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Commercial Real Estate: Hey, Save a Piece of Stimulus Pie for Me!

Following a year that saw the near meltdown of the banking system and the sweeping impact of a global recession, 2010 could shape up to be a better year for investors, though perhaps not as robust as some would wish. According to “Ordering Your Slice of the Stimulus Pie,” the latest podcast produced by John B. Levy & Co. (see podcast here), the new year has ushered in an uptick in market activity for commercial real estate investors, putting some in a position to secure stimulus bailout dollars.

“2009 started out with what I’d call the Armageddon trade,” says John Levy, founder of John B. Levy & Co., “with people predicting the collapse of not just individual banks, but the entire banking system. That mood has changed, and 2010 feels a lot better. The second half of the year promises to be better than the first. However, that doesn’t mean we’re through with the bank failure business,” Levy adds. “I see problems in areas from Arizona to Florida and California to Michigan, and the reasons can vary from cars to condos.”

Undergirding Levy’s muted optimism is what he sees as the rebirth of the market for commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS). While Levy believes the government definitely needed to step in last year with its TALF program, he predicts that improvements in the CMBS market will occur because of activity in third-party and public markets, not because of assistance from the government.

“The rebirth of the CMBS market is absolutely going to happen this year,” Levy says. “Last year, we had three CMBS deals, and that was three more than anyone predicted. The CMBS market in 2010 won’t resemble the one we knew and loved in 2007, but we will see a rebirth with reasonable and rational underwriting. I even think we’ll see the first multi-borrower CMBS deal this year.”

Levy is decidedly guarded about whether commercial real estate values will rebound in 2010. While some investors are optimistic about a resurgence in property values in 2010, Levy doesn’t share their sentiment. Rather, he believes the road to recovery for commercial real estate values will be protracted.

“Consider commercial real estate from the perspective of NASDAQ,” Levy explains. “As you recall, that index hit 5,000 in 2000. Here we are ten years later, and NASDAQ is still under 3,000. So will there be a resurgence in commercial real estate values? Yes, most likely in 2011. But returning to the levels we saw in 2007 will take time.”

In light of the huge bank bailouts we saw in 2009, there is one question on the minds of real estate developers and investors: “How can I get a piece of the stimulus pie?”

“When it comes to getting a slice of stimulus pie, some developers and investors have a place at the table,” Levy says. “Some don’t. If you own or invest in apartments, you’re in luck. When you get a real estate loan on your multifamily apartment from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, rates are one-half to one percent less than if you borrow from an insurance company. So if you happen to invest in multifamily housing, you get a direct bailout. That’s enough to make anyone’s 2010 look promising.”

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