So what do you do when the bubbly market for your exorbitantly priced New York City commercial real estate collapses by over 50% in two years? Well, you lever up, of course.
As Bloomberg notes this morning, the ‘smart money’ at U.S. banking institutions are tripping over themselves to throw money at commercial real estate projects all while ‘dumb money’ buyers have completely dried up.
A growing chasm between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers think their properties are worth has put the brakes on deals. In New York City, the largest U.S. market for offices, apartments and other commercial buildings, transactions in the first half of the year tumbled about 50 percent from the same period in 2016, to $15.4 billion, the slowest start since 2012, according to research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc.
At the same time, the market for debt on commercial properties is booming. Investors of all stripes — from banks and insurance companies to hedge funds and private equity firms — are plowing into real estate loans as an alternative to lower-yielding bonds. That’s giving building owners another option to cash in if their plans to sell don’t work out.
“Sellers have a number in mind, and the market is not there right now,” said Aaron Appel, a managing director at brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. who arranges commercial real estate debt. “Owners are pulling out capital” by refinancing loans instead of finding buyers, he said.
But don’t concern yourself with talk of bubbles because Scott Rechler of RXR would like for you to rest assured that the lack of buyers is not at all concerning…they’ve just “hit the pause button” while they wander out in search of the ever elusive “price discovery.”
At 237 Park Ave., Walton Street Capital hired a broker in March to sell its stake in the midtown Manhattan tower, acquired in a partnership with RXR Realty for $810 million in 2013. After several months of marketing, the Chicago-based firm opted instead for $850 million in loans that value the 21-story building at more than $1.3 billion, according to financing documents. The owners kept about $23.4 million.
“The basic trend is you have a really strong debt market and a sales market that has hit the pause button while it seeks to find price discovery,” said Scott Rechler, chief executive officer of RXR.
The debt market has become so appealing that landlords are looking at mortgage options while simultaneously putting out feelers for buyers, said Rechler, whose company owns $15 billion of real estate throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. That’s a departure for Manhattan’s property owners, who in prior years would pursue one track at a time, he said.
Of course, this isn’t just a NYC phenomenon as sales of office towers, apartment buildings, hotels and shopping centers across the U.S. have been plunging since reaching $262 billion nationally in 2015, just behind the record $311 billion of real estate that changed hands in 2007, according to Real Capital. Property investors are on the sidelines amid concern that rising interest rates will hurt values that have jumped as much as 85 percent in big cities like New York, compounded by overbuilding and a pullback of the foreign capital that helped power the recent property boom.
The tough sales market has put some property owners in a bind — most notably Kushner Cos., which has struggled to find partners for 666 Fifth Ave., the Midtown tower it bought for a record price in 2007. The mortgage on the building will need to be refinanced in 18 months.
Thankfully, at least someone interviewed by Bloomberg seemed to be grounded in reality with Jeff Nicholson of CreditFi saying that it just might be a “red flag” that buyers have completely abandoned the commercial real estate market at the same time that owners are massively levering up to take cash out of projects.
Some lenders view seeking a loan to take money off the table as a red flag, according to Jeff Nicholson, a senior analyst at CrediFi, a firm that collects and analyzes data on real estate loans. It may signal the borrower is less committed to the project, and makes it easier to walk away from the mortgage if something goes wrong, he said.
But, it’s probably nothing …