If you’re getting into real estate investing, there’s one term you’ll hear a lot about: the cap rate. Though it might sound a bit technical at first, the cap rate is actually a straightforward metric investors use to evaluate potential investment properties.

    When an investment property has an 8% cap rate, that means that the net operating income is about 8% of the purchase price.

    But what is a good cap rate? Is a higher cap rate always better? You might think so since it means more income. But, a higher cap rate can also mean higher risk. Plus, many factors play into whether a cap rate is considered “good” for a real estate investor.

    In this article, I’ll cover capitalization rates so you can decide what a good real estate cap rate means for your investment strategy.


    • Cap rate is a number used to evaluate potential rental properties by comparing the annual net operating income to the total property value.

    • A cap rate between 5% to 10% is generally considered good.

    • Higher cap rates suggest higher potential returns but may come with increased risk.

    What is a Capitalization Rate?

    First, let’s define what the cap rate is all about.

    Cap rate, short for “capitalization rate,” is a way to measure how good of a deal you’re getting on a real estate investment. The cap rate gives you a quick snapshot of the potential return on a real estate investment by comparing the annual net operating income to the total property value.

    Cap rates can vary based on the property type and location. According to Statista, the average cap rates projected for 2024 are 6.2% for retail properties, 5.5% for office spaces, and 4.85% for multifamily buildings.

    How to Calculate Cap Rate on Rental Property

    Calculating a cap rate is about as simple as it gets. Just take the projected yearly net operating income (NOI) of the rental property and divide it by the asset value of the property. Then, multiply that number by 100 to get a percentage.

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    Let me walk you through an example: Say you come across a rental property listed for $500,000. After crunching some numbers, you estimate it would generate about $50,000 in NOI each year. Just take that $50,000 and divide it by the $500,000 purchase price to get 0.10. Then, multiply 0.10 by 100 to get a cap rate of 10%.

    It’s basically taking the property’s expected earnings potential for a year and seeing how that stacks up against the total investment amount. The higher the cap rate percentage, the better the deal—at least on the surface. Of course, you’d still want to do more research before you actually decide to buy.

    How to Get the Net Operating Income?

    How to Get the Net Operating Income?

    While the actual cap rate formula is just a basic division, estimating an almost accurate net operating income involves more complex, well-researched projections.

    The property’s net operating income formula is simple in theory:

    NOI = Gross Annual Rent + Other Income – Operating Expenses

    First, estimate the annual gross rental income and any other income, such as parking fees, laundry services, or vending machines.

    Then comes the challenging part – figuring out all the operating expenses like property taxes, maintenance, property management fees, utilities, vacancy rates, and insurance.

    Getting these numbers accurately is where it gets tricky. You can’t just guess how much maintenance will cost yearly or how often tenants will move out.

    To get realistic figures, you need to do your homework. Look into typical expenses for similar properties in the area. Talk to other landlords, check out property management reports, and consult local real estate investors who know the market.

    Once you get your estimated yearly operating expenses, you simply subtract them from the gross income to calculate the NOI.

    What Is A ‘Good’ Cap Rate?

    What Is A ‘Good’ Cap Rate?

    The general rule of thumb is that cap rates between 5% and 10% are broadly considered good. Higher cap rates suggest higher potential returns but may come with increased risk. Lower cap rates imply lower risk but may offer lower returns.

    Let’s say we’re looking at two properties, Property A and Property B. Property A has a cap rate of 4%, while Property B boasts a cap rate of 8%. Generally speaking, the higher the cap rate, the better the investment, so Property B seems like the obvious choice.

    But wait, let’s dig deeper.

    Where are these properties located? What type are they? How old are they?

    Let’s assume that Property A is in a bustling downtown area with high rental demand, while Property B sits in a calm suburban neighborhood. Property A is a small apartment complex, while Property B is a single-family home.

    In this case, even though Property B has the higher cap rate, Property A might be considered the better investment because of its prime location and property type, which could lead to more stable and potentially higher rental income over time.

    But don’t count Property B out just yet. If you’re willing to take some risks and after doing your homework you believe it can still offer decent returns, then Property B could be a pretty great deal!

    So, a good cap rate for an investment property ultimately depends on your risk tolerance, the property’s location and type, the market conditions, and other important factors. That’s what determines your “good cap rate” – not just the number, but the confidence and strategy behind it.

