Lenders Use Release Clauses So Developers Can Sell Off Lots, Homes or Condo's
Let's suppose a commercial lender - a bank - makes a $2 million commercial loan to a developer on a residential subdivision. The developer uses the proceeds of this commercial loan to obtain an approved subdivision map, to install the horizontal improvements (streets, curbs, gutters, water, sewer, power, etc.) and to market the 100 residential home sites. Now the developer is done, and he is ready to sell off his first residential lot for $40,000.
But wait. The lot buyer isn't going to fork over his $40,000 unless the developer is prepared to hand over the lot free and clear of any mortgages. The bank has a $2 million loan against the lot (and admittedly the other 99 lots). How do we get rid of the $2 million bank loan with the proceeds of just a $40,000 lot sale?
The sale will be accomplished using a partial release clause in the loan documents. A partial release clause is an agreement between the commercial lender and the borrower whereby a mortgage that blankets two or more parcels will be released from a particular parcel upon the payment to the commercial lender of a previously-agreed amount of money. For example, "The commercial lender agrees to release its mortgage against residential lot number 17 upon the payment $20,000." The bank gets $20,000 from the sales proceeds of lot number 17 (a nice culs-de-sac lot), and the developer gets to pocket the remaining $20,000 as his profit.
But be careful here. What if this new residential subdivision has just 15 culs-de-sac lots and 10 nice lots with views? What if the rest of the lots are stinky? Suppose the developer is able to sell all 25 premium lots for $40,000 each and gives the bank half the proceeds. That's $500,000 for the bank and $500,000 for the developer. Now the bank is owed $1.5 million, and its loan is secured by the 75 remaining lots.
What happens if the non-premium lots cannot be sold for any more than $18,000 each? If the initial release price per lot was set at $20,000 the problem soon becomes apparent. The developer cannot sell any of the remaining lots. Even if the bank cooperated and let him sell the lots for $18,000 each, this would only bring in another $1,125,000. The developer would still end up owing the bank $375,000, and all of the collateral would be gone!
Okay, obviously the bank needs to do something in order to protect itself. One way the bank will protect itself is that it will ask the appraiser to assign an anticipated sales price per lot. The release price per lot will no longer be a uniform $20,000 per lot. Instead, the premium lots might have a release price of $30,000 each and the non-premium lots might have a release price of $17,000 per lot.
But what if some of the lots cannot be sold for any reasonable price? What if consumers pick over the subdivision and leave 35 non-premium lots unsold? The developer would still owe the bank almost $600,000 and the bank would only have as collateral a bunch of undesirable lots.
To make sure that the bank does not end up with a bunch of unsalable lots (or condo's), the typical partial release clause will have a provision whereby the developer must pay down the construction loan or land development loan by 115% to 125% of the release price before the bank will release a unit. Therefore, in our example, the developer will have to pay down the land development loan by 120% of $30,000 ($36,000) in order to get a premium lot (culs-de-sac or view lot) released. This way a developer does not get to keep a lot of the profit and leave the construction lender with a bunch of crumby, unsellable lots or units.