Alliance Mortgage Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., foreclosed on 64 units at the Park Place Condominiums in Alexandria this week after their investor-owners stopped making mortgage payments.
Alliance had foreclosed on 37 other units at the condominium several weeks ago and is planning another foreclosure auction for 50 more units next month. So far, the mortgage company has purchased all the units sold at foreclosure and wants to resell them, although a spokesman said that Alliance has no set plan at this time.
Although it is not unusual for some owner-investors to abandon condominium units, industry analysts indicate that Park Place's problem is unusually severe.
Tenants at the three-building, 417-unit high-rise at 2500 N. Van Dorn St. say they are relieved that Alliance is moving to take over the abandoned units because they believe such a step will solve persistent management problems at the complex.
Park Place was converted to a condominium in 1984, but instead of selling units to people interested in living in the apartments, the developer syndicated the project. As a result, only seven of the 417 units are occupied by their owners.
The investor-owners say they originally purchased the units because of the tremendous tax benefits of the deals set up by the developer, rather than because of the real estate itself.
But these tax benefits have become gradually less attractive, and more than 150 of the owners have stopped paying their mortgages and simply are walking away from the units.
In their wake, the owners have left a condo beset with problems. With a large number of absentee owners and with many abandoning their interest in the property, responsibility and leadership has been split among the tenants occupying the units, the owners that control the condominium association and several management companies hired by the absentee owners to handle leasing, collect rents and take care of maintenance problems.
"We still have people who don't know who to pay their rent to and who to call when they have maintenance problems," said Georgia Sacher, president of the Park Place Tenants Association. "But we are hoping that, with Alliance going ahead with foreclosures, that will be a positive step."
Sacher said that her group has asked Alliance to meet with them to discuss what will happen when Alliance resells the units it has taken over.
"We realize that, as tenants, we only have limited rights, but some of us have been through a lot because of these problems, and maybe Alliance would be willing to offer units at a discount to some of us," Sacher said. "People just don't want to get thrown out." Sacher said Alliance has not yet responded to the request, but that the company did meet with the tenants this summer to discuss management problems at the complex.
Although the resolution of problems at Park Place now appears to be in the hands of Alliance Mortgage, those problems stem from the kind of deal that the developer, Consolidated Financial Services of Santa Ana, Calif., originally offered investors.
In a prospectus distributed to potential buyers, Consolidated Financial Services, working through a subsidiary called Park Place Development Corp., offered units for sale with only a 10 percent down payment. The prospectus also said, however, that investors could get back 90 percent of the down payment as a second loan on the unit to cover operating and refurbishing expenses.
Sale prices for condos at the complex ranged from $44,000 for an efficiency to $110,000 for a three-bedroom unit, considered by industry analysts to be top market prices at the time.
In a typical deal, the investor could purchase a $70,000 unit by putting up $7,000 in cash and getting a mortgage from Alliance that had a graduated-payment schedule starting at an interest rate of about 9 percent. The overall effective interest rate on those loans, however, was 12 1/2 percent, which meant that the amount of money owed on the unit would increase rather than decrease during the first few years of the loan as the unpaid portion of the interest was tacked on to the principal.
The investor then could get a $6,300 second loan from another lending company, reducing his cash investment on a $70,000 unit to just $700. In addition to getting a low down payment, the investor could depreciate the unit as rental property over the next 20 years, increasing the amount of tax deductions that the investment would yield. The depreciation also could be taken under an accelerated schedule, yielding higher depreciation in the early years of the investment.
With most of the tax and investment benefits front-loaded in the first few years, one real estate agent who analyzed the prospectus said it was not surprising that many investors are abandoning their units now that the mortgage payments are beginning to rise according to the original graduated-payment schedule. Park Place Development officials could not be reached for comment.
Mark Looney, coordinator of landlord-tenant relations for Alexandria, said the city encouraged Alliance to go ahead with the foreclosures so that ownership responsibility at the condo could be consolidated.
"We're concerned about the problems that could come up if there's a lot of confusion" about management responsibility, Looney said. "What's happening at Park Place could be an early warning of possible future problems in other buildings."
Although only a few condominiums in Alexandria are predominantly investor-owned, the trend is toward more investment ownership, Looney said.