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  • Writer's pictureRealFacts Editorial Team

When CRE Deals Use Seller Financing


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In commercial real estate (CRE), traditional bank financing has long been the cornerstone of transactions. However, as economic landscapes shift and interest rates fluctuate, alternative financing methods become more attractive. One such method gaining traction is seller financing, where sellers act as lenders to facilitate deals. This approach, though laden with trade-offs, offers unique advantages in today's market.


Case Study: Blackstone's Student Dorm Portfolio Sale


A high-profile case illustrating the resurgence of seller financing is Blackstone’s recent sale of a student dorm portfolio. The deal, highlighted by Bloomberg, involved Blackstone offering buyers the option to take over $800 million in pre-negotiated, low-rate debt. Additionally, Blackstone provided below-market financing, bringing the total package to about $1 billion. The portfolio, acquired by a joint venture between BREIT and Greystar Real Estate Partners in 2018, was valued at approximately $1.64 billion and comprised 19 properties with 10,000 beds across 14 public universities in 10 states.


Advantages and Challenges of Seller Financing


Seller financing, although not as commonly utilized as other financing routes like Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS), life insurance companies, private equity, and government-sponsored enterprises, presents a viable alternative when traditional bank loans are hard to secure. This method, however, comes with its own set of complexities. As Barry Saywitz, head of The Saywitz Company, noted in a GlobeSt.com interview, the success of seller financing hinges on the seller's willingness to carry a loan, the interest rate offered, and the loan duration.


Seller Hesitation and Market Conditions


“If I had a low rate today, maybe I'll wait and not sell the property if I believe rates will come down,” Saywitz remarked. Sellers often hesitate to offer large loan-to-value ratios, especially if the offered rate does not significantly undercut current bank rates. For instance, a seller offering a 6% rate compared to a bank's 6.5% may not create a compelling incentive for buyers.


Enhancing Deal Appeal


However, in scenarios where a deal must be closed swiftly or where buyers face financing challenges, seller financing can grease the wheels. During an April shareholder call, Blackstone's President Jon Gray highlighted the 7% premium BREIT secured for the dorm sale, underscoring how such financial strategies can bolster deal appeal in a high-interest-rate environment. Though GlobeSt.com did not find this exact wording in the earnings call transcripts, the sentiment remains relevant: seller financing can enhance deal attractiveness and help sellers achieve favorable outcomes.


Risks and Considerations


Seller financing, while advantageous, is not without its risks. It delays the seller's full receipt of sales proceeds and requires managing the loan and collecting payments. Should the buyer default, the seller must navigate foreclosure, potentially regaining the property but also absorbing the associated legal and operational headaches.


Moreover, the below-market financing tactic can obscure the true value of the transaction. As John Cona, CEO of F9Analytics, explains, offering financing at rates significantly below market can distort the perceived value of the debt. For example, issuing debt at 6.5% when market rates are 8% could lead to an instant value loss of approximately 20 cents on the dollar. This discrepancy necessitates careful consideration of how the sale and financing are presented to investors, who might struggle to discern the long-term financial implications.


In conclusion, seller financing is a strategic tool that, when used judiciously, can bridge financing gaps and facilitate transactions in challenging economic climates. However, both sellers and buyers must navigate its complexities and potential pitfalls. As CRE markets continue to evolve, seller financing will remain a critical option, offering flexibility and opportunities for those willing to engage with its intricacies.

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