Commercial Loans Blog

Commercial Loans and the Newsletter Effect

Posted by George Blackburne on Fri, Jan 31, 2014

commercial loansNobody is applying for commercial loans right now.  In my 33 years in the commercial loan business, I have seldom seen the commercial real estate finance industry so dead.

Commercial loan demand today is almost as bad as in 1982, when the prime rate dropped from 21.5% to just 14% over about a year.  Good luck trying to convince a borrower to apply for a commercial loan when interest rates are falling by 1% a month!

When interest rates are falling, commercial mortgage borrowers proscrastinate because interest rates will only be lower the following month.

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My commercial mortgage company (Blackburne & Sons was founded in 1980) almost failed in 1982 because new commercial loan applications that year were almost completely nonexistent.  If my sweet mother had not loaned me some dough, my commercial mortgage company would have failed.

Today's darth of commercial loan demand is fortunately weather related.  It will pass when the weather improves.  Those of you in sunny California just don't appreciate how bad the weather is for much of the country.  The cold, the snow, and the wind chill are so bad here in Plymouth, Indiana that everyone was confined to their homes for four of the last seven days.  One local resident, I heard, was fined $500 when his car slipped off the road and went into a ditch, on a day when road travel was banned.

My point is that no one wants to think about applying for a commercial loan when the weather is this bad.  When the weather improves, commercial loan demand should come roaring back.

I wrote a blog article earlier in the week where I pointed out the advantage of marketing for commercial loans using lists (email, fax, and snail mail).  The nice thing about list advertising is that you can quickly send out a newsletter to your contacts when your commercial loan business gets slow.  In contrast, if your sole source of commercial leads is through magazine ads, you may have to wait for weeks until the next magazine issue goes out.

Anyway, one of my regular readers wrote to me this week and complained that he had gotten virtually no response from his newsletter campaigns.  Here is the thing about newsletters:    Commercial mortgage newsletters do not even start to pull until the sixth newsletter

Why is this?  I dunno.  It's just a fact of life that I have observed over the past 33 years in the commercial mortgage business.

But what I can tell you - and you can take this to the bank - is that:

If you send out a fun, personal, folksy, intentionally-unprofessional newsletter, every ten days to every three weeks, for at least six times religiously (with no gaps), pretty soon your recipients will consider you one of their best friends.  They will consider themselves to be the backup Godparents of your children, and they will swear that they have known you for years (even though you have only been marketing to them for seven months).

I call this special bonding effect, The Newsletter Effect.  In my training classes I compare the strength and intensity of this bond to The Stockholm Syndrome, that strange, emotional bond that was built between the terrorists and their hostages back in the 1970's.

Your newsletters have to be fun, so you can condition your customers to actually open your newsletters and read them.  I always include tons of fun stuff (Rat Goodies) in my newsletters, like jokes, funny pics, and links to great videos.  In fact, I think of my newsletters like a TV show, with only an occasional and brief word from our sponsor.

So to my regular reader, the reason your newsletter campaign failed was because you had too many time-gaps between your newsletters (it wasn't regular enough), and you gave up on sending them MUCH too soon.  You need at least six newsletters for The Newsletter Effect to take effect.  It is on the sixth newsletter and beyond when the leads finally start to come in.

My own son - Doubting Thomas - was losing heart in his own newsletters.  "They aren't working, Dad!" Then his sixth newsletter went out, and - BOOM - lead calls finally started pouring in for him.

Another loyal subscriber to my Commercial Loans Blog asked, "To whom should I send out my newsletters, George?"

It depends on whether you are using snail mail (which costs money) or email, which is essentially free.  If you are using snail mail, I recommend that you should only spend the money to send out your newsletters to people who see lots of commercial loan applications every month because of their jobs.  This includes bankers, commercial real estate brokers, property managers, residential mortgage brokers (on a name and number referral basis only), residential realtors, attorneys (who know you personally), CPA's (who know you personally), and life insurance agents. 

If you are using email newsletters you should add every wealthy real estate investor you meet in the regular course of business, even if you only quote a loan to him.  If you are diligent, you can build a book of two or three thousand commercial real estate investors in a couple of years.  Then, if you never fail to send an email newsletter every three weeks, you will have a booming commercial loan business that you can someday pass on to your own sons and daughters.

