What now? That's the question on everyone's mind. Now that the dust has settled, now that the credit crunch is a reality of today's financing and lending markets, now that the quick, competitive environment of the last few years has palpably slowed … what now?
As the year gets into full swing, economists, researchers, strategists, and fortune tellers alike are trying to figure out what the economy holds for multifamily owners and investors. At a recent industry conference, it was the topic du jour. Session after session, the panelists debated the nuances.
“These waves are inevitable; this is just cyclical,” one said. “2007 was a great year, and this year will be an even better time to be an investor,” another announced. “We're really not that deep in the ditch,” said a third. One naysayer even kept repeating, “We're already in a recession. It's only going to get worse before it gets any better.” Needless to say, he wasn't a hit with the crowd.
It was a fellow attendee sitting next to me near the end of the day who summed it up best. “Cautious optimism. That's what [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke keeps calling it. We should do the same.”
Cautious optimism. In a phrase, that sums up the industry vibe. Right now, even the smartest, most competent players in the market are nothing if not hopeful. Yet they are also making careful decisions. Less than a year ago, deals would close on properties before the ink on offer sheets had time to dry. Competition was fierce, and if you didn't act right away, you would likely lose your opportunity. Today's environment is a complete reversal. fiere is finally enough time for due diligence. Buyers have the luxury of flexible terms—and the subsequent ability to back out if plans don't come together as expected.
But I worry that too much caution could be the industry's downfall in 2008. By over scrutinizing every transaction or, worse, by being afraid to be bold, the industry will leave the door open for opportunistic players to grab a sizable share of the market. After all, if everyone is waiting for someone else to complete the first big deal of the year, no one will. And that can't possibly be good for business.
Thankfully, some players, such as Riverstone Residential Group and Laramar Communities, are wisely staying the course. Riverstone is hoping to have a portfolio of 250,000 units by year's end. Meanwhile, Laramar has a $350 million fund it is working through. Neither firm has stopped working towards its goals or implementing its strategies. Others, meanwhile, are acting as if it's time to hide in a bunker until the storm passes—or someone else gets caught in its path.
So cautious optimism? Or wise gumption? The call is yours. But the time is now.
Correction Mind your Ps and Qs. Or in the case of “Coming to America,” the Done Deal department on foreign investment in the December 2007 issue of MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE, the Bs and Ds. In the article, Matt Wanderer, a principal at Miami-based Alterra Capital Group was quoted as saying, “In areas where I was competing mostly with locals before, now I am seeing German pension funds getting in. And it's not just on core assets but on D Class multifamily as well.” The quote should have read “B Class multifamily.” MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE regrets the error.
Shabnam Mogharabi, Editor