Some people end up in the right place at the right time. Take Bill May, vice president of Classic Capital Group, for example.
The private broker and lender who has focused strictly on financing of commercial real estate for the past 20-plus years, first met his Classic corporate colleagues in 1995 and joined the firm shortly thereafter. “I walked into Classic’s offices as an independent commercial lender, just to introduce myself.” Next thing he knew, Classic’s management team expressed interest in adding commercial lending to their portfolio of services and Classic Capital Group was born.
A division of Classic Mortgage Company, in 2001, the Classic Capital Group generated $55 million of the organization’s record-breaking $316 million in revenues. “We did $247 million in combined residential, commercial and new construction lending in 2002,” he adds. In 2003, with a softer market, May still expects his company will produce between 20 and 30 million dollars in commercial financing. As testimony to its success, CCG’s parent, Classic Mortgage Company, consistently makes it into the top five locally-owned mortgage companies in the annual Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Book of Lists.
Today, May’s desk and credenza are topped with stacked paperwork-filled files as he matches real estate investors and buyers with financing institutions. His rol-o-dex is filled with business cards from every major commercial real estate company in town – and the lending expert is excited.
“This is an ideal market for commercial investors,” he promotes. “Owners who have held their properties for several years are refinancing existing loans and freeing up cash to offset increasing taxes, tenant improvements and building improvements. Investors looking for properties to buy may not find the same opportunity, but a lot of my clients are saving thousands of dollars each month by refinancing.”
Unlike SBA lenders, Classic Capital Group develops financing for commercial real estate rather than for equipment or operational needs. “I’ve actually helped several clients transition out of SBA loans,” he says. “In some cases, the lenders I represent can offer attractive fixed rate financing instead of a floating prime rate – saving owners a lot of money.”
SBA loans, he qualifies, typically require an 85 to 90 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio but their rates are variable – and may not be as good as private lenders can offer. “I find companies that may only finance on a 75 percent LTV, but can offer attractive rates.”
And money is the name of the game. May’s mantra, like those he represented is the “golden rule.” “He who has the gold, rules,” he says, adding that he has represents as many as 30 to 40 different lending institutions at any given time.
“We probably do business with Classic Capital Group through Bill every two or three months,” says Jay Carlson of Front Range Commercial. “Bob Nolette and I specialize in retail leasing and sales. Whenever we have a prospective buyer, Bill meets with them and comes up with several options on where we can find the best deal. He’s always gets it done.”
Carlson points to his client’s purchase of the Bally’s Plaza Shopping Center two years ago as an example. “It was a long, drawn-out process, and Bill was there every step of the way. The buyer was very particular about the kind of loan he wanted. He knew exactly the company to match up with the purchaser.”
Maybe that is because Bill May is tuned into a special financing wavelength. He has certainly dialed into a nationwide network of banks, insurance companies and corporations who look for correspondences or ways to connect through brokers to savvy investors. “A lot of my contacts are located in the Midwest and on the coasts,” he admits.
Seven years ago, Wall Street finally began to acknowledge the existence of real estate investment companies – and as May points out, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rating criteria have helped standardize a once-maverick area of finance.
“When a company gets to the half-billion dollar or one billion dollar portfolio level, they are rated for sale on the bond market. That has proved a boon to May’s career. “From 1993 to 1994,” he says, “I was able to close between $70 and $80 million in loans.
“That standardization has also helped create a more competitive market and better interest rates for borrowers,” he notes, “and the default rate is very low.”
In fact, May sees the role of Classic Capital Group as a win for all involved. “With so many folks experiencing losses in the stock market, it’s great to know that real estate still provides a 10 to 15 percent return on investment. Money is flowing into commercial financing because there is real money to be made there – even in a tough economy.”
Another customer and local Olive Real Estate Group broker, Stan Kensinger, sizes up May’s talents as genuinely helpful. “Bill is one of the most professional loan brokers Jim DiBiase and I have ever dealt with. He’s got a good grasp of local, regional and national lenders – and has introduced many of them to our market.”
Kensinger also appreciates May’s pre-purchase consulting analysis insight which includes assessing the pro forma and business plan. “We’ll go to Bill and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’ He knows what specific lenders are looking for and who matches up best with our projects.”
When Artesia Mortgage Capital wanted to find a broker in the Colorado Springs area, May received a phone call. The same was true of the Bank of Oklahoma. “In the mid-1990s,” the lender recalls, “I was just making a few cold calls when I talked with a lender looking to make construction and short-term permanent loans in the area.” Both lenders now rely exclusively on Classic Capital Group to come up with lending opportunities.
“It’s tough for a new buyer to make more than 10 percent on a commercial real estate investment right now,” he cautions, “because there are so few good properties for sale. Any prospective buyer needs to do a thorough cash flow analysis.” That research will determine when leases are schedule to end and which tenants are likely to stay or go.
As far as the future, May believes current 5 percent lending rates won’t last forever. Fortunately, the Pikes Peak region continues to be attractive to outside investors and for those who act soon, so there’s still money to be made.
“Four years ago we saw 6 to 7 percent growth,” he notes. “Eventually I think we’ll stabilize in the 3 to 4 percent range. One good sign of economic strength is reflected in the many national chains opening stores in our area. As long as we have an aggressive economic development thrust and focus on addressing transportation and other issues for the greatest good of our community, Classic Capital Group’s business will remain strong.”