I read all of your comments to my blog articles, so if you have other questions and topics that you would like me to cover, please just post a comment.  And thanks for being a regular reader!  :-)

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Topics: Newsletter Effect

Commercial Loan Earnouts

Posted by George Blackburne on Wed, Jan 29, 2014

Earn outObtaining a commercial real estate loan these days is VERY expensive.  There are lender points.  There are broker points.  There is an appraisal of the property by a General Certified Appraiser or an MAI appraiser.  There is the toxic report.  There is the survey and the title commitment.  Some commercial lenders want an engineering report, and some even require a maximum probable loss (earthquake) report.  There are also closing costs, like attorney's fees, escrow costs, and title insurance.  The last thing a commercial property owner wants to do is to pay these fees and costs all over again when he gets a new commercial loan.

Unfortunately a commercial mortgage borrower cannot always choose when to refinance his property.  He might have a balloon payment coming due at an unfortunate time when 40% of his rentable space is vacant.  A fix-and-flipper may run out of dough, when his renovation is only 80% complete.  The timing sucks.

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A commercial loan with an earnout can sometimes solve this problem.  An earnout on a commercial loan is an agreement by a commercial lender to advance more money upon the happening of a certain event, such as the completion of a renovation, the issuance of a certificate of occupancy ("CO"), the leasing of a certain amount of additional space, or the grant of a requested change in the zoning.

An earnout is NOT an agreement to refinance an existing commercial loan into a larger loan, with all of the attendant costs, such as new loan fees on the ENTIRE amount of the new loan, new attorney's fees, and new closing costs.

Instead, an earnout is an agreement to increase the amount of an existing commercial loan, without the need to record a new commercial mortgage.

At Blackburne & Sons we handle earnouts by using holdback agreements.  A holdback agreement is an agreement to hold back a portion of the loan amount pending the completion of some event.  For example, if a borrower needs a new roof, we might hold back $75,000 from the proceeds of the loan until the contractor has completed the new roof.  When the new roof has been laid, we release the $75,000 to the roofing contractor.

The advantage of this approach is that we make the new loan based on the assumption that the new roof will be installed.  The disadvantage of this approach is that the borrower has to pay points and interest on the extra $75,000 - even though he doesn't have access to the money until the new roof is completed.  In addition, the borrower has to pay the points and the interest on the extra $75,000 - even if the roof never gets replaced. 

Depositories - such as banks and mortgage funds - handle earnouts differently.  Let's suppose that Joe's strip center is unfortunately 40% vacant when his existing commercial first mortgage comes due.  To pay off his $1 million ballooning commercial loan, he obtains a $600,000 refinance from a different bank, along with an earnout provision for an additional $400,000 when Joe's strip center reaches 95% occupancy at the agreed rental rate.

In order to come up with entire $1 million to pay off his ballooning first mortgage, Joe borrows $600,000 from the bank and $400,000 from his parents.  Later, when the economy recovers, Joe successfully rents out all of the remaining space in his strip center.  He notifies the bank, and the bank increases their $600,000 balance to $1 million, charging Joe a one-point loan origination fee on just the additional $400,000 - NOT on the entire $1 million.  Joe then pays back his parents.

This latter method of handling earnouts is better for Joe because there was no guarantee that he would ever have been able to fully lease out his strip center.  Why pay points and interest on $1 million when the lender will only release $600,000?

Earnouts can save many commercial loans.  Don't forget about them!

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Topics: earnouts

Commercial Loan Marketing - Why Lists Are Best

Posted by George Blackburne on Sat, Jan 25, 2014

Rat GoodieIncoming commercial loan leads were outright crumby for Blackburne & Sons in January.  All of our commercial mortgage loan officers were complaining.  Therefore I just instructed my son, George IV, to double the number of commercial loan email newsletters that we send out daily.  (I should have done this two weeks earlier.  My bad.)

But that's the advantage of list marketing for commercial loans, as opposed to broadcast marketing (TV ads, radio ads) or display ads (magazine ads, newspaper ads, billboards, or Google ads).  When you need more incoming commercial loan business right now, you can use list marketing to instantly go out and get it.

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Now I have been using a rather odd term, "list marketing."  Don't I just mean email newsletters?  No.  Sure, both and Blackburne & Sons have regular email newsletters for commercial loans that go out to the thousands of clients we have developed over the past 33 years.  But the term, "marketing lists", also includes fax lists and snail mail lists.

Snail mail is relatively expensive, so if you use snail mail to market for commercial loans, be sure to only send mail pieces to a very limited number of recipients.  At Blackburne & Sons, I allow each loan officer to send snail mail out, at the company's expense, to just 300 of their best commercial loan brokers.  We call these their 300 Spartans.

Within list marketing, I do like email newsletters the best.  You should hire a computer graphics guru to design for you one time a template for your commercial loans email newsletters.  I use a wonderful guy named John Merry of NetPilot Web Solutions.  John is not terribly expensive, and I have been using him for 16 years.

