Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

As one continuation of my blog about the Great Recession, I’d like to share with you what I know and learned about Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  No, it was really just the worst of times.

photo credit to http://www.wikipedia.com

In 2007, the owner and equity partner for our development business sold their entire real estate portfolio to Morgan Stanley.  The core business was nice office buildings throughout Texas and cities in the Southwest.  The timing was perfect for the seller, and the creator of that business is a legitimate billionaire as a result.  Morgan Stanley was buying up real estate as fast as they could to have a place to put all the money that was flowing in from clients that wanted to be in real estate.

They couldn’t buy fast enough.  Even the smartest guys in the industry were caught up the frenzy, same as  our retail buyers who showed up at the lotteries.  They were making the purchases with huge short-term loans from global banks so they could lock up the assets before the equity was even in.  Late in 2007 things started getting a little shaky, but not full on disaster, yet.  The in 2008 we watched everything fall apart.

photo credit to http://www.thebalance.com

I was laying a lot of people off.  We were making sales for the lowest price per foot we’d ever done on a new condo building.  We were desperately trying to pay back construction debt with sales wherever we could.  Buyers were suing to get out of their contracts to close on units.  California law makes it easy to walk from a deal if you can prove the developer did something wrong and that’s the path people were taking.

Sometime in 2009, it became obvious that Morgan Stanley would not be funding our business any longer.  We were on our own to cut costs and generate revenue however possible, and they were going to default on the $4 billion loan they used to acquire the business that owned ours.  The mighty Morgan Stanley was on the ropes themselves.  It was just unimaginable to watch these institutions that once seemed only second to the Federal Government in terms of wealth and power just dry up and crumble away.

photo credit to http://www.wikipedia.com
Remember seeing this guy on the news every day? Treasury Secretary Paulson

I was the Corporate Controller of the business at the time and not involved in every decision at the top.  Some time in the fall of 2019 I started to hear that a bankruptcy was being considered.  I knew nothing about it at the time but was going to learn quickly.

As I’ve mentioned before we were in the first third of a long-term development project that had taken many thousands of hours and endless expertise and hundreds of millions to dollars to lay the groundwork for so we couldn’t just walk away.

There was much cross-collateralization of debt at the time (this topic is worthy of another blog) and we had a plan to protect the “good” long-term assets in exchange for giving up some of the heavily-indebted ready for sale inventory, including a 5-star luxury hotel that had been 10 years in the making.

The plan was to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Chapter 11 is a plan to stay in business.  It means all the parties with current or future money owed must vote for a deal that affirms they would rather take something less and agree there is benefit to your business surviving.  Chapter 7 means liquidation, the business is over, and the creditors divvy up the proceeds of the sale of assets.

I will blog again about being in the middle of Chapter 11 and how it ended up.  If you like my blog, please follow in the sidebar to the right. Also, please connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

The Great Recession

The Great Recession happened right in the middle of my career.  I worked for a real estate development company on a large-scale project that was about 7 or 8 years into a 25-year master plan.  And it was high-end, second home resort development in California.  It really could not have been worse.

We started on several golf and ski resort communities in 2000.  We were taking a model that had worked in the high-end mountain resorts of Colorado especially well during the convergence of the late 90s tech bubble and empty nest baby boomers arriving at the peak of their vacation home purchasing potential.

photo credit to http://www.beavercreek.com

We adopted the model to California resorts with high hopes that the market was ripe for some new development.  The plan included two brand new golf course communities, a high-end luxury hotel with a residential component, and an 1,800-unit master planned community at the base of and on the ski resort, and a club to bring it all together.  Entitlements and planning took a couple of years but when the first real estate was offered it was obvious the plan was right.  In 2002 we began delivering finished lots and townhomes, and by 2005 we were delivering a multi-story mixed-use base ski village that was the nicest in the state. 

photo credit to http://www.thetahoeweekly.com

At both the golf course communities and the ski village we had oversold lotteries to allow potential buyers the opportunity to select lots or units based on architectural renderings and site plans.  We had people threatening to sue because they showed up at a fancy hosted party and were unable to get their chance to plunk down a hefty deposit for a lot that hadn’t even been built.  That was the peak and we all now know that money was just too easy to come by and that was the real source of the hyper-competitive market for any and all real estate. 

We were writing the term sheets for construction loans and delivering to the banks, knowing if they didn’t take our proposed terms another bank would.  We created three different Community Facilities Districts with local utility and community services providers based on appraisals showing sales in the billions of dollars over the next 20 years.  Based on the way real estate was selling at the time, the assumptions were correct.  We had taken out every loan available, including the biggest loan the company had ever closed on to build the 5-star luxury hotel.  The loan was so big it took a consortium of four major international banks to deliver the funding.

photo credit to http://www.rgj.com

None of this was easy.  There was so much effort put in by smart and hard-working people.  We had folks that had relocated from around the country, experts in construction, sales and marketing, land planning, architecture and design, and finance.  The machine was humming, and the future was bright.

It was all too good to be true.

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