Office Owners Face Financing Dilemma

The pressures of rising interest rates and declining property values are making it a tall order for owners to get loans. What are the options?

Preston Young, National Head, Office Investor Services, Stream Realty Partners. Image courtesy of Stream Realty Partners

Faced with myriad challenges including rising interest rates, declining values, expanding cap rates and decreasing demand, office landlords need to make tough decisions amid limited financing options. The collapse of several banks and mounting pressure on regional banks has made a tight lending market even more difficult to traverse.

Citing all the headwinds impacting the commercial real estate sector and office market in particular, Preston Young, national head of office investor services at Stream Realty Partners, put it bluntly: “It’s simple yet painful math.”

“The rise of interest rates is obviously increasing the expected return cost of not just you as a borrower but also your future buyer and what is that future cap rate? That’s the great question on everyone’s mind right now and it’s leading to a lot of pause in underwriting all around the country right now,” Young said. “The recent stress on banks for the last couple of weeks is only going to compound the problem just because there’s going to be even greater scrutiny.”

READ ALSO: Why the Fed Will Keep Raising Interest Rates

That scrutiny comes amid a barrage of bad news about the sector. Green Street reported that stated national office real estate values dropped 25 percent in 12 months. U.S office vacancies rose for the fifth consecutive quarter in the first quarter to 19 percent, up 20 basis points from the previous quarter, and nearing the record 19.3 percent in 1991, according to a first-quarter preliminary trends report from Moody’s Analytics.

Shlomi Ronen

Shlomi Ronen, Managing Principal, Dekel Capital. Image courtesy of Dekel Capital

Tech industry layoffs are continuing with streaming company Roku Inc. announcing it’s cutting 200 employees for a total of 400 since November, and giving up leases or subleases for office space it no longer uses. According to Savills’ latest Tech Tenant report, the technology industry leased 2.2 million square feet of office space in the fourth quarter of 2022, the lowest quarterly volume leased in the last five years. Sublease space is rising, hitting a record 242.7 million square feet of availability in the fourth quarter of 2022, up from 232.8 million square feet in the third quarter and considerably higher than the peak of 143.3 million square feet in the second quarter of 2009, Colliers stated in its Top 50 U.S. Markets Report.

“It’s a perfect storm for office right now,” said Shlomi Ronen, managing principal of Dekel Capital.

Maturities looming

Jamie Woodwell, Mortgage Bankers Association, vice president, head of commercial real estate research, said out of $750 billion in outstanding office loans, the MBA expects $190 billion maturing this year, with $117 billion maturing in 2024. Because commercial and mortgage loans tend to be long term in nature, Woodwell notes only a fraction come due in a typical year. He said 16 percent of a total $4.5 trillion in CRE and multifamily loans are maturing this year across every property type and capital source. Office is the second-largest category behind multifamily of mortgages held by bank and non-bank lenders.

Jamie Woodwell, Vice President of Commercial Real Estate Research, MBA

Jamie Woodwell, Vice President of Commercial Real Estate Research, MBA. Image courtesy of MBA

“I think the office properties that will face the greatest challenges are the ones where the deal was done when the interest rates were in a much more positive place,” Woodwell added. “There’s also a cloud over office, some of which is probably appropriate, some of which may not be. It’s also probably keeping some equity and debt on the sidelines that might otherwise be there.”

Lonnie Hendry, head of CRE & Advisory Services at Trepp, is tracking the securitized loan market and said there is about $43 billion in office maturities coming due in 2023 and 2024. This year, office maturities are second behind $29.6 billion in multifamily maturities, with $21.7 billion coming due. The number for 2024 is similar, with approximately $21.1 billion in office maturities. Those numbers include CMBS conduit, large loan, small loan, single-asset single-buyer (SASB) and CRE CLOs.

READ ALSO: Office, Retail Net Lease Cap Rates Reach Highest Level Since 2020

Lonnie Hendry, Head of CRE & Advisory Services, Trepp

Lonnie Hendry, Head of CRE & Advisory Services, Trepp. Image courtesy of Trepp

Hendry noted 2023 maturities include $14 billion in SASB loans maturing compared to $7.9 billion in 2024. The conduit CMBS loan maturities for 2023 is $4.6 billion compared to $10.1 billion in conduit in 2024.

“Based on historical SASB, those properties are probably the better-quality assets. In 2023, they were the predominant class so you might have a better chance at getting favorable refinance terms if that’s such a thing in 2023,” Hendry said. “But in 2024, with conduit being the largest subset, those are probably going to be more of the Class B, smaller type of office deals that may really, really have some challenges refinancing.”

Of the $43 billion in upcoming office maturities, approximately $29 billion in maturing mortgages have offices built in 1990 or earlier, 62 percent of which have current occupancy less than 80 percent.

Refinancing concerns

A CBRE cap rate survey showed about 60 percent of commercial real estate professionals who responded expected owners of Class B and C office properties to have trouble refinancing. Slightly more than 10 percent said higher LTVs and issues facing the office sector could also impact Class A owners. The survey found respondents expect average LTVs to continue to fall over the first six months of 2023. The report noted some properties due for refinancing will have trouble obtaining mortgages and owners may be forced to sell or default.


Image by Artistic Operations via

The industry is already seeing some defaults. In one of the more high-profile examples, a Brookfield Asset Management fund defaulted on more than $750 million in debt backing two downtown Los Angeles office towers earlier this year. Asset manager Pimco defaulted on a mortgage backed by a portfolio of offices including properties in New York and San Francisco.