    Factors in Determining a “Good” Cap Rate

    Factors in Determining a "Good" Cap Rate

    Now, let’s dive deeper and discuss all those important factors you need to consider to determine a “good” cap rate.


    As you’ve seen in my earlier example, location plays a big role in determining cap rates. A property in a prime location tends to have a lower cap rate. That’s because these areas are hotspots with high demand, seen as less risky, and likely to bring in steady income. So, the market value of the property is often higher.

    But if a property is in a less desirable area, like rural areas or places with high crime rates, investors might see it as more of a gamble and expect a higher cap rate to make up for that risk.

    Property Type

    Different types of properties come with different levels of risk and potential income.

    This chart from S&P Global shows that residential and industrial properties usually have lower cap rates than office and retail spaces. That’s because residential or multifamily properties offer reliable rental income, making them a safe bet for long-term investors. And with the boom in online shopping, industrial properties are in high demand, which lowers their cap rates.

    But offices and retail spaces tend to have higher cap rates. This is partly because of economic uncertainties and changes in how people shop and work—especially during the pandemic. Offices, in particular, face uncertainty about their future use, which makes investors a bit more cautious and pushes up cap rates.

    Market Conditions

    Referring to the chart above, hotels consistently had the highest cap rates but experienced a significant decline during the pandemic. I know this first-hand as a hotel investor🏩

    This highlights how market conditions impact cap rates. Investors must be aware that cap rates can change rapidly in response to external factors, especially in sectors that are more sensitive to economic fluctuations.

    Why is the Cap Rate Important?

    Why is the Cap Rate Important?

    A cap rate is important for several reasons.

    First, it allows investors to compare the profitability of different properties regardless of their price, using it as a baseline for comparing investment opportunities. Cap rate can also serve as an indicator of risk. If a cap rate is high, it usually means there’s more risk but also the potential to make more money.

    Cap rate also gives investors a peek into real estate market trends, which helps them get a sense of any future developments so they can tweak their strategies as needed. For example, if cap rates are rising, it may indicate that property values are falling or that rental income is decreasing.

    Lenders also often consider cap rates when evaluating loan applications for investment properties. A property with a strong cap rate may be more likely to secure favorable loan terms, as it suggests a lower risk of default due to its ability to generate reliable income.

    And finally, a cap rate helps investors determine if a property meets their comfort levels and investment criteria, such as expected returns and risk tolerance.

    When to Use Cap Rate Metric?

    When to Use Cap Rate Metric?

    Evaluating Commercial Real Estate: Cap rate is invaluable in analyzing commercial real estate, especially for investors seeking stable rental income. It helps assess whether these real estate investments will meet their cash flow and profitability targets.

    Comparing Similar Properties: When you’re eyeing properties in the same area or of the same type, cap rate offers a quick way to compare their potential profitability side by side.

    Selling Decisions: Thinking of selling? The cap rate can show you how your property stacks up against others in the market, helping you decide if it’s the right time to sell.

    Portfolio Review: Use it to check how your investments are doing overall. It helps you assess the performance of your real estate portfolio and decide if any adjustments are necessary.

    When Not to Use Cap Rates?

    When Not to Use Cap Rates?

    While the cap rate is a helpful tool in many scenarios, there are times when it might not be the best metric to rely on. Here’s when you might want to use something else:

    Short-Term Flips: If you’re into flipping properties—buying, renovating, and selling quickly—the cap rate might not be as relevant. Flips focus more on the property’s potential value increase rather than its income-generating capability over time.

    Properties Needing Major Renovations: For properties that require significant updates or repairs, the cap rate might not give you the full picture. The initial low income (or even no income) and high expenses can skew the cap rate, not reflecting the property’s potential after renovations.

    Unique or Non-Income Generating Properties: Cap rate is all about the income a property can generate. If you’re looking at a property that doesn’t produce regular income (like some types of land or a property used for personal use), the cap rate won’t help much.

    When Detailed Financial Analysis is Needed: Sometimes, you need a deep dive into a property’s financials, considering factors like financing terms, future capital expenditure, or specific tax implications. In these cases, more comprehensive analysis tools like the internal rate of return (IRR) or net present value (NPV) might be more appropriate.

    Highly Volatile Markets: In rapidly changing markets, the cap rate based on past income might not accurately reflect future potential. Economic shifts, significant changes in local regulations, or sudden developments in the area can all quickly outdate a cap rate calculation.

