The Post-Recession Financing Landscape for Self-Storage

The lending environment is wide open for those looking to invest in the self-storage industry. Heres a look at the terms banks, life companies and other lenders are currently offering.

By David Smyle

By all expert accounts, were now in an economic recovery, as tepid as it is. However, tepid cannot be used to describe the financing environment where banks are flush with cash, conduits cant make loans fast enough, and life-company allocations continue to increase. More and more credit unions are in the commercial-lending arena, and with the Small Business Administration (SBA) opening self-storage as an eligible property type, high-leverage purchases and refinances are available.

The prior claim that banks weren't lending is far from the truth. Borrowers with good cash flow, liquidity and net worth have been able to get loans, albeit it at lower LTVs (speculative building and higher-risk lending due to occupancy, leverage or borrower issues were a much harder pill to swallow). Things have loosened a little further today, as banks have made it through their Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. audits and survived the tough times. Now they find themselves with too much cash and not enough loans on the books to balance assets and liabilities.

What this means for borrowers in 2014 is lenders are getting very competitive within their policy scope to try and win deals. Heres a look at the terms lenders are offering self-storage owners and investors.

Life Companies

For life companies, which are typically more conservative LTV lenders, winning deals come in the form of nonrecourse loans with upfront rate locks; long-term, fixed rates up to 25 and even 30 years; interest-only; and very low rates still under 5 percent on 10-year fixed rates. Most life-company loans will top out at 70 percent LTV but can go to 75 percent in higher capitalization-rate markets.

Life-company loans start around $500,000 with no real limit on the upper end. Life companies typically have population minimums to lend in a market and prefer higher-quality projects to operators with multiple properties, but this is not a hard and fast requirement.

However, they dont have this market locked up, as larger and even medium and smaller banks venture into nonrecourse with an LTV of typically 65 percent or less and will also rate lock and even offer interest-only loans. The advantage for life companies is their ability offer longer, fixed-rate terms at lower rates, although 15-year, fully amortized loans may be available at some institutions. Banks beat life companies on origination and legal fees.


Conduits are also competing for the nonrecourse business and may offer LTVs up to 80 percent. Theyll get aggressive on pricing on lower LTVs, including interest-only, but most conduits only lend fixed-rate terms of five to 10 years with 25- to 30-year amortizations. They also do not lock rates up front. Rather, rates are typically locked two days before close. The other disadvantage to conduit loans are the exorbitant legal fees, typically starting at $20,000, as well as restrictive cash-management, lock-box requirements and costlier property and title-insurance requirements.

So where do conduits win deals? Nonrecourse, higher-leverage transactions or deals not in favor with the more conservative life companies or banks is where they come out on top. Conduits will also overlook more borrower-credit and financial-strength issues than life companies and banks. However, the minimum loan for most conduits is $3 million. That is very costly, as the legal fees dont change with the loan size. There are a few $1 million and up conduit programs with limited costs, but LTVs are typically in the 65 percent range.

Banks and Credit Unions

By far, banks and credit unions have been the most intriguing player in the commercial financing market over the past 18 months. With cost of funds at record lows, theres a huge spread to be gained and profit to be made by getting the money out in the market.

A November quote from a Midwest bank on a 10-year fixed rate with 25-year amortization came in at 4.5 percent. The quote also provided a second 10-year, fixed-rate at the then 10-Year Treasury plus 2 percent (200 basis points). Although recourse, that quote would beat just about every life company and conduit lender in the market. A credit union in the Southwest recently quoted a 10-year fixed rate with 25-year amortization at 4.95 percent and no prepayment penaltyagain a recourse loan but an amazing program nonetheless.

Where banks and credit unions have problems is typically with weaker borrowers or, in the case of credit unions, qualifying borrowers for membership. Most credit unions require that a borrower live, work or worship in their footprint, but this, too, can be worked around in certain situations. Both banks and credit unions often use the global cash-flow underwriting model, so theyre not only looking at cash flow from the subject property but all sources of revenue and debt owed by the borrower. Look for most banks to prefer 65 percent LTV or less while credit unions will loan up to 75 percent LTV in some cases.

SBA Loans

Expect higher growth areas such as Florida and Texas to really compete heavily for business. Construction loans up to 80 percent loan-to-cost (LTC) are becoming more common from reports in Texas, although self-storage construction loans in most parts of the country are still limited to stronger borrowers, with LTCs closer to 65 percent to 75 percent.

Banks and credit unions also offer SBA loans, with a typical loan maximum of $5 million. LTVs usually top out at 85 percent and are available for purchase or refinance transactions where the SBA is not already the lender.

The first program offered is the SBA 7A. Touted as an adjustable program, it will often have the first three to five years as a fixed option with a total term of 25 years. One larger bank will offer a 25-year fixed rate under the 7A program, but this is unusual.

The other program is the 504, which consists of a 50 percent first trust deed or mortgage from the institution and up to a 40 percent second trust deed from the SBA under a fully amortized 20-year, fixed-rate program. The first lien from the bank can be fixed or adjustable and will usually term out in 10 years but carry a longer amortization.

Self-storage loan options***

Getting Help

Most life-company loans are originated through commercial mortgage bankers, and conduit loans through mortgage bankers and brokers. Banks and credit unions can be dealt with directly or through a mortgage banker or broker. The advantage of using a mortgage banker or broker is access to loan programs that may not be publicized or known in the local market, as many bank and credit union lenders can lend nationwide regardless of their domicile.

Life companies originate mainly through mortgage bankers, who collect the loan fee rather than the lender so theres no additional cost to the borrower. The same holds true for conduits, and banks and credit unions will also eliminate or reduce their loan fee when working through a mortgage banker or broker.

Financing should continue to be attractive and available in 2014 for just about every scenario including self-storage rehab, conversion, construction and, of course, permanent financing. Take advantage of the low rates now. They cant last forever.

David Smyle is a vice president of Pacific Southwest Realty Services (PSRS), a commercial mortgage banking firm founded in 1972 and headquartered in San Diego. The company services a portfolio of more than $4.3 billion, offering life-company financing from more than 18 investors as well as conduit, commercial mortgage-backed security, bank and credit union options. Prior to PSRS, Smyle was owner and president of commercial mortgage brokerage Benchmark Financial for 16 years. He spent 12 years in commercial banking before that. To reach him, call 858.522.1411; e-mail [email protected] ; visit .

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