How property development finance works

Every homeowner understands the difference between their mortgage and the equity they have in their home but when it comes to commercial real estate transactions like property development finance, the difference between equity, preferred equity, mezzanine debt and senior debt can confuse even the savviest financial minds.

Let’s take a look at what’s called The Capital Stack to better understand where the different types of finance sit in a commercial property development.

The Capital Stack for property development finance

Senior Debt

Senior Debt is secured by a First Mortgage on the property itself, so if the borrower fails to pay the lender can sell the security property. This greatly reduces risk on the principal invested because, at worst, the lender can recoup its principal by selling the property.

Mezzanine Debt

Mezzanine Debt sits behind the senior debt in order of payment priority. Once the developer pays operating expenses and the senior debt payment all income must go to pay the mezzanine debt. If the developer is unable to pay (assuming they aren’t also in default under the senior debt), the lender typically has the ability to quickly take control of the property. The senior debt and mezzanine lenders will usually enter into an agreement, called a Priority Deed, where they spell out how their rights interact (i.e. what happens if a developer stops paying both of them).

Preferred Equity

Preferred Equity is perhaps the hardest portion of the capital stack to speak about generally because, for better and worse, it’s very flexible. Preferred equity holders have a preferred right to payments over regular (common) equity holders. “Pref” equity positions range from “hard” preferred equity, which function similarly to mezzanine debt and include a fixed coupon and maturity date to “soft” preferred equity, which is more likely to include some of the financial upside if the project performs well. While hard preferred equity holders may have the ability to make some decisions or kick out the developer if they fail to make payments, soft preferred equity holders typically have more limited rights.

Common Equity

Common Equity is the riskiest and most profitable portion of the real estate capital stack. Typically the developer (or sponsor) will be required – by the lender and/or by other equity investors – to invest their own money as some portion of the equity to have skin in the game. Equity investments carry the greatest risk, because investment agreements entitle every other tranche of capital to be repaid before common equity holders. However, if the property development does well equity investors usually receive an exceptional rate of return. This is because they receive a portion of profit which can easily outstrip the return paid to debt holders usually expressed as an interest rate.

For example, a sponsor may have sourced senior finance at 6% per annum, mezzanine finance at 22% per annum but the sponsor and common equity holders return on investment is 50% per annum. Another way to think about it is that common equity is very expensive when compared to debt within the capital stack.

Understanding the stack is incredibly important as certain lenders will only become involved in particular types of property development finance and interest rates will vary depending on the risk. Currently, Private Mortgages Australia provides Senior Debt and Mezzanine Debt, and have aspirations to offer Preferred Equity in the future.

If you’d like to discuss finance for your next property development project then please get in touch.

How to obtain development finance

Development FinanceIt is well known that to secure development finance from a major bank is getting much more difficult. Like the GFC days when it was virtually impossible to obtain finance, tighter controls continue to be implemented. Banks generally require 100% of debt coverage from pre-sales and they have pulled back on the percentage of hard costs that they will fund.

However, there are non-bank lenders and private lenders that will look at a project from a different angle to the major banks. Developer finance lenders will work off the gross realisation value (GRV) of the project rather than the traditional hard cost or total development cost (TDC) method when working out how much they will lend.

The main things non-traditional development finance lenders will look at are:

  • The project – does it make sense?
  • The profit – is there a big enough profit in the project?
  • The people – are the people behind the development experienced?

GRV development finance method explained

Gross realisation value (GRV) based first mortgage facilities look at the projected end value of the project and will extend funding to a percentage of that. In general, the maximum GRV is 65%, or 70% in some cases.

Advantages of GRV development finance

  • No pre-sale requirements can mean a higher realisation price especially in a rising market.
  • No pre-sale requirements can mean the project holding costs are less and the development can commence more quickly.
  • Less developer equity required.
  • Taxable income figures for the borrowers are not generally required.
  • All fees and interest can be capitalised

GRV development finance general guidelines

With non-bank lenders and private funders, each project is looked at on an individual basis. However, below are some guidelines that, if met, will help you secure developer finance.

  • Projects should be in desirable locations with high demand for the product being built.
  • Profit margins should be between 15% and 25% depending on the type of project.
  • The borrower should be an experienced developer.
  • The borrower, while not generally required to prove serviceability, will need to have some tangible assets behind them and not be credit impaired.
  • While the funding may typically be available up to 65% of the GRV or end value, this ratio cannot be exceeded at the land stage or any stage of the development. If the land has increased significantly from when it was purchased there is no restriction on using the increased value. This means that 100% of hard costs can be funded in some circumstances.

Have a read of a case study for a development finance deal we recently undertook and you can also hear more about how PMA can help developers with finance in this video.