There's an old joke in commercial real estate: If you think nobody cares you're alive, just miss a few mortgage payments.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of that going on during the credit crisis that started in 2008, as commercial real estate values went into a freefall. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Real Estate, commercial property values fell by 10.6% in the fourth quarter of 2008, alone – the biggest price drop since 1984.

But to savvy real estate investors, times of lower prices typically reveal genuine investment opportunities. For instance, according to a survey by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services, of 1,129 commercial property investors, 51% planned to increase commercial real estate allocations during the 2008 credit crisis.

So, despite the significant drop-off in acquisition plans from the peak in 2005, more than half of investors still planned to increase their commercial real estate holdings. A mere 11% planned to reduce their real estate portfolios in 2009.

Finding a Good 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 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. How much can you afford to pay? 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, know 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 valuating 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 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"
    A great 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.

Related Articles
  1. Home & Auto

    12 Steps To Closing A Real Estate Deal

    A long list of things needs to happen before a home becomes yours. Find out what to expect.
  2. Home & Auto

    How You Make Money In Real Estate

    If you're interested in the real estate game, make sure you know what factors will affect whether you make money or not.
  3. Home & Auto

    The Ins And Outs Of Seller-Financed Real Estate Deals

    There's more than one way to buy or sell a house. Seller financing presents yet another unique option.
  4. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Latin America Stock Mutual Funds

    Discover information about some of the most popular mutual funds that offer investors exposure to equities of companies in Latin America.
  5. Investing

    How Zhang Xin Built a Real Estate Empire

    An overview of how Zhang Xin built a multi-billion dollar real estate empire from the ground up.
  6. Investing Basics

    Diversify with These Four Alternative Assets

    In times of market volatility, investors add alternative assets to their portfolios--highly illiquid, but profitable investments like art, land or precious metals.
  7. Investing

    How To Build a Currency Hedged Strategy?

    We are still unsure of how to implement a currency hedge strategy based on the dollar's movement. So let’s focus on what’s easier to measure: time horizon.
  8. Economics

    The Effect of Fed Fund Rate Hikes on Gold

    Explore the historical relationship between interest rate increases and the price of gold, and consider what effect a fed funds rate hike might have on gold.
  9. Investing

    The ABCs of Bond ETF Distributions

    How do bond exchange traded fund (ETF) distributions work? It’s a question I get a lot. First, let’s explain what we mean by distributions.
  10. Professionals

    Illiquid Real Estate: Correlation Pros and Cons

    Stock and bond markets are moving more closely in tandem with each other. Is illiquid real estate the vaccine for this correlation?
  1. What are the differences between single, double and triple-net leases?

    A net lease is a real estate lease in which the tenant pays, on top of his rent, one or more of the following expenses: property ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Where do penny stocks trade?

    Generally, penny stocks are traded through the use of the Over the Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) and through pink sheets. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Where can I buy penny stocks?

    Some penny stocks, those using the definition of trading for less than $5 per share, are traded on regular exchanges such ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How are American Depository Receipts (ADRs) priced?

    The price of an American depositary receipt (ADR) is determined by the bank or other financial institution that issues it. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How are American Depository Receipts (ADRs) exchanged?

    American depositary receipts (ADRs) are bought and sold on regular U.S. stock exchanges, either in the over-the-counter market ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between adjusted and regular funds from operations?

    While regular funds from operations measures the cash flow generated by the operations of a real estate investment trust ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!