The return of the hotel transaction market has taken longer than expected, but a splash of high-profile acquisitions and a potential wave of distressed assets coming to market have many believing the dam is about to burst.

Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, which tracks asset sales $10 million and higher, reports more than $1.1 billion of hotel sales in the United States in September alone. To put that figure in perspective, consider there was only $2.2 billion transacted in all of 2009. Given that the velocity of transactions is accelerating, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels has boosted its 2010 forecast from the just surpassed $4.5 billion to $6.5 billion.

The buying opportunity of a lifetime many expected has not arrived, but several recent trophy assets acquired in major markets for top dollar indicate the paralysis of the past 18 months is over. A schizophrenic climate has developed, though, as many distressed assets haven’t come to market and some stabilized properties in secondary locations have drawn little interest from buyers.

Many analysts and brokers around the industry believe that is changing as all-cash-paying real estate investment trusts (REITs) drive up prices in top markets, pushing investors and opportunistic buyers to secondary cities and select-service properties.

Seeing improved operating results, forecasts and rising sales prices, lenders and special servicers have become more aggressive in selling notes and foreclosed properties. Owners not in distress also are looking to cash in, while others whose properties are headed toward default are trying to get out while they can.

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