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Europe Is Bracing for a Sharp, Abrupt Real Estate Reversal



(Bloomberg) — Turmoil at trophy properties in London and Frankfurt offer a glimpse of the damage awaiting European real estate investors as they face the sharpest reversal on record.

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From a fraught refinancing process for an office building in the City of London to the strained sale of the Commerzbank Tower in Germany’s financial hub, investors are scrambling to find ways to bridge financing gaps as lending markets seize up from rapidly rising interest rates.

The reality check will start to hit in the coming weeks as lenders across Europe get results of year-end appraisals. Hefty declines in valuations threaten to cause breaches of loan covenants, triggering emergency funding measures from forced sales to pumping in fresh cash.

“Europe is going to go through the great unwind of 10 years of easy money,” said Skardon Baker, a partner at private equity firm Apollo Global Management. “The amount of distress and dislocation is off the spectrum.”

Read more: Global Real Estate Market Faces $175 Billion Debt Spiral

Loans, bonds and other debt totaling about €1.9 trillion ($2.1 trillion) — nearly the size of the Italian economy — are secured against commercial property or extended to landlords in Europe and the UK, according to the European Banking Authority, a survey by Bayes Business School and data compiled by Bloomberg.

Click here to read a German version of this story.

Roughly 20% of that, or about €390 billion, will mature this year, and the looming crunch marks the first real test of regulations designed after the global financial crisis to contain real estate lending risks. Those rules could end up making a correction steeper and more abrupt.

“I think the revaluation will happen more quickly than in the past,” said John O’Driscoll, head of the real assets business of French insurer Axa SA’s investment management unit. “People are starting to get exposed as the tide goes out.”

Europe’s lenders will be prodded by the new regulations to act more aggressively on bad loans. They’re also in better shape than during the last real estate crisis more than a decade ago, so could be less inclined to allow issues to fester. That puts the burden on borrowers.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, most banks were reluctant to call in bad loans as doing so would have led to huge losses — a practice dubbed “extend and pretend.” Under new rules on non-performing loans, lenders will have to provision for expected, rather than accrued, losses. That means they have less incentive to sit tight and hope asset values recover.

“The year end valuations done in the first quarter will be key,” said Ravi Stickney, managing partner and chief investment officer for real estate at Cheyne Capital, an alternative-investment fund manager that raised £2.5 billion for real estate lending last year. “The question mark is over what the banks actually do.”

So far valuations haven’t declined enough so that senior debt — the loans generally held by banks — are underwater, but that could soon change. UK commercial properties valued by CBRE Group Inc. fell by 13% last year. The decline accelerated in the second half, with the broker registering a 3% fall in December alone. Analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have forecast that the total decline could top 20%.

Banks might then act before prices fall further and risk credit losses, forcing indebted landlords into difficult alternatives. The issues get thornier for those facing debt maturities. Lenders are reducing the amount of a property’s value they’re willing to loan out. That means a lower appraisal could act as a double whammy, increasing the funding gap.

“Bank appetite is lower and it will stay lower” until there’s sign the market has hit bottom, said Vincent Nobel, head of asset-based lending at Federated Hermes Inc. The new regulations prod banks to deal with bad loans “and one way to solve problems is to make it somebody else’s problem.”

Sweden has so far been the epicenter of the crisis, with home prices projected to drop 20% from peak levels. The country’s listed property firms have lost 30% of their value over the past 12 months, and the Swedish central bank and Financial Supervisory Authority have repeatedly warned of the risks stemming from commercial property debt.

Falling real estate values could trigger a “domino effect,” as demands for more collateral could force distressed selling, according to Anders Kvist, a senior adviser to the director of the FSA.

While there are some pockets of stability like in Italy and Spain, which were hit harder after the global financial crisis, the UK is slumping and there are signs that Germany could be next.

On the bright side, there are more options available for strapped property investors. Entities such as closed-ended credit funds have steadily expanded over the past decade. Collectively, insurers and other alternative lenders had a higher share of new UK real estate loans than the country’s major banks in the first half of last year, according to the Bayes survey.

In the next 18 months, investors will pour a record amount of money into so-called opportunistic funds which make riskier real estate bets, Cantor Fitzgerald Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. The trend will help accelerate a rebound in commercial real estate markets, he said.

