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The multifamily market, like other assets classes, has been affected by the paralysis in the CMBS market. However unlike hotel or office, multifamily investors and developers also have the support of the government agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. True, both agencies have experienced financial difficulties themselves in recent months (http://www.globest.com/news/1040_1040/washington/166189-1.html) and have worried out loud they may bump up against the ceiling of their lending limits. (http://www.globest.com/news/995_995/washington/164131-1.html).

Yet GSA continued support — coupled with more aggressive lending from some equity providers — is closing deals and even intriguing new buying opportunities for some investors. “The two agencies are still in the market,” says David Baird, national director of multifamily for Sperry Van Ness in Las Vegas. “The underwriting is a little tighter but they are probably the only reliable long term source of financing now with decent pricing.”

Buyers must put up a larger equity piece, as much as 10%. But now that they are getting a bigger piece of the deal, equity lenders are becoming distinctly more aggressive in this space, Baird says.

With financing still relatively available, new investment opportunities for some buyers are arising, thanks to the turmoil in the residential markets, says Mike Hurst, VP of capital markets for Buchanan Street Partners. “In an environment where occupancies or rental rates are increasing, you have some opportunity to create additional NOI because of where the market is.” Because more people will be locked out of the homeowners market, demand for apartment space will cause rates to rise, he explains. In debt plays, if a borrower kicks in more equity into an acquisition financing, he or she can take advantage of a favorable swap environment to fix the cost of capital at 5%, Hurst says.

This comparatively flush lending environment, though, is subject to change if the sector’s fundamentals worsen, Jeff Friedman, a principal with Mesa West Capital in Los Angeles says. “Right now there is the assumption that fundamentals will continue to hold up in multifamily, and cap rates will increase by 50 to 100 basis points.” Changes in these assumptions will realign lending dynamics – again – for multifamily investors and developers, he says.

Hurst, for his part, is less certain about what will happen with multifamily cap rates. “It’s unclear,” he argues. “Property values will not experience as significant a deterioration as other asset classes, especially when you are in an investment that requires more equity.” Mezz or preferred equity structures, he says, help hedge against an uncertain cap rate environment.

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