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Two years ago, almost everyone was discussing, and looking forward to, a tsunami of distressed assets which would be coming to market based upon the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the stresses it would exert on the credit markets in general. In September of 2008, when Lehman failed and Wall Street as we knew it was structurally transformed from an investment banking platform to one of bank holding companies, the “almost everyone” mentioned above was changed to “everyone”. But the tsunami has not arrived, not even close.The fact that only a few distressed assets have been put in play is not because they aren’t out there. The pipeline is chock full of them.Let’s use the New York City marketplace as an example. In the 2005-2007 period, there were $109 billion of investment sales in New York City. Based upon reductions in revenue (rent levels) across all product types including residential, office, retail and industrial and cap rate expansion, values have declined by 32%, on average, year to date. If we eliminate multifamily properties from this analysis, values have fallen from peak levels approximately 48%. Based upon these reductions, we estimate that, of the $109 billion spent on investment properties, $80 billion of that was spent on properties which now are in a negative equity position. This relates to about 6,000 properties.If we include properties which were refinanced during the 2005-2007 period, the number of properties having negative equity jumps to 15,000. We estimate that there is about $165 billion in debt on these properties and, based upon today’s underwriting standards, there should only be about $65 billion in debt on them. This means that in order to have a conservatively leveraged marketplace, we would need to extract $100 billion in debt.Clearly, this will not happen. Many investors have the ability to feed their properties and, based upon a desire to own them on a long-term basis, will do so. Other transactions will be worked out utilizing any of our favorite terms which have become commonplace in today’s vernacular including, “extend and pretend”, “delay and pray”, “a rolling loan gathers no loss” or “kicking the can down the road”. We do believe, however, that $30 to $40 billion will ultimately be extracted from the market in the form of losses.So where are those distressed assets now? Some have not come to the market because they aren’t even in default yet due to mortgages which are still in interest only periods or are operating on an interest reserve set up by the lender when the loan was originated. Others have loans floating over 30-day LIBOR which closed on friday at 23 basis points (3-month LIBOR is only at 26 basis points). At 150 over LIBOR, the rate being paid on those loans would only be 1.73% and they can cash flow at those levels of debt service. While some properties are fundamentally under water, they are not yet in default, but likely will be when these advantageous terms expire.Other distressed assets haven’t come to market because everything that has happened legislatively has allowed lenders to hide bad assets on their balance sheets. The FASB mark-to-market accounting rules have been modified to allow loss avoidance. Similarly, bank regulators will now allow lenders to hold a loan on their balance sheet at 100 even if they know that the underlying collateral for that loan is only worth 60. Additionally, modifications to the REMIC regulations have made it easier for CMBS loans to be kicked down the street.Any of these delaying tactics will only be beneficial if appreciation is anticipated in the short-run. Given the massive deleveraging the market must experience and unemployment rates which are anticipated to remain elevated for at least another year to 18 months, we do not see support for the short-run appreciation argument.We really don’t understand the reluctance of lenders to deal with these problem properties. Many of those that are in default are currently in the foreclosure process. This is a frustrating process, especially in New York, as it can take years to get through the process and obtain the title to the collateral. Many borrowers further complicate things by going into bankruptcy, which, based upon backlogs in the bankruptcy courts, adds additional time to the process.It is very difficult to say this without sounding completely self-serving ( After all, I do sell buildings and notes for a living) but, if a lender wants out of a bad deal, selling a note today is likely to lead to a better recovery than waiting a year or two.We believe this because the lack of product on the market toady has created a dynamic in which many investors are fighting over relatively few opportunities. Because of this, particularly on our income producing properties for sale, we are generally receiving 25 to 35 offers for each. Furthermore, on each note we have sold this year, we have received over 50 offers. This is due to the fact that buyers today would rather purchase from a lender than a private seller, believing they will get a better deal. “Believing” is the key word in the last sentence.Due to the excessive demand for distressed assets, buyers are currently paying aggressive prices for anything banks are selling.  In many cases this year, we have obtained prices for notes that, we believe, are at or very near the value of the underlying collateral.Some lenders are taking advantage of these dynamics to rid their balance sheets of underwater loans and are using the proceeds to make good loans today. Consider that two years ago, bank spreads, based upon all of the competition to put money out, were as low as 30 or 40 basis points. Those spreads can be 300-400 over corresponding treasuries today. Additionally, today’s loans have less risk associated with them as, rather than a loan to value ratio of 75%-85%, LTVs today are generally in the 60%-65% range. These loans are also significantly less on a price per square foot basis than they were two years ago.If your business was 10 times as profitable as it used to be and there was much less risk involved, wouldn’t you be trying to do as much business as you could?”Out with the bad, in with the good”, should be the mantra of lenders today. Until now, this has been slow to develop. To illustrate this, consider the following very telling statistics: Massey Knakal is asked by potential sellers to provide opinion of value reports and provide an explanation of our marketing program and we exclusively list about 31% of the properties that we are asked to analyze. It is just like a batting average in baseball, if we are hitting .300, we feel pretty good. With lenders and special servicers we are working with, we have completed just over 1,000 valuations and have exclusively listed just 12 properties/notes. That is a batting average of just .012. Many of these opportunities have simply not come to the market in any form. Perhaps the lender/servicer is waiting to see what the future will bring; perhaps they are simply making deals with the borrowers.We have, however, seen this freeze thawing slightly as 2009 comes to a close. We expect to be coming to market with several distressed notes from lenders and special servicers right after the holidays and remain optimistic that we will be able to continue to achieve pricing at levels where the recovery versus collateral value is significant. There are also some foreclosures which should be concluding shortly which will lead to some REO which should be placed on the market shortly thereafter.Let’s hope that 2010 sees a significant rise in these opportunities coming to market. It appears that the year will, at least, start out that way.Mr. Knakal is the Chairman and Founding Partner of Massey Knakal Realty Services in New York City and has brokered the sale of over 1,000 properties in his career.

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