NEW YORK — A financing arm of Goldman Sachs closed a $158.5 million loan deal for the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers this week, the latest sign of how credit markets are reopening to commercial real estate — at least to properties current on their payments.
That's comforting news for owners of stores, offices, warehouses and other commercial property, who have kept afloat by persuading lenders to postpone repayment of principal even if they no longer meet the terms of the deals. Critics call the process as "pretend and extend," though advocates say it has helped to avoid further distress in the market.
To be sure, such options are not available to all of the holders of the $1 trillion of debt expected to mature over the four years, and delinquencies continue to remain at historic highs of more than 10%. But more property owners now find it easier — if not yet easy — to actually refinance.
"We now have a much larger universe of refinancings, with the volume increasing three times in the last two to three months," said Doug Tiesi, head of real estate advisory at RBS in Stamford, Conn.
Bank of America, for example, completed a $1.3 billion refinancing of its One Bryant Park tower in New York City last month, then packaged the loan into securities it sold to investors. Lenders had stopped offering commercial loans in the depths of the crisis. This changed last year for select, high-quality borrowers like Bank of America, and now has opened up to a broader swathe of borrowers.
The change in circumstances was one reason Tishman Hotel & Realty could refinance the loan on its 1,209-room Sheraton Chicago Hotel. Tishman had been working on a deal since early 2009, brought in commercial brokerage firm Jones Lang LaSalle last fall to help.
"We were going down the road of loan extension, and then switched gears to try and refinance the loan as the market changed," said Jeff Davis, executive vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels in New York.
In addition to being current on its old loan, Tishman had the good fortune to be in the right industry. In the past few months, especially, interest in the travel sector has perked up as more people have been willing to go on vacation.
"The debt markets are open again for hospitality assets selectively," Davis said. "Cash flow, market and brand are important."
He would not disclose the terms of the current loan. Sources say it is a floating-rate loan for a term of three years with two one-year extensions allowed.