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CRE Awaits Signature Bank Loan Sales For Desperately Needed ‘Pricing Signals’

As banks work to reduce their commercial real estate exposure and the Federal Reserve keeps rates at an elevated level, executives are now eyeing the outcomes of loans sales and what they could mean for the market.

Jordan Metzger of Cole Schotz onstage at Bisnow's 2023 National Commercial Real Estate Finance Conference with Cerberus Capital Management's Neha Santiago, Slate Asset Management's Brendan Shanahan, 3650 REIT's Nishant Nadella and Newpoint Real Estate Capital's Geri Borger Urgo.

“There are a lot of zombie banks out there at this point, regional community banks have got significant overexposure to real estate, significant overexposure to office. And the market, I think, is waiting for the pricing signals,” Nishant Nadella, managing director at 3650 REIT, said at Bisnow’s National Commercial Real Estate Finance Conference in New York last week.

”I think [the Signature Bank loan sales] will be an important price signal, and we will see more loan sale activity, because — unlike the GFC — where it was just the liquidity crisis, and good assets were being thrown away, today is an asset reset," Nadella added. 

Earlier this month, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. began marketing the former Signature Bank’s $33B commercial real estate loans. While New York Community Bancorp subsidiary Flagstar Bank agreed to buy assets controlled by Signature’s receiver in March, the deal didn't include Signature’s commercial real estate loan portfolio.

The FDIC has said it is planning on keeping most of loans on the rent-stabilized assets, The Real Deal reported earlier this month. While the agency said that was a standard practice, a source told the publication it was likely being done that way to ensure the rent-stabilized properties didn’t fall into decline and get snapped up by “low bidders” who refuse to work with borrowers in the event of default.

This week, Marathon Asset Management CEO Bruce Richards said the firm will bid on the portfolio — describing commercial real estate as the biggest opportunity in distressed debt right now.

“The real dislocation hasn’t quite happened yet,” Richards said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Nicholas Kamillatos, a member of law firm Rosenberg & Estis’ Administrative Law Department, said in an email that private equity and publicly traded financial institutions are likely to bid on this mortgage portfolio – providing insight into how financial institutions value New York multifamily as mortgage collateral.

“Ultimately, a sale will shed light on how they currently assess multifamily cap rates and their projections of prevailing interest rates and spreads when the pool mortgages expire,” he wrote.

Armanino's Erin Lavelle, Willow's Thomas Yoo, Bear Real Estate Advisors' Matt Bear and Naftali's Glenn Grimaldi

Clarity will be welcomed by real estate players, many of whom have been waiting to see just how distress will play out and where the activity will be.

“I think we all came back after Labor Day hoping to see some pickup and action,” said Neha Santiago, managing director at Cerberus Capital Management. “There’s a fair bit of liquidity sitting on the sidelines, kind of waiting for the distress, the interesting buying and lending opportunity ... I’m optimistic, we're going to see that more in 2024.”

For some, however, opportunities have already begun presenting themselves.

Thomas Yoo, the CEO of Willow River Capital Management, which specializes in placing capital for Asian institutional investors, said at Bisnow's event that today's environment presents a unique opportunity for those who are not very “sensitive” to capital and leverage.

“This is the time for those investors who specialize in special situation investment, whether it is NPL, nonperforming loan investment, various value-add strategies that involves inefficient capital stacks or real estate that has lost its luster because of macroeconomic issues” he said in an interview with Bisnow after the event. “It’s really the discount shoppers who have the capital, it's the 'cash is king' kind of era, and this is their time to shine.”

Armanino's Erin Lavelle, Willow's Thomas Yoo, Bear Real Estate Advisors' Matt Bear, Naftali's Glenn Grimaldi, BentallGreenOak's Abbe Franchot Borok and Peachtree's Daniel Siegel

This week, the Federal Reserve announced it wouldn't raise the federal funds rate, keeping it in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%. The Fed has raised the rate 11 times since early 2022, when U.S. inflation jumped. So far this year, around $5.65B of CMBS loans have been modified with some form of extension, per Trepp. Plus, the Trepp CMBS Special Servicing Rate has gone up seven months in a row, hitting 6.67% in August. A year earlier the rate was at 4.92%. 

“For commercial real estate, unfortunately, it feels like it's going to be a slow bleed,” Nadella said at the event.

Just this week, news emerged that Shorenstein Properties has fallen behind on debt payments on a $350M CMBS loan backed by its 1407 Broadway office property. Tishman Speyer and RFR Realty have also had their office properties in special servicing this year — though it does not always mean the asset will ultimately end up in trouble.

“Over the last several months, and there was hopes that things would get better — and the cost of capital hasn't come down, and the Fed hasn't started cutting rates,” Michael Gigliotti, the co-head of JLL’s New York Capital Markets office, said in an interview this week.

Avison Young's Scott Singer, Invesco's Yorick Starr, Cortland's Jan Lachapelle, Altus Group's Omar Eltorai, Lev's Donald Pavlov

While the Signature Bank loans have garnered significant attention, they are not the only notes hitting the market.

The $308M loan on 1740 Broadway, a mostly empty office building that Blackstone handed back to its lender last year is set to be marketed and sold off, as Bisnow reported this week.

“[A buyer] would buy it at a basis that they think they'll be able to be successful,” Gigliotti said, pointing to renovation, upgrades or cheaper office space. “I don't think that those buildings are going to be obsolete forever.”

Similarly, this week JLL listed the $240M nonperforming loan on RXR Realty’s 61 Broadway, per The Real Deal. The Financial District office building is just 57% occupied, and it had a 63K lease with Knotel signed in 2019, two years before the coworking firm went bankrupt. RXR went into default on the property in December.

Still, it is not all doom and gloom, according to Omar Eltorai, director of research at Altus Group.

“What we've seen is that the nonbank lenders are still very much active ... you have a securitization market that has not shut down," he said at Bisnow's event last week. 

“There's ample capital out there," he added. "I'm not saying that there is no concern around refinance risk, but I do think it is going to be much more selective.”