Tag Archives: housing market

wood beam

As Commercial Real Estate Sector Prepares To Be Hit By Recession, Leaders Should Become Proactive

The headlines today have focused on the bailout of the banking industry and the housing market’s severe contraction. Not a lot of attention has been paid to the commercial real estate sector. As with all business cycles, there is a flow-through to the various sectors. The fact that we have lost more than 1 million jobs this year, and have had a severe reduction in housing values and record foreclosures, can only bode ill for retail and other commercial areas.

Since retail traditionally follows housing, how can it not be negatively impacted when fewer homes are being built and more and more people can barely afford their current homes? In recent months Mervyn’s, Linen ’n’ Things, The Shoe Pavilion and Circuit City have all announced either closing of some or all of their stores. The larger tenants oftentimes are the anchors of some of the smaller centers. There is usually a cascading effect on other tenants who feed off the traffic generated by the anchors. We have many clients who talk about tenants leaving in the middle of the night.

At this time, most of the bankers we have talked to have stated that they have few commercial projects on their radar, but most admit this is the next big area to hit them and the economy in general. Are they prepared and how can the lenders minimize the fallout from this?

We would like to outline some of the steps that lenders and others can take to be proactive in the process. Some lenders we have talked to take the position that they will sell the returning assets “as is,” so they do not incur anymore costs on a bad loan. This shortsighted approach will end up costing these lenders and their shareholders money.

We advise lenders to do a thorough analysis of the project in such areas as:

  • What is the current situation with the permits, utilities and other entitlements? This may unfortunately turn up information that the bank should have known about before it made the loan or kept funding it. There is a good case to not have the same people who approved the loans involved in this process. Some of these items may involve minor fixes that could make the project more marketable. For example, assume the contractor had not ordered some of the utilities, which usually involves a long lead time. By the bank being proactive (after they take the project back) and ordering some of the utilities, the project would have more appeal for a potential tenant versus sitting on the asset and waiting for things to happen. A new potential owner may have a tenant, but he needs to get him into the space within a set period of time. If the bank has done nothing but sit on the asset, the buyer may go to a project where he can get his tenant in immediately.
  • What is the status of payments to the contractors versus how much work has actually been performed? Is the project really 50 percent complete but you have paid out 60 percent, for example? Where are materials stored if ordered and paid for?
  • Another problem is when banks have the same people or departments evaluate the project. They are the ones who may have missed some of these issues to begin with. You want a fresh look at what you have. It is difficult to want to spend more money on an asset that will be a loss — but if you can do a proper evaluation of what you have, you may recoup quite a bit of additional money.

Why do Realtors for homes recommend cosmetic fixes to make them more saleable? Because they work. But the real estate owned (REO) departments of many banks do not want to incur additional costs in these areas. We like to assist the lenders by also giving some ideas on how to reposition the property. When clients come to us for an initial project, we frequently work with them on site plans. Even on a project that is partly or fully built, you can analyze how it can be revitalized and repositioned. It may have been poorly designed to begin with. Smart buyers are going to be looking at these ideas before they make an offer. If the lender hires someone to give them some of these ideas it can be very helpful information real estate brokers can use in marketing the asset.

We know of certain retailers developing new concepts to fit into smaller spaces to take advantage of a good location. If you have prepared some estimates of what would be involved to reconfigure the space, that makes it easier on the potential new owner and his tenant.

In summary, retail should be the next area to seriously impact the balance sheets of lenders. Most lenders have not had departments devoted to this problem because the market has been good for so many years. It is important to hire experts who can give an unbiased view of the asset and what can or cannot be done with the project. When a lender uses the same people or moves some of its people over they may not have the expertise to properly analyze the project to obtain the best possible value from it upon a sale.

Tucson, Arizona

Southern Arizona Trying To Set The Stage For A Post-Recession Surge

Like the rest of the state, Southern Arizona has been in a recession since 2007, and at least one prominent economist says the situation won’t be getting better anytime soon.

“My forecast is that it’s going to take a while to get (credit markets) straightened out again and functioning as they should,” says Marshall Vest, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. “I think that takes up most of 2009. Then we have all the excess housing that needs to be absorbed. That’s going to take some time and we’re not really absorbing the housing right now because credit markets have been essentially frozen. So, I think it’s the end of 2009 before the economy really regains its footing. I think we’ll start to move up in 2010. By move up, I mean the economy will once again begin to expand and enter a recovery phase.”

Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), says that despite the already deteriorating economic conditions, Tucson still managed to draw new companies and expansions in 2008.

