Brokering a silver lining in a dark cloud
'Every crisis brings an opportunity'. That is the motto of Paul Liang, a Taiwanese immigrant who arrived in the United States at the age of 12.
When the US economy was gripped by the global financial crisis in late 2008, Liang's Fortune Group - which provided loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises and real estate refinancing - was forced to make quick adjustments to its business in response to declining demand for loans.
'Our business certainly was affected by the depressed economy. But every cloud has a silver lining,' Liang said.
'The current property market slump has created an unprecedented opportunity to search for bargain commercial properties in the United States and so we shifted our business from lending on residential properties to brokering the sale of commercial properties,' he said.
Liang now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was ranked as the most 'liveable' US city in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2011 Liveability Rankings in February.
Building on his well-established relationship with banks, he now has about 50 to 100 foreclosed commercial properties on his books, which he is brokering for sale on behalf of the banks at between US$1 million to US$100 million each.
'We will market these properties through our partners on the mainland to look for potential buyers,' he said.
Fortune is also involved in the manufacture of LED lighting and furniture in China, and Liang said that, building on his network of relationships there, he has five parties interested in bidding for a foreclosed US commercial property which is up for sale at US$15 million.
He declined to identify the building due to a confidentiality agreement with the banks.
Liang said he was interested in commercial assets, including offices, shops and hotels, that are being offered at discounts of 50 to 80 per cent on their original prices as they would provide greater returns at lower risk.
'After upgrading the office units or retail shops, the premises could be resold or put on the market at higher rents,' he said.
According to the Moody's/REAL Commercial Property Price Index, overall commercial prices in the US are 49 per cent below their peak of October 2007. In June, the volume of distressed commercial real estate amounted to US$181 billion nationally, said US global research and consulting firm Real Capital Analytics.
Liang believes Pittsburgh's commercial property prices lagged behind the rest of the US market as most investors flocked to buy distressed assets in Manhattan, New York.
Midtown Manhattan offices have recovered 88 per cent of the value lost since the 2008 financial crisis, said research firm Green Street Advisors.