How coronavirus chaos is impacting everything in the property world

There’s no single clear trend — other than fear and confusion — as the property world waits out the coronavirus fallout. The chaos impacts development, leasing, finance and all points between.

Here are our takes on several key situations.

RETAIL RENT PAYMENTS: The situation’s in flux after the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Nike is in talks to pay half the rent on its hundreds of US stores. Prolific Manhattan broker James Famularo of Meridian Capital, who’s handled many retail and restaurant leases in Manhattan, told us he’s heard from “many tenants asking for 50 percent reductions for the balance of 2020, some asking for three-month abatements and some — mostly small, undercapitalized businesses — canceling leases permanently.

“It’s too early to say what the norm is at this point, but nobody can pay rent while they’re closed. The only ones making money are markets and liquor stores.”

COMMERCIAL LOANS: Trepp managing partner Manus Clancy said, “I think it’s wait and hope for most lenders. Give extensions and forbearances as needed, especially when you know the developer is only having these issues because of COVID. I think that will be the case with performing loans on established hotel and retail properties for the next few months. No one wants to have to sell off assets in this market if you have an owner that is still engaged.”

HOWARD HUGHES CORP.: The publicly traded Seaport District owner got a boost when Pershing Square Capital head Bill Ackman, who’s also HHC’s board chairman, agreed on Friday to buy 10 million additional shares of HHC stock at $50 each.

The transaction nets HHC $488 million, and leaves the company with about $1 billion in cash, which bodes well for its US properties far from South Street.

HHC said it would use the proceeds “for general corporate purposes including to strengthen the balance sheet and provide liquidity.” The good news wasn’t enough to save 10 Corso Como, the 18,000-square-foot Italian design store and restaurant at the Seaport’s Fulton building. Both just closed permanently by mutual agreement between HHC and the store’s owners, who attributed it partly to uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

550 MADISON AVE.: Olayan America’s investment in the former Sony tower — $1.4 billion to buy and $300 million to redesign — appears not to be threatened. Although the job will surely be delayed beyond a planned completion this year, sources said the company carries very low debt on the property and should be able to ride out the storm. Negotiations continue with Perella Weinberg and another prospective tenant for a large lease.

660 FIFTH AVE.: Things might not look as rosy for the tower formerly known as 666 Fifth, where Brookfield paid Kushner Cos. $1.3 billion for the ground lease in 2018. Brookfield also plans to put up to $400 million into a top-to-bottom redesign of the empty 1.5-million-square-foot tower, but the job has a long way to go.

Also, “They chose the wrong time to empty the building of tenants,” one observer said. “And there are lingering conspiracy theories about presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s role and the involvement of a Qatari fund that invested in a Brookfield division.” Kushner no longer has an active role in his family’s company, and Qatar denied knowing about the 666 deal beforehand, but, “Tenants will proceed more carefully,” our source said.

A Brookfield rep said, “Full construction was not contemplated until the end of the year or early next year so the construction shutdown will not have a material impact.”

RESIDENTIAL CLOSINGS: Jamie Heiberger, president of Manhattan real estate law firm Heiberger & Associates, said, “While offering plans generally allow for delays — typically six months or a year — prolonged setbacks often do kill deals because at some point the buyer can walk away. When this occurs due to an exogenous shock, it could trigger a chain reaction that causes projects to default on their loans. During the 2008 financial crisis, waves of buyers tried to renege on their deposits for new developments after real estate and stock prices collapsed.”

But while, “Certainly the same is possible as a result of the construction shutdown,” Heiberger was optimistic that it wouldn’t happen this time.

For one thing, she said, if the shutdown is over in a month or two, “Construction can resume a lot faster in warm weather and make up for lost time.”

And business isn’t quite dead. “We closed six deals last week and a few this week,” compared with a past average of 40 to 60 deals each month.

Under the new rules, brokers can’t show spaces. But the interruption in deed recordings isn’t as disastrous as some reports made it seem.

“We’re doing escrow agreements and not holding up closings” for condos, she said.

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