Commercial Real Estate Loan (CRE)

Commercial Real Estate Loan (CRE) is income-producing real estate that is used solely for business purposes, such as retail centers, office complexes, hotels, and apartments. Financing – including the acquisition, development, and construction of these properties – is typically accomplished through commercial real estate loans: mortgage loans secured by liens on commercial, rather than residential, property.

Just as with residential loans, banks and independent lenders are actively involved in making loans on the commercial real estate. Also, insurance companies, pension funds, private investors and other capital sources, make loans for the commercial real estate.

Let’s take a look at commercial real estate loans: how they differ from residential loans, their characteristics and what lenders look for.

Individuals vs. Entities

While residential mortgages are typically made to individual borrowers, commercial real estate loans are often made to business entities (e.g., corporations, developers, partnerships, funds, and trusts). These entities are often formed for the specific purpose of owning commercial real estate.

An entity may not have a financial track record or any credit history, in which case the lender may require the principals or owners of the entity to guarantee the loan. This provides the lender with an individual (or group of individuals) with a credit history and/or financial track record – and from whom they can recover in the event of loan default. If this type of guaranty is not required by the lender, and the property is the only means of recovery in the event of loan default, the loan is called a non-recourse loan, meaning that the lender has no recourse against anyone or anything other than the property.

Loan Repayment Schedules

A residential mortgage is a type of amortized loan in which the debt is repaid in regular installments over a period of time. The most popular residential mortgage product is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Residential buyers have other options, as well, including 25-year and 15-year mortgages. Longer amortization periods typically involve smaller monthly payments and higher total interest costs over the life of the loan, while shorter amortization periods generally entail larger monthly payments and lower total interest costs. Residential loans are amortized over the life of the loan so that the loan is fully repaid at the end of the loan term. A borrower with a $200,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%, for example, would make 360 monthly payments of $1,073.64, after which the loan would be fully repaid.

Unlike residential loans, the terms of commercial loans typically range from five years (or less) to 20 years, and the amortization period is often longer than the term of the loan. A lender, for example, might make a commercial loan for a term of seven years with an amortization period of 30 years. In this situation, the investor would make payments for seven years of an amount based on the loan being paid off over 30 years, followed by one final “balloon” payment of the entire remaining balance on the loan. For example, an investor with a $1 million commercial loan at 7% would make monthly payments of $6,653.02 for seven years, followed by a final balloon payment of $918,127.64 that would pay off the loan in full.

The length of the loan term and the amortization period will affect the rate the lender charges. Depending on the investor’s credit strength, these terms may be negotiable. In general, the longer the loan repayment schedule, the higher the interest rate.

Loan-to-Value Ratios

Another way that commercial and residential loans differ is in the loan-to-value ratio (LTV): a figure that measures the value of a loan against the value of the property. A lender calculates LTV by dividing the amount of the loan by the lesser of the property’s appraised value or purchase price. For example, the LTV for a $90,000 loan on a $100,000 property would be 90% ($90,000 ÷ $100,000 = 0.9, or 90%).

For both commercial and residential loans, borrowers with lower LTVs will qualify for more favorable financing rates than those with higher LTVs. The reason: They have more equity (or stake) in the property, which equals less risk in the eyes of the lender.

Commercial loan LTVs, in contrast, generally fall into the 65% to 80% range. While some loans may be made at higher LTVs, they are less common. The specific LTV often depends on the loan category. For example, a maximum LTV of 65% may be allowed for raw land, while an LTV of up to 80% might be acceptable for a multifamily construction. There are also private mortgages available for commercial lending.

Debt-Service Coverage Ratio

Commercial lenders also look at the debt-service coverage ratio (DSCR), which compares a property’s annual net operating income (NOI) to its annual mortgage debt service (including principal and interest), measuring the property’s ability to service its debt. It is calculated by dividing the NOI by the annual debt service. For example, a property with $140,000 in NOI and $100,000 in annual mortgage debt service would have a DSCR of 1.40 ($140,000 ÷ $100,000 = 1.4). The ratio helps lenders determine the maximum loan size based on the cash flow generated by the property.

