How to Buy an Apartment Complex

Buying an apartment complex is a long, sometimes complicated, process. It’s important for you to gather as much information as you can before you make the decision to buy. Applying for a mortgage to finance an apartment complex is not at all similar to applying for a home mortgage. Apartment complexes with four or more units are commercial properties, and loans for them have different underwriting rules.


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    Decide if you want to purchase a residential apartment complex of a mixed-use building. A mixed-use building has a combination of office and residential units, but at least 80% of the space has to be residential. The complex has to have a grade of C+ or higher. This means you can’t rent the units daily or weekly, and the units can’t be single-occupancy, as in a rooming house or motel.
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    Ask yourself these questions before you consider applying for a loan:
    • Is the price reasonable?
    • Will I be able to finance it? Is it a profitable enterprise? Lending institutions look at rent income, taxes and mortgages to calculate an accurate value of the property for financing. In the eyes of commercial lenders, your personal financial state is not as important as the building’s ability to pay for itself.
    • Do I have a good credit rating?
    • Do I own property that I can use as collateral?
    • Should I consider taking out a loan as a corporation or Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)?
    • Will I be able to manage the apartment building by myself, or will I have to pay a property management company to handle tenant problems or maintenance issues that may arise?
    • Should I consider a partnership?
    • Is the building in good condition?
    • Will I be able to increase the value of the building?
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    Gather information about the building you would like to buy. You may not be be able to get a loan if the building will require excessive maintenance, or if the complex has not had 85% occupancy for the three months immediately preceding your loan application.
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    Talk to other commercial real estate investors. Ask them about the pros and cons of owning an apartment complex.
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    Talk to local real estate agents. Get their advice about the location you have in mind. Inquire about the possibilities of future zoning changes or any public works projects that may impact an income producing property. If there are plans for a regional airport to be built a few miles away in the next few years, for example, you might find it difficult to rent out your residential units. Don’t assume that everything will remain static; look at the past history of the location and try to imagine any major changes that could be likely to take place in the future.
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    Consider your end goal—the reason you want to buy the property. With that in mind, figure out what your exit strategy would be should you encounter financial difficulty, or if you decide you no longer want to own an apartment complex. Three exit strategies to consider are:
    • Convert the units to condominiums and sell them to homeowners.
    • Take advantage of the 1031 Exchange. Under U. S. law, you can exchange your real estate asset tax free instead of paying the capital gains tax when you sell the building.
    • Refinance the property. Use the equity you have acquired to buy another piece of commercial real estate.
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    Have the building inspected by a professional who has experience inspecting commercial buildings. Make sure the inspection covers every aspect; don’t settle for a standard inspection, which may not include trouble spots, such as a wet basement. Pay extra money if you have to for a thorough inspection that goes above and beyond what is required by mortgage lenders. If the inspection reveals serious flaws, don’t make an offer, or reduce your offer amount by the amount it would cost to make the necessary repairs.
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    Assemble the documents you will need for the loan application. Your real estate agent will be able to assist you in this. Most lenders require the following documents, but your lending institution may require more:
    • Your personal financial statement (or Fannie Mae Form 1003 if you plan to apply for a mortgage through Fannie Mae).
    • Documentation of the property’s current rental income.
    • The building’s operating income statements or Schedule Es for the past two years.
    • The building’s year-to-date operating income statement.
    • The monthly breakdown of income for the building for the previous 12 months.
    • Current photographs of the building.


  • Apartment complex loans that Fannie Mae eligible, but that are for less than $1 million are shunned by most lenders because there usually isn’t enough profit in it. You can still apply for a loan at your local bank, but the interest rate will likely be higher.
  • You won’t be able to buy a complex with more than four units unless you have a demonstrated history of multifamily ownership. Some people start small and buy a duplex or a triplex. When they have managed those profitably for a few years, they start searching for a larger multiplex building. You don’t have to hang onto every apartment complex you buy; if you are able to flip them quickly and make a profit, all the better.


  • Have a real estate lawyer read the contract before you sign! Most commercial loans have prepayment costs that are very steep.
  • Commercial loan application fees are high, most are at least five thousand dollars.

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Categories: Buying Property