Creditors and insurers of the troubled Equity Programs Investment Corp. (EPIC) said yesterday they are trying to determine whether the 20,000 houses owned by EPIC's investment partnerships are worth as much as the loans that have been made against them.
Executives working on efforts to bail out EPIC said they are sending representatives to look at the houses to determine how much they are worth.
A spokesman for the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, which owns $215 million in EPIC mortgages and securities, said early reports it has gotten have been encouraging. The houses "are generally well-managed and occupied. And the appraisals . . . look like they are reasonable," said Christine Lunt, senior vice president of PSFS.
A former EPIC official said he thinks most of the EPIC properties could be sold for enough to cover the first mortgages, which would protect the lenders and insurance companies that backed EPIC. But so far it is not known how EPIC's financial problems will affect the thousands of investors who put money into 300 EPIC real estate partnerships.
Mortgage industry executives briefed Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes' staff yesterday on their efforts to bail out EPIC, a sister company of Community Savings and Loan of Bethesda. Hughes has frozen all withdrawals from state-insured Community to give the companies time to work our their difficulties.
Ejner Johnson, Hughes' chief of staff, said that "to the extent we can, we will use our good offices to resolve the EPIC problem." He noted, however, that EPIC is a Virginia firm not regulated by Maryland, and "solving the EPIC problem is beyond our capabilities."
Yesterday's meeting with Maryland officials was attended by representatives of Ticor Mortgage Insurance Corp., Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp., Republic Mortgage Insurance Corp. and Salomon Brothers Inc., the Wall Street firm that raised millions of dollars for EPIC mortgages.
The mortgage insurers and investment bankers have stepped into the crisis in hopes of avoiding massive losses if EPIC collapses.
If EPIC is unable to make its mortgage payments, creditors will likely foreclose and attempt to sell the houses to recover their losses. If the price the houses brings is high enough, the mortgage holders can be paid off. If the price is not high enough, the mortgage holders can file claims against the mortgage insurers.
EPIC's problems became known last Friday when it announced it was delinquent on some payments on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities totaling about $1 billion.
If the company does not make its payments by the end of the month, lenders could declare the loans in default, leaving the mortgage insurers facing losses estimated as high as $400 million. If any of the insurance companies can't pay off on their coverage or the EPIC properties can't be sold for enough to cover their mortgages, then the lenders will face losses.
Officials of National Bank of Washington and First National Bank of Maryland, which are trustees for more than $1 billion in EPIC mortgage securities, said yesterday they are watching the situation closely and considering what action they might take.
One possibility, sources said, would be for the banks to sue EPIC in an effort to force it to use whatever cash it has to pay the mortgage lenders.
EPIC officials, who have been in virtual seclusion since the crisis became public, did not return telephone calls again yesterday.
EPIC, a Falls Church operator of real estate investment partnerships, has stated that the 20,000 houses its affiliates own are worth $1.5 billion, while the mortgages outstanding against the properties total $1.3 billion. EPIC has hired Dean Witter Reynolds to try to sell the company.
Federal Home Loan Bank Board officials confirmed yesterday that they are monitoring the EPIC situation but are not directly involved in the bailout efforts.
Community officials last week blamed the bank board for EPIC's problems. The federal agency has said it will not give Community insurance from the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. until the thrift cuts its ties with EPIC. Since the state of Maryland took over the private insurance fund that formerly insured many state-chartered S&Ls, all institutions with assets of more than $40 million have been told they must get federal insurance by the end of the year.
Federal regulators refused to discuss the financial health of Community or the status of its application for federal insurance. Community has been ordered to sell its real estate investment operations because EPIC is "just not a normal investment for a federal institution," said Carl O. Kamp, president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta.
Speculation is that EPIC will either be sold or taken over by the mortgage insurance companies themselves. John McCormack, president of Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp., said yesterday, "We just don't know what the process will eventually fill out to be with EPIC." MGIC, Ticor Mortgage Insurance and Republic Mortgage Insurance are the leading EPIC insurers.
The insurance on EPIC's thousands of rental properties is believed to cover 20 percent to 25 percent of the value of the mortgages on the properties. They are not insured for the full cost on the assumption that the property can be sold to cover the rest.
Mortgage insurance companies usually have the option of either paying their claim or paying off the entire loan, taking the house and trying to sell it. Officials familiar with the EPIC bailout efforts said the insurers are trying to determine which alternative will cost them the least money.
Either way, according to several former EPIC officials, the owners of the investment partnership interests are likely to be left out in the cold. One explained that the EPIC partnerships, which owned the houses as rental property, were structured to run at a cash deficit, and that EPIC made up this deficit with loans to the partnership.
One of these former officials said that while the houses were worth as much as the mortgages, he thought it very unlikely many would bring enough to pay off the EPIC loans. This means that investors have little hope of recovering their investment, he said.