Commercial Real Estate

Congressional Oversight Panel on Commercial Real Estate

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The Congressional Oversight Panel released their 189 page, February report entitled “Commercial Real Estate Losses and the Risk to Financial Stability” on February 10th. Typical of government reports of its kind, the authors are long on explanations, coupled with impressive analysis, but short on solutions.

At least the report does make one thing clear, they are worried. In fact the opening paragraph follows verbatim:

"The Congressional Oversight Panel is deeply concerned that commercial loan losses could jeopardize the stability of many banks, particularly the nation‘s mid-size and smaller banks, and that as the damage spreads beyond individual banks that it will contribute to prolonged weakness throughout the economy."

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This is hardly breaking news.

Journalists, economists, and real estate analysts have been watching and waiting for the collapse of the commercial real estate market and its aftermath for the past three years.

So what is the government plan for dealing with the commercial real estate meltdown?

I have searched far and wide and I haven't been able to find any clear cut or decisive plan that any government agency has created so far for dealing with the problem. Furthermore, if the results of previous programs that have been levied to prevent and slow the residential real estate foreclosure crisis such as The Home Affordable Mortgage Program, or HAMP, are any indication of the government's ability to deal with the commercial real estate loan crisis than the U.S. economy could be if for real trouble.

HAMP began just over a year ago as a program designed to help homeowners modify their mortgages. The modifications were designed to lower the monthly payments that homeowners make on their mortgages in an effort to prevent foreclosures. The goal of HAMP was to create 3 to 4 million permanent home loan modifications. Instead, as of now HAMP has only created a mere 66,465 permanent modifications. In a recent report on the number of total foreclosures in the U.S for 2009, showed a total of 3,957,643 foreclosure filings (default notices, scheduled foreclosure auctions and bank repossessions) on 2,824,674 U.S. properties in, a 21 percent increase in total properties affected from 2008 and a whopping 120 percent increase in total properties affected from 2007. To make matter even worse, a full 25% of homeowners are living in homes that are worth less than their mortgage balances. It really is only a matter of time before these people realize that it is better to walk away from their homes than to continue to pay on a liability that has a strong chance of decreasing in value even more. Based on these figures and circumstances it is clear that HAMP has so far been an ineffective program.

Banks are now reporting to Congress that they have failed to convert many temporary HAMP modifications into permanent modifications because the borrowers were not giving the banks the necessary paperwork they need to complete their files. In a familiar refrain, the banks are once again blaming the borrowers.

Sadly, one of the only solutions that the Congressional Oversight Panel suggests for dealing with the potential catastrophe of the commercial real estate market are more loan modifications. However, one is left to wonder, if the banks have failed to hire and train the necessary staff to successfully handle the influx of residential loan modifications under the HAMP program than how are they going to handle the larger and more complex task of modifying commercial loans? At least the government had a program in place to deal with the residential loan modifications. The plan now is to leave it up to the banks . . .