Waiting for Distressed Deals to Come to Market

The market is waiting for distressed assets to start hitting the market. At the moment, the standoff between buyers and sellers over asset pricing has sidelined most transactions. 

But it is only a matter of time before buyers will need to sell troubled assets, the only question being when. 

Nathan Whigham, president of EN Capital, thinks it could happen by the end of the summer.

“Unless someone comes up with a vaccine tomorrow, I don’t see how we don’t get to a point between now and the end of the year, if not probably at the end of the summer, where people are forced into a position where they have to transact,” Whigham says.

With the massive unemployment occurring, it will be hard for tenants of all types to make rent. “I don’t know what the unemployment rate is,” Whigham says. “I don’t think anyone actually knows, but people are saying it could be 20% or even higher. I don’t see how it’s possible that does not have a massive ripple effect around the economy and real estate is definitely going to feel it.”

Already, groups have approached Whigham, a mortgage broker, in search of distressed debt. About a month ago, EN Capital sent out an email seeking those assets. 

“A few deals popped up, but the level of distress was not severe enough to see a discount large enough [to make deals],” Whigham says.

What the experience did prove was that there is a lot of capital on the sideline—poised to buy debt when pricing becomes attractive. “There is not a lack of liquidity in the market,” Whigham says. “The market was already flush with cash, and now with what the Feds have done, there’s even more.”

Right now, it’s better to have that capital amassed than the alternative. “If things settled down and there was no capital out there that’s capable or willing to be put to work, which is kind of what happened after in the last crisis, then you can have years of no new construction or new product coming to market,” Whigham says. “At the end of the day, when the dust settles, it will be a lot better to have a very liquid market, especially in times of such incredible uncertainty.”

What kind of discount are these buyers looking for? Whigham says it varies based on property type and market.

Whigham thinks apartments will hold up relatively well.  “Every major city in America, for the most part, has been in a severe housing crisis,” he says. “There’s a huge supply and demand imbalance around how this will affect housing demand, but maybe you see households consolidate or stuff like that. Still, that imbalance is so severe that I don’t think you’re going to see apartment vacancy rates in cities like Los Angeles start dropping dramatically.”

Retail, on the other hand, could be facing trouble. “Inline strip retail that goes dark may never get reactivated again,” Whigham says. “It will probably be repurposed or just torn down and redeveloped. Then with hospitality, there is another conversation about what happens there.”

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