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How to Invest in Commercial Real Estate – Things to Consider

how to invest in commercial real estate

Commercial real estate investing has become a sought-after avenue to diversify a portfolio and generate lucrative returns. But how can you navigate the complexities of this market, like finding the right property, assessing risks and rewards, or financing your investment?

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned investor, understanding these aspects is vital for success, especially with the market shifting in unprecedented ways. For instance, investment in multifamily homes has overtaken that in offices for the first time ever. This article will explore trends like this and more, guiding you through the strategies and best practices to make informed decisions in this promising investment field.

Know Your Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate refers to properties used exclusively for business purposes, such as offices, multifamily apartment buildings, retail spaces, warehouses, and industrial facilities. Investors frequently purchase and lease these properties to generate income while receiving tax advantages through deductions for depreciation and interest.

In further detail, here are some key attributes:

  • Property Types: The four main categories of commercial real estate – office, industrial, retail, and multifamily – cater to distinct business needs and investment objectives.
  • Quality and Location Ratings: Properties are often rated by quality and location as class A (high quality), B (medium quality), or C (lower quality), affecting the price and potential returns.
  • Lease Terms: Compared to residential real estate, commercial properties usually have longer leases and lower vacancy rates, providing more stability for investors.
  • Market Sensitivity: Commercial real estate can be affected by economic cycles, consumer trends, and government policies, making market research essential.
  • Investment Methods: Properties can be purchased directly or indirectly through syndications, crowdfunding, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), or funds, providing flexibility for different investment strategies.

Difference Between Residential and Commercial Real Estate

AspectResidential Real EstateCommercial Real Estate
PurposeHousing for individuals/familiesBusiness activities and generating income
Lease DurationShort-term (months to a year)Long-term (several years)
Income GenerationTypically owner-occupied or rental incomeRental income, sales, and potential for greater profit
Investment ComplexityGenerally simpler to buy/sellMore complex with higher stakes
Maintenance ResponsibilityOften landlord’s responsibilityOften tenant’s responsibility in a triple net lease
FinancingEasier to obtain financingMore rigorous financing process
Tax BenefitsLimited deductions like mortgage interestBroader tax benefits including depreciation, interest deductions

Types of Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate falls into four main classes: office space, industrial use, multifamily rental, and retail. Let’s discuss each type of commercial real estate and their current market trends.

Office Space

Office space, a common form of commercial real estate, encompasses buildings designed to house various businesses and organizations. Classifications into class A, B, or C reflect the building’s age, quality, location, and amenities.

The U.S. office space market is in flux, with a record high vacancy rate of 16.4% in Q2 2023, a 30 basis point quarter-over-quarter increase. Amid shifts towards hybrid work, a survey indicates that 86% of tenants still desire physical offices, and 60% favor a partial return, averaging 3.5 days per week.   

Industrial Use

Industrial real estate encompasses factories, warehouses, and data centers for manufacturing, distribution, and logistics. The industrial market has been thriving, especially with e-commerce growth, leading to low vacancy rates and high rent growth. 

The industrial real estate market anticipates a 13th consecutive year of growth in 2023. However, JLL’s U.S. Industrial Outlook for Q2 2023 indicates a slight slowdown. Asking rates increased by 18.4% year-over-year, but the market shows signs of potential cooling, with the vacancy rate rising to 4.2%. 

Multifamily Rental

Multifamily rental commercial real estate encompasses residential buildings with more than five rental units. These properties can vary in style and cater to different rental market segments, such as luxury or affordable housing. Despite economic challenges, the multifamily market remains resilient. 

According to CBRE’s “Multifamily U.S. Real Estate Market Outlook 2023,” the U.S. multifamily sector is expected to perform strongly, maintaining occupancy rates above 95% and driving 4% rent growth. Meanwhile, Colliers reports that permits for multifamily units increased for the year ending May 2023.


Retail real estate includes various subtypes, such as shopping centers, malls, and strip malls. In Q2 2023, the sector saw a 12.6% rise in net absorption, reaching 10.8 million sq. ft. At the same time, construction starts dwindled to 11.9 million sq. ft. Non-mall space availability also hit a low of 7.5%, its lowest since 2008. 