A DSCR of less than 1 indicates a negative cash flow. For example, a DSCR of .92 means that there is only enough NOI to cover 92% of annual debt service. In general, commercial lenders look for DSCRs of at least 1.25 to ensure adequate cash flow. A lower DSCR may be acceptable for loans with shorter amortization periods and/or properties with stable cash flows. Higher ratios may be required for properties with volatile cash flows – for example, hotels, which lack the long-term (and therefore, more predictable) tenant leases commonly to other types of the commercial real estate.

Interest Rates and Fees

Interest rates on commercial loans are generally higher than on residential loans. Also, commercial real estate loans usually involve fees that add to the overall cost of the loan, including appraisal, environmental report, legal, loan application, loan origination and/or survey fees. Some costs must be paid up front before the loan is approved (or rejected), while others apply annually. For example, a loan may have a one-time loan origination fee of 1%, due at the time of closing, and an annual fee of one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) until the loan is fully paid. A $1 million loan, for example, might require a 1% loan origination fee equal to $10,000 to be paid up front, with a 0.25% fee of $2,500 paid annually (in addition to interest).


A commercial real estate loan may have restrictions on prepayment, designed to preserve the lender’s anticipated yield on a loan. If the investors settle a debt before the loan’s maturity date, they will likely have to pay prepayment penalties. There are four primary types of “exit” penalties for paying off a loan early:

  • Prepayment Penalty. This is the most basic prepayment penalty, calculated by multiplying the current outstanding balance by a specified prepayment penalty.
  • Interest Guarantee. The lender is entitled to a specified amount of interest, even if the loan is paid off early. For example, a loan may have a 10% interest rate guaranteed for 60 months, with a 5% exit fee after that.
  • Lockout. The borrower cannot pay off the loan before a specified period, such as a 5-year lockout.
  • Defeasance. A substitution of collateral. Instead of paying cash to the lender, the borrower exchanges new collateral (usually Treasury securities) for the original loan collateral. High penalties can be attached to this method of paying off a loan.

Prepayment terms are identified in the loan documents and can be negotiated along with other loan terms in commercial real estate loans. Options should be understood ahead of time and evaluated before paying off a loan early.

The Bottom Line

With commercial real estate, it is usually an investor (often a business entity) that purchases the property, leases out space and collects rent from the businesses that operate within the property: The investment is intended to be an income-producing property.

When evaluating commercial real estate loans, lenders consider the loan’s collateral; the creditworthiness of the entity (or principals/owners), including three to five years of financial statements and income tax returns; and financial ratios, such as the loan-to-value ratio and the debt-service coverage ratio.

By: Daniela Peeva |  June 26, 2017

7 Steps to a Hot Commercial Real Estate Deal

Ask any real estate professional about the benefits of investing in commercial property, and you’ll likely trigger a monologue on how such properties are a better deal than residential real estate. Commercial property owners love the additional cash flow, the beneficial economies of scale, the relatively open playing field, the abundant market for good, affordable property managers and the bigger payoff from commercial real estate.

But how do you evaluate the best properties? And what separates the great deals from the duds?

Like most real estate properties, success starts with a good blueprint. Here’s one to help you evaluate a good commercial property deal.

1. Learn What the Insiders Know

To be a player in the commercial real estate, learn to think like a professional. For example, know that commercial property is valued differently than residential property. Income on commercial real estate is directly related to its usable square footage. That’s not the case with individual homes. You’ll also see a bigger cash flow with commercial property. The math is simple: you’ll earn more income on multifamily dwellings, for instance, than on a single-family home. Know also that commercial property leases are longer than on single-family residences. That paves the way for greater cash flow. Lastly, if you’re in a tighter credit environment, make sure to come knocking with cash in hand. Commercial property lenders like to see at least 30% down before they’ll give a loan the green light.

2. Map Out a Plan of Action

Setting parameters is a top priority in a commercial real estate deal. For example, ask yourself how much can you afford to pay and then shop around for mortgages to get a sense of how much you will pay over the life of the mortgage. Using tools like mortgage calculators can help you develop good estimates of the total cost of your home.

Other key questions to ask yourself include: How much do you expect to make on the deal? Who are the key players? How many tenants are already on board and paying rent? How much rental space do you need to fill?

