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What is residential real estate? What is commercial real estate?


The two major types of real estate are residential and commercial.  There is no industry standard for classifying property and sub-property types.  The two leading organizations in the US real estate investment industry – the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF) and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT) – categorize real estate differently.  Indeed, the difference in these classification systems makes it difficult to compare real estate markets and data.

Residential real estate is real property that is used or available for occupation and the daily living of individuals and for noncommercial purposes, including undeveloped residential lots and housing units.  Residential real estate can be classified by the site of the land (plot) and the externalities that surround it (neighborhood) and connect it to other real estate (infrastructure).  Residential real estate comprises site-built and prefabricated single-family detached homes, multi-dwelling units and semi-detached houses.  In many US states, residential property containing more than a certain number of dwelling units qualifies as commercial property for borrowing and tax purposes.

Any land or building used for commercial purposes, generally encompassing any real property other than a single-family residence or a residential lot, is commercial real estate (CRE), it comprising income producing build-to-rent and build-to-sale property as well as owner-occupied property.  Income producing real estate (IPRE) is commercial real estate that serves as an investment for the purpose of generating a profit from either rental income or capital gain for its owners, where the prospects for the return on investment depend primarily on the cash flows generated by the asset and whose primary source of these cash flows are rental payments or the sale of the asset.

5 Largest US Apartment Managers as of 1 January 2016
Rank Company Units Owned Hq City State
1 Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC
Charleston SC
2 Lincoln Property Company
Dallas TX
3 Pinnacle
Dallas TX
4 Equity Residential
Chicago IL
Boston MA
Source: National Multifamily Housing Council

Distinguished from income producing real estate, owner-occupied commercial real estate (OOCRE) is commercial property that is occupied by its owner with the purpose of conducting business operations, where the cash flow to service the debt financing of the property is typically driven by the cash flow of the underlying business.  Industrial real estate is a special class of commercial real estate – often treated as its own class of real estate – used for the manufacture and production of goods, including factories, mines and farms.

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