When thinking about investing in property, people’s mind generally goes straight to villas and apartments. With that being said, investors are increasingly turning to commercial real estate which is becoming a more viable option for potential buyers. Whilst commercial and residential are both types of property, there are several key differences between them. Investment in either necessitates a solid understanding of the nuanced market factors at work, the differences in financing requirements, property management options, leasing arrangements, and a good understanding of the associated risks and drawbacks. 

Property types 

Commercial property generally refers to all real estate that is used for business or commercial purposes. This encompasses everything from office space to retail units as well as specialised property such as hotel apartments, industrial warehouses, or any other establishment where a company operates or is used to generate income. With commercial property encompassing a wide range of unit types, each with its own capabilities and benefits, it is important to understand the difference between them as well as how they can each generate an income. Office space, for instance, will generate revenue and be priced differently to a warehouse or retail unit of a similar size. Different premises require different licenses; as such, it is essential to know what type of property you wish to buy and lease, the necessary licensing it requires, as well as understand the rental possibilities for that unit. 

Financing 

Securing a commercial loan is significantly different than a residential mortgage. Commercial units tend to require a more extensive initial investment not just because they are more expensive and have higher market entry points but also because they can be harder to finance. In general, it is easier to get a residential mortgage than a commercial property loan. The loan to value rate should also be taken into consideration, as for commercial properties, they can be very low, with most banks generally requiring at least a 40% down payment. Investors should also take into account that interest rates on commercial properties are generally higher than that of a personal loan or mortgage. Whilst financing a commercial property is certainly possible, this option should be thought of carefully if your purchase is intended to be an investment opportunity. 

Property value 

The market price of a residential property is generally determined through supply and demand as well as the key property features, i.e. the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and the amount of living space. However, determining the value of a commercial property is very different. While location and property features play a role, the primary determinant of a commercial property’s value is calculated by looking at the amount of revenue it can/will generate. As such, it can be easier to increase the value of commercial premises by making strategic decisions that will increase the amount of income the property can make. This might involve subdividing or enlarging the unit, improving the properties appearance, or changing its use, i.e. changing a unit designed as a supermarket into a restaurant. 

Rental income 

Another key difference between commercial and residential real estate is the differences in rent, both in terms of the amount, as well as how it is structured. Rent for residential properties is agreed at a set amount and is paid at set times, i.e. monthly. 

Rent for commercial property, on the other hand, can be handled in different ways. The first is the most simple, a fixed rent for a specified number of years. Another way that rent can be structured, is through a smaller fixed rent plus a percentage of turnover. This can be a lucrative option, although the landlord should do their due diligence and be confident of the tenant’s performance financially.  Investors will generally find that commercial properties will have a better ROI as rental yields tend to be a lot higher.

Financial security 

Another key difference between residential and commercial properties relates to the length of the leasing contract. Commercial real estate generally enjoys much longer lease terms. While a contract for a residential unit tends to lasts a year, companies can sign a leasing agreement for up to 3-5 years at a time. This allows investors with greater security, with a guaranteed income for a longer period of time. The flip side to this, is that commercial properties can also have much greater vacancy periods. While residential properties may only take a matter of weeks to be rented out, commercial properties can potentially take up to a year or more, which is why tenanted properties can sell at a much higher price than vacant ones. This is something that should be taken into account when considering investing in a property.

Commercial property is more elastic, meaning they are very price sensitive to market conditions. Potential buyers should be aware that residential property generally performs more consistently during economic downturns, whilst retail units and off plan properties are usually the first property types to suffer. With that being said, with residential properties being relatively inelastic, it can take longer for investors to get the same returns. Following the 2008 market crash, it took a long time for the residential property market to fully recover. With commercial property, there tends to be larger fluctuations in market prices and trends, such as the increasing prevalence of e-commerce which has had an impact on commercial property prices. Although this trend may result in a shift in demand for retail units, it is causing a surge in demand for other types of commercial properties. Compared to traditional brick and mortar stores, e-commerce is a more labour intensive process requiring more warehouse space, which may signal a trend towards more logistics based commercial spaces. We have also seen that with the increasing trend of working from home, commercial office space is heading more towards more premium units in higher quality and more strategic locations, with an added focus on employee satisfaction. This demonstrates that commercial property is a solid investment option, so long as the buyer looks at the current market conditions and makes an informed decision about where and how to invest. (Take a look at our 2021 Q1 report which provides a more in depth insight into the current market trends).  

Tenant behaviour

With commercial property, landlords deal with a company rather than an individual. As such the relationships tend to be more professional, with both parties seeing the process as more transactional. With business being the primary objective of both parties, it can make the relationships more efficient. What’s more, commercial landlords tend to have more protection under the law if the tenant fails to meet their contractual obligations, giving the landlord an added layer of security.

Residential real estate can typically be considered higher maintenance and more hands on than commercial properties, and as such commercial properties are generally easier to manage. In a commercial property, day to day maintenance issues are usually handled by the tenant. Further to this, companies typically operate normal working hours, and as such any issues that may arise with the property is handled within a working week and during the day. With residential, on the other hand, landlords can expect to be called at any time on any day.  This is definitely something to consider if you are aiming to make property investment a primary income stream or if you are planning on buying multiple units. If dealing with multiple residential properties, investors may want to consider employing a property management company to deal with maintenance issues, something that may not be required for commercial properties.

A commercial property investment may seem like an intimidating prospect, however the rewards can outweigh the risks. Whilst it is important to understand that investing in commercial property is not the same as investing in residential, both have risks and benefits associated with them. Before deciding to make an investment in commercial real estate, it would be a good idea to sit down with an experienced commercial broker or specialists in commercial property investment. A good broker will talk you through your different options and aid you through the buying process. 

For more information about property investments, please contact our team or check our properties available for sale.