the business of lending money – and getting paid back with interest for it. They want to minimize risks, and they’ll run a credit check on you, and on your business. Most people who have the financial means to make the down payment on a property have cleared up their credit problems ahead of time, but be aware that a personal or business bankruptcy in the last few years can get you denied for a loan or make you pay for an exorbitant amount.
Soft money has interest charged on it; the interest rate is the percentage of the initial money borrowed that has to be paid (in profit) to the lendor each year. Thus, if you borrow 100,000 dollars at 8% interest and pay it off in one year, you’ll have paid $108,000 for the property. Those interest rates are cumulative over time; there’s a rule of thumb used in the financial market for compound (cumulative) interest rates called the Rule of 72: Divide 72 by the number of points of interest your money is making, and that’s the number of years it will take for the cumulative interest to equal the amount of the initial loan. Using our earlier $100,000 investment, at 8% APY, 72 divided by 8 is nine, which means that paying that loan back over 9 years means you’ll have paid out $200,000 for the property. Always factor your interest rates into your cost calculations on return on investment, and monthly cash flow calculations.
Now, the good news is that some interest, especially when applied to residential properties, is tax deductible for your business, but still, you’ll need to assess several things with your property before getting the initial loan.
The first one – what’s the largest down payment you can afford, without hurting your own cash position? Larger down payments result in saving money in the long run, but can be an important cash flow hit early in the history of the investment. Larger down payments will usually (but not always) translate into lower monthly costs on the property (the primary exceptions are when you’re buying a residential property with high tenancy rates – these command high initial down payments because of their favorable capitalization rates and revenue potential, but still have the attendant costs of running a residential property.)
Second, how quickly do you intend to sell this property? The longer you intend to hold on to the property, the better a long term loan will look. This is because banks charge lower interest rates for longer period loans, due to the rule of 72 mentioned above. If you want to buy, renovate and turn, you’re going to want to get a shorter term loan, because it’s harder to sell a property with attached debts and second mortgages. In particular, any property that needs substantial improvement may need to have its interest rate needs assesses carefully – it’s not difficult at all to take a commercial property and turn it into a money pit that consumes all your profits.
For sources for your loan, the obvious place to look is a bank, preferably one with a strong business lending history. Understand that due to the regulations put on the Savings and Loan industry in the 1980s, it’s very hard for small businesses to get a substantial sum of money; there are regulations that keep them from lending to new businesses to prevent a future bailout. Another source for your loan can be a credit union or building society; these are tools that allow multiple investors to pool resources to build businesses – this is one reason why credit unions require all customers be called members, and why they require a $5 deposit.
Not so obvious places for your loan: If you’re coming out of the military, you’re entitled to a Veterans Administration loan, generally at very favorable rates, and bypassing a large number of credit checks for loans of $150,000 or less. While the intent of this loan program is to let veterans buy their first homes after mustering out, these loans are excellent tools for new investors to buy, renovate and turn properties over for a quick profit.
Similarly, Small Business Investment Relations (or SBIR) loans can often be had from local chambers of commerce, if you can provide a solid business plan for how you’re going to make a profit and pay the loan back. Housing and Urban Development loans can also be had for investors who intend to hold on to a property for low income housing, though this tends to be best as for a “buy and hold” strategy.