When the economy collapsed and real estate values plummeted during the last decade, some of the real estate firms that found themselves in the worst shape were those with loans coming due. Even if you had a good piece of real estate, cash was king — banks weren’t lending it and investors weren’t spending it.
Halfway through 2014, Washington’s economy isn’t experiencing anything remotely as bad as it was then, but there is a lot of uncertainty about job and real estate growth. The federal government cut about 11,000 local jobs over the last year and the professional services industry — including contractors — shed another 8,600.
Even companies that are adding people, like some law firms, are using less office space. Unemployment locally is steady at around 5 percent.
If things don’t improve, it could make the next couple years awfully interesting for owners of big-ticket real estate in Washington. Because they have a mountain of debt coming due.
Analysts of loans backed by commercial mortgage-backed securities have begun pointing to a dramatic rise in the value of those loans that are scheduled to come due on Washington-area properties beginning in about 18 months. The services firm JLL found almost $5 billion in CMBS debt coming due on local commercial properties in 2017 alone, about four times the amount this year.
Looking at all of D.C., Maryland and Virginia (rather than just the District and the suburbs), the credit ratings firm Morningstar puts the 2017 number at nearly $10 billion.
There is more debt than this out there. CMBS loans are the most easy type of loan to track, but they constitute just one slice of the debt coming due. And with rising interest rates — the top threat to the economy according to most economists — the debt coming due in Washington could put some landowners in Washington in distress and possibly at risk of foreclosure.
Given the stability of the Washington economy in general, at this point there’s no reason to panic. Frank A. Innaurato, a managing director at Morningstar, said property owners in Washington have been able to attract bank financing much better than companies in other locations and that was likely to continue.
“Major destination or gateway markets like D.C. remain favorable from a lending and refinance perspective versus secondary and tertiary markets,” he said in an e-mail.
Wesley C. Boatwright, managing director of JLL’s capital markets group, said opportunists on Wall Street are watching the Washington area for properties that might end up on the market at a discount if owners are unable to refinance.
But he said most property owners will have options, either to sell at a good price, bring in new partners, take out a short-term bridge loan or refinance.
“The idea that there is wave of CMBS maturities is not in itself a distressed situation. You will not see people giving properties back to lenders at the level that you did in 2008, 2009 and 2010,” Boatwright said in an e-mail.
“Owners have options, some will refinance, and some won’t…We hope they consider refinancing but are equally prepared for the decision to sell. In many cases we are running dual tracks for owners. We simultaneously market an asset for sale and refinancing and then assist the owner with deciding which option is better,” he added.
The larger concern, Boatwright said, is where office growth will come from. If it doesn’t arrive, the mountain will begin looking a lot more intimidating.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz