Real Estate

Rani Molla is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist using data visualizations to cover corporations and markets. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. commercial real estate prices have reached new highs, but the sector is a much safer place today than it was before the 2008 financial crisis.

Moving On Up
Commercial property prices have surpassed pre-recession levels, but that doesn't mean a crash is inevitable
Source: Moody's Investors Service via Bloomberg

Low capitalization rates -- the net operating income a property generates relative to its price -- might normally keep investors away, but low borrowing costs have made potential returns from commercial real estate attractive.

cap-rate-spread

Lenders, for their part, are avoiding many of the risky practices that contributed to the last real estate crash. Thanks to pressure from the Federal Reserve and government regulators, banks have been tightening their commercial real estate lending standards.

Raising Expectations
Share of senior loan officers who reported tightening standards on loans at their banks
Source: Federal Reserve Senior Loan Office Survey

Banks have picked up the lending slack caused by a less robust market for commercial mortgage-backed securities. But bank lending largely involves mortgages for existing properties rather than riskier loans for new construction. Banks’ conservatism has made it more difficult for developers to fund new construction, which in turn has prevented many markets from being overbuilt. 

Under Construction
Bank construction and development loans are still 53 percent lower than their 2008 high
Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation via Real Capital Analytics

Mortgages themselves are more conservative as well, with banks lending against a smaller portion of a property’s value.

Less Risky Business
Commercial loans as a share of property value are smaller than they were before the recession
Source: Real Capital Analytics
Note: Dashed line when sample set is too small to record data.

Lenders are also requiring borrowers to keep more cash on hand to pay off debts, improving banks' odds of getting repaid.

Owning Up
Lenders are requiring higher debt service coverage ratios -- net operating income to debt services -- than before the crash, meaning borrowers will be more likely to be able to pay what they owe
Source: Real Capital Analytics
Note: Dashed line when sample set is too small to record data.

None of this means there won’t be pain if real estate prices suddenly crash. No amount of structural padding can insulate lenders from a nasty downturn.

There are also lots of players in the market who have looser lending standards and may face even more pain than banks should a downturn come. As my Bloomberg colleagues Sarah Mulholland and Heather Perlberg have pointed out, shadow lenders, including private equity firms like Blackstone and Starwood, as well as online crowd-funding sites, are all taking on loans that banks have decided to forego.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Rani Molla in New York at rmolla2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net