    Limitations of the Cap Rate

    The cap rate is a popular way to measure a property’s potential return, but it’s not perfect and has certain limitations.

    One big issue is that it assumes you’re buying the property all in cash. This isn’t how most people invest in real estate. A lot of investors use loans for leverage, and this is where the cap rate falls short. It doesn’t take into account the extra costs that come with borrowing money, like interest rates and loan fees, which can eat into your profits.

    Also, the cap rate only looks at what the property is making and costing you right now. It doesn’t think about how the property’s value or income could go up over time, which is often a big part of why people invest in real estate in the first place.

    So, while the cap rate can give you a quick snapshot of a property’s current earning potential, it’s not showing you the full picture, especially if you’re borrowing money to make the investment or if you’re thinking about the property’s future value.

    Other Methods to Evaluate an Investment Property

    Other Methods to Evaluate an Investment Proper

    Apart from the cap rate, there are several other ways to evaluate the potential of an investment property. It’s wise for investors not to rely solely on one metric.

    Here are some other methods you can use to evaluate the potential of an investment property.

    Cash on Cash Return

    Cash on cash return provides insight into the cash flow generated by the investment relative to the cash invested upfront.

    To calculate cash on cash return, investors divide the annual pre-tax cash flow (after debt service) by the initial equity investment. Unlike the cap rate, this metric takes into account the impact of financing on the investment’s performance.

    This is particularly useful for investors who use leverage (i.e., a mortgage) to purchase properties, as it provides a more accurate picture of the return on their invested cash.

    Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

    Unlike the cap rate and cash-on-cash return, which focuses on specific aspects of the investment’s performance, IRR provides a comprehensive assessment of the investment’s overall return over time.

    To calculate IRR, investors consider the series of cash flows associated with the property investment, including initial cash outlays, net income, financing payments, and eventual resale proceeds.

    One of the advantages of IRR is its ability to incorporate the time value of money, recognizing that a dollar received today is worth more than a dollar received in the future due to the potential for reinvestment.

    Net Present Value (NPV)

    When evaluating an investment property, it’s crucial to consider not only the initial investment and potential future cash flows but also the timing of those cash flows. NPV helps investors determine whether an investment will generate a positive or negative return by discounting all future cash flows to their present value.

    To calculate NPV for an investment property, one must first estimate all future cash inflows and outflows of the property over a specified period. The next step involves discounting these cash flows back to their present value using a chosen discount rate, which reflects the investor’s required rate of return or the property’s cost of capital.

    Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)

    DSCR is a financial metric used in real estate investment analysis, especially for properties financed with debt. It measures a property’s ability to cover its debt obligations with its income.

    To calculate DSCR, divide the NOI by its annual debt service, which includes principal and interest payments on loans used to finance the property.

    When evaluating investment opportunities, investors should consider a property’s DSCR in conjunction with other financial metrics.

    Final Thoughts

    As you can see, cap rate is a dynamic metric. While the calculations remain consistent, its significance varies depending on several factors, such as property types, market conditions, and individual investor preferences.

    And keep in mind that a cap rate is just a ballpark estimate, not an ironclad guarantee. Like any prediction, it comes with a degree of error and uncertainty. Professional investors use cap rates as an initial screening device but don’t rely on them exclusively to judge an investment opportunity. They combine it with other metrics, careful analysis, and overall gut instinct before committing their money.

    Still, even with its limitations, a property’s cap rate provides a quick and easy benchmark to judge the potential cash flow and risk.

    What is a Good Cap Rate: FAQs

    What is a cap rate compression?

    Cap rate compression happens when the cap rates of properties decrease over time. This usually happens because property values go up, but the income doesn’t increase at the same pace. This shrinking, or compression, of the cap rate, indicates that investors are getting a lower yield or return on their investments compared to before.

    Cap rate compression is a sign that the market is heating up, with property prices rising faster than rental incomes.

    Are there regional differences in cap rates?

    Yes, cap rates vary significantly by region due to differences in local market conditions, supply and demand dynamics, economic factors, and investor preferences. Certain regions may have higher or lower cap rates depending on factors such as population growth, job opportunities, infrastructure development, and regulatory environment.

    What is the difference between cap rate and ROI?

    While cap rate and return on investment (ROI) are both used to evaluate the profitability of a real estate investment, they differ in their calculation and scope. Cap rate focuses on the property’s net operating income and purchase price, while ROI takes into account the total return, including appreciation and financing costs, over the entire holding period.