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What are the two types of debt-related risk? Wharton Emeritus Professor Peter Linneman explains.
BRUCE KIRSCH: One of the defining elements and the attractions of the real estate business is the possibility of using debt financing to acquire an asset. And this applies even if you don’t have a track record in the business. And as well, even if you don’t have other collateral that the lender could lien to secure this loan.
And so at the first time investor level this could be manifested in simply getting a mortgage for your first investment property, whether it’s a condo or a town home that you rent out.
And this ability to get debt financing– to access debt financing– with no track record and no other collateral is one of the main differentiators of real estate from other types of investment. Good luck trying to get a loan to– as a novice stock market investor– go invest in equity shares. It’s not going to happen. There’s just way too much risk involved.
And so the question becomes just because debt is available– just because you’re able to borrow to invest in real estate– should you in fact borrow and how much? And so in the textbook you make it clear that using debt financing is not without significant risks. So can you just tell us a little bit, what are the risks, and why do some students initially blind to these types of risks?
DR. PETER LINNEMAN: Well, to finish your thought, it’s not just students who are often blind to it. A lot of practitioners are blind. Let’s talk about what the risks are.
They really come in two varieties. One is that while you may think you’ve got more than enough income to pay the interest and principal that’s scheduled to be paid. When times get tough in the real estate market, often you find that your income is not sufficient to pay interest in principal that’s scheduled to be paid.
So you may start out with a fully leased building at peak rents, made at the peak of the cycle, and have a 1.2 interest coverage where you have 20% more than enough income to pay your scheduled interest payments. Well, then what happens is your income falls by 25%. Well, suddenly, you don’t have enough to cover your interest payments. And while that may be a temporary phenomena, that the market has fallen, your income’s off, it’s a very real phenomena.
So that what may look like a comfortable cushion– 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% even cushion to repay your interest and amortization may look like enough comfort, you get a tough market where tenants don’t renew. When tenants do renew its chewing up cash flow because you have to do tenant improvements. And on top of that, you have bad prospects for the future.
You can find that the real endangerment is when you took a loan you gave the first payment right to the lender. That is, first dollars that come in go to the lender not to you and your operations.
And that’s a real risk. It can impair operations. It can mean that since you don’t have enough money after paying the lender you don’t keep your building up. You defer capital expenditures. You defer hiring good leasing agents, et cetera.
So one of it is simply you just don’t have enough income. Your income gets a hit through the cycle or through competitive forces. And you don’t have enough money to service your income.
That never happens on a pro forma. In a pro forma everything always goes right. It’s only in reality that these things happen. And that’s one of the reasons this risk doesn’t look very high in that, gee, on my pro forma my income nicely goes up 2% a year or 3% a year. Rents are always rising. Space is always leasing. And therefore, I always have enough money to pay my interest in principal. It’s not always true.
Second variety of risk is what happens when the loan comes due. And short term debt comes due very quickly. In short term loans if you take out a one year loan it’s going to come due 10 times in a 10 year period. And even a 10 year loan eventually becomes a loan with one year maturity after nine years.
And the risk is that loan comes due at a bad time for the property. Namely, when your income is poor. When you’re leasing is poor. When tenants are uninterested in the space, et cetera.
Or that the property loan matures and comes due at a time that’s not so bad for the property but is terrible in terms of capital availability. So we talked about general growth for example, when we were talking about real estate companies.
Their problem was not that their properties were in such bad shape when their debt came due. Their problem was no one wanted to lend money to anyone when their loans came due. They all want their money back at that time.
And in fact, one of the things that happens to capital markets is that they run hot and cold. Sometimes people are willing to give money and lots of it to everyone, and other times they’re not willing to give any of it to anyone. They want it all back.
There have been a couple of times– the early ’90s for example. And again in the late 2000s– 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010– when your loan came due, especially if you had a good property, they wanted their money back. Because they knew they couldn’t get their money back by having borrowers whose properties were in trouble giving it to them.
So there’s two very distinct risks. One is an income stream risk– that you’ve given away the safe part of the income stream to the lender and therefore you may or may not have enough money to always pay your interest and principal.
And the second is you have to pay the loan off when it’s mature. And you cannot assume that there’ll be somebody willing to give you a big enough loan to repay your loan when it comes due. Because history has proven that’s not always the case. It generally is the case but not always.
And a lot of fortunes have been lost on the exceptions when it’s not available. Two very big risks. And I think real estate professionals forget that, because in normal times income’s OK to cover and people are willing to lend you money to repay your debt.
It’s the hard times. And the worst is when both are bad. When both the property’s income is bad and no one wants to lend at that time. That’s the worst of worst. Why do people ignore that? At their own peril, would be my only answer.