These new tools could make the turmoil more short-lived than in the past when banks held on to bad loans for years. Louis Landeman, a credit analyst at Danske Bank in Stockholm, expects the reset to be relatively orderly with borrowers having enough to take counter measures.

“Anyone that can come up with a creative way of filling that gap is going to have a great time,” said Mat Oakley, head of commercial research at Savills.

–With assistance from Anton Wilen, Antonio Vanuzzo, Damian Shepherd, Konrad Krasuski and Nicholas Comfort.


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Former B.C. Realtor has licence cancelled, $130K in penalties for role in mortgage fraud



The provincial regulator responsible for policing B.C.’s real estate industry has ordered a former Realtor to pay $130,000 and cancelled her licence after determining that she committed a variety of professional misconduct.

Rashin Rohani surrendered her licence in December 2023, but the BC Financial Services Authority’s chief hearing officer Andrew Pendray determined that it should nevertheless be cancelled as a signal to other licensees that “repetitive participation in deceptive schemes” will result in “significant” punishment.

He also ordered her to pay a $40,000 administrative penalty and $90,000 in enforcement expenses. Pendray explained his rationale for the penalties in a sanctions decision issued on May 17. The decision was published on the BCFSA website Wednesday.

Rohani’s misconduct occurred over a period of several years, and came in two distinct flavours, according to the decision.

Pendray found she had submitted mortgage applications for five different properties that she either owned or was purchasing, providing falsified income information on each one.

Each of these applications was submitted using a person referred to in the decision as “Individual 1” as a mortgage broker. Individual 1 was not a registered mortgage broker and – by the later applications – Rohani either knew or ought to have known this was the case, according to the decision.

All of that constituted “conduct unbecoming” under B.C.’s Real Estate Services Act, Pendray concluded.

Separately, Rohani also referred six clients to Individual 1 when she knew or ought to have known he wasn’t a registered mortgage broker, and she received or anticipated receiving a referral fee from Individual 1 for doing so, according to the decision. Rohani did not disclose this financial interest in the referrals to her clients.

Pendray found all of that to constitute professional misconduct under the act.

‘Deceptive’ scheme

The penalties the chief hearing officer chose to impose for this behaviour were less severe than those sought by the BCFSA in the case, but more significant than those Rohani argued she should face.

Rohani submitted that the appropriate penalty for her conduct would be a six-month licence suspension or a $15,000 discipline penalty, plus $20,000 in enforcement expenses.

For its part, the BCFSA asked Pendray to cancel Rohani’s licence and impose a $100,000 discipline penalty plus more than $116,000 in enforcement expenses.

Pendray’s ultimate decision to cancel the licence and impose penalties and expenses totalling $130,000 reflected his assessment of the severity of Rohani’s misconduct.

Unlike other cases referenced by the parties in their submissions, Rohani’s misconduct was not limited to a single transaction involving falsified documents or a series of such transactions during a brief period of time, according to the decision.

“Rather, in this case Ms. Rohani repetitively, over the course of a number of years, elected to personally participate in a deceptive mortgage application scheme for her own benefit, and subsequently, arranged for her clients to participate in the same deceptive mortgage application scheme,” the decision reads.

Pendray further noted that, although Rohani had been licensed for “a significant period of time,” she had only completed a small handful of transactions, according to records from her brokerage.

There were just six transactions on which her brokerage recorded earnings for her between December 2015 and February 2020, according to the decision. Of those six, four were transactions that were found to have involved misconduct or conduct unbecoming.

“In sum, Ms. Rohani’s minimal participation in the real estate industry as a licensee has, for the majority of that minimal participation, involved her engaging in conduct unbecoming involving deceptive practices and professional misconduct,” the decision reads.

According to the decision, Rohani must pay the $40,000 discipline penalty within 90 days of the date it was issued.



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Should you wait to buy or sell your home?



The Bank of Canada is expected to announce its key interest rate decision in less than two weeks. Last month, the bank lowered its key interest rate to 4.7 per cent, marking its first rate cut since March 2020.

CTV Morning Live asked Jason Pilon, broker of Record Pilon Group, whether now is the right time to buy or sell your home.

When it comes to the next interest rate announcement, Pilon says the bank might either lower it further, or just keep it as is.

