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A commercial mortgage is a mortgage loan secured by commercial property, such as an office building, shopping center, industrial warehouse, or apartment complex. The proceeds from a commercial mortgage are typically used to acquire, refinance, or redevelop commercial property.

Commercial mortgages are structured to meet the needs of the borrower and the lender. Key terms include the loan amount (sometimes referred to as “loan proceeds”), interest rate, term (sometimes referred to as the “maturity”), amortization schedule, and prepayment flexibility. Commercial mortgages are generally subject to extensive underwriting and due diligence prior to closing. The lender’s underwriting process may include a financial review of the property and the property owner (or “sponsor”), as well as commissioning and review of various third-party reports, such as an appraisal.

The loan amount of a commercial mortgage is generally determined based on loan to value (LTV) and debt service coverage ratios, more fully discussed below in the section on underwriting standards.

Commercial mortgages can be structured as first liens or, if a greater loan amount is desired, the borrower may be able to obtain subordinate financing as well, sometimes structured as a mezzanine note or as preferred equity, which generally carries a higher interest rate.

Interest rates for commercial mortgages may be fixed-rate or floating rate. Fixed-rate mortgages on stabilized commercial real estate are generally priced based on aspread to swaps, with the swap spread matched to the term of the loan. Market interest rates as well as underwriting factors greatly affect the interest rate quoted on a particular piece of commercial real estate. Interest rates for commercial mortgages are usually higher than those for residential mortgages.

Many commercial mortgage lenders require an application fee or good-faith deposit, which is typically used by the lender to cover underwriting expenses such as anappraisal on the property. Commercial mortgages may also have origination or underwriting fees (paid at close as a reduction in loan proceeds) and/or exit fees (paid when the loan is repaid).

The term of a commercial mortgage is generally between five and ten years for stabilized commercial properties with established cash flows (sometimes called “permanent loans”), and between one and three years for properties in transition, for example, newly opened properties or properties undergoing renovation or repositioning (sometimes called “bridge loans“). Mortgages on multifamily properties that are provided by a government-sponsored enterprise or government agency may have terms of thirty years or more. Some commercial mortgages may allow extensions if certain conditions are met, which may include payment of an extension fee. Some commercial mortgages have an “anticipated repayment date,” which means that if the loan is not repaid by the anticipated repayment date, the loan is not in default.

Commercial mortgages frequently amortize over the term of the loan, meaning the borrower pays both interest and principal over time, and the loan balance at the end of the term is less than the original loan amount. However, unlike residential mortgages, commercial mortgages generally do not fully amortize over the stated term, and therefore frequently end with a balloon payment of the remaining balance, which is often repaid by refinancing the property. Some commercial mortgages have an interest-only period at the beginning of the loan term during which time the borrower only pays interest.

Commercial loans vary in their prepayment terms, that is, whether or not a real estate investor is allowed to refinance the loan at will. Some portfolio lenders, such as banks and insurance companies, may allow prepayment flexibility. In contrast, for a borrower to prepay a conduit loan, the borrower will have to defease the bonds, by buying enough government bonds (treasuries) to provide the investors with the same amount of income as they would have had if the loan was still in place.