Once your graphics guru has designed your newsletter template, its relatively easy to write a new email newsletter every week using an ordinary browser.  Then you simply send it out weekly using or  These newsletter services cost less than $100 per month, and they are a great value.

If you choose to market for commercial loans using a newsletter, here are some important tips:

1.  Don't be professional!  Nobody reads "professional" newsletters.  They are soooo boring.  Real people - including wealthy commercial real estate investors - read fun newsletters, the ones that are full of slang and juicy gossip.

2.  Always includes lots of Rat Goodies, like cute, clean jokes, funny pics, links to hilarious videos, movies reviews, and heart-warming stories about your children.

3.  Don't expect any results from your first five newsletters.  The Notches on the Belt Theory of Marketing tells us that customers do not buy until they have thought about buying on at least six, separate, independent occassions.  This is why good salesmen never accept the first few "No's."  Your email newsletters will not work until the recipients receive at least six newsletters.  After that your investor, mortgage broker, realtor, and banker clients will start to call in their commercial loan requests in response to your newsletters. 

But let's not miss the point of today's lesson:  If you market for commercial loans using lists, you can quickly get your phones ringing again by simply increasing the number of clients who receive your newsletter daily.

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Topics: list marketing

Blackburne & Sons Introduces a Great New Apartment Loan Program

Posted by George Blackburne on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

Man, oh man, do we ever have a great new apartment loan program for you!  There is a little-known institutional investor out there that has an almost insatiable appetite for apartment loans.  Last year they originated and/or purchased over $380 million in apartment permanent loans, making them one of the largest players in the multifamily financing market.

describe the imageBecause we have been in the commercial mortgage loan business for over 33 years, and because we own, Blackburne & Sons just got approved to originate and sell apartment loans to this investor.  These apartment loans actually close in our name, but they are quickly sold off to our institutional investor.  The vetting process took over six months to complete, but we are now one of only six mortgage banking firms in the entire country allowed to originate loans for this investor in our own name.

Okay, here's the deal.  These are all 30-year fully-amortized loans.  Your client has a choice of an ARM tied to 6-month LIBOR, a three-year hybrid, a five-year hybrid, a seven-year hybrid, or a ten-year hybrid.  By far the most popular choice is the five-year hybrid.

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The interest rate is incredibly low, starting as low as 3.87% for a purchase money, 5-year hybrid in a Tier I market.  Properties in less-populated and/or less-desirable areas - known as Tier II and Tier III markets - have slightly higher interest rates.

The ARM program and the hybrid programs, after the initial fixed rate period, are tied to six-month LIBOR, with a 3.5% interest rate floor, a ceiling of 6% over the start rate.  On the hybrid loans, there is no periodic rate increase cap on the initial rate readjustment, immediately after the fixed rate period.  After the first rate readjustment, there is a 1% rate readjustment cap every six months.  This loan has no negative amortization.

This program can be used for apartment loans as small as $300,000 to as large as $20 million.  Apartment loans smaller than $1.5 million have slightly higher interest rates, but the interest rate is still very, very attractive. 

The loan-to-value ratio is between 75% and 60%, depending on the property's quality, age, and location, and whether the loan is a purchase-money loan, a rate-and-term refinance, or a cash-out refinance.  Your Blackburne & Sons loan officer can work with you to quickly make this determination.

In addition to apartments, this program can aslo be used for 4-star and 5-star mobile home parks (no single-wide coaches), mixed use properties (maximum of 40% commercial), student housing, and, surprisingly, low-income housing.  Caution:  Low-income housing deals are valued based on the lower rents typically found in nearby middle-income areas, so the maximum loan amount is often lower than expected.

Personal guarantees are required from Managing Members, General Partners, coporate officers, and individuals owning 20% or more of the property.

Loans to foreign nationals are available, up to 50% loan-to-value. 

We recommend that you quote your borrower the following:

Interest rate: 5.10%  (Assumes an average building in a Tier II market)

Loan Fee: 1 point  (Brokers add their fee on top)

Amortization / Term: 30/30

Prepayment Penalty: 5,4,3,2,1

Please gather for your Blackburne & Sons loan officer:

  1. Color photo's of the property
  2. Rent Roll
  3. Last two years' actual income and expenses.
  4. Financial statement on the borrower.
But before you do anything else, we recommend that you first call your Blackburne & Sons loan officer, or Tom Blackburne at 574-210-6686.

