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Guest view: Pros and cons of crowdfunding and commercial real estate

By now you’ve likely heard of the concept of crowdfunding.

Maybe you’ve even ran a campaign for yourself or used a crowdfunding platform to give money to a cause.

When most people think of crowdfunding, they think of using it to raise money for charity, like Go Fund Me, or to help grow a business, like Kickstarter.

But one sector of crowdfunding that is steadily growing is crowdfunding for commercial real estate investments. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A group of fellow CRE investors purchase shares of a property or properties. Their combined resources allow them to jointly own CRE properties that none could afford to invest in individually.

On paper — er, the internet — it’s a seemingly simple concept with obvious benefits. But it’s not without drawbacks, too.

Next we’re going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of crowdfunding for commercial real estate, and how this investment option may or may not be a good fit for you.

The pros 

  • Affordable price of entry: Most people don’t have millions of dollars, even a hundred thousand dollars to put into a commercial real estate investment. This obstacle no longer has to stop interested investors from getting in on a great CRE deal. Through crowdfunding, pooling together funds is simple and fast. Commonly the price of entry is anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. Compare this to outright owning your own investment property and you’ll see that this price of entry makes crowdfunding a really affordable opportunity.
  • Control of your cash: Compared to putting your money in a real estate investment trust (REIT), CRE crowdfunding gives you a lot more control and oversight. You get to choose exactly the type of property you want to invest in; you’re not relying on a trust manager to do this for you. For some investors, they love the thrill of the hunt of doing their own research and finding just the right property to invest in. If this is you, then you’ll enjoy that crowdfunding gives you control over when and how you invest your cash.
  • Diversity: Having a diverse investment portfolio is important. You want to be sure you’re not betting on just one horse. Through crowdfunding, you can invest in many different CRE properties within different sectors and classes. Even if you only have a moderate amount of money to invest, because the entry price for crowdfunding is so reasonable, this gives you the opportunity to diversify where your money is going.
  • Stability: No investment is completely stable, but when compared to traditional stocks and bonds, a CRE crowdfunded investment offers more stability because it’s not at the mercy of the stock market. Yes, other factors within the economy will certainly impact the value of the property, among other things; however, this is rarely an overnight change and can usually be predicted well in advance.

The cons 

  • Longer term commitment: When using crowdfunding to invest in commercial real estate, you’ll need to abide by your operating agreement. Usually when you invest, you have to lock this in for a set period of time. Sometimes this is several months, other times it’s several years. No matter how you look at it, crowdfunding investments are not easy to liquidate. They take time — and time isn’t always something people have, especially when it locks away cash that could be needed elsewhere.
  • Little to no say in the property: In the pros section we mentioned how CRE crowdfunding gives you more control; however it’s important to note that really only pertains to your money. When it comes to the actual investment property, you have little to no say in the project. As a smart investor, you should do your homework to be sure you agree with the plans for the property and how it will be managed. Because after you invest, your opinion will most likely not be solicited.
  • The unknowns: CRE crowdfunding most certainly has its risks. If you can tolerate these risks, then there is the potential for a high reward. A lot of the risks revolve around the unknown. Will the project stay on budget? Will it be completed on time? Will the property be managed as intended? Will the predictions and assumptions for the investment hold true? If you don’t like the risk and worry of the unknowns, CRE crowdfunding could really weigh you down.
  • Fees, fees and more fees: One final con is that there are a lot of hidden fees that could catch you off guard. The crowdfunding platform itself will apply fees to your investment. This varies from platform to platform, so be sure to read the fine print. Additionally, the investment property may also slap on additional costs for things like a construction fee, management fee, et cetera. Again, be sure to closely and carefully read every piece of your operating agreement because this is where you should uncover these fees before you sign on the dotted line.

The real takeaway here is that, like anything, crowdfunding for commercial real estate has its ups and downs. A smart investor will closely consider each side and weigh the risk versus the reward. Even with its cons, crowdfunding is a valuable investment opportunity that cannot be ignored, especially if you’re looking for ways to diversify your investment portfolio.

Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.

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