The Speed of Change: CMBA Western States CREF Conference Takeaways

The summer lull, experienced by many, has given way to a pick-up in production by NorthMarq’s west coast offices. Producers from six of our offices met with our correspondent insurance companies, CMBS, bridge and bank lenders during the annual CMBA Western States CREF conference held in Las Vegas the first week in September. The tagline for the three day conference was “The Speed of Change,” a theme that rang true amongst the capital providers and mortgage bankers in attendance, all looking to set themselves apart in a competitive and ever-changing commercial real estate financing landscape. Multifamily, office and industrial continue to be the most sought after assets, while signals on retail remain mixed as the impact of the “Amazon-Effect” continues to make its presence felt. Some capital sources we spoke to have reduced their retail appetite to only grocery-anchored centers in top MSA’s, while others feel they compete best on the unanchored or shadow-anchored centers. Overall, the shift in retail seems to be fluid and evolving; where some groups see risk, others are seeing opportunity. On the bridge and mezzanine finance side, a number of new players have entered the already crowded list of firms looking to fund transitional, value-add and underperforming assets. This increased competition has caused spreads to come in and seen a growing number of firms tweak their parameters in order to win deals. Requests under $10 million and those is secondary and tertiary markets are seeing access to capital from bridge lenders who have historically stuck to larger deals in top MSA’s. This shift includes mezzanine and preferred equity providers, where some minimums have come down to as low as $3 million. Asset classes like hospitality have seen an increased access to capital, which was noticeably reduced in recent years, as lenders begin to cast a wider net to deploy their capital. CMBS lenders are on track to issue more notes in September than any other month this year, according to Commercial Mortgage Alert, as they have become comfortable with the new risk retention. While some of the big players are winning deals on superior pricing, smaller shops are getting creative in deal structures to win the business. This flexibility includes capping upfront costs, conceding on certain reserve requirements and pushing leverage. Some CMBS shops are also looking to increase production on their balance sheet bridge programs, which allows them to participate on more transitional assets and in turn increases their securitization pipeline. Insurance companies are also getting creative and breaking the mold of a “down-the-fairway” approach to lending. While they still prefer quality assets with lower leverage, the groups we spoke with point to increased competition from banks and stagnation in investment sales during the first half of the year as major catalysts to their shifting appetite. Many insurance companies have stepped into the bridge, mezzanine, and even construction space. One insurer recently funded a three year, 90 percent LTC participating construction loan on a multifamily development in the Midwest – a very unique and creative structure. On the permanent financing side, the benefits of an insurance company execution, long-term structures and low pricing, coupled with the ability to forward rate lock at application (up to 12 months), continues to set them apart from both CMBS and bank lenders. The “speed of change” seems to be driven by a multitude of factors playing out in the industry. The true beneficiaries of this change are the borrowers and mortgage bankers, who are enjoying access to historically low rates, more options than ever before, and the negotiating power to ensure they’re getting the best deal.