Commercial Real Estate Loan Rates: How Are They Determined?

commercial real estate loan rates

There are many things to account for when taking out a loan for commercial real estate, and one of the most important elements to pay attention to is the rate. A loan’s interest rate is the amount charged by the lender to the borrower for the use of assets, and is expressed as a percentage of the loan capital.

There are a number of variables to consider when looking at interest rates for a potential loan—including whether it is fixed or variable and whether or not it is fully amortized. But how are loan rates determined, and what outside factors influence them? Understanding the rationale behind commercial real estate loan rates will help you make a more informed decision when the time comes to choose a lender.

Step 1: Look at the Economy

One of the biggest factors that affect the interest rate of a loan are the current economic conditions. Interest rates are generally set in relation to the prime rate. The prime rate is the rate banks charge their customers for short- and medium-term credit. (You will see notations such as “Prime + 1.5,” which means 1.5% above prime rate.)

Every lender can set its own prime rate, but most banks use the rate The Wall Street Journal compiles from the country’s 30 largest banks. These 30 banks, in turn, strongly base their decisions on the Federal Funds Target Rate, set by the Federal Reserve Board, which is adjusted when necessary to best limit inflation.

The prime rate in mid-September 2017 was 4.25%. This is low from an historical perspective, although the rate was 3.5% a year earlier. For example, in August 1984, it was 13%.

prime rate chartThe interest rate for the Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loan is based on the market rate for 5 and 10-year U.S. Treasury issues, and is not actually set until the loan is funded. Your conventional lender provides a bridge loan to cover the cost of construction or purchasing during project implementation. The 504 loan is then closed after project completion. At that point, the 504 loan is submitted to the SBA and pooled in a monthly debenture sale. This means that private investors buy that debt, and are the ones who provide the actual money for the 504 loans.

The interest rate on the 504 loan is set at that time.  Treasury issues follow a trajectory set by the market. This is not identical to the course of the prime rate, but it is often close to it. Using the Treasury issue rate as a base, an interest spread is negotiated with the investors. Since the borrower makes a monthly payment and the investors receive semi-annual payments, the borrower’s rate is lower than the Treasury rate plus the spread. Two small fees are added to the borrower’s payments. They go to the SBA and CDC.

Step 2: Look at the Lender and Loan

Conventional lenders will take a few factors into account when determining the final rate they offer. These factors can include:

  • Prevailing rates based on the prime rate, or Treasury issues in the case of the SBA
  • Your personal credit rating and the rating of your business
  • The term of the loan, since longer loans generally have higher interest rates
  • Other conditions on the loan, such as the size of the down payment or whether the interest rate is fixed or variable

Commercial banks will take these things into account and determine a rate for your loan individually. They are the most selective about who they will lend to, so their rates tend to be more favorable among conventional lenders.

Companies that provide loans but are not banks are called independent or private lenders. The lender is going to make a decision based more on the property you are buying rather than your creditworthiness. Loans of this kind usually have the shortest terms and highest interest.

Conditions on 504 loans are much more uniform than those of conventional lenders. All borrowers with loans that fund in the same month receive the same rate on their loans, and terms don’t vary. These loans are administered by a Certified Development Company (CDC), a nonprofit organization set up specifically for that purpose. The CDC partners with a conventional lender to create a loan package with three parts:

  • The first part is a loan from a conventional lender for 50% of the total amount. You and that lender determine the amount and conditions of that loan, which becomes your first mortgage.
  • Your CDC facilitates a separate SBA loan of 40% of the total, up to $5 or $5.5 million, at a fixed rate for 10 or 20 years. This will be your second mortgage.
  • Then you, the borrower, will contribute 10% to the loan. Certain types of facilities are classified as single-purpose properties by the SBA and require a 15% down payment.
  • 50% - Conventional Lender
  • 40% - CDC
  • 10% - Borrower

While the conditions of the 504 loan are less flexible, they are also consistently better than most commercial offerings. The interest rate on the 504 loan is fixed and lower than the typical bank rates and the down payment is much lower.

Step 3: Look at Other Conditions Affecting the Cost of Your Loan

Make sure to keep an eye out for other costs hiding behind your interest rate. If your interest rate is variable, it can be reset at certain intervals (usually every few years) to reflect current economic conditions. Which means that if the prime rate goes up, then your variable interest rate will too. Most loans granted by commercial banks have variable rates. SBA 504 loans always come with a fixed interest rate, which means they stay the same through the life of your 10 or 20 year loan, no matter where prevailing rates go.

Another potential cost is a balloon payment. This occurs when the term of the loan is shorter than the period of amortization. What that means is that you may receive a loan with a repayment period (or term) of 20 years but an amortization period of 7 years. You would maintain that loan for 7 years and at the end of the seventh year you would have a payment due that would cover the remaining 13 years of the loan all at once. This is a common practice for commercial banks.

For example, let’s say you had a conventional loan that looked like this:

balloon payment rates

As you can see from the chart above, at the end of the seventh year you would have a payment due of about $610,000. That’s a whole lot of money for a small business to pay all at once! If you can’t pay this balloon payment, you can refinance the loan and roll the $610,000 over into a new loan with different, and often more expensive conditions. The effect is much like the reset of the variable interest rate: the conditions of your loan change in ways that you cannot predict in advance. Refinancing can add several percentage points onto the overall cost of the loan.

In order to avoid balloon payments, you should be looking for loans where the term of the loan and its amortization period are the same. That way, you can make payments as initially agreed upon until the loan is paid off. This is called full amortization. All 504 loans are fully amortized.

The 504 loan deserves careful consideration when you are looking for a commercial real estate loan. It has clear advantages when compared to conventional offers. You can find out much more about the 504 loan by consulting TMC Financing. TMC has a staff of experienced 504 loan experts who would be happy to assist you as you examine your financing choices and to guide you through the 504 loan process. Contact a TMC Financing loan expert today.

Kurt Chambliss is Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for TMC Financing, focused on serving small business clients throughout San Francisco’s East Bay. With over 16 years of SBA 504 lending industry experience, Kurt seamlessly guides clients through the loan process helping to secure SBA financing for small businesses and introducing them to the best first mortgage lenders that meet the clients’ needs, supporting them through the entire process. Kurt acts as an advocate for small business owners, and is passionate about helping small businesses grow and succeed.
Kurt Chambliss