The Housing Chronicles Blog: Bad due diligence leads to financial catastrophe for commercial property investors

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bad due diligence leads to financial catastrophe for commercial property investors

Throughout this real estate bust I've been banging the drum that it was bad due diligence on real estate investments that led to to catastrophe, whether it was a young family stretching to buy a home, lenders funding a construction loan for a new subdivision or, more recently, private equity firms unloading trophy office properties. If you only trust those who are making money from your transaction, then you must be prepared for the consequences of such a decision. From a New York Times story:

In 2007, Sam Zell, the billionaire Chicago investor, sold a portfolio of 573 properties he had assembled over three decades, Equity Office Properties Trust, to the Blackstone Group for $39 billion. It was the largest private equity deal in history, but Blackstone did not stop there: it immediately flipped hundreds of the buildings for $27 billion. Today, the wreckage of those purchases is strewn across the country, from Southern California to Austin, Tex., to Chicago to New York. Many of the 16 companies that bought Equity Office buildings are now stuck with punishing debt, properties whose values are plummeting and millions of feet of office space they cannot fill... The impact could ripple beyond the companies that bought Equity Office buildings and the investment banks that financed them. If the owners cannot make their loan payments, it could create a financial crisis for the pension funds, hedge funds and insurance companies that hold securities based on Equity Office mortgages... Mr. Zell, who became chairman and chief executive of the Tribune Company after selling Equity Office, amassed his supersize real estate portfolio over many years. But the deal to sell the properties to Blackstone, the big private equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, occurred with lightning speed and what one executive who participated in the transaction called, “short-form due diligence.”... The buyers found lenders only too willing to finance as much as 90 percent or more of the purchase price, even as profit margins shrank, on a bet that rents and values would continue to rise. The investment banks, including Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, in turn collected their fees as they packaged the loans as securities and sold them to investors...

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