Time runs out for SBA refinancing program


Lisa Max, Principal at one of the Eden Homes undergoing renovation with an SBA loan. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR WASHINGTON POST)

Earlier this year, the founders of LarMax Homes, a network of six assisted-living homes in Bethesda, snapped up a two-acre parcel in McLean. They also began renovating their first property, a single-family home they bought in 2004.

It was all thanks to the $500,000 they received after refinancing four commercial loans through a temporary program offered by the Small Business Administration.

“It was very, very profitable for us,” said Lisa Max, the company’s co-founder.

The program, which expired Sept. 27 after two years, was a lifeline for many cash-strapped businesses. The program got off to a bumpy start — most of the lending didn’t happen until the last six months. There are still about 400 loan applications waiting to be processed, and the SBA still has another $500,000 to dole out.

“We just ran out of time,” said Jeanne Hulit, a regional administrator at the SBA. “We processed 115 loan applications on the last day. Our team worked up until the deadline at midnight.”

SBA officials said they’re hoping the provision will eventually be renewed. Demand for such a program remains high, they say.

“There’s been an enormous amount of interest from the business community in bringing it back,” Hulit said. “I know of at least four different pieces of legislation hoping to do so.”

The traditional refinancing program offered by the SBA requires business owners to show that they had plans to expand.

The temporary provision, however, lifted that requirement and allowed businesses to tap into more of the equity on their mortgages.

“This wasn’t about expansion,” said Christopher Crawford, president and chief executive of the National Association of Development Companies, a trade association that provides financing for small businesses.

“Frankly, it was to help small businesses that were trying to survive the recession,” he said. “We had to do something to jump-start access to capital.”

In the two years the program was in place, 18 area businesses received loans totalling $34.54 million. Nationally, the administration made 2,731 loans, totaling $5.67 billion.

For Max of LarMax Homes, refinancing her commercial loans has dropped her interest rate from roughly 7.5 percent to about 5 percent.

“In one sitting, we refinanced three existing homes,” Max said.

Construction crews are currently adding a 300-square-foot addition to one of the company’s elder-care homes, which is also being renovated to include more bathrooms and a hair salon for its eight residents.

“We would never have been able to pull out almost half a million dollars in equity,” Max said. “It‘s allowed us to expand our business rapidly and substantially.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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