With the banks out of the game, there is development finance available if you look hard enough

As many, perhaps even most, of Ireland’s property professionals start to return to the office after the summer holidays, there will be various items in their “in” trays.

A rash of major deals are expected to be done in the next three months. Activity has been behind the record-breaking 2014 so far this year, but the final quarter of the year is usually the busiest.

These deals will bring new issues to our attention. David McWilliams highlighted the most pressing one in this newspaper yesterday: the fear that the slowdown in China may hurt the ability of overseas funds (pumped up with Chinese cash) to invest in commercial property here.

It’s a cliche, but only time will tell if he is right. If the expected deals don’t happen between now and year end, then watch out.

If that worry is front and centre for agents and investors, for developers it is the same problem they’ve been facing since the downturn: where is the financing for new projects going to come from?

The banks were practically the only source of financing during the boom, but that money has as good as dried up now. AIB and Bank of Ireland are willing to advance around two thirds of the loan to value of a development, but that is a meaningless ratio if the developer can’t put together the remaining third. In many, if not most cases, the builder can’t get their hands on that kind of money. It is practically impossible.

The upshot is land banks around Dublin in particular that are sitting there with zoning for residential housing, but no planning applications for significant construction.

A report from the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland last year found that there is more than enough land zoned for residential use to take care of the housing crisis, so space for sites isn’t the problem. The blockage is when a developer tries to put together a deal to pay for the new construction.

With the banks effectively out of the picture except for the biggest developers, what options are out there if you can’t finance a deal yourself?

Equity financing has become the “sexy” method of paying for shovels in the ground. The most obvious example of this is Cairn Homes. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange earlier this year and easily raised the €440m or so it was looking for.

Cairn is building family homes in Donaghmede on Dublin’s northside and Killiney on the southside. It also has plans for elsewhere around the country.

The other listed players, Hibernia REIT, IRES REIT and Green REIT have been trusted by the market almost from day one and are so big now that financing is not an issue for them.
But for smaller developers, where do they go?
There are a number of options out there, but none of them are cheap. The most recent addition was the US private equity giant KKR. The company is best known for multibillion dollar takeovers but last month it agreed to a joint venture with Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund to provide €500m in development finance for housebuilders.

The firm says it will provide as much as 90pc loan to value ratio, and the loans will be priced “in the teens”.

That is expensive, but in a market where financing is tight, we can expect builders to be queuing up to sign up to it.

Another firm, Lotus Investment Group, is very much in the market as well. That firm has provided the means for the construction of numerous projects around Dublin. Among the projects it lists on its website are 72 new homes in Rathfarnham in south Dublin, and 42 “high end” apartments in Dublin city centre.

And there are many others.

There is finance out there, but it takes a lot more work to find it, and get it these days.

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