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The New Real Estate Train Wreck Coming Your Way: Securitized Rentals

Wall Street eyes rental properties in a money-making scheme likely to screw both investors and renters. Whoopee!

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Moody’s also said that before assigning a rating, it would need to know detailed information about the operator, and would conduct a review of the operator’s performance, its experience and its ability to perform its role in the transaction, which includes determining tenant default rates and re-leasing periods.

As Dave Dayen notes:

It’s simply incredible that, even with so many variables involved, Fitch would give these deals something even as high as single-A. You need data on default rates, vacancy periods, the impact of local economic forces on rentals, the various property managers and operators who would be handling the rental units in the deal, etc., etc…

There’s just no reason to believe that hedge funds and PE firms with no history of being landlords will be able to ensure a steady stream of revenue out of this. Moreover, one economic shock could blow up this market as easily as the housing bubble popped. We already know that the US economy is due to take a step back in 2013 at best, if not a full-blown recession as a result of the fiscal cliff. Add that into the mix with 9% unemployment or above (the expected range in the event of a recession), and suddenly hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans fall behind on their rent. The securities start to sour. And this could become a full-blown financial crisis just like in 2007-2008.

To amplify Dayen’s concerns, this looks like an effort to fob risk off onto yield-despterate investors. Rental markets are tight now, precisely due to how many homes are behind held in REO inventories or have had the homeoweners leave, yet the servicer had not actually had the trust take title to the home. But those former owners need housing, so we have a real estate version of musical chairs, with families looking for rentals before the forecloses homes have been converted to rentals. Once the conversion process is further along, it isn’t hard to imagine that rent rates will be lower in many markets and vacancy periods will be longer. Similarly, some homeowners lost their houses due to financial stress. Some of them may not even be able to make their rent payments reliably. We saw how in the 2006-2007 period, mortgage were securitized even when the borrower had defaulted in the first three months. It isn’t hard to imagine that we will see equally weak tenant rental streams sold into these securitizations.

The other looming horrorshow is, if you think mortgage servicers were unresponsive, consider how bad rental securitization servicers are likely to be. Their incentives will be to delay in responding to tenant problems in the hope that the tenant will spend the time and money required. And God only knows what happens if they apply payments incorrectly, a not-infrequent problem. One difference here is that mismanaged rentals pose a threat to the home value of the neighbors, and here, the local community does have some recourse, in that it can impose minimum rental standards, which would provide tenants with some recourse. If some communities were to go that route, it might lead to enough uncertainty regarding rental costs and income so as to deter the ratings agencies from ever assigning ratigns, which would presumably limit the size of this product considerably.

As with mortgages, the impulse of the financial community is to find even more ways to skim fees off the top of income streams and leave investors holding the bag. And if investors are dumb enough to be fooled again, after the disaster of mortgage securitizations, they will have gotten what they deserve.