Topics: apartment loans

History of Commercial Loans - Part II

Posted by George Blackburne on Tue, Jan 7, 2014

describe the imageThis may be one of my most important commercial loans blog articles ever because I explain almost a dozen new commercial finance terms of art.  My history of commercial loans continues below.

In Part I, which took place during the late 1960's, we noted that there was no inflation yet; but every commercial loan had to be a portfolio loan because there was no organized secondary market for commercial loans.  A lender couldn't quickly sell off a commercial loan in a liquidity squeeze.

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As a result, life companies, commercial banks, and savings and loan associations had only a limited appetite for commercial loans.  Money for commercial loans was available, but if you had a construction loan or a balloon payment coming due, there was never any guarantee that the nearby commercial lenders had any money left over in their commercial loan allocations (quotas).

Imagine the following scenario:  Your commercial loan balloons in November, but every life company, commercial bank, and savings and loan association in town has already used up all of their commercial loan allocation for the year!  You might have to pay the ballooning bank a two-point extension fee, just to extend the loan until the first quarter of the following year, when the nearby commercial lenders got a new allocation of commercial loan money!  Therefore construction lenders always demanded a forward takeout commitment.

Before we define a forward takeout commitment, we must first define a takeout loan.  A takeout loan is just a permanent loan that pays off a construction loan.  Because the property has just been constructed, a takeout loan is always a commercial property's very first permanent loan.

"Oh, great, George.  You've just defined a takeout loan using another term that I didn't know - a permanent loan.  So what on earth is a permanent loan?"

A permanent loan is a first mortgage loan on a commercial property, with a term of at least five years, that calls for some amortization.  In home loan lending, most first mortgage loans are amortized over 30 years.  In commercial real estate lending, most commercial loans are amortized over 25 years.  If a commercial property is older than 35-years-old, many commercial lenders will demand a 20-year amortization, or maybe even a 15-year amortization.

A permanent loan on a commercial property will typically have a term of 5, 7, or 10 years; although SBA loans and USDA Business and Industries loans (partially-guaranteed by the Federal government) will sometimes be fully-amortized loans over 25 years.  If a commercial first mortgage loan does not have any amortization; i.e., it's an interest-only loan, the first mortgage loan is usually considered a mini-perm.  Mini-perms typically have interest-only terms of two to three years.

Okay, so far we've said that a takeout loan is just a permanent loan that pays off a construction loan.  A permanent loan is just a first mortgage on a commercial property, with some amortization and a term of at least five years.  And because most takeout lenders had quotas on their commercial loans, commercial construction lenders almost always required forward takeout commitments.

A forward takeout commitment is nothing more than a letter promising to deliver a takeout loan at some time in the future, typically 12 months or 18 months out.  Forward takeout commitment letters typically cost the developer one or two points, just for the letter itself.  If the developer actually asked the lender to fund, there was typically a loan origination fee of another one or two points.

Did you know that if a developer paid for a forward commitment letter that he was NOT required to take down the lender's takeout loan?  For example, let's suppose a life insurance company issued a 12-month forward takeout commitment for $2 million at 5.0%.  Then let's suppose the developer completed the office building, and because Lockheed Aerospace opened a new plant in town, the developer filled the building at much higher rents than he was projecting.  Bank of America then offered the developer a $2.2 million takeout loan at 4.75% and a loan origination fee of just one point.  Most developers would jump all over the Bank of Amercia deal and would politely tell the life company that they were not taking its loan.  The life company might be ticked off (and might internally blacklist the developer), but there was nothing that the life company could do.

Commercial construction loans then, as well as now, were usually written by a local commercial bank.  The developer would start the construction loan process by first sitting down with a nearby banker.  Banks greatly prefer to make commercial construction loans close to one of their offices because construction loans require progress inspections, where a bank representative would visit the construction site and verify that the project was on-time and within budget, and that the project was being built according to plans and specifications.

The local banker knows the local commercial real estate market.  He might look at the developer's plans and financial projections and says, "I'm sorry, Bill, but you're projecting office rents of $36/sf here in podunk Midwest City, Oklahoma.  There is no way folks here can afford to pay that kind of rent.  This deal is a non-starter."

Or the local banker might say, "Okay, you're projecting $28/sf here in Arlington, Virginia (the fourth largest city in the state).  That looks very do-able.  Go get yourself a forward takeout commitment, and assuming you've contributed at least 20% of the total cost of the project, I'm sure our bank would be willing to make the construction loan."

