A Beginner’s Guide To Commercial Real Estate Loans

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Commercial real estate (CRE) investing offers far more than the chance to develop key professional relationships and avoid tenancy issues that often coincide with residential rental properties; it offers lucrative income potential that can dwarf more traditional forms of real estate investing. However, as any commercial real estate investors will tell you, the trick isn’t always finding a commercial property, but rather acquiring one of those ever-essential commercial real estate loans that let you bring a property into your portfolio.

While many lending principles apply equally to both residential and commercial real estate loans, there are some key distinctions (and tricks-of-the-trade) about the commercial real estate loan process that can save you time and money, if understood before plunging ahead.

Commercial Property Loans 101

Commercial property loans, not unlike their single-family counterparts, are the foundation of a great real estate investment. The loans are just as important as the assets themselves—if not more so. At the very least, there are many types of commercial real estate loans which award savvy investors with unique advantages for their particular situations. That said, it’s not enough for investors to simply take the first loan that comes across their table; they need to mind due diligence and get to know the ins-and-outs of commercial real estate loans before making any decisions. The more an investor knows about their own CRE loan and how it applies to their situation, the better.

For more information on not only how to get a commercial real estate loan, but also today’s commercial real estate lending basics, here are some answers to today’s most common questions on the subject.


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Commercial property loan

What Is A Commercial Real Estate Loan?

A commercial real estate loan, or “CRE loan” as it sometimes called, is a debt-based agreement set up between a borrower and financial institution in which the borrower uses funds to acquire commercial (non-residential) property.

One common misconception is to assume the terms “commercial loan” and “commercial real estate loan” are interchangeable. This is not the case. Commercial loans refer to the securing of funds that can be used for non-real estate purposes, such as equipment purchases or operating expenses. As an investor, your aim is a commercial real estate loan; it’s important when navigating the loan process to look for lending institutions that specialize in loans of this kind.

Types Of Commercial Real Estate Loans

Not unlike their single-family counterparts, commercial real estate loans can be found with countless terms and underwritings. The sheer volume of available commercial real estate loans is to help buyers acquire deals with favorable terms and rates. There is practically a loan for every situation a commercial real estate investor could think of. Let’s take a look at some of today’s most popular commercial real estate loans:

  • SBA 7(a) Loan For Commercial Real Estate: As their names suggest, SBA 7(a) loans are backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. While there are several types of SBA loans, this particular one is specifically tailored to those who want to purchase or refinance owner-occupied commercial properties up to $5,000,000.
  • CDC / SBA 504 Loan For Commercial Real Estate: Also backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, CDC / SBA 504 loans are best suited for those who need more than the $5,000,000 offered by SBA 7(a) loans.
  • Traditional Commercial Mortgage: Traditional commercial mortgages are offered through institutionalized banks and lenders. Traditional loans tend to range from five to 20 years, but are great for those with good credit and in need go longer loans.
  • Commercial Bridge Loan: Commercial bridge loans help investors secure immediate financing, giving them a chance to search for a more long-term solution in the interim. Bridge loans help investors bridge the gape between when they need immediate funding and when they can find a more permanent solution.
  • Commercial Hard Money Loan: Commercial hard money loans are reserved for those with a need for short-term loans. They tend to come with higher interest rates, but the price comes with a benefit. Since hard money lenders aren’t associated with an institutionalized bank, borrowers can receive the money fast, and without a perfect credit score.

How Long Are Commercial Real Estate Loans?

Commercial real estate loans can be as long as 30 years or as short as a few months. But generally they’ll have a term, on average, of between 5-30 years.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you necessarily will be paying a monthly commercial mortgage for the full term of the loan. Unlike residential loans, which are fully amortized—or have the balance of the loan broken up in regular, monthly payments—commercial real estate loans often have a set monthly payment period (usually the first five to seven years), and then require a large balloon payment at the end.

This can be either a benefit, or catastrophe, for commercial real estate investors. It’s vital you mind your due diligence to ensure the terms of a commercial real estate loan fit in with your overall real estate investing needs.

What Are Commercial Real Estate Loan Requirements

There are universal criteria that come into play when approaching a lender about a loan, no matter what type. But when applying for a commercial real estate loan, it’s vital you focus on these key CRE loan requirements:

  • Credit History: This has less to do with your credit score, which should be at least 680 or higher, and more to do with ensuring your credit history doesn’t contain recent tax liens, foreclosures, and recent bankruptcies. Otherwise you might find the commercial real estate loan process quite difficult.
  • A Low Loan-To-Value (LTV) Ratio: LTV ratio calculates the amount of equity, or collateral, a borrower has in a given property by dividing the loan amount by the appraised value (or purchase price) of a property. (Example: If your loan amount is $97,000 and the property is worth $100,00, your LTV is 97%.) Home buyers securing a residential loan can have an LTV as high as 100%, though usually somewhere in the 80-97% range is more common. Investors seeking a commercial real estate loan will most likely have to sit somewhere in the 65-80% range, at a minimum.
  • Business Entity: This is a common mistake many first-time commercial real estate investors make when applying for a loan. But having your business entity set up, before filling out that application, can sometimes make a huge difference to lending institutions.
  • Organized Paperwork: This is another overlooked area of the loan application process for many first-time commercial investors. But making sure that every document (and packet) you send to a lender is organized, tidy and doesn’t set off “alarm bells” can sometimes make the difference between getting rejected, and that large commercial real estate loan you need to make your investing dreams come true.

Do CRE Loans Have Fixed Or Variable Interest Rates?

This depends on the type of commercial real estate loan you secure. (There are numerous kinds of CRE loans, including a traditional commercial mortgage, bridge loan, hard money loan, and joint venture loan, etc.)

As a general rule, a commercial real estate loan will most likely have a variable rate — that large amount of money borrowed comes at a cost — and be considerably higher than residential real estate loans (sometimes as much as two-three percentage points).

How Long Will It Take To Get A Commercial Real Estate Loan?

As the commercial loan brokerage Whista detailed in a column recently: “Everyone is going to tell you it should take about 30-45 days to get a commercial loan. Not in this lifetime…if your broker or lender is being honest with you, they will tell you to expect about 45-120 days.”

This doesn’t mean there won’t be exceptions; there may very likely be situations in which you’re able to reduce this commercial loan process considerably. But if your investing strategy depends on a quick timeline, go in knowing you may need to be flexible until you hear back from a lending institution.

Final Notes On Getting A Commercial Real Estate Loan

Commercial real estate loans are not easy to secure, and they do require far more diligence, preparation, patience, and paperwork then a residential mortgage loan, but that’s because of the large amount of funds being requested. It is a good to remember that commercial real estate financing is more complicated and logistically challenging; they have to be due to the increased risk. There are many moving parts—both legal and financial. However, if you’re able to stay persistent and focused through the process, you might find a life-changing transaction just around the corner.


Key Takeaways

  • Understanding how to finance commercial real estate is one of the first steps for investors looking to break out of the residential industry.
  • With a firm grasp on the commercial real estate financing basics, investors should have a slid commercial foundation to build off of.
  • Commercial real estate loans are a bit more complex than residential loans, but they are necessary for larger projects further down investors’ careers.