10 things to consider if you're a tenant wanting to buy a commercial or industrial building

I work with a lot of tenant’s and something I commonly hear from them is that their goal is to buy a building. Owning commercial or industrial real estate can be an excellent investment and a worthwhile pursuit, however, I have discovered that most tenant’s with this goal aren’t aware of what is required to buy a building when they make this statement. Not only do I do commercial and industrial leasing, I also do sales, and I want tenant’s to know what the process is like not because I want to discourage them, but because it’s a process that is approached best with eyes open and expectations realistic. I would say most tenant’s abandon this pursuit after learning about the requirements and the process.

To start, the biggest thing you need to know is that getting a commercial real estate mortgage is way different than getting a mortgage for your home for many reasons. It’s common to encounter large downpayment requirements, fees, appraisals, an environmental site assessment etc. which adds time to the approval process. Many residential mortgages achieve approval within a couple weeks, but on the commercial side it could take months. Below is a list of things to consider before you even start looking at properties for sale.

1) High Downpayment Requirements - Probably the most notable obstacle for buying any real estate is ensuring you have enough for a downpayment. In comparison to residential mortgages that can offer a great deal of flexibility on the down payment requirements, it’s common to see a demand of 25% - 40% downpayment. I’ve met many business owners that have assumed this requirement can be much lower and have come to realize they just don’t have the ability to put together that much cash. There may be some flexible exceptions out there through private lending options or through the BDC that can present better options for buyer/users but this is dependent on the business.

2) Bigger Deposits - With bigger downpayment requirements comes the need for bigger deposits (and for other reasons). It’s common for knowledgeable commercial real estate brokers to try and achieve a deposit around 10%. Why? Commercial sales can take a long time to come together and if you’re expecting to tie up someones property with lengthy conditions you need to prove that you’re worth the wait, and, show that you obviously have a good chunk of cash ready for a downpayment. If you’re expecting to tie up a property with a few grand, you may be perceived as unrealistic.

3) Longer Closings - In comparison to home sales which can go firm within a couple weeks, it’s common for commercial sales to take a couple months, sometimes even longer depending on the structure of the deal. The main culprit for longer deals is usually the financing where lenders request environmental site assessments that can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete. It would be wise to expect occupancy of the building to be months into the future, don’t expect to be moving your business in within the span of a month. It’s not impossible, just very unlikely.

4) Different Mortgage Requirements - In addition to high down payment requirements, commercial mortgages are typically structured differently. The interest rates are different from residential and it’s not common to get an amortization period as long as you could achieve in a residential mortgage. Not only are the down payments higher, your mortgage payments will be higher with having to pay the building off sooner. It’s also common to come across fees in the process of commercial lending which is not something you typically encounter when buying a house.

5) Environmental Site Assessments - In Canada (and probably most of the United States) it is standard for commercial mortgage lenders to request an ESA for commercial and industrial properties to prove it is within ministry of environment standards. Most times it is standard for the seller to prove the property is within MOE standards so the cost of the report usually falls on them, but, this condition can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete which can create a lengthy conditional period and a potentially drawn out closing. Things usually get drawn out and costly if contamination is discovered.

6) Lender Selection - You would think that most of Canada’s big banks are a great source for a commercial mortgage but few actually specialize or excel in offering this service. If you’re not exactly happy with your preferred bank for commercial mortgages you may want to explore lenders that specifically market themselves for that service.

7) Borrowing Potential - If you think that owning a building might be the best thing for your business, it actually may not be for everyone. Each business only has the potential to borrow so much money and if it’s perceived that most or all of your borrowing potential is tied up in bricks and mortar, it may be difficult or impossible to borrow money for other business purposes, like if you wanted to borrow to upgrade some expensive equipment or make alterations to the property. Unfortunately I have met some tenant’s who have felt that buying a building paralyzed their business growth and regretted their decision. The positive idea of building ownership can make you blind to this potentiality.

8) Lease Payments are Tax Deductible - Mortgage payments… not as much.

9) Cost of Alterations - Unless you’re building new to spec, you will likely find it impossible to find a building that is perfect for your business needs in its current state. Alterations to make sure the building is a good fit for your business are almost always necessary because the previous business was different and had different layout needs than your business. The cost may not necessarily be high in some situations but you will want to make sure you have a proper budget allocated for this after closing.

10) Maintenance and Repairs - As a tenant the building is likely repaired and maintained by arrangements through the landlord or a property management. This is handy because it allows tenant’s to focus on their business and not maintaining a property. Once you buy a building you become the landlord and are now responsible for arranging repairs and maintenance, just something to keep in mind.

If after reading this you feel that buying a building is the right thing for your business then please reach out and lets see if there are some options available for you in the Niagara Market. It would be wise to ensure the agent you’re working with has experience with commercial or industrial real estate sales.