“The best case scenario we’re seeing is obviously a quarter point. I think more just because of the job numbers that just came out, I think more people are just leading on the fact that they probably just gonna do it in September,” he said. “Either way, what we saw in June, didn’t make a big difference.”

Here are the pros of buying/ selling now:

Pilon suggests locking in the rate right now, if you don’t want to take a risk with interest rates going up in the future.

He says the environment is more predictable right now, noting that the home values are transparent, which is one of the benefits for home sellers.

“Do you want to risk looking at what that looks like down the road? Or do you want to have the comfort in knowing what your house is worth right now?” Pilon said.

And when it comes to buyers, he notes, the competition is not so fierce right now, noting that there are options to choose from.

“You’re in the driver seat right now,” he said while noting the benefits for buyers.

Here are the cons of buying/ selling now:

He says one of the cons would be locking in the rate right now, then seeing a rate cut in the future.

The competition could potentially become fierce, if the bank decides to cut the rate further more, he explained.

He notes that if that happens, the housing crisis will become even worse, as Canada is still dealing with low housing inventory.

An increase in competition would increase the prices of houses, he adds.

Selling or buying too quickly isn’t the best practice, he notes, suggesting that you should take your time and put some thought into it.

Despite all the pros and cons, Pilon says, real estate remains a good investment.

According to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey for the second quarter of this year, the average home price in Canada is $824,300. That’s up 1.9 per cent from the same time last year, and up 1.5 per cent from the first quarter of 2024.

In the Ottawa Housing Market Report for June 2024, the average price of a home was up 2.4 per cent from this time last year to $686,535, but down 0.6 per cent from May 2024.

Experts believe many potential buyers are still hesitant of jumping into the housing market and waiting for another interest rate cut of 50 to 100 basis points.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the rush that we see in the past, because people are used to more of a conservative approach right now,” said Curtis Fillier, president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board. “I think there’s still a bit of a hold back, but I definitely do think with another rate cut, we’ll probably see a very positive fall market.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Kimberly Fowler



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Real estate stocks soar to best day of year on rate cut bets



(Bloomberg) — The stock market’s worst group notched its best day of the year as a cooler-than-expected inflation report stoked bets that the Federal Reserve will start cutting interest rates in September.

Shares of real estate companies jumped 2.7% Thursday for their biggest gain of 2024, climbing to their highest level since March as investors snapped up homebuilder, digital and commercial real estate stocks alike. Real estate also was the best-performing group in the S&P 500 Index Thursday, with volume that was around 30% higher than the 30-day average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Arguably the most significant news to come from the latest consumer price index reading was a pullback in housing-related inflation. Shelter costs rose just 0.2% for the slowest monthly increase in three years. Homebuilders, which have risen 7.1% this year, were up 7.3% for the session, the most since 2022. Shares of D.R. Horton Inc., which is scheduled to report earnings next Thursday, gained 7.3%.

“Housing has really been the last shoe to drop in terms of winning the battle against high inflation,” Preston Caldwell, chief U.S. economist at Morningstar wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “Leading-edge data has strongly indicated for some time now that a fall in housing inflation was in the works.”

A rally in real estate stocks is bad news for short sellers who have been piling into the group, which is the worst performer in the S&P 500 this year. To start the week, short interest as a percentage of float hovered near 49% in the SPDR Homebuilders ETF, the highest level since February for the exchange-traded fund, according to data from S3 Partners.

Property owners are rallying as well. Real estate investment trusts, which were brutally penalized during the two-year run up in borrowing costs, advanced by as much as 3%. And the outlook for the group appears to have turned a corner, according Rich Hill, senior vice president and head of real estate strategy and research at Cohen & Steers Capital Management.

“We think this is a compelling backdrop for listed REITs especially as fundamental growth remains on solid footing,” he said, referencing the latest inflation data and rate outlook. “The rally that started in October of 2023 pushing returns more than 20% above their trough looks set to continue if inflation cools and interest rates continue to decline.”

Shares of industrial REIT Prologis Inc., which reports second-quarter results on Wednesday, rose 3.3% to hit their highest level since April. U.S. Treasury yields tumbled, with the 10-year bond falling to 4.2% and the policy-sensitive two-year note slipping to 4.5%.

(Updates indexes and stock prices for market close.)



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