Friday, November 20, 2009

Why Condominium Termination?

Condo termination has the potential to mitigate the damages caused by the condo market collapse and to distribute benefits to the distressed owners, lenders with impaired loans, local markets in general and entire communities at large.   There are four main players are suffering during this downturn: Unit Owners, Banks, Markets and Communities.   This article will seek to address specifically the difficulties faced by unit owners and mortgage holders.   Ultimately, condo market trouble affects all residents of a given area because a condo project is integrated into surrounding communities, even if the front door is gated.  

 The unit owner in a broken condo can be terribly burdened supporting a failing project, and the time, expense and headache of a short-sale may prevent orderly exit from their properties.  Most cannot afford the time off work, or attorney's fee to conduct a short sale.  Most are unaware of the option to give Deed in Lieu of foreclosure.   Condo Termination produces a mass short sale.  It doesn't require any individual to spend thousands of dollars on representation which will pit the individual owner's needs vs. the association's well being. 

  Most Unit Owners have limited real estate experience and are simply looking for a home as shelter and long term investment.  Few Unit Owners have experience as a licensed Community Association Manager or Condo Attorney which is needed to perform distressed servicing.   Many associations are falling out of compliance with State accounting requirements.  Even worse, many more associations are dropping insurance coverage, putting at risk the property improvements, compensation in the event of the worst and putting the Boards of Directors at risk for liability in the event of a catastrophe.  Condo Termination has mechanisms to transfer decision making authority into the hands of full time real estate professionals who act according to a pre-determined plan and stabilize the property improvements while winding down the condo's affairs. 

Just this past week, I spoke with a condo owner who wiped out her savings trying to support a terribly failed condo project with mass delinquency.   Her story to me was that her 1000 sq. ft. apartment's monthly maintenance assessments skyrocketed from $800 a month (a high figure for a non-luxury property) all the way up to over $2000 monthly!  She says that currently, the project is still charging over $1300 monthly and that the unit owners are close to 100% underwater on a valuation basis.  However, she and her peers have no clue of a way out of their situation . . . Condo termination provides an alternative to bankruptcy courts for failing projects where creditors may get a terrible haircut, but ultimately, shareholders will be stuck paying attorney's fees, trustee's fees, and as much as the property can generate to repay the other stakeholders, while lasting for many years. 

I also encountered a Condo Association President this week, who presides over a failing "investor hotel" condominium over 100 miles from his home address.  An "investor hotel" is a mortgage industry term for a condominium which is primarily consistent of individual landlords, with an attendant negative connotation.   This President assured me that dropping insurance for casualty was a necessity due to the terrible expense.  

I advised this President that it would be possible he could be held personally liable if there's a major casualty and that he would be wise to issue an emergency assessment of the membership to immediately resume coverage.   The President actually said that "the Board wasn't interested" in this type of action because "nobody would pay anyhow"!!  Condo Termination can reduce or eliminate poor decision-making by interested parties; to protect first, the rights of the inhabitants, and preserve the property improvements' value.

Lenders hold a tremendous amount of loans which are under water just waiting for the expense and loss of the foreclosure to REO sale process.   A typical foreclosure can cost the bank up to 25% of the collateral property's market value between attorney's costs, filing fees, lost revenue, sales commissions, taxes, back assessments and carry costs in inventory.   Lenders are too short on staff to process the multiple short sales, modifications, foreclosures, deed returns and other distressed loan resolutions.  

Loan workouts also require expensive lender reports on value, title searches and staff time.   The short sale process, where a bank cuts its losses early, is difficult for banks to execute case by case, as they are attempting to get the best price, while eliminate Non-Arm's Length sales to relations whereby the borrower benefits from the debt relief.   Condo Termination provides an Arm's Length method to sell condominium property, while lowering the administrative costs and satisfying risk management requirements.  Additionally, lien holders can liquidate holdings knowing that they will never have to pay carrying costs or posses the units - unlike individual workouts which may simply time shift the inevitable.  

    The next article in this series will address the benefits of Condo Termination to housing markets and how that translates into community support.   There are myriad benefits to Condo Termination, which, if realized, will create a positive feedback loop and arrest the erosion of communities with high concentrations of single family homes in multifamily housing projects.

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