A guide to buying commercial property

If you’re planning to buy a business premises, here’s what you need to know to get the perfect property for you.

The process of buying commercial property, such as a shop, office or warehouse, for your business or as an investment is similar to the residential property process, but there are extra considerations and costs. And as the sums of money involved are usually larger, you potentially have more to lose if you don’t do your research thoroughly at the outset.

The advantages of buying rather than renting a commercial property – if you can afford it – are that as interest rates are currently low, mortgage repayments could be cheaper than paying rent. Also, your interest payments are tax deductible, you have more control over your premises and you’ll make money if the value of the property increases. You can also add it to your SIPP (self-invested person pension) if you buy it in your personal name to save on tax.

The downsides are that you’ll tie up a lot of capital, it will be harder to move to new premises if the property is no longer suitable, your initial costs will be higher and the property’s value could go down, so think carefully about whether buying is the right thing to do and speak to your accountant first.

Where to find commercial property

The main residential property portals, including Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation, all display commercial properties for sale as well. You can also look at the websites of commercial estate agents, specialist commercial property portals such as Realla and newspaper ads.

Before you start your search, you should find out as much as possible about the commercial property market in your chosen area, including average prices, pricing trends and how fast properties are selling. You should also check rental demand and average rents if you’re buying as an investment.

You can do this by looking at property data such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ quarterly commercial property market survey, speaking to local estate agents and visiting property websites.

Factors to take into account

Location, location, location is truer than ever when it comes to finding the right commercial property to buy, especially for a business that relies on footfall like a shop or restaurant where being located in a busy shopping or entertainment area is key.

Other aspects to take into account are transport links and parking facilities as well as proximity to employees, other businesses, clients and suppliers. You may also want to look at what amenities are nearby for staff. For offices and industrial properties like warehouses and factories, whether the location is easily accessible for suppliers and staff will be more important than how much passing trade there might be.

The other major considerations are about the property itself. Factors that will determine whether it’s right for you include its size (there are health and safety regulations about how much space workers need), configuration, parking, delivery facilities, other facilities and equipment included as well as whether it’s freehold or leasehold.

As with any property purchase, you may not be able to afford one that has everything you want, so you may have to compromise on some aspects. To ensure you get a place suitable to your needs, it’s important to decide on your priorities when looking at properties.

You also need to make sure the property is in the correct use class for the business you (or potential tenants) want to carry out there. The different use classes commercial property is divided into include A1 (shops), A3 (restaurants and cafes) and B1 (business, which includes offices).

If you want to use it for something different, you’ll usually need to apply for planning permission to change its use class although some can be changed without it. You should check with the local council and a commercial agent about whether this is possible before you decide to do this. It will also add to your costs.

Costs to consider

Along with the cost of the property itself – or the deposit, mortgage payments and fees if you’re not buying it outright – you’ll also have to pay for legal advice and stamp duty/land transaction tax. In England and Northern Ireland, this is payable on properties with a value of more than £150,000 at 2% up to £250,000 and then 5% on the remainder.

Other costs could include VAT on the sale, decorating, refurbishing and fitting out the property, transporting items to the property and installing facilities.

There will also be ongoing running costs, including buildings and contents insurance, repairs and maintenance, energy and utilities, cleaning, security, business rates (charged at around 50% of the rateable value set by the Valuation Office Agency) and mortgage repayments. You may be able to share some of these costs with your tenants if you are letting the property.

The seller will give you an energy performance certificate for the property that will show you what the energy costs are likely to be.

Bear in mind that you can offset the costs of buying assets for your business against the profits you pay tax on through capital allowances as well as your running and finance costs.

How to get a commercial mortgage

To find the best commercial mortgage for your needs, it’s a good idea to speak to a specialist mortgage broker.

You can borrow up to 80% of the property’s value with a term of up to 25 years. Interest rates tend to be higher than on residential mortgages and can be fixed or variable.

The lender will value the property and look at your business’s past trading figures and projected income to decide whether to lend to you and on what terms. If you’re buying the property as an investment, the rental income you’ll get will be taken into account. Read the following link to learn more about commercial mortgages.

Completing the sale process

Once you have made an offer on the property, which you should do in writing through the estate agent, and it has been accepted (this may take some negotiation), you should ask the agent to take if off the market.

A “heads of terms” document will then be produced on behalf of the seller setting out the main points of the sale and the timescale. You may be able to agree to an exclusivity agreement for a certain period to allow you to carry out the necessary checks on the property.

Your solicitor will carry out local searches to find out about any development plans or other issues that might affect the property and your business and you should commission a survey to determine its condition. If you plan to redevelop the property, it’s also a good idea to apply for planning consents at this point.

Once the contract has been negotiated, your mortgage is in place and both parties are happy, the solicitors will exchange contracts. You’ll have to pay a 10% deposit and the transaction will be legally binding. On the completion date, which could be a month later, the rest of the money will be transferred and you’ll be the owner of the property and can pick up the keys.

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.
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Money expert

Cathy is a freelance journalist specialising in money, property, smart homes and technology. She worked at Which? for 12 years, first as a money writer then as an editor, before going freelance in 2018. She's written for publications including The Money Edit, Ideal Home, Loveproperty.com, The i newspaper, the London Evening Standard. Cathy is also a Homes Under the Hammer superfan. See full bio

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