3. Learn to Recognize a Good Deal

The top real estate pros know a good deal when they see one. What’s their secret? First, they have an exit strategy – the best deals are the ones where you know you can walk away from. It helps to have a sharp, landowner’s eye – always be looking for damage that requires repairs, knows how to assess risk and make sure to break out the calculator to ensure that the property meets your financial goals.

4. Get Familiar With Key Commercial Real Estate Metrics

The common key metrics to use for when assessing real estate include:

Net Operating Income (NOI)

The NOI of a commercial real estate property is calculated by evaluating the property’s first year gross operating income and then subtracting the operating expenses for the first year. You want to have positive NOI.

Cap Rate

A real estate property’s “cap” – or capitalization – rate, is used to calculate the value of income-producing properties. For example, an apartment complex of five units or more, commercial office buildings, and smaller strip malls are all good candidates for a cap rate determination. Cap rates are used to estimate the net present value of future profits or cash flow; the process is also called capitalization of earnings.

Cash on Cash

Commercial real estate investors who rely on financing to purchase their properties often adhere to the cash-on-cash formula to compare the first-year performance of competing properties. Cash-on-cash takes the fact that the investor in question doesn’t require 100% cash to buy the property into account, but also accounts for the fact that the investor will not keep all of the NOI because he or she must use some of it to make mortgage payments. To uncover cash on cash, real estate investors must determine the amount required to invest to purchase the property or their initial investment.

5. Look for Motivated Sellers

Like any business, customers drive real estate. Your job is to find them – specifically those who are ready and eager to sell below market value. The fact is that nothing happens – or even matters – in real estate until you find a deal, which is usually accompanied by a motivated seller. This is someone with a pressing reason to sell below market value. If your seller isn’t motivated, he or she won’t be as willing to negotiate.

6. Discover the Fine Art of Neighborhood “Farming”

An excellent way to evaluate a commercial property is to study the neighborhood it’s located in by going to open houses, talking to other neighborhood owners, and looking for vacancies.

7. Use a “Three-Pronged” Approach to Evaluate Properties

Be adaptable when searching for great deals. Use the internet, read the classified ads and hire bird dogs to find you the best properties. Real estate bird dogs can help you find valuable investment leads in exchange for a referral fee.

The Bottom Line

By and large, finding and evaluating commercial properties is not just about farming neighborhoods, getting a great price, or sending out smoke signals to bring sellers to you. At the heart of taking action is basic human communication. It’s about building relationships and rapport with property owners, so they feel comfortable talking about the good deals —and doing business with you.


By: Daniela Peeva | June 14, 2017

Commercial Properties Skyrocket in Numbers 2015

According to Real Capital Analytics, $533 billion of commercial real estate changed hands last year, up 23% from a year earlier. The volume also was roughly 4% more than what had been projected as of November 2014.

The total was still well shy of the record $574.9 billion of deal volume that took place during the market’s peak year of 2007.

Foreign investors accounted for $91.1 billion, or 17.1% of the transaction volume last year, up from the 10% average in each of the previous four years. The foreign charge was led by the Canadians, who completed $24.6 billion of deals. Those investors include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ). Ivanhoe Cambridge, an affiliate of CDPQ, purchased Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village apartment property for $5.3 billion late last year.

Investors from Singapore took the second largest piece of the foreign investment pie, completing $14.8 billion of deals in 2015. Norway followed with $8.5 billion of deals, and Chinese investors completed $6.8 billion of deals.

Under normal circumstances, foreign investors would likely increase their activity going into 2016. After all, certain restrictions have been eased as a result of changes to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act. (These changes were implemented with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015.) For instance, foreign pension funds are no longer are subject to withholdings under the original act.

However, many foreign investors are likely getting pinched by the sharp drop in oil prices. According to analysis by Morgan Stanley, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar combined for $18.6 billion of U.S. deals, a substantial volume. Since each country is reliant almost exclusively on oil revenue, their ability to generate cash will decline with the drop in oil prices.

In fact, as oil prices were plunging last year, sovereign wealth funds were redeeming capital from investment vehicles (not necessarily tied to real estate) to which they had committed. Morgan Stanley found that some $100 billion of capital was redeemed from 11 asset managers by oil-dependent investors last year. That trend could continue this year if oil prices continue to decline, or stabilize at today’s lower prices.

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