Commercial Construction Loans: The Ultimate Guide

You’ve reached the point in your business when it’s time to expand. Maybe you’re renting your office space and you’ve decided that it’s time to build your own office building. Perhaps you’ve outgrown your property and you want to add on to your existing space. Your scenario could be completely different: you’re a new business just getting off the ground and you want to build your property from the ground up.

No matter what the circumstances, many businesses face a situation where real estate construction or improvements are the next steps for business expansion. Of course, this expansion comes at a very high cost – a cost that many businesses can’t afford to pay up front. This is when it’s time to consider taking out a commercial construction loan.

As with any other type of financing, it’s important to understand the mechanics behind a commercial construction loan. Read on to learn more about commercial loans, when you should consider applying, and what to expect throughout the application process.

What Is A Commercial Construction Loan?

A commercial construction loan is a type of loan that is used to finance the costs associated with the construction or renovation of a commercial building. The funds from a construction loan can be used to pay for labor and materials for the construction of a new property, the purchase and development of land for a new commercial property, or the renovations of existing properties.

Why Take Out A Commercial Construction Loan?

Business owners that plan to purchase existing commercial properties can get a loan known as a commercial mortgage. However, if you plan to renovate your existing space or construct a new building from the ground up, you’ll need to apply for a commercial construction loan.

New construction and renovations can be expensive — think hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Most growing businesses don’t have this type of cash on hand, so instead, they turn to a commercial construction loan. With commercial construction loans, lenders provide funds throughout the construction process to pay for labor, materials, and land development so you don’t have to cover the costs yourself.

How Commercial Construction Loans Work

Commercial construction loans are different from other loans. Most loans are structured so that the borrower receives the full amount of the loan as one lump sum. Once the loan is received, the borrower begins to pay back the loan through scheduled payments over a set period of time. Commercial mortgages, for example, often have a monthly repayment schedule over 10 years or longer.

With commercial construction loans, the full amount of the loan is not received up front. Instead, the borrower will work with the lender to create a draw schedule. This means that partial amounts of the loan will be released as the project hits new milestones. For example, the first draw will be for the clearing and development of land. The next draw may then occur when the foundation is poured. Another draw will be released when the building has been framed, and so on.

As each milestone is completed, a lender will typically require an inspector to confirm that the work is completed before releasing the next draw. This will continue until all milestones have been completed and the full amount of the loan has been distributed.

With a commercial construction loan, you will only pay interest on the portion of the loan proceeds that have been received. If the total cost of your new construction is $500,000 but the lender has released just $100,000, you will pay interest on $100,000.

Typically, a commercial construction loan is structured so that the borrower pays only the interest until the loan has been fully dispersed. Borrowers can then pay off the principle in one lump sum at the end of the construction project.

But once the project is done and the full amount of the loan is due, what does a borrower do next? Instead of having to make one large payment, the borrower now can receive a commercial mortgage. The property will serve as collateral, and the borrower will use the funds from the commercial mortgage to pay back the commercial construction loan. With the new mortgage, the lender will now be locked into more affordable monthly payments over a longer period of time.

Other commercial construction loans like the Small Business Administration CDC/504 loan provides more long-term options so an additional loan following the completion of the project will not be needed.

Interest Rates

For commercial construction loans, borrowers should expect to pay interest rates between 4% and 12%. Borrowers with the best credit scores will receive the lowest interest rates. The type of lender you work with is also a factor. A commercial construction loan from a bank will typically have the lowest interest rate, while hard money lenders charge more interest for their loans.

Fees

There are several fees that may be associated with taking out a commercial construction loan. The fee types and amounts vary by lender. Some fees you may have to pay for this type of loan include:

  • Guarantee Fees
  • Processing Fees
  • Documentation Fees
  • Project review Fees
  • Fund control Fees

Down Payment

Because a commercial construction loan is a high-risk loan, a down payment is required. By paying a down payment, the borrower takes some of the risk off of the lender. Typically, down payment requirements are 10% to 30% of the total project cost. Rarely will a lender fund 100% of the costs of a commercial construction project.