“We’re definitely seeing a slow down in a lot of ways, both in the recruitment of companies and the expansion of companies, but not a massive downtick,” he says. “Our pipeline is as full as it’s ever been. But what we are seeing are companies that may have been ready to announce a $100 million expansion in November saying, ‘We’re going to wait on that until January, we’re cautious, we want to see what’s going to happen in the next three months.’ ”

Last year, the region still saw growth in the health care, bioscience, alternative energy and aerospace industries. Of particular note was the purchase of Ventana Medical Systems in Oro Valley by Swiss drug maker Roche for $3.4 billion. Roche also announced plans for a $100 million expansion at Ventana that would increase employment from 750 to about 1,000. In addition, Roche purchased more than 17 acres of land around the Ventana site to expand the location.

“Possibly the most significant thing we can point to though, is that 57 percent of the successful projects were in our targeted industries, and that’s important because those targeted industries represent quality rather than quantity, meaning, closing the wage gap,” Snell says. “Historically, Tucson has ranked somewhat below both the state and the national average in wages. So we’re rapidly moving in the right direction to close that gap. To me, that’s a big takeaway.”

Southern Arizona has not been immune to the effects of the housing market collapse and its devastating impact on the construction industry. For example, one of the first companies TREO recruited, window and doormaker Pella Corp., announced in November 2008 that it was idling its Tucson plant, affecting 65 workers. When Pella first located to Tucson in 2005, company officials said it had plans to employ more than 400 people at its facility.

Still, as Vest points out, since the construction boom was not as great in Southern Arizona as it was in the Phoenix area, the drop has been less precipitous. For example, year-over-year job losses in the construction industry in October 2008 stood at 4,000 in the Tucson metro area, according to figures from the Arizona Department of Commerce. In the Phoenix-Scottsdale-Mesa area, 30,000 construction industry jobs were lost during the same period.

“Commercial (construction) is still in relatively good shape. Vacancy rates are moving up, but they are still fairly low. Tucson didn’t see the construction boom in commercial that you saw in Phoenix, so, commercial construction here in Tucson doesn’t have as far to fall,” Vest says. “For residential, the indicators that I see are pretty comparable to Phoenix, except for the housing price data. I don’t think the declines have been quite as large (in Southern Arizona).”

Snell says that so far, Southern Arizona has managed to hold its own on employment.

“We have losses in construction, but we’re gaining it on biotech, we’re gaining it on solar, we’re gaining it in logistics companies. I think right now we’re sort of a wash,” he says.

Vest, however, expects more job losses across the state as the recession drags on through 2009. In fact, comparisons of unemployment rates from 2007 and 2008 already are startlingly eye opening.

In October 2008, the unemployment rate for the state, the Phoenix metro and the Tucson metro stood at 6.1 percent, 5.5 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively. In October 2007, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, Phoenix’s was at 3.4 percent, and Tucson came in at 3.9 percent.

“I think the unemployment rate will likely reach 8 percent before we’re through,” Vest says.

Vest adds that rate is in line with the jobless figures of the last major recession of the early 1980s. Back then, unemployment peaked at 13 percent in the state, 8.9 percent in Phoenix and 10.5 percent in Tucson.

Fortunately for Southern Arizona, Vest says, the region’s economy is considerably more diverse than it was in the early ’80s. But with credit still tight and the housing market stuck in freefall, Vest cautions about being too optimistic on the strength of a recovery.

“I really think this recovery is probably going to be muted. I don’t see us rebounding very strongly. The process is going to take awhile,” he says. “This recession is going to be longer than the recessions of the early ’80s or mid ’70s. If it stretches through 2009 and the recession began in the fourth quarter of 2007, we’re talking about a two-year-long recession. Nationwide, the longest recession has been 16 months.

“It’s been a very long time in this country since we have encountered a very severe recession. The recessions of 2001 and 1991 were both very short and shallow. They barely qualified as recessions, rather than a growth slowdown. It’s only the gray hairs that remember what a severe recession is like,” Vest adds. “This is scary. This is messy. But we’ve been through this before. If you are a business and you can hang on and remain solvent and get through this, there will be plenty of opportunities on the other side. I would also say that it’s during times like this that the seeds are sown for fortunes to be made. Savvy investors will take positions in markets where assets are cheap and will benefit handsomely as the economy recovers —as surely it will. And the deep pockets know that and there is a lot of money on the sidelines waiting for the right opportunity.”

Snell agrees, adding that now is the time for Southern Arizona to stake a claim in future growth and prosperity.

