Unlocking Opportunities: Leveraging Distress and Default in the Multifamily Market

Unlocking Opportunities: Leveraging Distress and Default in the Multifamily Market

As the saying goes, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and while the current circumstances don’t exactly mirror the impact of the 2008 meltdown, the parallels are hard to overlook. The 2008 Great Recession was fueled by unregulated lending to individuals with poor credit and the use of adjustable-rate mortgages, exacerbating the challenges. The result of higher interest rates led many who once managed their payments to face financial strain, ultimately triggering widespread defaults. This housing crash severely affected the US economy, plunging it into the most significant recession since the Great Depression of 1929.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the US economy has been grappling with the repercussions of lockdowns, inflation-slowed production and trade, and a notable surge in interest rates. The pandemic triggered significant shifts in the housing market. Shortly after the lifting of lockdowns and a return to a semblance of normalcy, the housing landscape transformed into a buyer’s market. With interest rates reaching record lows and favorable purchase prices, the real estate market witnessed approachable loan terms. Both single-family and multifamily transactions reached record highs, with a predominant use of variable-rate loans in the Multifamily deals. 

As these loans begin to mature this year, a scenario reminiscent of 2008 unfolds. Many operators may find themselves unable to afford increased interest rate payments. Mirroring challenges faced 16 years ago, some will be forced to default or sell their properties. However, within this challenge lies an opportunity. Similar to the results of the Subprime Meltdown, astute investors are poised to leverage this distress and capitalize on emerging opportunities. This article delves into maximizing these opportunities as well as the historical successes of the past. 

Rising Interest Rates

Regrettably, we find ourselves grappling with a challenging economic scenario, often referred to as a “perfect storm“. This is marked by a stagnant economy and rapidly escalating inflation—a situation commonly known as stagflation. In response to surging prices, the Federal Reserve (“the Fed”) opted to raise interest rates. However, this uptick in borrowing costs witnessed over the past year has had profound effects on the overall cost of debt. 

The high interest rates have slowed transaction volume because buyers and sellers cannot find common ground on purchase prices. The buyers cannot afford the high sale price in addition to the high cost of debt to secure the deal. 

Unlocking Opportunities

As we navigate this economic landscape, signs point toward an impending downturn. Economists are cautiously optimistic, suggesting a softer landing that might spare us from a full-blown recession. However, comprehending the implications of this downturn in the multifamily sector for investors is crucial for effectively leveraging the distressed economy.

Many multifamily sponsors have opted to suspend distributions, aiming to preserve capital in anticipation of rising interest rates. Yet, for some, this measure may not suffice to absorb the increased monthly costs. In such cases, operators will have to seek alternative solutions. Some may raise additional capital to inject into the project, supplementing a refinance in the hope of salvaging the venture. Others may have no recourse but to sell. In this scenario, sellers might need to accept a lower purchase price to exit without incurring further damages. As these distressed properties enter the market, experienced sponsors are waiting to leverage the chance to purchase at an attractive price, optimizing this investment opportunity.

Success Stories

In 2008, many people lost everything, banks, companies, stock market value, and homes. But for a few liquid investors, they were opportunistic and made millions, even billions of dollars. People such as Warren Buffet, used the stock market to buy up shares that had fallen to all-time lows now making billions for himself. 

Carl Icahn, a renowned fund investor, boasts an impressive track record. of He specializes in investing in distressed securities and assets during economic downturns. Historically, he has successfully purchased three Las Vegas gaming properties during financial hardships, subsequently making a fortune. 

Specifically, amid the credit crisis, Icahn acquired the bankrupt Fontainebleau property in Vegas for around $155 million—equivalent to approximately 4% of the estimated construction cost for the property. He then sold the unfinished property in 2017 to two investment firms for nearly $600 million, realizing nearly four times his initial investment.


While not all of us are millionaires, with endless liquidity to burn, we possess the advantage of time. Leveraging the economy’s cyclical nature, we can discern the parallels in our history and strategically identify investments that unlock lucrative opportunities. This gives investors an edge, allowing them to exercise patience in seeking out the most favorable deals to establish generational wealth for themselves and their families. 

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