Is the distress everyone is talking about finally here? If you look at some recent news releases from real estate brokers and private equity sources, you may think the vultures are starting to find their prey.
GFI Capital Resources Group acquired two North Miami Beach multifamily commercial mortgages from a regional bank, with a face value of about $13 million in early February. Apartment Realty Advisors (ARA) recently brokered the sale of Villas at Lauderhill, a 405-unit vacant project in Lauderhill, Fla., to Priderock Capital Partners in late December 2008.
But if you look closer, you'll realize it's just more of the same in Florida. "Most of the sales in this market are distressed," says Avery R. Klann, senior vice president with Apartment Realty Advisors, a brokerage firm in Boca Raton, Fla. "The seller is in trouble or the bank is selling it, or it's a combination of both, which is a short sale."
But Peter Zalewski, a principal with Condo Vultures, a Bal Harbour, Fla.-based consulting firm, thinks these sales could be the start of something big. He says buyers from Singapore, Monaco, England, Germany, France, Italy, Columbia, and other countries are looking at assets. "Its mind-boggling how much money is circling," he says.
Zalewski says he's seen six deals of distressed assets in the last couple of months. "Lenders are starting to get impatient," he says.
Around the rest of the country, which, in some cases, is a couple of years behind Florida, market watchers still think it will be a little while before a flood of distressed apartments hit the market.
"There are a lot of properties that aren't even worth the debt," says David Schwartz, managing member for Waterton Associates, an apartment owner and manager based in Chicago. "There's a lot of new construction that has debt coming due. That's going to take time to go through a system to where a buyer will buy it. I think 2009 is too soon. I think it's more 2010 and 2011."
Peter Donovan, senior managing director for multi-housing capital markets at CB Richard Ellis, sees commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) delinquencies going up because of the economic meltdown. But the bigger loans that attract vultures are generally on the bank's watch list. It's the smaller ones that have actually been repossessed.
"We don't see a lot of activity with vulture funds right now," Donovan says. "It's early. There s a lot of noise about special servicers and what's going on in their portfolio. Clearly, their watch lists are up. That has yet to translate into a lot of REO [Real Estate Owned by banks]. The REO number has grown marginally. There's just not a lot of that coming to market yet."