Grocery-anchored retail led in transactions ($3.6 billion), followed by strip centers ($2.6 billion). Despite challenges like the rise of online shopping, other retail segments, such as essential services and omnichannel retail, continue to find opportunities.

ROI in Commercial Real Estate

Return on Investment (ROI) is a critical metric for real estate investors, reflecting the profitability of an investment. There are several ways to calculate ROI, but the simple ROI calculation offers a snapshot of an investment’s success. Here’s how to do it, including a typical example:

Simple ROI Calculation

The simple ROI calculation considers the net profit, the revenue generated from the property minus all expenses, and the initial investment cost, which includes the purchase price, repair costs, and other associated expenses. The formula is: 

ROI = (Net Operating Income / Cost of Investment) x 100

Example of Calculating ROI

  1. Determine Cost of Investment: Add up the purchase price ($100,000), repair costs ($20,000), and other expenses like closing costs and fees ($5,000) for a Total Cost of $125,000.
  2. Calculate the Annual Income: Suppose you charge $1,200 monthly rent. Multiply this figure by 12 to find the Annual Income of $14,400.
  3. Calculate Net Operating Income (NOI): Subtract operating expenses such as maintenance, insurance, and property management fees ($4,400) from the Annual Income to get the NOI of $10,000.
  4. Calculate ROI: Divide the NOI by the Total Cost and multiply by 100: ROI = ($10,000 / $125,000) x 100 = 8%.

This example illustrates an ROI of 8%, signifying a return of $0.08 for every dollar invested. This fundamental calculation can be applied to various investments, recognizing that variables might differ based on individual circumstances.

How To Invest In Commercial Real Estate

Investing in commercial real estate can be a lucrative and rewarding venture. However, it is important to understand the risks and rewards associated with this type of investment. Here are some tips on how to invest in commercial real estate:

Understand the Market

Before investing in commercial real estate, a deep understanding of the market, current trends, and the broader macro environment is essential. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Local Economic Factors: Employment rate, population growth, and local industries that might affect property values.
  • Property Demand: Analyzing the supply and demand in your chosen sector (retail, office, etc.) to identify gaps and opportunities.
  • Location: Evaluating proximity to amenities, transportation, and the target demographic to ensure alignment with potential occupants or customers.
  • Market Trends: Understanding both national and local trends, such as shifts in consumer behavior or emerging industries, that could impact your investment.
  • Macro Environment: Assessing broader economic, political, and social factors, including interest rates, governmental regulations, and general economic health that may influence the commercial real estate market.
  • Competitor Analysis: Identifying key competitors and understanding their strategies and performance can offer insights into market saturation and potential differentiators.
  • Regulatory Environment: Being aware of zoning laws, building regulations, and potential legal constraints that might affect the usage and value of the property.
  • Technology and Innovation Trends: Understanding how technological advancements and innovations in the real estate sector could impact your investment strategy or property value.

Choose the Right Type of Investment

Investing in commercial real estate requires selecting a strategy that suits your unique needs and goals. Here’s a brief overview of various strategies:

  • Direct Ownership: Purchase commercial properties outright. High capital needs and active management offset full control and potential high returns.
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): Buy shares in companies owning commercial properties. It offers liquidity and diversification but less control and may have lower returns.
  • Syndications: Pooling funds with other investors to buy properties under professional management. It allows for larger investments and shared risk but may involve complex agreements and less individual control.
  • Joint Ventures: Partner with others in specific projects. Shared risks and resources but the potential for conflicts and shared liabilities.
  • Crowdfunding: Utilize online platforms to pool investment funds. Accessible but limited control and potential platform risk.
  • Triple Net Lease Investments: Tenant pays most expenses in these investments. Stable income and reduced management, but reliant on tenant stability.
  • Development and Flipping: Develop or renovate to sell for profit. High-return potential with creative control but also high risk.

Diversify Your Investments

Diversification is a key aspect of any investment strategy. Spread your investments across different types of commercial properties, such as office spaces, retail units, industrial buildings, and mixed-use developments. This approach helps mitigate risks and ensures steady cash flow from various sources.

