MIAMI—From their windows at the Tampa offices of theArnstein & Lehr law firm, with all of DowntownTampa in view, Ron and Vanessa Cohn see the commercial realestate market from different vantage points. And what theysee saves their clients plenty of time and money.

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Ron, managing partner of the firm's Tampa office, focuses muchof his work on working out problem commercial realestate and other commercial loans for lenders andsecondary-market investors. His wife, Vanessa, handles closings ofnew loans for commercial lenders, as well as for buyers and sellersof commercial properties.

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And the two will often work together when Ron, the litigator,reaches a resolution of a foreclosure matter. Hethen turns the file over to Vanessa to document the settlement and,where appropriate, modify the subject loan.

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Many banks are significantly changing their approach to problemloans, Ron says, while more private lenders and investors areentering the marketplace. And with sales activity continuing toaccelerate, Vanessa talks about how today's lending environmentcompares to the overheated pre-recession market.

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GlobeSt.com caught up with talked to Ron and Vanessa about thetrends they are seeing in the Tampa Bay real estate market in partone of this exclusive interview. Be sure to come back to thisafternoon for more insights.

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GlobeSt.com: How is the makeup of lenders changing,and how is that impacting your work with resolving problemloans?

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Ron: More private commercial realestate capital providers have been getting into the marketto fund their own projects, while many are also buying andservicing existing loans made by more traditional lendinginstitutions. This is helping more deals get funded.

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At the same time, rather than incur the expense of litigation,many banks are selling more and more of their problem loans toprivate investors. These private companies often have moreflexibility in how they handle such loans, because the regulatorypressure on these investors is much less than on institutionallenders.

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I think this trend is allowing banks to be a bit more aggressivein their real estate lending, knowing they can sell a loan if itbecomes a problem. And that is helping fuel the continued reboundof the real estate market in west Florida.

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GlobeSt.com: As you work out problem commercial realestate loans for lenders, what are the keys tosuccess?

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Ron: Certainly, litigation and loan workoutscan be stressful. That said, while we are always moving our mattersforward through the litigation process, we focus on finding acollaborative business solution whenever possible. In myexperience, such a resolution is usually optimal for allparties.

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If this approach is successful, the lender gets paid all or mostof the obligation, the borrower often stays in business and itsemployees keep their jobs. Rather than taking the purely “bulldog”approach, which often results in significantly higher legalexpenses for the client, we make it clear to the borrower and itscounsel that we are open to discussing any reasonable businesssolution.

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Where the borrower is receptive, we start by taking the time tolisten to the borrower's story, and then see what they might offeras a reasonable solution. Often, this approach can cut through thefear and mistrust that defaulted borrowers often have, so they canfocus on the business problems that caused the default instead ofreacting to the situation on an emotional level, which can oftenlead to protracted and expensive litigation for both parties.

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This approach also often results in far lower legal bills forclients. When the parties are willing to talk to each other, thiscan go a long way towards making the best of an adversarialsituation. Of course, it is critical to also keep the litigationprocess moving forward until an actual agreement is reached, signedand approved by the court, as that serves to keep the borrowerfocused on the problem and, in those situations where there is noreasonable hope for a workout, we can liquidate the collateralquickly and efficiently.

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GlobeSt.com: Is the Tampa Bay real estate marketcoming back in all segments, from what you areseeing?

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Vanessa: The market is vastly improved acrossthe board. We are seeing more access to capital for deals asprivate real estate investors are making a major impact. Newprivate equity coming into real estate projects createsrevitalization of the acquired property.

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Also, we are seeing more foreign buyers lookingat the Tampa Bay area. Some of these foreign buyers are telling usthat it's become difficult to find opportunities in South Florida,where sales have been extremely brisk for a while now, so they arelooking to Florida's west coast.

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Be sure to come back to this afternoon's Miami edition,where Ron and Vanessa will discuss their views on a return to someof the irrational exuberance of the pre-recession market andmore.

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