Is it time to consider investing in commercial properties?

shop commercial

With our residential property markets reaching a  more mature stage of the property cycle, some investors are wondering if it’s worthwhile considering commercial property.

They see that these are the type of properties owned by people in the BRW Rich 200 list and the big institutions; and they hear of high rental yields, long term leases and tenants paying the outgoings.

This makes commercial property sound very appealing.

So let’s do a Q&A to find out a bit more:

Q: What are commercial properties?

A: Commercial properties consist of shops (retail) factories and warehouses (industrial) and office space (commercial).

My experience shows that commercial real estate has both historically, and especially in times of economic turbulence, proven to be significantly more risky for investors than residential real estate.

Q: What’s the fundamental difference between the 2 types of investment?

A: They are very different investment vehicles.

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Residential property is a high growth,  low yield investment while commercial property is a higher yielding but low growth investment.

The values of commercial properties are yield driven rather than (owner occupier) demand driven in residential property and fluctuate over time related to yields available from other investments and the prevailing interest rates.

As most commercial rental increases are usually pegged to the rise in the C.P.I. your rent increases at around 2% or 3% each year stifling your capital growth.

Then when the economy falters and businesses languish commercial property tends to be out of favour and drop in value.

Q: If the total return is similar, why not go for the investment with the higher cash flow, in other words commercial investments?

A: The fundamental job of property investors is to build themselves a substantial asset base to one day create a “cash machine” to replace their personal exertion income.

This is much easier to do with capital growth, which is not taxed, than with cash flow which is taxed.

Q: How else does commercial property investment differ from residential real estate investment?

A: There are considerable differences between the two types of property which may make them a less safe option for beginning real estate investors.:-

  • Commercial properties tend to yield a higher return than residential properties – usually between 7% and 10% net compared to residential properties which yield 4.5% to 5% gross (then you subtract rates taxes insurance etc.) Professional investors require a higher rental return to make up for this type of property’s inferior capital growth and longer vacancy factors.
  • With commercial properties the tenants usually pay all the outgoings such as rates, taxes and insurance.
  • Because your tenant conducts their business from your commercial property, they tend to look after it better by maintaining the property including painting it and most leases require the tenant bring the property back to it’s original condition at the end of the lease.
  • Leases for commercial properties tend to be for longer periods, often 3 to 5 years as opposed to the one year lease you can get from a residential tenant.
  • However when vacancies occur in commercial properties they are often for considerably longer periods than the week or 2 you may have a residential property vacant. How often have you seen a shop in your local shopping center vacant for months on end? And when you do find a tenant you often have to offer them an incentive such as a rent free period or a fit-out to entice them to lease your property.
  • investment property 2Lenders will usually only lend up to 70% of the value of commercial properties and I don’t know of any mortgage insurers who will lend on commercial property.
  • Interest rates for a loan on commercial properties are usually higher than for residential properties- sometimes around 1% higher.
  • Investors need significantly more equity to purchase a commercial property. Partly because a bigger deposit is required and also because a good commercial property usually costs significantly more than a house or apartment. Sure you can buy cheap shops or factories in secondary centers, but they will usually have secondary tenants who are more likely to go broke and leave you with a vacancy.
  • The cycle for commercial properties is different to that for residential properties and is more dependent on the general economic factors than the residential market.
  • The lease required for a commercial property is a much more complex and is often prepared by a lawyer.
  • It’s easier for the average investor to pick a top performing residential investment. Most know what to look for in a residential property but few would know what a tenant looks for in a good commercial or industrial property unless they have conducted their own business from one.

While I have a substantial commercial property portfolio I wish I had moved into commercial property a little later in my investment life as this type of property is more suitable for investors who already have a substantial asset base and have transitioned to the cash flow stage of their lives.

It could also make a great investment in your Self Managed Super Fund if you have substantial equity in it.

Want more of this type of information?


Michael is a director of Metropole Property Strategists who create wealth for their clients through independent, unbiased property advice and advocacy. He's been voted Australia's leading property investment adviser and his opinions are regularly featured in the media. Visit

'Is it time to consider investing in commercial properties?' have 4 comments

  1. October 19, 2012 @ 6:34 am Mary Brownell

    Hello Michael. An interesting article on the merits of investing in commercial property. I am wondering what you mean by your statement “A: The fundamental job of property investors is to build themselves a substantial asset base to one day create a “cash machine” to replace their personal exertion income. This is much easier to do with capital growth, which is not taxed, than with cash flow which is taxed.” As far as I’m aware capital gains tax is payable on properties sold other than PPRs. Are you referring to the method of making capital growth and taking your equity out as deposit for the next property? If so capital gains tax is eventually payable on the growth when the property is sold. I’m guessing that what you mean is that it is a tax delayed strategy? Also of course as currently structured in SMSFs there is neither income nor capital gains tax payable on the sale of commercial properties when one is in pension phase. Perhaps you could clarify this for me? Kind regards, Mary Brownell


    • October 19, 2012 @ 8:20 am Michael Yardney

      Mary, If you’ve read any of my books or been to my seminars, you’d know that my ( and many other wealthy property investors’) strategy is to grow a substantial asset base and then live off the equity of your portfolio.
      You’re right that tax is delayed in this strategy but it’s also usually avoided (legally) as the intention is not to sell in the end , but to lower your Loan to Value ration and live off your equity. This proven strategy is explained in by book – How to grow a multi million dollar property portfolio – in your spare time


  2. October 25, 2012 @ 4:36 pm Stu

    Thanks for another in a long line of very interesting and well written articles!
    I own 4 residential properties in capital cities, and am considering buying a freehold coastal motel (both the property and the business) to be run by myself and my wife, in lieu of our current jobs. Does this motel investment concept fit squarely into your idea of commercial property? After reading this article (and not meaning to request professional investor-specific advice which I will commission before proceeding) I am wondering if you would generally caution against motel purchase and management?


    • October 25, 2012 @ 5:33 pm Michael Yardney

      There are 2 parts to this – a motel is a business and depending upon the size – if it’s small its really just a job, but may come with lifestyle.
      The property of the motel is a very specialized type of commercial property and therefore is not a preferred type of investment


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