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ATLANTA — Multifamily development is expected to ramp up in the U.S. in the next few years, but are some markets in danger of becoming overheated? Construction lenders weighed in on this question at a panel focusing on bank porftfolio lending appetites during the Mortgage Bankers Association's commercial/multifamily finance conference in Atlanta on Feb. 6.

Panelist Ken Broussard, regional executive of the income property group of KeyBank, said the bank has internally discussed the possibility of too much apartment development and whether it may cause a bubble in the sector. “All of our regions are seeing a lot of requests for new construction and financing in multifamily.”

According to the National Multi Housing Council’s quarterly survey of apartment market conditions released in October, 67 percent of respondents noted considerable activity, either in the planning stage or actual new construction. In particular, 20 percent said developers are breaking ground on new projects at a rapid clip. Yet even with this increased activity, more than half (54 percent) think new development remains considerably below demand. Indeed, MPF Research reports that national apartment demand continues to outstrip supply by a wide margin (see chart).


One market to keep a close eye on is Seattle, said Marc McAndrew, executive vice president of PNC Real Estate. The city could find itself with an oversupply problem, if all the proposed projects are developed. A fourth-quarter apartment report by West Coast commercial real estate firm Kidder Matthews stated that new construction potential is expected to peak in Seattle by mid-2013, with developers working on more than 11,000 units for delivery that year. It's the most the market has experienced since 1991.

A similar scenario could be also be true in Texas —particularly Houston and Dallas — where its easy to buy land and develop real estate, McAndrew added.

Each of the panelists also identified Washington, D.C. as a market giving lenders caution. Broussard said that while the multifamily market is in good shape now, lenders have expressed concern about potential overbuilding. Pete Mathews, senior vice president of M&T Bank agreed. “We've seen a ton of multifamily construction in Washington, D.C. and obviously New York. The gateway cities are huge right now.”

When asked about his favorite apartment markets, McAndrew named Pittsburgh and certain submarkets in Washington, D.C. MPF Research recently ranked Pittsburgh a U.S. apartment occupancy leader in the fourth quarter of 2011. The occupancy rate is 97.8 percent, followed by New York at 97.4 percent.

The panelists each agreed New York City is another highly attractive multifamily market for providing financing. “It's just too hard to build too much in New York,” McAndrew said.

Across the commercial real estate property sectors, construction lenders plan to grow their lending volume this year. McAndrew said PNC plans to originate $8 billion to $9 billion in commercial real estate loans this year, with the bulk expected in multifamily.

The panelists also discussed the commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) market and how its comeback could help improve the lending climate. In 2009, there was close to $3 billion in CMBS issuance. Last year, there was more than $30 billion in new CMBS issuance, said moderator Diana Reid, executive vice president of PNC Real Estate.

“I am a firm believer that we need the CMBS market to come back and to play the role it did when it was first created,” said Mathews. “Which is to be a permanent finance source for the mid- and lower-tier properties.”

— Liz Burlingame

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