Conventional lenders use a calculation known as loan-to-cost for commercial construction loans. The loan-to-cost ratio is calculated by dividing the total amount of the loan requested by the total project cost. Let’s say, for example, a business is requesting a loan of $190,000 for a project with a total cost of $200,000. The loan-to-cost in this example would be 95%.

Though requirements vary by lender, most require a loan-to-cost of 80% to 85%. For the example above, the lender would loan $160,000 at 80% and $170,000 at 85%.

If this occurs, what does the borrower do? While they may be forced to come up with the remaining costs out-of-pocket, there is another option — mezzanine loans — which we’ll discuss a little later.

Borrower Requirements: How Commercial Lenders Evaluate Eligibility

Not all construction projects are eligible for a commercial construction loan. There are several factors that a lender will consider in order to determine eligibility.

One of the first things that a lender will look at is your credit score. Because these are high-risk loans, lenders want to work with low-risk borrowers with high credit scores. Though credit requirements vary by lender, you should have a credit score at least in the high 600s before applying to qualify for loans such as the SBA CDC/504 loan. Other lenders may require a minimum score in the 700s. Business credit scores will also be evaluated.

The lender will also consider your debt-to-income ratio, also known as DTI. This ratio shows the relationship between the income and the debt of your business on a monthly basis. Typically, lenders look for a debt to income ratio of 43% or less, although some lenders may have stricter requirements. The lower your DTI, the higher your chances for approval. To calculate your DTI, use the following formula:

Total Monthly Debt Payments / Gross Monthly Income = DTI

Learn more about how to calculate and lower your DTI before applying for a loan.

Lenders will also consider your debt service coverage ratio, or DSCR. This shows the relationship between the income and debt of your business on an annual basis. To calculate for yourself, use the following formula:

Net Operating Income / Current Annual Debt Obligations = DSCR

The DSCR is a bit different from DTI because you want this number to be higher. This shows that your business is bringing in enough income to cover new debts. Most lenders look for a DSCR of 1.25 or higher, but again, requirements vary by lender. Learn more about calculating your DSCR.

The lender will also look at your industry experience and your current business financials to determine if you qualify for a loan. You’ll need to submit detailed construction plans for approval before a loan can be issued. In some cases, the plans may need to be altered based on any risks spotted by the lender, so your ability to be flexible in your plans is key.

Types Of Commercial Construction Loans

Now that you know more about the commercial construction loan process, it’s time to explore the different types of loans available.

SBA CDC/504 Loan Program

The Small Business Administration (SBA) CDC/504 loan is one of the most popular commercial construction loans. This is because these loans come with low down payments, competitive interest rates, and credit score requirements in the high 600s.

SBA 504 Loans

Borrowing Amount

No maximum, but the SBA will only fund up to $5 million

Term Lengths

10 or 20 years

Interest Rates

Fixed rate based on US Treasury rates

Borrowing Fees

  • CDC servicing fee, CSA fee, guarantee fee, third party fees (however, most of these fees are rolled into the interest rate or cost of the loan)
  • Possible prepayment penalty

Personal Guarantee

Guarantee required from anybody who owns at least 20% of the business

Collateral

Collateral required; usually the real estate/equipment financed

Down Payment

10% – 30%

With this loan, an SBA-approved Certified Development Company will fund 40% of the costs to renovate existing facilities, build new facilities, or purchase/improve land. Up to $5 million is available for borrowers.

Another lender will need to provide 50% of the project costs, while the borrower will be responsible for the remaining 10%. In some cases, borrowers may be required to pay 20%. Repayment terms are available up to 20 years, and interest rates are based on the market rates of U.S. Treasury issues.

SBA 7(a) Loan Program

The SBA also has the 7(a) program, which can be used for the purchase or construction of commercial real estate.

