What’s The Difference Between Commercial And Residential Real Estate?

Definition of "What’s the difference between commercial and residential real estate?"

Ann Dempsey real estate agent

Written by

Ann Dempseyelite badge icon

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices

Commercial and residential real estate are two distinct types of real estate. As such there are many differences in what they are used for and how they can be used for investment. The differences vary based on local regulations, market conditions, and even the specific types of properties within the residential and the commercial real estate sectors. When looking for a real estate agent, it’s important to know that some of them work with only residential properties and others with only commercial properties. Still, some agents work with both commercial and residential real estate. If you are interested in buying or selling different kinds of properties, it can be easier to work with a real estate agent specializes in both. There are different rules on the market to them, and there is a difference between commercial and residential real estate license, too. 

What is residential real estate?

Residential real estate involves properties used as homes or dwellings for individuals or families. It includes various types of housing units, like single family homes, townhouses, condominiums, apartments, or vacation homes. Those can come with different grades of customization, depending on demand and current real estate trends. Residential properties can be owned or rented. Long term residential real estate investments can be advantageous for various reasons. Those includepersonal use, rental income, or potential growth in value over time.  


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What is commercial real estate?

The world of commercial real estate refers to properties used for business purposes. It includes many property types like office buildings, retail stores, shopping centers, industrial warehouses, hotels, restaurants, and some types of mobile real estate. Commercial real estate can create income or facilitate commercial activities.


Investing in commercial real estate can offer a stable income. This can happen through rental payments, capital appreciation, or the opportunity of starting or expanding a business. 


The commercial real estate market is influenced by factors like economic conditions, market demand, location attractiveness, zoning regulations, and trends in various industries. It often requires specialized knowledge due to the complexities involved. Leasing, property management, and understanding market dynamics are part of the required knowledge. 


The key differences between the two 

There are many differences between those two types of real estate. These are the most essential ones to know.

Purpose of use

Residential real estate is used as homes or dwellings for individuals or families, essentially they are used as a residence. In opposition, commercial real estate exists for business purposes. Offices, retail stores, industrial facilities, and hospitality establishments are some examples.

Income generation

Residential real estate is used by the property owner or rented out to tenants. This happens for residential purposes, generating rental income. Commercial real estate, on the other hand, is leased or rented to businesses and organizations. Their aim is to generate income through commercial activities.

Lease structure

Residential leases are often short-term and standardized. Those range from six months to one year, with the possibility of renewal. Commercial leases tend to be longer term, ranging from several years to several decades. Those are typically more customized to suit the needs of businesses. Commercial leases may also include provisions for rent escalations and other terms specific to commercial use.

Valuation methods

Residential real estate is valued based on comparable sales in the area. The sales comparison method is frequently used for this. Commercial real estate, particularly income-generating properties, is often valued based on its income potential and cash flow. This is done by using methods like the income approach or capitalization rate.

Market dynamics

Factors like population growth, housing demand, and affordability for buyers or renters drive the residential real estate market. Commercial real estate market dynamics are influenced by many factors. Those include economic conditions, market demand for different types of commercial properties, and location attractiveness for businesses. 

Financing and investment

Residential properties are more accessible to individuals with options like traditional mortgages. Commercial real estate transactions may involve more complex financing structures. Those can be commercial loans, syndication, or partnerships. Those are often targeted toward investors and businesses.

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