Mixed Business Bag For Brokers As National Economy Shows Signs Of Cooling

NATIONAL REPORT? In observing the current hotel transaction scene, some brokers have just two words for property owners who think they?re still comfortably perched at the top of the seller?s market: ?Get real!? On the other hand, others say it?s too early to interpret a softening in demand as the beginning of the end of the lodging industry?s booming transaction market. ?There?s no doubt the past few years have been very strong; perhaps the best the hotel industry has ever seen,? said Lynda Backman, president of San Mateo, CA-based National Hotel & Motel Brokers. However, she was quick to point out that the situation has changed dramatically of late. ?This past quarter we?ve seen a rapid slowdown in the number of transactions,? she said. ?Today?s buyers are well aware of the extensive building going on lately and are now unwilling to give as much as five and six times gross income for an existing lodging property,? she said. With this recent upsurge in development, Backman fears the industry may soon be in for troubling times, much like those precipitated by the hotel glut of the late ?70s and early ?80s. Daniel Lesser, New York City-based senior director for the Hospitality Group at Cushman & Wakefield, agreed that ?we?re not exactly seeing a frenzied pace in hotel deals at this time; certainly as compared to the level of transactional activity we enjoyed in the early part of 1998.? But Lesser believes there is sufficient capital available in the marketplace and, accordingly, it looks like activity is picking up. Any rebound in deal-making, however, is largely dependent on sellers? appreciation of market realities, he said. ?There?s always opportunity…but it hinges on where the price [of the property]is set.? Serving up a more positive spin still is Bill Gudenau, Chicago-based executive managing director for Insignia/ESG Hotel Partners. ?While there may not be as many ?trophy? properties changing hands at this time, there has nonetheless been considerable activity throughout the upper and mid-range market segments,? he said. ?In our case, we?re having an excellent year; in fact, we?re probably as busy now as we?ve ever been.? On the other hand, ?While the number of transactions are up, the dollar amounts of these individual deals has slipped,? he said. ?But in terms of overall activity, there?s definitely no slowdown on our radar screens at this time. In fact, in some locales? notably, Europe? activity has been particularly strong, much the same way it was here in the U.S. just a few short years ago.? It stands to reason that, for every broker who sees business dwindling, there is a counterpart who contends that the hotel buying/selling climate is piping hot and getting hotter. The hotel deal-making market ?has been extremely strong, particularly over the course of the past 60 days,? according to Mark Gordon, New York City-based senior vp for Sonnenblick-Goldman. How strong has the market been for Gordon? Speaking from his national operations point-of-view, he noted that he has hardly had the chance to set prices, much less solicit offers. ?Of the last four deals brought to market, three have been pre-empted,? he reported. ?We?re experiencing good success in larger financing deals,? he said. That would seem to make for a fortunate turn-of-events in that ?interest in upscale properties has been especially strong lately.? Ultimately, it seems there is one factor on which virtually all brokers agree, and that is that the hotel deal-making market operates neither independently nor in a vacuum.?Industry fundamentals are still very strong, and should continue as such as long as the national economy remains vibrant,? said Gordon.