Investing in Real Estate: Should You Buy Residential or Commercial Property?

By Frank Gallinelli

We hear this often: “What’s the smarter move? Residential or commercial investment property?” It should come as no surprise that there isn’t a one-word answer to this question. You’ll arrive at your best choice – the one that maximizes your chances for success – by working through a decision process that includes some “global” issues, some local and some that are entirely personal.

Definitions

 

Let’s start with some terminology. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll define as residential any property that derives all or nearly all of its income from dwelling units. Single-family homes, multi-families, apartment buildings, condos, co-ops are all residential. (FYI, the tax code classifies any property in which 80% or more of the gross income comes from dwelling units as residential, so many mixed-use properties can be classified as residential for tax purposes.)

For commercial property, we’ll use a typical layman’s definition: property that derives its income from non-residential sources, such as offices, retail space and industrial tenants.

Why do I say that this is the layman’s definition? Because appraisers and lenders would consider large (>4 unit) apartment buildings to be commercial investment property since they are bought and sold strictly for their ability to produce income and not as a potential personal residence for the owner/investor. However, it will suit our discussion better to treat all apartment buildings as residential properties.  

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