Commercial Real Estate

3 Things You Need to Know to Invest in Commercial Real Estate

11 Articles Written
basics of commercial real estate

Many investors want to enter into the world of commercial real estate without truly knowing the basics. You have to constantly educate yourself on the basics of analyzing commercial properties (I don’t just mean popping numbers into an Excel spreadsheet), even if they are properties that you are not in a position to purchase. You need to be able to analyze a deal with nothing more than a pen and piece of paper if necessary.

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Often times, new commercial investors simply pop numbers into a spreadsheet with pre-determined formulas and get all of the information that is critical to a deal, but do they truly understand the information that you are receiving? If you had the deal of a lifetime and had nothing more than a pen and paper, could you crunch the numbers on that investment?

You might be surprised to find out that many people can not crunch the numbers, but you better make sure that you can. With that in mind, I thought it important to discuss those things that any new commercial investor needs to understand.

Here are the 3 Things that You Need to Know to Invest in Commercial Real Estate

1.) You Need to Know the Vocabulary

The main concepts and terms that you must familiarize yourself with are as follows:

-Gross Income

-Vacancy Rate

-Effective Gross Income (EGI)

-Operating Expenses

-Net Operating Income (NOI)

-Debt Service

-Cash Flow

-Cash-on-Cash Return

-Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate)

A quick Google search will give you more information on these terms and what they mean and why they are used. Although we do not have time to go deep into each term in this post, if you have a particular questions, feel free to leave a comment below. I’ll also be covering these terms more in upcoming posts.

2.) You Need to Know Percentages

If you are going to be serious about commercial real estate, you will need to know and understand percentages, in particular, what percentages are acceptable for most of the vocabulary words above. You will need to know how to calculate vacancy rates and what is considered to be a high percentage of vacancies for your area. You will need to know what percentage of gross income your operating expenses consume. For example, with apartment buildings over 50 units in your area, you may learn though experience that operating expenses are normally 45% of the gross income. Therefore, if you find a building with operating expenses of 55% of gross income, you may see an opportunity to eliminate some of these expenses in order to make the property operate more efficiently and profitably.

Percentages will also play a part in how you structure the deal with your investors in terms of preferred rates of returns, cash on cash returns, and internal rates of returns. The bottom line is that you need to understand percentages and how to calculate them “on-the-fly” with nothing more than your brain or a basic calculator.

3.) Internalize and Understand what the Numbers Mean

Once you have a good understanding of the vocabulary and the percentages, you still need to be able to put everything together and understand what the numbers mean. You should know what a cap rate of 5% means in your marketplace as opposed to a property that has a cap rate of 10%. You should know what operating expenses of 55% mean on a property as opposed to operating expenses of 25% on a similar property.

In the words of Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, “The numbers tell a story”, and he is absolutely correct in that assessment, but the million dollar question is….

Do You Understand the Story that the Numbers are Telling You?

If you are serious about getting into commercial real estate, you MUST know, understand, and internalize the three concepts above, with NO EXCEPTIONS!! I hope this article was helpful and wasn’t too theoretical.

As always, if you have any questions, we can carry the conversation over into the comments below so please let me know your thoughts and comment below.

Photo: Greenhem

    Antony Shuliko
    Replied over 9 years ago
    Hi, Khary Just read your article. It’s rather short and clear. But… I suppose it’s just too short and clear so it looks more like a post than like an article itself. It just shows your opinion, shortly: “if you don’t crunch numbers in mind you’re not a real estate investor”. I wouldn’t say that… I don’t think where’s lots of cases when you should count it all in your mind and decide the same moment if you’re in. Obviously you do should know some formulas and rates, but many of them are common to every investment project. So if an experienced investor involeves in real-estate – there probably would be no problem with that. And there’s lot’s of (sorry – I can’t be bothered to think of any right now 🙂 ) stories when people knew no math but succeed in investments. Let me advise you to work out some, let’s say, bigger material on this matter. So there would be more of your precious experience and some links to useful sites, covering the definitions and formulas. Cause I don’t think it’s fair to send your reader to the “great-almighty” Google. Or is it? Also it would be helpful to give some links for whose, who can’t count 3 plus 43 in their mind 🙂 It might be links for some programs that investors use in your country. I know a good one, but it’s in Russian so it won’t be helpful here. Like that you wrote another article covering not covered here Real-estate vocabulary a bit. Keep it on! Good luck! PS: what’s for your style of writing. Clean and short it is, so it’s great. But the extreme changing of tune is a bit weird. I mean the part bout: “If you are serious about getting into commercial real estate, you MUST know, understand, and internalize the three concepts above, with NO EXCEPTIONS!! I hope this article was helpful and wasn’t too theoretical.” Cause I don’t think it’s ok to jump from MUST and NO EXEPTIONS to “I hope bla bla bla…”
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Roughly how long would you recommend being spent on studying those three concepts
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Roughly how long would you recommend being spent on studying those three concepts Reply Report comment
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Hi, Where can I obtain a comparison of percentages once I’ve calculated a building’s ratios such as those you suggested (i.e. Debt Service, Gross Income, Cap rate…etc.?
    NA C. Wholesaler from Inverness, Florida
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Some of this information have “standards” and, an active broker in the area(s) that you are looking to buy in can help you with the others. Specifically, Debt Service: most lenders consider a debt service coverage ratio (the percentage of NOI to DS) of 1.25% or more to be healthy. In short, this ratio says that I have enough NOI (net operating income) to pay my mortgage with 25% of the NOI left over for reserves, capital expenditures, etc. Gross Income = the sum total of all rents, additional income sources, annualized Cap Rate: Investopedia kept it short and sweet; A rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the expected income that the property will generate. Calculated as “Cap rate = Net operating income / Sales price of the asset”, it is a quick way to see how much of a return you can expect based on the property’s net income, after operating expenses are paid. Hope this helps. Feel free to ask more detailed questions in reply.
    Don Alberts from Frankfort, Illinois
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Thanks for your help. Don