Whether you’re a subdivision developer embarking on a new project or an office building owner looking to refinance, chances are you’ll need a commercial real estate loan. Unlike residential real estate, commercial real estate refers to property that’s used for business, such as a hotel or mall space. The typical commercial real estate loan borrower might be a business owner (including small business owners), developers or investors. Commercial real estate loans work differently than residential mortgages in terms of underwriting, structure, interest rates and fees, and there are several types to choose from.

What is a commercial real estate loan?

A commercial real estate (CRE) loan is typically used to purchase, construct, rehabilitate or refinance commercial, industrial and other non-owner-occupied property. That can include office buildings, multi-unit rental buildings, medical facilities, warehouses, hotels or vacant land on which one or more of these types of properties can be built.

Commercial mortgages can also be used to buy and develop land on which single- or multi-family homes will be constructed and sold.

Unlike a residential mortgage, the underlying asset for a commercial loan is not a primary residence. Instead, the commercial lender underwrites based on the income — such as rent from tenants — and expenses that the property will generate.

“Ideal candidates to pursue a commercial real estate loan include borrowers who either own the property and are seeking to lower their interest rate by refinancing or seek to obtain capital through a cash-out refinance,” explains Chris Moreno, CEO of GoKapital, Inc., based in Miami. “Also, investors who are interested in working with commercial properties and diversifying their portfolio should explore this type of loan option. Furthermore, business owners who rent a location and qualify for a commercial real estate loan may be better off obtaining financing to purchase their business property.”

Commercial real estate loan types

Loan type What to know
Conventional commercial real estate loan Offered by banks and other lenders, with terms ranging from five to 30 years, interest rates as low as 3 percent and a minimum down payment of up to 20 percent
Commercial bridge loan Offered by various lenders as a means to bridge the financing gap until longer-term financing is found; terms usually span up to two years, with only a 10 to 20 percent down payment often required
SBA 7(a) loan Up to $5 million over a max term of 25 years
SBA 504 loan Comprises both a Certified Development Company (CDC) loan portion for up to 40 percent of the loan balance plus a bank loan for up to 50 percent of the loan balance; collective maximum balance is $5 million
CMBS or conduit loan Part of a pool of commercial real estate loans (a commercial mortgage-backed security, or CMBS) sold on the secondary market; most conduit lenders finance a max of $3 million, and terms usually span five to 10 years with an amortization of 20 to 30 years
Hard money loan Works like a bridge loan but is typically offered by a private lender

“If you’re looking to close on a transaction quickly or have less-than-perfect credit, you’ll probably have to work with a private lender,” Moreno says.

Commercial real estate loans are also categorized by asset classes. These include apartment buildings, office buildings, medical buildings, industrial buildings and multi-unit versus single-tenant assets.

“All of these are evaluated differently by the lender,” explains Barry Saywitz, president of The Saywitz Company, a commercial real estate brokerage based in Newport Beach, California. “The value of the asset will be determined by the appraisal required, and the appraisal will be determined based on the quality of the tenant, their credit, payment history and rental rate, and the condition of the building and expenses involved.”

Commercial vs. residential loan

Commercial loan

  • Used for development and business properties
  • Underwriting relies on the business financial plan
  • Typically shorter payoff periods

Residential loan

  • Used for personal residences
  • Underwriting relies on personal finances of the borrower
  • Typically longer payoff periods

Like a residential mortgage, a commercial mortgage can be used to purchase or refinance a property. Commercial real estate loans, however, typically come with a shorter term than a residential mortgage loan. A commercial loan could have fixed rate for five years and a 15-year term, amortized over 20 years, for example, explains James Sandagato, vice president and commercial team leader with Cornerstone Bank in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“The interest rate would adjust every five years, and the balance would be due at the end of the 15-year term, which is referred to as a balloon note,” Sandagato says. “The balance could then be repaid at the end of the term, or the loan can be renewed on rates, terms and conditions to be determined at that time.”

By contrast, most residential mortgages come with fixed interest rates and are usually repaid over 15, 20 or 30 years.

Commercial loan lenders also look to the property, not the borrower, as the source of debt repayment.

