Are the Nashville Construction Defaults a Leading Indicator that the Nashville Market has finally turned?

I saw something at a Nashville foreclosure yesterday that I hadn’t seen in years.

A luxury, high end house in a great neighborhood was auctioned, and nobody showed up to bid. The Lender bought it back at a credit bid. (In the spirit of disclosure, it was a $2MM+ credit bid. They weren’t quite giving it away, but this is Nashville).

It reminded me of foreclosures in the Great Recession, when you’d stand on the courthouse steps, reading a foreclosure sale notice to nobody and, invariably, your bank would become the new owner of the property.

Back in 2008, lenders were dealing with the after-effects of an easy-money market. Builders with good credit built too many houses, too fast, and the market had a glut of inventory, with no buyers in sight.

The lack of buyer-credit meant that new sales couldn’t keep up with the builder’s debt obligations. It was sort of a ponzi scheme, as sales of today’s houses were necessary to pay for yesterday’s construction costs. When the money level dipped, lots of partially built spec homes got foreclosed, after the builder’s new money ran out and they were defaulted or simply gave up.

I thought about 2008 yesterday.

As much free-flowing money as there’s been in the Nashville retail-buyer and foreclosure market over the last 4-5 years, it was a surprise to see that sale fall flat yesterday. In the last year, I’ve done foreclosures in Nashville with 20-30 bidders present. But, on a sunny Thursday, with a Belmont-Hillsboro Village house on the block, and there are no bidders, buyers, or bankers willing to refinance?

Could this be a leading indicator of a larger problem in Middle Tennessee?

The signs are there. This exuberant builder refurbished a modest 1920s bungalow, to construct a 8,712 square foot, 2 car garage, 5 bedroom, 8 bath outlier, originally offered for $3,675,000 (estimated monthly payment of $20,012). The house isn’t entirely finished–it looks like contractor work on the new backyard pool and outdoor area has stopped.

The builder has more than a dozen projects throughout Nashville, in similar stages of “in progress” construction. The builder also has a number of pending foreclosures and twice as many pending lawsuits. The construction on a number of the sites seems to have simply stopped.

Just a few years ago, just one high-end property selling for top-dollar would have bought an over-extended builder a few months, finished another project, and lead to another sale, but it seems like the buyer market has waned as well. When both buyers and banks get cautious, risky bets come due.

There are a number of peculiarities here that may make a broad-takeaway unreliable. But, with that caveat, I’m seeing lots of the same issues and patterns that we saw in 2008.

Plus, by mid-morning, I’d learned that the developer filed a Bankruptcy. Just like they did in 2008.