Where were you when the lights went out? About this time a year ago I visited a friend and college roommate who is in the mortgage business in St. Louis. Wade, it seems, was a little disturbed by the events of that week - the credit collapse that crippled mortgage-backed securities markets and jeopardized his job. In the end, Wade came out OK, but he wasn't the only one sweating. Far from it.
"I should have that date tattooed on my head," says Stephen B. Siegel, chairman and CEO of Insignia/ESG. "We'd gone through a couple of frenzied years for investment sales and the business in general. It didn't slow down. It hit a wall with the capital-markets collapse."
With a few exceptions - notably CBS removing its headquarters from the market in New York - Siegel reports a sales rebound and a steady flow of "intelligent" capital.
Tim Ballard, managing partner and CFO at Newport Beach, Calif.-based Buchanan Street Capital, attributes last year's crisis not to real estate fundamentals, but to an economy that, overall, was too leveraged. One year later, the result is a more cautious approach.
"What separates it from crises of before is that this was really a blink of the eye," says Ballard. "Previous crises went on for years and years and were generally related to economic cycles or changes in legislation, real estate taxes or banking regulations. Here, we continue to have a strong demand for real estate almost across the board."
"There is a little more tenuous attitude in the market in terms of people's aggressiveness in underwriting real estate transactions," Ballard continues. "In early 1998 and 1997, there were a variety of players doing very well, like the Credit Suisse First Bostons and Nomuras of the world, who provided very highly leveraged financing to their clients in order to securitize debt. Those kinds of investors have been pushed out of the market, either going out of business or facing restrictions in terms of their balance sheet and what they can do."
On the CMBS side, the credit collapse may have ended the branding trend where billion-dollar issues were owned and offered by one company. Issuers are diluting their risk, Ballard says.
"What people found is that, as they held real estate debt securities on their balance sheet, they held a tremendous amount of risk," he says. "Today, you'll find a lot more people on the real estate debt origination side really emphasizing going to market with their securitizations much sooner. You're finding a lot more cooperation between various issuers of debt, so that they can pool their portfolios together and clean up their balance sheets much faster."