“With a residential loan, the lender underwrites the repayment capacity of the borrower by analyzing his or her income and creditworthiness,” says Suzanne Hollander, a real estate attorney and professor at Miami-based Florida International University[SDV4] . “A commercial loan lender looks at the debt service coverage ratio from the income the property will generate.”

In addition, the fees and closing costs involved with a commercial real estate loan are commonly much higher than those for a residential mortgage, along with the down payment. Count on making a down payment of at least 20 percent, although up to 45 percent could be required.

The appraisal process is different, as well, Saywitz says. A commercial real estate appraiser will review the property’s potential rental income, comparable sales and prospective replacement costs. This generally takes longer than a residential appraisal that often merely examines comparable sales in the area.

When it comes to interest rates, too, expect to pay more for a commercial mortgage if you’re obtaining it through a private lender, says Moreno.

“Conventional lenders will typically offer rates today ranging from 3.5 percent to 5 percent and require a credit score of at least 680 for conventional commercial financing,” Moreno says. “Private lenders, on the other hand, generally offer rates from 7 percent to 12 percent.”

Commercial real estate loan rates for investment properties

Commercial loan rates vary by the type of property they’re being used for and the prospective income that property will generate. Keep in mind, commercial buyers could be responsible to put much more money down than regular homebuyers, because commercial lenders often require lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. Just like with residential loans, commercial loan interest rates are determined by a variety of factors and adjust frequently based on market conditions.

A commercial real estate loan isn’t the only way to finance an investment property, however. Borrowers who already own property and have adequate equity might be able to uncover the capital needed for a down payment via a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), or even a cash-out refinance. There are other options, as well, including margin loans and peer-to-peer lending. Some borrowers might get creative with a life insurance policy.

How to get a commercial real estate loan

The process of pursuing and applying for financing for a commercial property involves several steps.

  1. Assess the commercial property’s financials carefully. “Lenders will not only review your personal credit history and financials, but they will also evaluate the underlying asset thoroughly,” Moreno says.
  2. Determine the type of commercial loan you need and shop around. If you have a strong credit profile and your financials are in good shape, you should be able to work with a bank.
  3. Complete a commercial real estate loan application. You’ll need to provide documentation such as three years’ worth of personal and business tax returns, a personal financial statement, personal balance sheet and historical income and expenses for the property. “[This] can also include the property seller’s Schedule E from their federal tax return or a financial statement prepared by the seller,” Sandagato says. Also, be ready to furnish a current listing of each tenant, the space they occupy, tenancy commencement dates, lease details and lease agreements.
  4. Await the loan processing and underwriting. The lender will use the information you provide to substantiate the property’s ability to repay the debt. “In general, lenders are looking for the property to be able to support a debt service coverage ratio of 1.2 to 1,” Sandagato says. “What that means is, for every $1 in mortgage debt on an annual basis, there is $1.20 in cash flow to support it.”
  5. Close on the loan. Closing a commercial loan can often take longer than it would for a residential mortgage. “Remember that the lender views a loan to purchase commercial property as more risky than residential, so they need to do their due diligence,” Hollander says.

Commercial real estate loans FAQ

  • The cost of virtually every financial product could be impacted by what happens in the economy, including commercial real estate loans. In general, when borrowing rates tick up — whether due to inflation or other factors — commercial real estate loan rates also rise.
  • The repayment term for a commercial real estate loan typically ranges from five to 15 years.
  • If a borrower is denied a CRE loan, the first step is to learn why. If it’s due to credit or debt issues, the borrower should work through those prior to reapplying. A commercial loan lender might also deny an application because the business attached to the property isn’t financially viable. If that’s the case, and the borrower has a sizable portfolio, the borrower might be able to use one or more of those other properties as supplemental collateral to get the loan approved.
  • CRE loans are specifically geared toward commercial properties — that is, properties used for business purposes, such as office or retail space. For a residential property, the borrower would need to take out a residential mortgage, such as a conventional purchase loan. However, if the borrower intends to use the financing for a mixed-use property, which has both commercial and residential purposes, a commercial loan might be one option.

Bottom line

Commercial real estate loans are ideal for business owners, investors and developers. If you’re in need of one for a project you’re planning, you’ll want to connect with a lender who specializes in this kind of financing.