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How to Invest in Commercial Real Estate: A Comprehensive Guide


Commercial real estate investment presents promising opportunities for financial gain and portfolio diversification. However, it's a complex arena requiring strategic planning, careful research, and a deep market understanding. 

This comprehensive guide is a stepping-stone for potential investors venturing into the commercial real estate landscape. 

In this guide, our experts here at Kenwood Management Company will provide an overview of the commercial real estate market, critical factors to consider, and possible strategies to utilize, ultimately helping you make informed and profitable decisions in this domain.

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Understanding Commercial Real Estate Investing

real estate business

Unlike residential properties, where income is generated primarily through rent from one or two tenants, commercial properties can have multiple revenue streams.

Income can come from lease agreements. These are often long-term contracts, providing a steady cash flow far more consistent than residential leases. Depending on the type of commercial property, these leases can be from retail businesses, office-based companies, or industrial firms.

Second, some properties may also include advertising opportunities. For instance, a billboard on the side of a commercial building or a logo atop a skyscraper can provide an additional source of income.

Finally, there's the potential for appreciation. Over time, commercial real estate investors can benefit from the increase in the property's value, often due to changes in the market or enhancements to the property itself. This long-term capital gain can sometimes surpass the income earned from leases and advertising, making it a significant part of the return on investment. 

There are other advantages associated with investing in commercial real estate. For example, an office building with various businesses leasing space offers diversified income sources. If a tenant leaves, leasing the space to another business is always possible. 

Additionally, some commercial real estate properties may appreciate over time, increasing an investor’s ROI.

The Changing Demand for Office Spaces

The COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably left its mark on every aspect of life, including commercial real estate investing trends.

One of the most impactful changes from the pandemic is the shift towards remote work. Many businesses, having adapted to a fully remote or hybrid model during lockdowns, are now reconsidering the need for large, centralized office spaces. 

This shift is leading to a decrease in demand for traditional office space and an increase in the desire for flexible workspaces that can adapt to the changing needs of businesses. As a result, many commercial real estate investors are looking to capitalize on this trend by investing in properties that offer flexible solutions such as coworking spaces and virtual offices.

Increased Demand for Industrial Spaces

The pandemic has also increased demand for industrial and warehouse space due to the surge of e-commerce shopping. Retailers have had to adapt quickly to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world.

The rise of e-commerce has significantly influenced investment trends within this sector. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers face fierce competition from online platforms, reducing demand for retail store investments. 

A Wealth of New Opportunities

While it's easy to focus on the challenges brought about by changes in retail trends, it's equally essential to recognize the silver linings and opportunities they present. Declining interest in traditional storefronts doesn't mean the end of brick-and-mortar spaces; it signifies a pivot towards a more versatile and adaptive utilization.

For starters, vacant storefronts can be transformed into fulfillment centers. As e-commerce surges, the demand for localized distribution hubs also grows. Businesses can ensure faster customer delivery by converting unused retail spaces into these hubs. 

This reduces shipping times and minimizes the environmental impact of long-haul transportation. Moreover, it provides a means for landlords to repurpose their properties, ensuring that these spaces remain economically productive.

Similarly, the rise of the gig economy, remote work, and freelancing culture has led to a growing need for shared workspaces. Converting vacant storefronts into co-working spaces can address this demand. These establishments offer professionals a dedicated space to work, collaborate, and network. 

This adaptive use can also reinvigorate local economies by attracting an assorted group of professionals to an area, leading to increased patronage of nearby cafes, restaurants, and services.

This may prove to be a profitable opportunity for investors thinking outside of the box. 

Multi-Tenant Leasing

Multi-tenant leasing is a strategy that can offer both lucrative returns and a degree of risk mitigation. 

This approach involves leasing a single commercial property to multiple tenants, each occupying separate spaces within the same building or complex. 

The most significant advantage of multi-tenant leasing is the ability to diversify income streams. With multiple tenants paying rent, you're not overly reliant on a single occupant. This diversification can help stabilize cash flow, even if one tenant vacates or faces financial challenges.

While no investment is entirely risk-free, multi-tenant leasing can reduce the risk of a single tenant's financial instability. If one tenant encounters difficulties, the income from other tenants can help offset potential losses.