Consider the Risks

Investing in commercial real estate can offer attractive returns but has challenges and risks. A thorough due diligence process and careful consideration and understanding of these risks are paramount to making an informed investment decision. Here’s a closer look at some of them:

  • Market Risk: The risk of overall market conditions negatively affecting the property’s value or potential income. Factors such as economic downturns or over-supply of properties can contribute.
  • Asset Risk: Specific to the physical condition and location of the property. Poor maintenance or an undesirable location can lower demand and design flaws or zoning issues.
  • Liquidity Risk: Commercial properties often take significant time to sell, carrying the risk of a substantial loss in value if a quick sale is necessary.
  • Leverage Risk: Leverage risk pertains to financing and creditworthiness. High leverage can boost returns but increase exposure to risks like tenant defaults or interest rate fluctuations, potentially leading to financial strain.

Analyze the Potential Returns

When investing in commercial real estate, analyzing the potential returns on the investment is vital. Metrics such as the Return on Investment (ROI), Market Cap, Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Equity Multiple, and Cash on Cash Return can be effective tools for this analysis.

Work with Experienced Professionals

A team of knowledgeable real estate professionals can streamline the process:

  • Real Estate Agents/Brokers: For property selection and purchase negotiations.
  • Attorneys: Legal guidance for contracts, titles, and local regulations.
  • Accountants: For tax planning and financial analysis.
  • Property Managers: To handle day-to-day operations if needed.

Not-To-Do List In Commercial Real Estate Investment

Investing in commercial real estate can be lucrative, but certain common mistakes can lead to significant losses. Here’s a “Not-To-Do List” to help avoid pitfalls:

  • Ignoring Market Research: Failing to analyze local economic trends, demand, and property values.
  • Underestimating Expenses: Ignoring potential repair, maintenance, and operational costs.
  • Overleveraging: Taking on too much debt relative to the property’s value, leading to financial strain.
  • Selecting the Wrong Location: Choosing a location without considering accessibility, local amenities, or target demographics.
  • Neglecting Due Diligence: Failing to inspect the property or review legal regulations thoroughly.
  • Misunderstanding Tenant Needs: Not aligning property features with the needs of potential tenants.

The Key Takeaways

Commercial real estate investing is a dynamic and multifaceted field, with shifting trends favoring multifamily homes while office spaces evolve. It’s a landscape filled with opportunities but demands attention to quality, location, and market insights.

For both new and experienced investors, recognizing these vital factors is paramount. Engaging with commercial real estate means making informed decisions that align with current industry trends, allowing for growth and success in this intricate and ever-changing environment.


1. What is Commercial Real Estate?

Commercial real estate includes properties used exclusively for business purposes, such as offices, retail spaces, warehouses, and multifamily housing units. Unlike residential real estate, CRE often generates income through rent or lease agreements.

2. How Can I Start Investing in Commercial Real Estate?

Research the market, understand the various investment strategies, and identify your investment goals. Consult with real estate professionals, including brokers, appraisers, or attorneys, to guide you.

3. What Types of Properties Can I Invest in?

Commercial properties range from retail spaces, office buildings, and industrial warehouses to multifamily apartments and specialized properties like medical facilities. Each type has its unique characteristics, risks, and rewards.

4. What Are the Main Risks in Commercial Real Estate Investment?

Risks include market risk, asset risk, liquidity risk, credit risk, leverage risk, and property-specific risk. Understanding and managing these risks is vital to successful investing.

5. How Can I Finance My Commercial Real Estate Investment?

Financing options include personal savings, bank loans, private lenders, real estate investment trusts (REITs), and syndications. The right choice depends on your financial situation, investment strategy, and risk tolerance.

6. What Is the Role of Location in CRE Investment?

Location plays a crucial role in determining the value, demand, and potential returns on a property. Factors like accessibility, nearby amenities, local economic growth, and the target demographic should be carefully considered.

7. How Can I Maximize My ROI?

Maximizing ROI requires detailed market research, the selection of the right investment strategy, consideration of your risk profile, and effective property management. Engaging professionals to assist with evaluation, management, and other specialized tasks can be a wise decision.

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