So Bill, the developer, then went out and found a life insurance company to issue a fixed rate forward takeout commitment.  Back in the late 1960's, life insurance companies issued the vast majority of all forward takeout commitments, and these forward commitments were for fixed rate loans.  Life insurance companies like fixed rate loans because their businesses are based on actuarial projections (how many policy holders are going to die in any given year).  Life companies need to be virtually guaranteed of earning a certain interest rate on their investments.  Hence their preference for fixed rate loans.

The forward takeout commitment might read, "Bill, if you build this office building according to plans and specifications, and you get it 95% leased up at your projected rent of $28/sf, we'll fund a $2 million takeout loan to pay off your construction lender.  You must hand us two points before we give you this commitment letter, and there will be an additional 1.5 point loan origination fee if you ask us to actually fund the loan."

Bill, the developer, hands the life insurance company a check for $40,000 (two points on a $2 million commitment).  He then takes the forward takeout commitment letter to a bank, located close to the proposed property, and obtains what is known as a covered construction loan or a closed-end construction loan.  In other words the construction lender knows exactly who is going to pay it off.

This was the world of commercial real estate finance before President Richard Nixon took the United States off the gold standard and opened the bottle to the Inflation Genie.

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Topics: History II

Special Commercial Loan Marketing Technique - Offer Multiple Products

Posted by George Blackburne on Sat, Jan 4, 2014

This article is intended only for commercial loan brokers.  I have been marketing for commercial loans for over 33 years now, and one very successful technique that I use when marketing for commercial loans is to offer multiple products in every advertisement.

For example, I am designing this week a full page advertisement that will go out to about 100,000 commercial real estate brokers.  Rather than just advertising for commercial loans in general, my new advertisement will offer four different products:

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No Prepayment Penalty
Call Tom Blackburne at 574-210-6686

We Can Provide the Extra 10% To 15% Your Bank is Demanding
Call Angela Vannucci at 916-338-3232

We Once Paid a $21,250 Referral Fee
Simply Insert a Commercial Loans Hyperlink on Your Website

C-Loans Has Closed 1,000+ Deals Totaling $1+ Billion
And is Free!

It's going to cost me about $300 to reach all of these real estate brokers, so I might as well toss them four pitches at which to swing.  Don't need a quick hard money bridge loan right now?  Well, how would you like a $21,250 referral fee?  Don't have a website?  Well, does your investment property buyer have an insufficient downpayment?  We can add to it.  No?  Need an "A" quality commercial loan?  Why not use to submit your deal to 750 different banks?  After all, C-Loans is free.

My point is this:  If you have to pay for advertising, why not give yourself multiple chances to make a sale?  Always offer multiple products.

Have you ever seen one of my fax newsletters?  The Blackburne & Brown Letter is mainly designed to plug my commercial hard money lending company.  However, I alway also include a reminder about, my commercial mortgage portal.  In addition, I always plug my basic 9-hour basic commercial mortgage finance training course, as well as my hard money training course.  Then I alternate plugging my commercial mortgage marketing course, my new course on the practice of commercial mortgage finance, or my program to buy commercial leads.

Just STOP for a moment.  Have you ever looked at my wonderful courses and wished you could afford to buy them?  You don't need cash.  You can buy them with Blackburne Bucks.  What is a Blackburne Buck?  Every time you enter a bona fide commercial loan request into and submit it to six lenders, we'll give you $100 Blackburne Bucks.  You then redeem these Blackburne Bucks by buying my courses.

And these courses are wonderful!  I be dyin' if I be lyin'.  Every time I go to a major CREF trade show, at least three or four former students always come up to me and thank me profusely for this training.  You've read my blog articles.  I try hard to deliver solid, practical training in an easily understandable manner.

Okay, back to the subject of today's article.  My training lesson again is this:  Any time you have to pay for commercial loan advertising, be sure to offer multiple products.

"But George, I don't have training courses of my own to offer."  I'll address this issue shortly; but first please allow me to show you one more example.

Have you ever seen one of my email newsletters?  Please just scan the following two newsletters:

describe the image

You will note that I plug Blackburne & Sons,, buying commercial mortgage leads, my nine-hour training course, my new commercial mortgage marbketning course, my finding investors course, and several other products.  Multiple products - get it?

Okay, now let's address your needs.  You don't have multiple products.  Yes, you do!  You have that one bank which will lend up to 80% LTV on apartments.  You have that other bank that will allow the seller to carry back a small second mortgage.  You have that life insurance company that is offering loans at 4.125%.  I'm making all of this stuff up, but you get the point.  You have several dozen niche lenders.  When you advertise for commercial loans, don't just say, "Commercial Loans".  Instead, plug the programs of at least four niche lenders.

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Topics: multiple products