Preferred Returns in Real Estate Syndications

Eric Wilson

Managing Partner

September 25, 2023

4 min read

Eric Wilson

Managing Partner

September 25, 2023

5 min read

In real estate syndications, the term "preferred return" often surfaces as a key element in the investment structure. Understanding what a preferred return is and how it impacts your investment can be crucial in making informed decisions and aligning expectations. This blog aims to unravel the concept of preferred returns, offering clarity to both seasoned and novice investors.

What is a Preferred Return?

A preferred return, often abbreviated as "pref", refers to the order in which profits from a real estate investment are distributed to investors. It is a priority return that investors are entitled to receive before the general partners (GPs) or sponsors can participate in the profit sharing.

How Does a Preferred Return Work?

  1. Priority in Profit Distribution: In a typical real estate deal, investors receive a preferred return which is calculated as a percentage of their initial capital investment. This return is paid out before the sponsors or GPs receive any profit.
  2. Annual Percentage: Preferred returns are usually expressed as an annual percentage. For instance, an 8% preferred return on a $100,000 investment means the investor is entitled to receive $8,000 per year before the sponsors get their share of the profits.
  3. Cumulative or Non-Cumulative: Preferred returns can be cumulative or non-cumulative. Cumulative preferred returns accumulate over time if not fully paid in a given year, while non-cumulative ones do not carry over unpaid balances to the following period.

Why are Preferred Returns Important?

  1. Lower Risk for Investors: Preferred returns are seen as a tool to lower investment risk for limited partners. It aligns the interests of the GP with those of the investors, as the GP will only receive profit distributions after fulfilling the pref.
  2. Attractiveness of the Investment: A deal offering a preferred return can be more attractive to investors as it indicates the sponsors’ confidence in the property’s cash flow.
  3. Performance Incentive for Sponsors: Since sponsors typically earn their share of profits after paying the preferred return, it incentivizes them to perform well and maximize the property’s income.

Things to Consider

  • Impact on Cash Flow: Investors should understand how preferred returns are paid and the implications for the investment’s cash flow. For instance, if a property is not generating enough income, it might affect the payment of preferred returns.
  • Market Standards: The percentage of preferred return can vary based on market conditions, property type, and the risk profile of the investment.
  • Part of a Bigger Picture: While a preferred return is an important aspect to consider, it should be evaluated as part of the overall return profile and risk assessment of the investment.


Preferred returns are a fundamental concept in real estate investments that offer a level of protection and priority to investors' returns. They ensure that investor profits are prioritized, providing a degree of security and aligning the interests of investors with those of the sponsors. As with any investment, it’s essential to understand all aspects of the deal, and preferred returns are a crucial piece of this puzzle. By comprehensively understanding this concept, investors can make more informed choices that suit their investment goals and risk tolerance.