I had a lot of great questions come in over the past week that covered topics such as construction loan interest calculations, multifamily financing, hotel financing, and private money lenders.  The one that was the most interesting concerned small business real estate financing.

Buying real estate for your small business offer you, as the business owner, several advantages over leasing.  The first advantage is that financing the real estate purchases helps small business grow into larger business by preserving capital during expansion.  Growing a business is a cash management balancing act and the less money buried in facilities means more money for the other necessary functions.

The second advantage is tax related.  Funds to support the business can be diverted to help your personal portfolio by building equity in the commercial real estate housing the business.  The lease payment that benefited your former landlord is now helping you reduce current business income from a tax standpoint, yet keeping it in your pocket through your real estate.  Many owners take the property in their personal names and have the business pay rent to them .  Some even have additional tenants to supplement the cash flow.

The third advantage relates potentially to your estate.  If the property is in personal name and the business is unwound, sold, or terminated for any reason, that asset is not part of the business transaction.  This can simplify an otherwise complex situation.

There are two types of small business real estate loans.  One is guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the other we’ll call “conventional.”  Both offer a business owner a loan amount up to 90% of the purchase price of the property used for the business.  The government guaranteed financing tends to have a somewhat lower rate, but requires a great deal more paperwork.  Conventional financing is the more flexible by offering different documentation requirements and potentially faster funding.

Conventional Small Business Real Estate Financing

In recent years, some lenders have created SBA “look-alike” or conventional programs that have fewer restrictions then SBA-guaranteed financing.  For example, they allow the owner-user to occupy less space in the property then the 51% required by the SBA, allow for reduced or “E-Z” documentation (no tax returns), and don’t require additional collateral such as a primary residence.  Depending upon the type of property that is being financed, conventional small business real estate loans may allow as much as 90% loan-to-value (LTV) financing, although some special purpose property types, such as hotels, restaurants, and gas stations are limited to lower LTVs.  Construction to permanent loans are also available on a conventional basis, allowing a business owner to custom design a property for the needs of the business.

The Small Business Administration

The small Business Administration is a quasi-governmental agency established to assist small business owners abstain financing for their business operations.  The primary form of collateral for SBA loan is owner-user business real estate.  SBA funds can be used for a variety of purposes including the acquisition of business real estate, business property, operating capital and any other legitimate business purpose.

SBA loans are typically used for single-use or single-tenant properties where the owner of the property is the owner of the business using the property.  The SBA’s rule of thumb is that 51% of the property must be used by the owner-operator to qualify for the agency’s guarantee.  There are often other restrictions placed upon the owner to obtain this financing such as: Annual reporting and cross-collateralization with the owner’s primary residence.  The SBA finances office buildings, retail centers, automotive centers, warehouses, light industrial (manufacturing) facilities and a host of other property types.

Most federally regulated financial institutions offer some form of SBA guaranteed financing.  It’s too profitable for them to pass up.  Unfortunately, not all of them are good at it.

Realistically, you should be in business at least two full profitable years and have another three to five years of history working in that business if your business is new.  You’ll need to show a lender how the new property will benefit your business through projections and in particular, the SBA is always concerned with how many new employees you are likely to hire.  In the final analysis, there is a wider range of financing options for the small business owner today than ever before.  If the opportunity presents itself to you, small business real estate usually makes sense for both the business and to the owner as a personal wealth building tool.