“We’re not going to ride out the recession. I’m a big believer that now is the time to get aggressive,” he says. “I think we have a good head of steam. At this point, I would say Tucson is as competitive as any major city in the country, including Phoenix. That’s a first for us. Are we going to get cooled off by the national economy? Yes, absolutely. But I think we’re in as good a position as anyone coming out of this recession to capitalize, and maybe within this recession to capitalize.”

www.arizona.edu
www.treoaz.org
www.azcommerce.com

ForeclosureFallout

As More People Lose Their Homes, Banks Are Left Holding The Keys

Acquiring real estate through foreclosures is not exactly the type of transaction banks relish. That’s especially true in a down market that is overloaded with raw land and homes — and a paucity of potential buyers.

Estimates of the amount and value of acquired real estate through foreclosures are difficult, if not impossible, to come by, an industry insider says. A lot of the banks don’t want to talk about it.

“It’s ugly for everyone involved and you can’t even get the Federal Reserve to talk about it,” the insider says.

Anthony B. Sanders, professor of finance and real estate at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, sums up the somewhat dismal situation: “Banks are not in the business of being portfolio managers, either vacant land or housing.

“The way they’re trying to get rid of properties is that most banks are doing packaging. They sell packages of defaulted properties to investors around the United States,” he continues. “They started with national lenders, but there was very little interest in that. Then they went to regional packaging. That didn’t work either. Let’s face it, nobody really wants a Detroit-area loan or housing package.”

What’s happening is that hedge funds and equity funds are looking for very specific types of properties. Raw land value is highly dependent on where the land is.

“That’s why they don’t want to buy large portfolios,” Sanders says. “Because on the urban fringe, when you get way out west or southeast of Phoenix, some of that land they cannot literally give away. The reason is there is no foreseeable development going on in those areas.

“They’re looking for anything related to water rights or mineral rights — anything with natural resource implications still has a positive value,” Sanders says.

Until housing makes a comeback, banks are not finding a lot of interest in 40-acre tracts of desert that someday could be converted into a housing development, Sanders says. Some banks have defaulted single-family homes, often in remote areas.

“During the boom, and until fairly recently, a lot of starter homes were built in areas near Queen Creek, where land prices were fairly inexpensive for the Phoenix market,” Sanders says. “That market has really gotten beaten up pretty hard.”

National and regional bidders for those packages are few and far between.

“It brings back the old adage of location, location, location,” Sanders says. “If you’re planning properties located on major golf courses, or some properties in Scottsdale, there’s interest in that. In the classic subprime neighborhoods, which tend to be lower income, there’s not a lot of interest.”

In the meantime, banks are running around trying to peddle their packages. It’s more feasible to sell packages instead of marketing individual properties, because bank real estate portfolios are overflowing.

“Packages provide a good indication of which areas of Phoenix are likely to keep dropping like a rock,” Sanders says. “It’s those areas where there isn’t any interest in bank packages, which means the market doesn’t think they’re near the bottom. In some areas of Phoenix, the bottom may be a little ways away.”

With packaging of perhaps as many as 200 properties at a time, come discounts.

“The nasty part is that some of these properties are being offered at a big discount and they still can’t get rid of them,” Sanders says.

Even so, there continues to be interest in Ahwatukee, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, which Sanders says means the housing market is showing some signs of life. But he adds this ominous observation.

“This is very reminiscent of the RTC (Resolution Trust Corporation) fiasco after the savings-and-loan debacle. It’s just like when the RTC was putting together packages. That’s the tipoff. Anytime you see packaging, that should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.”

At the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions, which regulates state-chartered banks and none of the large national ones, Tom Wood, division manager for banks, also recalls the S&L collapse.

“We had a lot of raw land in the 1980s,” he says. “Thank goodness we don’t have much of that now.”

Most of the real estate banks are trying to get rid of consists of single-family homes, Wood says.

“Very rarely do we see raw land,” he says. “Some banks don’t want to own it because it takes longer to get rid of. If they foreclose on raw land, they probably sell it at a sheriff’s sale.”

Wood expects a continued uptick in bank acquisitions of real estate, but sees very little of that among state-chartered banks. He suggests that some larger banks might be bundling foreclosed properties and attempting to dispose of their holdings through auctions or developers.

Depending on which economist you talk to, a substantial housing turnaround won’t happen until 2010. Some say 2009; and yet, as Sanders says, there are signs of life in 2008.

“For certain areas, recovery is there,” Sanders says, “but if I’m sitting in Buckeye, Avondale, Queen Creek and parts of Gilbert, I wouldn’t look for a speedy return.”