The growing presence of distressed residential and commercial properties in New Jersey is creating opportunities for willing real estate investors, several panelists said Tuesday before the Newark Regional Business Partnership.
Josh Mann, a partner with Millburn-based law firm Budd Larner, said most of the real estate deals handled by his firm now "involve some type of distressed debt," with issues such as a tax lien or an inability to pay second and third mortgages. With banks looking to avoid a two- to three-year foreclosure process, he said, buyers who have "a little bit of savvy, a little bit of guts and a little bit of luck" may be able to capture potentially lucrative deals on many types of distressed assets.
"If you can go out there and really pound the pavement, you can really find some great opportunity," said Mann, the panel's moderator, adding that foreclosure filings are expected to pick up in the Garden State. He also said "there is cash out there," meaning there are investors looking for opportunities.
The panelists spoke Tuesday morning at an event titled "Coming Back from the Brink: New Life for Distressed Properties." The discussion was held in Newark, a city that has been hit especially hard by foreclosures in the residential and commercial sectors.
Banks and lenders are more focused on making their distressed assets marketable, said Russ Cross, senior vice president and regional servicing director for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. His bank recently learned it's more important to invest in repairs after acquiring foreclosed homes, he said, rather than "try to get it out of the market as quickly as possible."
But in the meantime, Cross said, the bank remains focused on foreclosure prevention. Part of that strategy is to partner with cities, nonprofits and community groups, he said.
"It's to our advantage, it's to the neighborhood's advantage and it's to the city's advantage to avoid foreclosure sales if at all possible," Cross said. "And you do that by connecting with customers and by connecting with community folks."
Foreclosure prevention also is a key strategy for city leaders in Newark, said another panelist, Michael Meyer, the city's director of housing and real estate. That mission led to the creation about four years ago of the Newark Essex County Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 35 organizations and community groups.
Revitalizing a distressed commercial asset presents different challenges, said another panelist, Michael Allen Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corp. Commercial owners often are faced with the question of how much to invest in a vacant property in order to lure a tenant from another site, he said.
"What gets people to move is usually if you present them with a great opportunity, either 'Here's nicer space than you ever would have thought might have gotten for this price,' or 'Here's the kind of space you want, and the financial transaction is so attractive that you want to take advantage of that,'" Seeve said. "Both involve capital."