Billy Stimpson, CEO of Bienville Capital Management, is taking the land route, targeting a narrow strip of Gulf Coast between Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Destin, Florida. The area never saw property fever on the scale that Miami did, and the double whammy of recession and pollution from BPs Deepwater Horizon oil spill has reduced land prices by as much as 90 percent since 2008. Bienville, a fund of funds with $300 million in assets, has often put its money with hedge funds that take a doomsday approach Corriente Advisors short plays in China, for example. But the firms Gulf Coast Opportunities Fund, which it expects to launch later this month with about $50 million, has an optimistic growth scenario.
Where have all the foreclosed-property deals gone? Not to hedge funds. Were finding it easier to buy pools of nonperforming mortgages, says Rick Sharga, an executive vice president at Carrington Capital Management, an alternative-asset manager. In January, Carrington launched a $450 million fund to acquire and rent out foreclosed homes, in a joint venture with Howard Markss distressed-debt firm, Oaktree Capital Management. In May, TCW Group, a Los Angelesbased asset management firm, was reported to be launching a $250 million fund for similar purposes. Berkshire Hathaway, Och-Ziff Capital Management, Starwood Capital and TPG Capital have also considered the foreclosure market in recent months. One of the attractions for big asset management firms is a pilot program that the Federal Housing Finance Agency started this spring, auctioning some 2,500 foreclosed residences around the country. But the program has been slow getting off the ground, and the FHFA prefers buyers who intend to occupy the homes. Carringtons Sharga is an eight-year veteran of RealtyTrac, which has the countrys largest database of foreclosures and bank-owned properties. He estimates that out of 750,000 foreclosed residential properties in the U.S., only 10 to 20 percent are actively marketed. Thats a good reason for investors to seek alternatives such as nonperforming mortgages or raw land, he says.