10 Types of Commercial Real Estate – CRE Examples

What Is Commercial Real Estate (CRE)?

Commercial real estate, often abbreviated as CRE, refers to properties exclusively used for business purposes or as professional workspaces, contrasting with residential real estate, which is designed for living spaces. CRE typically encompasses a wide range of properties, from a single storefront to expansive shopping centers. It’s versatile, including various forms of buildings like office spaces, duplexes, restaurants, coffee shops, and warehouses. These properties are pivotal in the business world, serving as locations for a multitude of commercial activities. They offer lucrative opportunities for individuals and companies to generate income through leasing or by holding and reselling the properties. This sector of real estate covers an extensive range of categories, including diverse retail spaces, office buildings, hotels, resorts, strip malls, restaurants, and healthcare facilities, each serving distinct business needs.

Understanding Commercial Real Estate (CRE)

Commercial real estate stands as one of the two main sectors of the property market, the other being residential real estate. While residential properties are dedicated to personal living, commercial properties are designed for business use. This includes multiunit rental properties, where the residential function is combined with the commercial aspect, as these serve as a source of income for the landlord. CRE is generally divided into four core categories based on their primary function:

  • Office Space: Ranging from sleek, high-rise buildings to modest office parks, this category encompasses various types of workplaces.
  • Industrial Use: This includes properties for manufacturing and production, often housing heavy machinery and equipment.
  • Multifamily Rental: These are residential buildings like apartment complexes, which are used for rental purposes and are considered a part of commercial real estate due to their income-generating role.
  • Retail: Encompassing a broad range of properties from local strip malls to large shopping centers, these spaces are dedicated to consumer-facing businesses.

Each category has its specific subtypes and characteristics. For instance, retail real estate can be segmented into hotels, resorts, restaurants, and healthcare facilities, each serving different consumer needs. Similarly, office spaces are often classified into Class A, B, or C, reflecting their aesthetics, infrastructure quality, location, and age.

Commercial Leases

Commercial properties are often leased, creating a steady income stream for property owners or investors. The lease terms in CRE are typically longer than residential leases, ranging from one year to over a decade, with office and retail spaces often having leases of five to ten years. Commercial leases are also categorized based on the extent of responsibilities shared between the landlord and tenant, including single net lease, double net lease, triple net lease, and gross lease. These arrangements define who bears the costs for property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.

Managing Commercial Real Estate

The management of leased commercial real estate is a complex and ongoing process. Property owners often engage commercial real estate management firms to assist with tenant acquisition, lease management, and property maintenance. The expertise of these firms is invaluable, particularly as the regulations governing commercial properties can vary significantly across different regions. Effective management is key to maintaining high occupancy rates and ensuring properties remain appealing to both current and potential tenants.

How Investors Make Money in Commercial Real Estate

Investing in CRE can be highly profitable and act as a buffer against stock market volatility. Returns on these investments typically come from two main sources: property appreciation upon sale and income from tenant rents. There are two primary ways to invest in commercial real estate:

  • Direct Investment: This involves purchasing and managing the physical property, suitable for those with significant industry knowledge or access to firms that specialize in CRE.
  • Indirect Investment: Investors can also participate in the commercial market indirectly through real estate investment trusts (REITs), exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or by investing in companies linked to the commercial real estate sector, such as banks and real estate agencies.

Advantages of Commercial Real Estate

One of the main attractions of CRE is the potential for high leasing rates and impressive returns, especially in areas with limited new construction. Commercial properties, particularly industrial buildings, offer attractive rental rates with relatively lower overhead costs compared to other property types like office towers. Longer lease agreements provide stability in cash flow, and well-maintained properties have the potential for capital appreciation. Additionally, CRE is a distinct asset class that can diversify an investment portfolio.

Disadvantages of Commercial Real Estate

Investing in CRE directly can be challenging due to complex regulations, significant taxes, and the intricate mechanics of purchasing and maintaining such properties. These factors vary widely depending on the location, industry, size, and zoning of the property. Additionally, commercial properties face risks like tenant turnover, which can be costly due to the need for property refurbishments to suit different tenants. Direct investment in CRE also requires more capital than residential real estate and tends to be less liquid, with slower transaction times.

Pros and Cons of Commercial Real Estate

  • Pros:
    • Acts as a hedge against stock market volatility.
    • High potential for income from long-term leases.
    • Stable cash flow.
    • Opportunity for capital appreciation.
  • Cons:
    • Requires more capital for direct investment.
    • Subject to extensive regulation.
    • Higher costs for renovations.
    • Generally an illiquid asset class.

Comparing Commercial and Residential Real Estate

The primary distinction between commercial and residential real estate lies in their intended use. While commercial real estate encompasses properties used for business activities, residential real estate is focused on providing living spaces. Each type has its unique characteristics and investment profiles.

Is Commercial Real Estate a Good Investment?

Commercial real estate can be a highly rewarding investment, offering substantial returns and consistent cash flows. However, like any investment, it comes with inherent risks that must be carefully evaluated. The success in CRE investing largely depends on the investor’s knowledge, market conditions, and the chosen property’s location and type.

What Are the Disadvantages of Commercial Real Estate?

The main challenges in investing in commercial real estate include navigating complex regulations and legalities, handling the intricacies of purchasing and maintenance, and understanding the market dynamics. These factors often require specialized knowledge or professional assistance.

The Bottom Line

Commercial real estate is a dynamic and diverse segment of the property market, offering opportunities for rental income and capital appreciation. It requires a more sophisticated approach and larger capital investment compared to residential real estate but can yield high returns. For those without direct expertise in the sector, investing in REITs provides an accessible way to participate in the commercial real estate market.

