Why Commercial Real Estate is the Hottest Retirement Asset

For small business owners, commercial real estate investment is the hottest new retirement asset. If your mind has already jumped to “REITs” — or shares in Real Estate Investment Trusts — think again. I’m referring to the ownership of the commercial facilities small business owners currently lease, or new commercial facilities they can buy or develop.

Small business owners can thank the U.S. Small Business Administration for this rather substantial opportunity.

The SBA sponsors a specialty lending program designed to assist successful small business owners who want to acquire or develop their own facilities. The SBA did not design the program as a vehicle for creating superior retirement assets, but it doesn’t take a financial genius to connect the dots — and the business owners who have done so already are profiting enormously from their decision.

It’s called the SBA 504 program and it’s been around, though not well promoted, for nearly twenty years. If a banker failed to mention it as an alternative, don’t be too dismayed. Traditional lending institutions prefer conventional financial instruments because they offer traditional lending institutions greater profit margins. The SBA 504 program is clearly intended to benefit small business owners, not necessarily the financial community.


Here’s what SBA 504 loans offer qualified small business owners: below market fixed interest rates, longer terms and with a cash investment as low as 10 percent of the total project cost. Typically, small business owners can reduce real estate expenses by up to 40 percent while building an asset that benefits them long after they’ve sold or shuttered their business. As an investment, this type of financing offers the highest cash-on-cash return available for commercial real estate, which means not only does their capital work harder for them, but they keep more of it to grow their business too. You can’t find a traditional lending product that can beat this.

Next to home ownership, being your own boss is the number one American Dream. That’s why most small business owners started (or acquired) their own business. And their success is almost entirely dependent on their drive, ambition, innovation and attention to detail. Eventually, however, they’ll sell their business or pass it along to their children or shut it down (very few small businesses go public). With SBA 504 financing, they can turn that drive and ambition into another long-term asset that offers immediate and significant tax advantages, as well as makes great sense for long-term financial planning.

It’s important to take an innovative approach to commercial real estate ownership. For most clients, it is beneficial to establish a separate real estate holding company to own the real estate asset — it separates their operating company – the one they may eventually sell or pass on to their children — from this new and important real estate asset.

The result is that, in 10 years or 25, when a small business owner sells their business or gift it to their children or shutters it, the real estate asset will retain important appreciated value in a separate holding company.

They will also have been paying themselves rent instead of some faceless landlord, effectively growing their real estate asset, building their equity and benefiting from the tax advantages all at the same time.

And once they sell their business, they’ll still have an income-generating asset that is one of the soundest long-term investments anyone can make.

Small business owners can continue to be landlords in their retirement, or they can sell the asset — typically at a rather significantly appreciated value.

Even if they gift the business to their children, the new owners will have to continue paying rent. Who would make a better landlord their children than themselves?

The value of the SBA 504 lending program is clear. Most business owners that are educated about this financial planning strategy adopt it.

For successful small business owners, this is almost a no-brainer. If they haven’t already done so, it’s time to stop paying rent to someone else and consider owning for all the right reasons.

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By Christopher Hurn

(Ed. Note? Hurn is president and chief executive officer at Mercantile Commercial Capital based in Altamonte Springs. His company handles commercial loans and specializes in 90% financing for small business owners who want to acquire or develop their own facilities. The company, in business for 19 months, has closed some $30 million in loans already and opened offices in Miami, Tampa and Chicago.)

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