In some cases, multi-tenant leasing can result in higher overall rental income than leasing the entire space to a single tenant. Different tenants may be willing to pay premium rents for specific spaces or amenities.

How to Make Informed Decisions

Real estate professionals and clients discussing purchases

To make informed decisions about your potential investments, consider factors like current vacancy rates across different asset types (office space vs. industrial buildings), operating expenses relative to lease terms, and how much debt service coverage ratio (DSCR) is needed for a loan on the property.

Vacancy Rates Across Different Asset Types

Vacancy phrase on the page

The vacancy rate represents the percentage of unoccupied or available rental units within a property, serving as a critical metric to assess the income potential of a real estate investment.

Different types of properties, like office spaces and industrial buildings, will naturally have varying vacancy rates. 

For instance, in a city with a startup boom, office spaces might be in higher demand, leading to lower vacancy rates. Conversely, industrial buildings might have higher vacancies if there's a decline in manufacturing.

By understanding these rates, an investor can gauge the demand for a particular property type in a specific location, helping predict potential rental incomes and deciding where to invest.

Operating Expenses Relative to Lease Terms

Double exposure of businessman working with calculator and construction crane and building in the evening

Operating expenses encompass all costs of running and maintaining a property, excluding mortgage payments. These could include taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, and more.

Some lease agreements might pass on certain operating expenses to tenants, while others may have the landlord bear the brunt. Evaluating these terms can significantly impact the net income from the property.

By comparing operating expenses to the conditions in lease agreements, an investor can forecast net operating income more accurately, thus assessing the property's profitability.

Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)

Debt Service Coverage Ratio on notepad

The Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR) is a critical financial metric in real estate investment, reflecting the ability of a property to cover its debt obligations. Specifically, it's the ratio of net operating income to a property's debt service (or mortgage payment).

To calculate the DSCR, divide net operating income by total debt service. A DSCR of greater than 1 indicates sufficient income to cover debt payments. Conversely, a DSCR of less than 1 can signal potential challenges in covering loan obligations.

Before lending money for a real estate investment, lenders often assess the DSCR to ensure the property will generate enough income to cover the loan payments. 

As an investor, understanding the required DSCR can help you determine the feasibility of securing a loan and the financial health of your investment.

Financing Options for Commercial Real Estate Investments

Concept of businessman choosing the right door

One of the critical steps of commercial real estate investing is securing adequate financing. It's like organizing everything before starting an exciting adventure. Let's explore some viable options that you can use.

The Traditional Bank Loan

Considered one of the most conventional methods, a traditional bank loan is often the first option potential investors turn to. These loans offer competitive interest rates and often have long-term repayment schedules. 

Banks usually require a down payment, ranging from 20% to 30% of the property's purchase price to secure a loan. They may also require documentation such as personal tax returns, a detailed business plan, and proof of income or cash reserves. 

Please note that approval for these loans can be challenging for first-time investors and those with less robust credit histories. Hence, it is essential to have a solid financial portfolio and a well-documented business plan to exhibit your investment's potential profitability

The SBA 504 Loan Program

An often-overlooked option is the SBA 504 loan program. This U.S. government-backed initiative aims to give small businesses a fair shot at success by offering competitive rates and terms compared to traditional bank loans.

Crowdfunding Platforms

These platforms help individuals to participate in investment opportunities that they might not have been able to afford independently. By leveraging these platforms, individuals gain access to diverse sources of capital, enabling them to diversify their portfolios and potentially maximize their returns. 

Seller Financing

In seller financing scenarios, the owner acts as the bank — lending money towards your purchase of their property. It's similar to taking over someone else's car lease: You get what you need without having all the cash upfront.

Private Equity Funds

Another financing option that sophisticated investors often consider for commercial real estate investments is private equity funds. Private equity funds are investment vehicles managed by professional fund managers or private equity firms. 

These funds pool capital from accredited investors, institutions, and high-net-worth individuals and then use this collective capital to make real estate investments.

Private equity funds provide access to various commercial real estate opportunities, including office buildings, apartment complexes, retail centers, and industrial properties. This diversification can help spread risk across different asset classes.

