Despite a slowdown in the second half of 2011, panelists on "Construction Capital's Comeback: Beyond the Blueprint" at the Apartment Finance Today Conference in Las Vegas this week remained confident that construction markets hadn't deteriorated over the past year.
Charles Halladay, a director at HFF, said that he was seeing construction debt stay at about where it was last year at this time—55 to 70 percent loan-to-cost and at 190 to 300 basis points over LIBOR—for the deals that he’s been putting together. "That's what it's been for the last year," he said.
For the lenders on the panel, things actually picked up from 2010 to 2011. Mike McAfee, southwest division manager for Wells Fargo, said his bank originated $11.7 billion in commercial real estate in 2010 and $25 billion in 2011. Apartments accounted for 18 percent of that volume, trailing offices, which were over 20 percent. "The banks have liquidity," McAfee said.
Edward Tellings, senior managing director and FHA chief underwriter at Red Mortgage Capital, said construction lending was about 10 percent of his firm's lending.
Not all construction capital is equally spread, though. The panelists hit on a common theme—the bifurcated market. Halladay noted the disparity in flow of capital between core and tertiary markets by the actions of lenders interested in deals in Orange County, Calif., versus tertiary markets. In Orange County, he sees 10 or more sources of debt available, while in tertiary markets, it's one or two lenders who have established relationships with borrowers. Equity is also averse to moving out of the core. He says they'll take lower yields to go into Orange County versus less desirable locales.
McAfee said he follows his clients and, for the most part, they've stuck to the core. But in a company as big as Wells, there will always be lending in smaller markets.
"Somebody in Wells will be focused on secondary and tertiary markets," he said.
One constant source of debt in tertiary and secondary markets is, of course, from HUD. While the program has gotten a lot of bad press for slow processing, Thomas Booher, executive vice president with PNC Real Estate, thinks the agency’s efficiency is improving. Tellings says processing FHA 221(d)(4) loans takes about nine to 12 months. For an audience that seemed very interested in locking up long term debt, Tellings sold the fact that the construction rate is the permanent rate with FHA.
"The rate you lock in today will be your rate in 12 months," he said.
In this topsy-turvy economy, developers, at least, will undoubtedly be happy to have that certainty.