4-Plex or more for inexperienced investor?

9 Replies

Hi there

I am wondering if it is advisable for an inexperienced investor to get started with 5+ units or if it would be better to first stick to 1 to 4 units. I already know the process to get a conventional or HM loan, but never got a commercial one. In addition I will do this out of state and while working a full time job. Is getting a commercial loan too hard in such a situation?


There's nothing especially "hard" about getting a commercial loan. I'm going through the process right now, actually.

The hardest part is finding the lender. For small stuff, you're dealing almost exclusively with local banks, so you either need to find a local broker who knows who will deals with OOS investors, or you need to get on the phone and start calling the banks directly. You can get referrals from your in-state network, or agents, or even here on BP. After you find one and establish credibility, then it's very similar: credit checks, appraisals, etc. 

The big difference is that you can (must?) use an LLC for commercial, whereas you can't with residential.

If you can find a deal that pencils out with 4 units and another one that pencils out with 6 units, I would be more inclined to start with the 4. Residential class is just a lot easier to do the financing and the insuring, and you're not getting much more scale at 6 units.

The downside is that you won't be able to directly capture any forced-appreciation on residential class (4 units and below.) LMK if you need me to clarify that point.

That all said, there's certainly nothing wrong with starting bigger. Real economies of scale are realized at 75+ units.

Hope that helps!


75+ units you can quit that F/T job!!! How can a small guy get into properties that big without millions of dollars saved up?

Thanks you @James Kojo , that helps a lot. 

@Ray Harrell Using other peoples money or by starting with what you can afford and adding units or trading up over time I would say.

@James Kojo Curious why you say you cannot capture any forced appreciation on 4plex or smaller? There are lots of ways you can force immediate appreciation on residential MFR's.

depending on where you're looking.... you might find it extremely hard to get a deal on commercial side. You're going to have lots of competition and if you have no history/relationship in those markets with anyone you're going to get leftovers.

I don't see any reason you would have a hard time getting a commercial loan. I think they carry a stigma that is way overblown. If you have the 25% down payment, a job, a property that you can prove cash flows. I think you'll be fine. 

Originally posted by @Brian Garrett :

@James Kojo Curious why you say you cannot capture any forced appreciation on 4plex or smaller? There are lots of ways you can force immediate appreciation on residential MFR's.

I probably  should have put emphasis on the word "directly" in my statement: You can't directly capture forced appreciation in residential the way you can with commercial. Of course you're correct in saying that there are many value-add improvements you can do with residential which improve rents.

However, when commercial property is evaluated and underwritten, it's primarily evaluated by the numbers (NOI/Cap-rate), where as residential is valued via "comps", which is a lot more nebulous. So if you raise rents by $100/month on an 8-cap commercial building, you have now directly forced appreciation by (100*12)/.08 = $15,000, whereas on a residential, it depends a lot on what your neighbors last sold their properties for.

Of course, nothing ever works out that precisely in the real world, as caps also fluctuate, but caps are not as volatile as comps. Still, hopefully my example and explanation illustrates the concept.

Hope that helps!


@Ray Harrell : getting to 75 units is easy: start with 150 units in a F-class neighborhood, then wait a year.

At the end of the year, you should have only 75 habitable units left! :)

Jokes aside, I probably should have been more clear: I'm not suggesting anyone jump straight into a 75 unit. The point I was trying to illustrate is that the difference in economies of scale between a 4-unit and a 6-unit is not that great. The real inflection point comes at around 75 at which point it makes financial sense to hire on-site property management. The economy of scale for 4 vs 6 unit is realized primarily in the exterior paint and roof costs per door, which admittedly may be significant, but probably not a deciding factor.

Hope that helps!


I agree with what many have already said. I have spent months repositioning SFR rentals and at the end, realized it would have been exactly the same amount of work to have taken down a 4,5,6, or 12-plex instead. First determine what your goals are and what kind of portfolio suits you. As far as commercial loans, I agree with those above who have said it is overblown how hard they are to get. They are not better or worse, just different. They are well suited for a different asset class. Yes the amortization periods tend to be shorter, and the rates tend to be a point or two higher. But that is the cost of doing business outside the residential realm. If you factor it in from the beginning, you will be just fine. There are also a lot of ways to acquire and reposition small multifamily properties, where rehab funds are required, utilizing local lender bridge loans or large hard money lenders. With so many more in the space, rates have been driven way down. Again, a few extra points annually, but many are interest only for 12-24 months while you stabilize and lease-up the property, season, and refi on to permanent commercial financing. What I see most on BP forums is the notion that commercial loans should be avoided. That is just not the case and only makes sense strictly when compared to residential loan terms (longer amortization and low, fixed rates). But if you want to scale up to multifamily (5+units), commercial is the name of the game. Good luck!

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