Investment Fundamentals

What is a Cap Rate?

6th March 2023

Understanding Cap Rates in Real Estate Investing

Cap rates, short for capitalization rates, play a crucial role in the real estate industry when evaluating potential investment opportunities. They offer a simple way to assess the potential return on a property by comparing its net income to its purchase price or current market value. The resulting percentage represents the rate of return an investor can expect, assuming the property is fully leased and all costs are covered.

Investors commonly use cap rates to compare different properties quickly. A higher cap rate suggests a higher potential return, while a lower cap rate may indicate a lower return. However, higher cap rates also imply higher perceived risk at either the property or market level. It's essential to note that cap rates can vary significantly depending on factors like location, property type, and market conditions.

The cap rate formula is straightforward:

Cap Rate = Net Income / Purchase Price or Current Market Value

The metric is usually calculated on an annual basis. For instance, if a property generates a net annual income of $100,000 and has a market value of $1,000,000, the cap rate would be 10%. This means that for every dollar invested in the property, the investor can expect a 10-cent return.

While cap rates are valuable for comparing similar properties in the same location, they can differ widely across markets. For instance, a Class A office building in a premier city like New York or Los Angeles will likely have a lower cap rate than a similar building in a less popular market like Detroit or St. Louis, due to varying market demand and perceived risk.

It's important to remember that cap rates are not the only metric to consider when evaluating real estate investments. Other factors such as cash flow, potential appreciation, and local market strength also play critical roles.

One alternative return metric to consider is the yield on cost (YOC). YOC calculates the market rent divided by the total investment amount, providing a more comprehensive view of returns without relying on predicting future cash flows.

When analysing real estate investments, it's essential to focus on the exit strategy, considering factors like projected future cash flow, NOI growth, and changes in cap rates over time. Forecasting "going-out" cap rates accurately can significantly impact the expected sale price and overall return on the investment.

While many theories suggest a relationship between interest rates and cap rates, various market factors influence cap rates, including economic growth, rental market performance, and demand from investors.


Cap rates are a vital tool for assessing real estate investment opportunities, providing insights into return potential and risk. Lower cap rates often indicate safer assets in high-demand markets, while higher cap rates may imply higher risk but potential for higher returns. Successful investors leverage robust data and accurate exit cap rate modelling to make sound real estate investment decisions.

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