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How to Find Commercial Real Estate Cap Rates (Formula)

commercial real estate cap rate
Matt Carrigan

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One way to evaluate a pipeline acquisition property’s income-generating potential is by calculating its commercial real estate cap rate. The commercial real estate cap rate of a property offers a glimpse into both the risk and return, helping investors to predict how it will fare compared to other similar market properties. In other words, the cap rate illustrates the potential ROI.

In this blog post, we’ll explain what commercial real estate cap rate means, how to calculate it, and how to seamlessly analyze investment deals by easily surfacing comparable cap rates.

What Does Cap Rate Mean in Commercial Real Estate? (Definition)

The commercial real estate cap rate, or the capitalization rate, is the return rate figure that CRE investors use to gauge the risk and potential return of an asset or property. Cap rates are expressed as percentages, usually from 3-20%. This risk is measured based on the amount of time it takes for an investor to recover their initial investment.

When a cap rate is low, the property generally has a relatively higher value and lower risk. High cap rates, conversely, indicate that the property has a lower price, but also a higher return (and risk). 

While cap rates help investors understand the property’s potential, they won’t necessarily provide value in a vacuum. Instead, cap rates are best used as a comparison tool against similar properties. Even if you don’t close on a given deal, retaining that cap rate adds context for future benchmarking and analysis.

While the cap rate is an invaluable metric to consider for pipeline pipeline acquisitions, it’s far from an end-all metric. Among other limitations, the commercial real estate cap rate doesn’t take a mortgage or financing arrangement into consideration. Instead, it assumes a cash purchase. This figure is based exclusively on current rents, without considering external factors like: 

  • Leverage
  • The time value of money
  • Improvements or renovations

For this reason, cap rates don’t necessarily capture the property’s full market potential. To make these analyses more holistic, investors also consider other metrics, like the internal rate of return.

Because the net operating income changes as rents increase, additional tenants sign, or operating costs fluctuate, cap rates are not fixed. This term is specific to commercial real estate, though investors in other markets use similar metrics to weigh investments. Multiples are a similar measure of risk in the private equity market. 

How to Calculate Cap Rate for Commercial Real Estate (Formula)

How do you calculate the commercial real estate cap rate for a property?

The most common way to calculate a commercial real estate cap rate is:

NOI/current property value= capitalization rate

To convert this figure to a cap rate, simply multiply by 100.

You can calculate the net operating income by deducting management-related expenses from the annual income generated by the property. These expenses can include both standard upkeep and taxes. The current market value is simply the property’s value given the current market conditions, which you can calculate in a few different ways:

Commercial Real Estate Cap Rate Example

For example, if the property generates $500,000 in income after expenses, and the current value is $5,000,000, then the cap rate is 10%. In other words, the investor is earning 10% of their investment on an annual basis. Because the cap rate is 10%, it will take the investor ten years to recover their initial investment.

Values

Deal #1

Deal #2

Deal #3

Net Operating Income

$500,000

$750,000

$1,850,000

Current Property Value

$5,000,000

$9,000,000

$12,000,000

Capitalization Rate

10%

8.3%

15%

Investment Recovery Time

10 Years

12 Years

7 Years

Relative Risk Level

Medium

Low

High

While you can also find the cap rate by dividing NOI by the purchase price, this method is less popular and reliable. Purchase prices are often dated, especially if the property has undergone significant renovations or market dynamics have changed since the last purchase. It also eliminates considerations about market conditions.

Fortunately, surfacing cap rates doesn’t require extensive research or digging for spreadsheets. Real estate investment management software like Dealpath enables deal teams to seamlessly screen deals based on cap rates and other metrics based on filters. Instead of spending 30 minutes to locate one comp, you can compare one deal against multiple comps in just a few minutes.

What Is a Good Capitalization Rate for Commercial Real Estate?

Naturally, the goal of calculating cap rates is to determine whether or not a deal aligns with investment goals. So, what’s a good cap rate?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Cap rates are best used for market comparisons, rather than isolated evaluations. There are many moving factors that can influence whether or not an investor considers a cap rate “good”.

Rather than examining cap rates in a vacuum, your goal should be to compare pipeline property cap rates against historical comp cap rates to understand if the sale price aligns with your investment strategy. 

For example, a high-risk investor might consider a 15% cap rate in San Diego ideal. Conversely, a low-risk investor might shy away from higher cap rates, opting instead for deals with 9% cap rates that yield lower returns.

