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SACRAMENTO-The private REIT Berkeley Capital Trust is planning to capitalize on the recession by purchasing properties for their CMBS loan balances that are coming due. Berkeley Capital’s acquisitions VP Ricki Heck tells GlobeSt.com it recently closed its first such deal at a 9.1% cap rate.

Simple math explains why Heck expects more of these types of opportunities. If you have a $10-million property and you put a 65%, five-year CMBS loan on it in 2005 and your value then dropped by 30% to $7 million due to the recession, you’re going to need to bring $3 million to the table next year in order to refinance because banks are now only lending on 50% of the value.

That, basically, is what happened to Business Property Trust of Portland, which recently sold Berkeley Capital Trust an 80%-leased, 153,000-square foot industrial development in the Rancho Cordova submarket here for the property’s CMBS loan balance of $6.63 million or $43.47 per square foot. The property was appraised at $9.81 million in 2004 but rents due to the recession have since fallen from the $0.80s and $0.90s per square foot per month to the $0.50s per square foot. The loan was coming due in January 2010.

“It would have been impossible for [the seller] to refinance because he would have to pay down the debt to 50% of the value,” Heck says. “He would have had to come up with millions of dollars and that kind of equity is tough to come by.”

Located at 10255-10275 Old Placerville Road in the Rancho Cordova submarket, Skyway Commerce Center consists of three buildings built in 1988 as well as several fenced yards for storage. The buildings are currently demised into 50 units ranging in size from 1,660 square feet to 12,700 square feet. There is currently 31,500 square feet of vacant but ready-to-use space.

The purchase marks the first California acquisition for the private REIT’s parent Berkeley Advisors since 2004 and its first acquisition nationally since early 2008. Berkeley Capital principal Mike Snegg says the company plans to stabilize the building’s occupancy and bring the rents back to market over the next 3 years.

“We have been tracking real estate values from Texas to California; it has been years since we have seen anything worth buying in California,” Snegg says. “If history repeats itself, values will be at 2004 levels at some point in the future.”

Heck says the company has nothing else under contact at this time but is negotiating on five other deals in California and Arizona where owners are in the exact same situation. “These are almost always off-market deals,” Heck adds. “The margins are so thin that there’s no room to pay hundreds of thousands in brokerage commissions.”

Speaking of brokerage commissions, Heck says Berkeley Capital Trust also no longer uses third party brokerage firms to lease up its vacant spaces in any of its markets, instead preferring to hire its own employees who also act as property managers. They get a base salary plus a bonus for occupancy and a bonus for tenants paying on time, Heck says.

“We have achieved much better success,” Heck says. “One year ago our occupancy portfolio-wide was 60% and now it is 80%.”

By having in-house staff who can focus only on leasing a particular asset — as opposed to a third-party broker focused on leasing multiple properties for multiple clients – and by focusing more on keeping the buildings full as opposed to maximizing the rental rate for each tenant, Heck says the company hopes to come out ahead in the end.

“We’ve been through several of these and it’s not going to last forever,” Heck says. “If you can get tenants in your building even at a low rate and keep them happy, eventually, when the rates start going back up, we will have had the tenant and built a loyalty.”

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