10 Types of Commercial Real Estate Buildings & Properties

1) Multifamily

Multifamily real estate encompasses residential properties apart from single-family homes, making it a significant component of commercial real estate. This category includes a variety of high-priority investments like apartments, co-ops, townhomes, and more, often categorized into Class A, B, and C properties based on factors like location and condition. Multifamily properties hold intrinsic value due to the constant need for living spaces, though market dynamics can affect investment viability. Investors often adjust rents to keep pace with inflation, ensuring a balanced net operating income. Common multifamily property types include duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, garden apartments, mid-rise and high-rise apartments, walk-ups, student housing, and senior or assisted living facilities.

2) Office

Office buildings, ranging from modest suburban structures to towering urban complexes, represent a major asset class in commercial real estate. These buildings, particularly affected by recent shifts in work patterns, offer diverse investment opportunities. Office properties are typically multi-tenant, allowing for diversified income streams and reduced risk. They are categorized into Class A, B, and C, each offering different levels of amenities, location advantages, and rental prices. The future of office real estate is evolving, with a greater emphasis on flexible workspaces and tenant experience.

3) Industrial

Industrial real estate is a robust sector, known for long-term leases and lower overhead costs. These properties, often located along major transport routes, are crucial for manufacturing and distribution activities. Types of industrial buildings include heavy manufacturing facilities, light assembly units, bulk warehouses, and flex industrial spaces. The rise of eCommerce has particularly boosted demand for well-located industrial warehouses.

4) Retail

Retail properties cover buildings where goods and services are sold directly to consumers. Despite challenges from online shopping, retail real estate remains vital, adapting to new consumer behaviors. Retail spaces are categorized into several types, such as strip malls, shopping centers, community retail centers, power centers, regional malls, and outparcels. These properties often feature longer leases, providing stability for investors.

5) Hotels & Hospitality

This category includes properties providing short and long-term accommodation, catering to both leisure and business travelers. Hotel types range from limited-service facilities to full-service and extended-stay hotels, as well as resorts offering additional entertainment amenities. The hotel industry is highly dynamic, with trends shifting towards boutique and theme-based offerings.

6) Land

Investing in land, including agricultural, infill, and brownfield land, is considered high-risk but with potential for high returns. Land investment requires a strategic approach, considering factors like location, zoning, and future development potential.

7) Mixed Use

Mixed-use properties combine multiple asset classes, such as retail, office, and residential, in a single location. These properties, often found in urban centers, cater to a blend of business and living needs, creating vibrant community spaces.

8) Special Purpose

Special-purpose real estate encompasses properties designed for specific uses or audiences, such as amusement parks, churches, schools, and theaters. These properties are unique, often requiring tailored marketing and management strategies.

9) Self Storage

Self-storage facilities, known for their low operating costs and minimal maintenance, have surged in popularity. This sector benefits from changing lifestyle patterns and is relatively recession-resistant. Investment in self-storage focuses on understanding demographic trends and maintaining operational efficiency.

10) Life Sciences

The life sciences sector, encompassing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and related fields, has seen significant growth, especially post-Covid-19. Investments in this area can be competitive, as these properties require specialized facilities and infrastructure.


The realm of commercial real estate (CRE) is diverse and expansive, offering a wide range of investment and business opportunities. From multifamily dwellings that provide essential living spaces, to office buildings that form the backbone of business operations, each type of commercial property plays a unique role in the real estate market. Industrial properties have gained prominence with the rise of eCommerce, while retail spaces continue to adapt to changing consumer behaviors. The hospitality industry, encompassing various types of hotels, serves an ever-evolving travel market. Moreover, emerging sectors like self-storage and life sciences real estate are gaining traction, reflecting shifts in societal needs and technological advancements. Understanding the different types of commercial real estate is crucial for investors, business owners, and professionals navigating this dynamic field. Each category presents its own set of challenges and opportunities, making CRE a complex yet rewarding area of investment and business.

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FAQs About Different Types of Commercial Real Estate

What are the main types of commercial real estate?

  • The main types include multifamily, office, industrial, retail, hotels & hospitality, land, mixed-use, special purpose, self-storage, and life sciences properties.

Why is industrial real estate currently in high demand?

  • The demand for industrial real estate has surged due to the growth of eCommerce, which requires extensive warehouse and distribution networks.

How does office real estate differ from other types of CRE?

  • Office real estate typically involves properties used for business operations and can range from small, suburban buildings to large, urban skyscrapers. It is unique due to its tenant structure, often housing multiple businesses, and longer lease terms.

What makes investing in land a high-risk option?

  • Investing in land is considered high-risk because it often involves undeveloped property without immediate revenue-generating potential, and its value is highly dependent on location, zoning laws, and market dynamics.

Can residential properties be classified as commercial real estate?

  • Yes, residential properties like multifamily dwellings (apartments, duplexes, etc.) are considered commercial real estate if they are used to generate rental income.

What are mixed-use properties?

  • Mixed-use properties combine different types of real estate, such as residential, retail, and office spaces, in one location, offering a blend of amenities and services.

Are self-storage facilities a good investment?

  • Self-storage facilities can be a good investment due to their low overhead costs, minimal maintenance, and resilience during economic downturns.

How do special-purpose properties differ from other CRE types?

  • Special-purpose properties are designed for specific, often non-standard uses (e.g., schools, theaters), making them unique in terms of design, valuation, and market demand.


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