Average Cap Rate By Property Class (Class A, Class B & Class C)

While there may not be a magic number you should strive for across the board, there are benchmarks depending on the property type, class, and location, among other factors.

There are three basic property classes: A, B, and C. While the distinction is subjective, the bottom line is simple. Class A properties are the most expensive and carry the lowest risk. Class C properties, on the other hand, are the least expensive with the highest risk. Finally, class B properties sit in the middle. These distinctions are subject to interpretation, but help create a baseline for evaluation.

According to First National Realty Partners, average cap rates by property class are:

  • Class A: 4-8%
  • Class B: 6-9%
  • Class C: 7-10%

As previously mentioned, though, these figures can vary significantly by the location and the asset class. For example, multifamily properties may have lower cap rates than office buildings on average, as they are generally lower-risk investments.

What Factors Affect the Cap Rate?

Overall, the commercial real estate cap rate is a representation of the property’s potential risk and return. Some of the factors that influence the cap rate are:

  • The length and rate of existing leases: Unlike properties with short-term leases, properties with long-term leases are guaranteed to generate consistent income for a longer period of time. Properties with shorter leases may lose income streams sooner, which results in higher risk. On the opposite side of the coin, leases below market rent value that are set to expire soon may be increased to meet current market standards, raising NOI.
  • Credit scores: Tenants with lower credit scores are typically at a higher risk of defaulting on their lease. For this reason, portfolios with higher-credit tenants face a lower risk of default, lowering cap rates.
  • Location: Properties that are located in larger urban centers, like New York and San Francisco, generally have higher prices than properties in smaller cities like Minneapolis. Given the higher selling prices, cap rates in larger cities tend to be lower.
  • Replacement cost: When a building is valued at or below the cost of developing a comparable property, it generally earns a lower cap rate. Conversely, properties valued above the replacement cost have a higher cap rate, as investors could instead choose to simply develop a similar building.
  • Property type: Various property types have different levels of risk associated with them. Filling vacancies in multifamily properties is often easier than those in other asset classes like office buildings, meaning cap rates are lower.
  • Property class: As outlined above, property classes are broken down based on the building’s state and implied risk. Class A buildings, which are more valuable and carry lower risk, have lower cap rates than class C buildings, which are less valuable and carry higher risk.

Understanding The Purpose of Cap Rates: What Do They Tell You?

Cap rates provide investors with insight into the risk they take on in purchasing it, as well as the return it could generate. Most importantly, cap rates act as a crucial benchmark for investors to compare against other assets on the market and to identify trends. Cap rates not only help investors calculate how much they stand to gain, but also how long it will take to reach that point.

Comparing Purchase Prices on Pipeline Acquisitions

All investment decisions should be guided by data. Commercial real estate cap rates provide tremendous insight into risk and return, as well as market trends. Looking at cap rates prior to an investment helps investors understand how a property stacks up against historical comps, too. 

Low cap rates indicate that properties will generate healthy income streams relative to their market value. High cap rates, on the other hand, indicate a higher-risk acquisition, without as much income compared to cost. However, one isn’t necessarily better than the other–investors with different strategies act on unique criteria.

Considering Refinancing Options on Existing Assets

Because cap rates provide an (albeit limited) indication of a property’s value, they can be useful in considering refinancing. When investors are looking to save money by restructuring mortgage agreements, cap rates can indicate the property’s value through the loan-to-value evaluation. This helps investors understand if refinancing is possible, and to what extent it can help offset repayment costs.

Terminal (Exit) Cap Rates

Beyond immediate operating income from rents, investors also consider the long-term return of a property. Financial models can help investors predict a property’s value at the time of sale, or disposition, after development and at the end of the holding period. 

While terminal cap rates accomplish the same basic function as standard cap rates, the formula is different. Instead of using the current market value, you can divide NOI by the expected sale price to calculate the exit cap rate.

For a deeper, more thorough analysis of these figures, some investors create models that take into account other factors, including:

  • Purchase price
  • Projected income and expenses (taking growth into consideration)
  • Closing costs
  • Senior debt
  • Exit price
  • Overall projected profit

Cap Rate Vs. ROI

Both the cap rate and the return on investment, or ROI, are valuable financial benchmarks that guide investment decisions. Where cap rates indicate relative risk levels, though, the return on investment actually quantifies the return that you can expect. For this reason, ROI is more valuable when projecting annual or quarterly returns, while cap rates are better for comparative benchmarking.

7 Ways To Augment Your Existing Commercial Real Estate Pipeline Process

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Matt Carrigan

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