Some Multifamily Borrowers are Struggling to Find Small Balance Loans

Terms are becoming more stringent on the financing deals that are closing amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Amid the broader challenges facing the commercial real estate market, many investors who own smaller apartment buildings are struggling to find financing in the current climate.

Many of the banks these sorts of investors rely on to finace deals have become more cautious in the pandemic—especially because smaller apartment buildings are more likely than larger properties to have residents hurt by the crisis that are falling behind in rent. Facing potential distress on existng loans, some banks are lowering origination volumes and hesitating to make new loans. Meanwhile, for the deals that are getting done, terms are becoming more stringent.

“They are cautious… They make the loan-to-value ratio much lower,” says Richard Katzenstein, senior vice president and national director of Marcus & Millichap Capital Corp., working in the firm’s offices in New York City.

Some owners of small properties work with lenders that offer programs like Freddie Mac’s Small Balance Loan program, or CMBS lenders—but all multifamily lenders are being extra careful in the crisis.

Local banks still lead with small balance loans

Community banks remain the most important source of financing for apartment investors with tiny portfolios. These apartment companies also tend to own smaller buildings and rely on the same bank they use for everyday financial needs to also arrange small balance apartment loans.

Overall, banks, thrifts and credit unions provide a third ($124.1 billion) of the $364 billion of multifamily mortgages originated in 2019. The size of their average apartment loan was just $2.7 million, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Commercial banks remain the biggest players.

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