Nine Questions to Ask Before Committing to a New Commercial Real Estate Loan or Multifamily Loan

Property owners sometimes focus almost exclusively on the interest rate and the period for which it is fixed when choosing a new commercial real estate loan or multifamily loan. However, other factors have a significant impact on the “total cost of capital” and can limit or expand owner options later on. Before signing on the dotted line, be sure you have answered these nine questions.

1. What are your plans for the property and your objectives in refinancing?

Choosing the most advantageous financing solution for your apartment or commercial property involves weighing tradeoffs between the terms and conditions of alternative loan options. Making sound choices begins with a clear understanding or your plans for the property and objectives in refinancing. Is it likely that the property will be sold in the future and if so when? Are you reliant on income generated from the property now or are you looking to maximize income from the property in the future, perhaps after retirement? Is there deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed now or in the near future? Is remodeling or other major upgrades or repairs expected in the next 5 to 10 years? Will you need to access the equity in your property for other investments, for example, to purchase another property?

2. What happens after the fixed period?

Some commercial property or multifamily loans become due and payable at the end of the fixed period and others. These are often called “hybrid” loans and they convert to variable rate loans after the fixed period. A commercial real estate loan or multifamily loan that becomes due after the 5, 7 or 10 year fixed period may force refinancing at an unfavorable time. Financial markets may be such that refinancing options are expensive or unavailable. Or local market conditions may have resulted in increased vacancies or reduced rents, making your property less attractive to lenders. Frequently the lowest interest rate deals are for loans that become due at the end of the fixed period and include more restrictive pre-payment penalties (see question #4). Hybrid loans convert to an adjustable rate loan with the new rate being based on a spread over either LIBOR or the prime rate and adjusting every 6 months.

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3. What is the term of the loan and the amortization period?

The term of the loan refers to when the loan becomes due and payable. The amortization period refers to the period of time over which the principal payments are amortized for the purpose of computing the monthly payment. The longer the amortization period the lower the monthly payment will be, all other things being equal. For apartment or multifamily properties, 30 year amortizations are generally available. For commercial properties, 30 year amortizations are more difficult to come by, with many lenders going no longer than 25 years. A loan with a 30 year amortization may have a lower payment than a loan with a 25 year amortization even if it carries a slightly higher interest rate. In most cases the term of the loan is shorter than the amortization period. For example, the loan may be due and payable in ten years, but amortized over 25 years.

4. If loan converts to a variable rate after the fixed period, how is the variable rate determined?

The variable rate is determined based upon a spread or margin over an index rate. The index rate is generally the six-month LIBOR or, less often, the prime rate. The interest rate is computed by adding the spread to the index rate. The spread varies but is most often between 2.5% and 3.5%. The rate adjustment most often occurs every 6 months until the loan becomes due. There is generally a cap on how much the rate can move at an adjustment point. However, some lenders have no cap on the first adjustment. This leaves the owner open to a large payment increase if rates have moved significantly.

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