Finding and Analyzing Investment Opportunities in Office Spaces

Office work place

Office space investments have been a profitable sector of the commercial real estate market for years. As mentioned, with more companies adopting work-from-home policies due to recent events, some investors may question the viability of office spaces as an investment.

This reduction isn't across all markets or property types; it gives us insight into where we need to focus our efforts when identifying promising markets for office space investments.

Consider businesses that can't fully transition to remote work: law firms needing secure file storage areas or tech startups requiring special equipment only available at their offices. These sectors will still require physical locations, meaning there will always be demand for office spaces tailored to their needs.

Identifying Promising Markets

Different cities and regions come with varying demands for office spaces. The strategy lies in understanding these unique requirements, ranging from square feet per employee norms to amenities preferred by local industries.

A city with multiple legal practices, such as Washington DC, might lean towards traditional layouts. On the other hand, tech hubs like San Francisco might prefer open-plan offices to encourage collaboration among teams.

Knowing your target tenants' preferences helps you pick out potential winners in the different commercial properties available on the market.

The Rise of Warehouses and Industrial Spaces

Huge empty warehouse

Warehouses and industrial spaces are gaining traction in commercial real estate investing. This surge is largely due to the booming demand for e-commerce, a trend that's not slowing down anytime soon.

As a result of e-commerce, there’s been an increased need for storage space where goods can be housed before being shipped out to customers — and entering warehouses. Warehouses are projected to be the leading performer among commercial real estate investments. 

This unprecedented shift towards online shopping hasn't just affected retailers and influenced where to invest when looking at different commercial real estate-type opportunities available today.

Investing in Warehouses and Industrial Spaces

The key here is understanding what makes these properties attractive from an investment standpoint. 

First, they offer consistent cash flow with triple net lease terms commonly used. The tenant usually covers operating expenses such as property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs under this agreement — making them appealing options for investors seeking steady returns.

Apart from regular monthly rent collections, which help cover debt service obligations on any outstanding real estate loans you might have taken out, industrial properties also tend to require less hands-on management than other property types such as office space or retail stores, saving you time and money over long-term holds.

Commercial Development Projects

real estate developer and architect discussing new housing development project in office

Commercial development projects represent an avenue for real estate investment, providing the potential for substantial returns to those willing to embrace a higher degree of risk and complexity.

These projects involve the construction of new buildings or the comprehensive renovation of existing ones, encompassing various sectors such as office spaces, retail centers, and industrial facilities.

Diversification is Key

Investing in commercial developments offers a range of potential returns. While residential properties typically yield steady monthly rent, commercial properties often provide higher cash flow and tax benefits due to operating expenses that can be passed onto tenants.

Due to this reason, it’s important to screen tenants thoroughly and request financial information from tenants, such as proof of income.

Navigating through Commercial Property Developments

When considering these investments, an important aspect involves understanding different types of property developments like retail stores, office spaces, industrial buildings, or special-purpose properties such as healthcare facilities or educational institutions.

This diversity lets you tailor your investment strategy based on market trends and economic factors affecting each asset type — from changes in lease terms impacting office space rentals because companies adopt work-from-home policies, or the surge in e-commerce leading to more businesses needing warehouse facilities.

How to Break Into Commercial Real Estate Investing

To start, look at markets with low vacancy rates which indicate high demand but limited supply. It's here where well-planned commercial development projects have immense potential. 

Moreover, remember that location isn’t everything — understanding tenant needs matters too. For example, multifamily real estate requires easy access to amenities whereas industries prefer proximity to major transport hubs.


Invest With Confidence With Kenwood’s Guide to Commercial Real Estate

Entering the commercial real estate market can be intimidating. Yet, with knowledge and the right strategies, you can invest in commercial real estate without leaving it all up to chance.

By understanding the commercial real estate landscape, navigating investment opportunities, and making informed decisions, investors can maximize their returns and achieve their financial goals. 

At Kenwood Management, we aim to help you achieve financial stability in commercial real estate with expert strategies and profitable investments. As an experienced property investment and management firm, we’ve put together an insightful guide for investors in DC commercial real estate that will do just that. 

Whether you are a new investor looking to get started or an investor with a growing portfolio, download our in-depth guide, How to Invest in Commercial Real Estate, to learn how to maximize your returns and secure profitable investments.