Questions emerge over MBA’s new digs

Rolfe Winkler at Option ARMageddon questions the wisdom of MBA’s recent real estate purchase — in 2007, the trade group purchased a new office building to house its operations (and pull in some income by leasing to other tenants). As the market has continued to tank, however, the weakness in real estate has spread into CRE and since left the MBA holding the bag on tenants that have yet to appear. Winkler writes:

… MBA closed the new building deal earlier this year and the association now occupies 40% of it. The rest was to be leased out to help pay the mortgage. Trouble is, [MBA president Jonathan] Kempner can’t find any tenants to share his new digs. With no tenants and deteriorating lending conditions, MBA was forced to put down “10% more” than planned toward the purchase according to the Washington Post. Nor has Kempner found tenants to sublet the association’s old lease for 32,000 square feet on the 8th floor at 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. That lease runs through 2011.

Winkler wonders about the wisdom of such a move, with membership down 17 percent from last year. I’d agree, and I’ll bet the MBA does as well — even if they can’t publicly say it — although I don’t know that I feel the situation is the sinister one he suggests. Strikes me more as ironic than anything else. Perhaps more worrisome for members, however, is the disclosure in his story that the MBA is planning a hike in membership fees for those that perform certain “servicing activities.” That reeks of profit taking, although it isn’t clear just who the extra fees would be levied on just yet. Servicing shops haven’t largely or actively been members of the MBA over the years, as the organization tended to focus on the needs of originators and bankers; but plenty of vendors that operate on the servicing side are members, and I don’t know how they’d feel about the MBA hiking their fees — if, of course, that’s actually what’s in the offing. Many of these firms barely survived during the housing boom and are just now making up for their losses during that time. Disclosure: Housing Wire is a member of the MBA.

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