“Historically when you see a credit crisis or liquidity or increase in cost of capital it’s usually the smaller players that get squeezed out first,” noted Hendry. “What we’ve seen here, or at least initially, is some of these bigger players are feeling the brunt of this or are at least being proactive and basically cutting their losses now versus waiting.”

Ronen said he expects to see more owners walk away.

“They’re going to have to face reality where they’re going to have to put in additional equity in order to refinance projects and the likelihood of the property getting to valuation based on where rental rates are, occupancies and cap rates, the valuation’s just not there right now,” Ronen said. “We’ve seen some people try [to sell] but I imagine they’re having a hard time finding buyers willing to pay what the sellers need in order to be made whole, especially in office.”

Christopher Wimmer, head of the Fitch Ratings REIT group

Christopher Wimmer, CFA Senior Director, Fitch Ratings. Image courtesy of Fitch Ratings

Christopher Wimmer, head of the Fitch Ratings REIT group, said Fitch believes office REITs will face increasing difficulty sourcing debt and equity for any purpose, let alone refinancing debt maturities, due to declining demand for office space.

“Deteriorating fundamentals are driving valuations lower, which is in turn increasing lender apprehension. Defaults resulting from the inability to refinance are the result,” he said.

Darin Mellott, senior director of capital markets research for the Americas at CBRE, said he anticipates seeing a continuation of some owners walking away while some will seek extensions in anticipation of a more favorable rate environment in the future.

READ ALSO: What the UBS-Credit Suisse Deal Means for CRE

Darin Mellott, senior director of Capital Markets Research for CBRE

Darin Mellott, Senior Director of Capital Markets Research for the Americas, CBRE. Image courtesy of CBRE

“You’ll likely see some infusion of equity to rebalance loans. You may see some cash-in refinancing. All of that said, we don’t know exactly how all of this will play out. So much will depend upon the path of interest rates, broader financial conditions and guidance from regulators,” Mellott said.

Hendry said there might be a hybrid solution for performing assets that could entail getting some upfront cash from the borrower but not requiring the amount needed for a full refi.

“It buys the borrower some time and it buys the lender some time,” Hendry said. “This would be for assets that are performing, that are meeting debt services. If it’s non-performing, I think that’s off the table.”

Young said he’s been talking with lenders who say if the landlord is a sponsor they believe in, there may be some latitude, otherwise, they will take the keys back.

Office delinquencies are increasing on the CMBS side. Trepp stated the delinquency rate for the office market was 2.61 percent in March. That number has been moving up over the past 12 months with the biggest bump going from 1.83 percent in January to 2.38 percent in February.

“I would not be surprised if we see a continual uptick in office delinquency and I think some of that will be strategic, some of that will just be due to operational challenges,” said Hendry.

Hendry said operational expenses on office buildings, including labor, management and insurance costs, have increased across the spectrum, including insurance premiums which are up double digits in most major markets.

Alexandra Glickman, Senior Managing Director, Global Practice Leader – Real Estate & Hospitality, Gallagher Insurance

Alexandra Glickman, Senior Managing Director, Global Practice Leader – Real Estate & Hospitality, Gallagher Insurance. Image courtesy of Gallagher Insurance

Alexandra Glickman, senior managing director, global practice leader – Real Estate & Hospitality at Gallagher Insurance, said insurance is a “huge sticking point for a lot of negotiations.” Glickman said insurance companies have been rocked by significant losses due to extreme weather conditions and are demanding owners pay more to reflect replacement costs. But replacement costs are now outpacing the fair market property values of office buildings in many cases. Meanwhile, most commercial lenders require the borrower to insure 100 percent of the replacement cost.

Hendry said some borrowers may proactively go into default to leverage some negotiation with the lender.

“But for the smaller players, if the property just doesn’t produce enough cash flow over the debt service, I don’t see a lot of owners making capital calls to their investors or coming out of their own pockets to cover the mortgage,” Hendry said. “There’s no great solution. The refi challenges are real. Those are broad-based regardless of geography. They’re going to be a challenge for all lenders across the office sector, even for the Class A properties. They’re going to have a better chance and more favorable terms, but it’s still going to be a challenge.”

Opportunity knocks?

Mellott said he expects to see private equity take advantage of opportunities while institutional activity remains subdued.

Young said there are all-cash buyers that don’t have to worry about financing looking for motivated sellers with assets that still have a high degree of value.

Ronen said Dekel launched a lending platform operating on behalf of capital providers including a global asset manager and large European bank that will underwrite and originate balance-sheet and CMBS loans. The platform will focus on multifamily, build-to-rent and industrial but will look at office to see if they can provide senior debt or mortgage debt in the form of mezzanine or preferred equity to help recapitalize or acquire.

Vicky Schiff, ceo, Avrio Real Estate Credit

Vicky Schiff, CEO, Avrio Real Estate Credit. Image courtesy of Avrio Real Estate Credit

Vicky Schiff, CEO of the recently formed Avrio Real Estate Credit firm, said Avrio is focused on the upper middle market and will offer short-term, first mortgage debt and other structured finance products including B notes, mezzanine debt and preferred equity for the acquisition, refinancing and recapitalization of CRE assets, with loans ranging from $25 million to $150 million.

Schiff said Avrio is aiming at housing-related and industrial assets but is not ruling out pursuing office deals, noting it depends on asset and tenant quality, market demand and property basis.

“I think there’s business to be done in office. I think that newer wins over older. But I think there’s also tenants that are looking for low-cost options. Landlords that have a low basis can make money,” Schiff said. “I think it’s really situational. It’s not as if office is completely going away forever.”

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