Through this program, borrowers can receive up to $5 million with repayment terms up to 25 years. Interest rates are based on the prime rate plus a maximum of 2.75%. To qualify, borrowers should have a credit score in the high 600s and a down payment of 10% to 20%.

Here are the base rates and markups for a 7(a) loan from the SBA:

Loan Amount Less Than Seven Years More Than 7 Years

Up to $25,000

Base rate + 4.25%

Base rate + 4.75%

$25,000 – $50,000

Base rate + 3.25%

Base rate + 3.75%

$50,000 or More

Base rate + 2.25%

Base rate + 2.75%

Bank Loans

A traditional commercial construction loan from a bank is another option for business owners. Rates, repayment terms, and down payment requirements vary. Generally, a minimum down payment of 10% is required, maximum repayment terms of 25 years are standard, and fixed and variable rates are available. You can start your lender search by talking to your current financial institution about your financing needs. See our post on the best bank loans for small business if you’re interested in specific recommendations.

Mezzanine Loans

Earlier in this post, we discussed loan-to-cost ratios. When a loan-to-cost ratio is lower and the borrower needs to come up with additional money, a mezzanine loan may be an option. This type of loan is secured with stock. If the borrower defaults, the lender can convert to an equity stake. With a mezzanine loan, the borrower has more leverage and can achieve a loan-to-cost ratio of up to 95%.

Where To Find Commercial Construction Loans

You know about the types of loans available to you, so where do you find a lender? This all depends on the type of loan you’re seeking.

An SBA-approved intermediary lender (which includes banks, credit unions, and private lenders) distributes 7(a) loans. For CDC/504 loans, an SBA-approved non-profit CDC provides this funding, although you’ll also have to find another lender to finance 50% of your project costs.

Banks and credit unions provide many commercial construction loan options, including SBA loans, traditional loans, and mezzanine loans.

Finally, commercial construction loans can be obtained through hard money lenders. These are private money lenders that provide short-term funding options for commercial construction projects. While there are a few benefits to working with these lenders, including minimal upfront costs and faster funding, these loans typically come with higher interest rates and fees than options from other lenders.

How To Apply For A Commercial Construction Loan

Once you’ve found a lender for your commercial construction loan, the next step is to begin the application process. During this process, the lender will evaluate your personal and business financials, your credit score, and other factors that will determine both whether you’re approved and what your interest rates and terms will be.

Because construction loans are considered high-risk, you will need to provide the lender with a detailed business plan. This should include an overview of what your business does, its financials to date, details about your current operations, and future projections.

You will also need to provide your lender with details about the project. This includes a complete plan with specs and designs. An expected project cost, including estimates for contractors, materials, and other expenses, must be provided with your application.

Personal and business financial documents will also need to be submitted during the application process. These include, but are not limited to, personal and business tax returns, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, bank statements, income statements, and debt schedules showing current debt obligations. Documentation requirements will vary by lender.

The lender will pull your credit score during the process. Remember, lenders are looking for scores in the high 600s. With some lenders, negative items such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and past defaults on loans may automatically disqualify you from receiving a loan. For negative items on your credit report, an explanation to the lender may be required.

Because this is such a high-risk loan product, lenders will typically take at least a minimum of several weeks to go over your information. During this time, more documentation may be required or your lender may have questions, so make sure to make yourself available to expedite the process.

Once the lender underwrites and approves your loan, you’ll move into the closing process. This entails going over the loan agreement, which will include all dates and milestones throughout the process. Once all paperwork has been signed and the closing process is complete, you’ll be ready to begin the expansion of your business.

Final Thoughts

It’s always exciting to reach a point in your business when it’s time to expand, but getting the financing you need can be a challenge. If your future plans include constructing new facilities or upgrading your current building, getting a commercial construction loan doesn’t have to be stressful.

If you understand the types of loans and requirements and do some prep work ahead of time, you’ll be able to approach your lender with confidence and get through the lending process with ease.

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