US Hotel Lending Likely To Get More Challenging Than Other Real Estate in Short Term

Published by: Hotel News Now/Dana Miller
Published date: November 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Investors and lenders in the hospitality space often say one of two words: “strategic or selective,” according to Wells Fargo’s Mike Brown.

Brown is managing director of real estate syndication at Wells Fargo Securities. During a lending panel discussion at the 2023 Indie Lodging Congress, Brown said the hotel sector has shown strength in a high-interest-rate environment.

But at the same time, it’s a riskier asset class, he added.

“It’s a risk [with] interest rates, inflation, concerns about where the economy is going. Hotels are unfortunately going to be hindered a little bit more than other asset classes. Wells Fargo remains strategic and selective. Peeling that back at the end of the day, capital is very precious. The scrutiny that’s being placed on lenders — especially commercial real estate lenders — it is hard. Also, we’re not getting payoffs; balance sheets are not infinite in bank capital,” he said.

As a result, Brown said, it’s been difficult for lenders to put loan dollars out. Where capital is predominantly being deployed is to existing strategic relationships.

Lending activity will pick back up when lenders do begin to see payoffs, he said.

Typically, Wells Fargo chooses to syndicate loans between $50 million and $75 million, Brown said.

“The lenders that I have historically sold to — U.S. domestic banks — are also in the same boat. What we’re having to do in my position is find out where that liquidity is in the marketplace and solve for that liquidity. Right now [it’s through] institutional capital, private capital,” he said.

Shawn Tuli, chief financial officer and head of investments at Hersha Hospitality Management, said there is a lot of private capital available to finance deals. For a project, whether it’s an independent or branded hotel, to secure financing, there needs to be a high debt yield or a solid story and sponsorship.

“But in all scenarios, the cash flow has to be abundantly clear,” Tuli said. “We’ve done a handful of loan deals in Florida, Boston and we’re working on something in Philadelphia right now. What I’d say about the financing markets for deals is we’re getting bids, [but] it’s really where the spreads are coming in.”

In 2023, about $1.4 million in independent hotel deals have been completed, amounting to about 50 or 60 hotels. Most of those deals have been through regional banks, he said.

“That’s not a huge number, but folks are showing up where they think they can have long-term customer relationships. Where the hotels’ deposits are going to be with that bank, they might buy some more hotels,” Tuli said. “Those are lower-leveraged deals, but they make economic sense. If it’s a larger deal size and there’s meaningful cash flow, then I think the credit funds are available and they’re certainly showing up in our processes when we’re out looking for debt, but they’re looking for $30 million to $40 million deal sizes.”

Financing Indie Versus Branded Hotels

Tuli said its harder for a lot of lenders to underwrite an independent hotel than a core branded hotel. He said lenders feel there’s more liquidity for branded hotels.

HHM had a deal in Boston that recently refinanced. It had a 30% loan-to-value ratio at a 6.5% fixed rate. That’s accretive spread but it’s not a lot of leverage, he said.

“Now they’re a long-term holder, it’s no problem, it’s a regional bank. That’s an example where the regional banks show up because they have an existing relationship. Without that, it would have been pretty expensive and pretty challenging to get a traditional 60% to 65% leverage,” he added. “It’s a tough landscape for independent hoteliers.”

Brown said his group lends often to independent hoteliers, but mostly to those they’ve had prior experiences with and have a high level of confidence in.

“That’s really hard to come to the table on a new relationship and demonstrate. That’s the unfortunate reality that, yes, there is that capital available but in the world of selectiveness, it’s even more selective in terms of where it’s being deployed,” he said.