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What to Do if a Real Estate Syndication Goes Bankrupt: A Step-by-Step Guide

real estate syndication

Investing in a real estate syndication can be a smart move and has generally been an excellent investment with the past decade’s real estate boom. However, not all investments pan out as expected.

Imagine you’ve invested as a limited partner (LP) in a real estate syndication. The sponsors have failed, and the property has been returned to the bank for receivership or a forced short sale.

In that case, it’s crucial to understand the potential tax implications. If syndication goes bankrupt, the first step is to assess the situation and understand your position as an investor. This involves reviewing the legal documentation and understanding any guarantees or protections.

Recently, I had a friend from residency in this situation; you have seen it in the news over the past year. In many of these cases, inexperienced syndicators made really bad moves, such as not buying an interest rate cap. 

It’s crucial to communicate with the general partner or syndicator. They should provide details about the bankruptcy proceedings and how they impact your investment.

As in my friend’s case, the syndicator often did not communicate, creating more tension and animosity. If you end up in this situation, you must consult a legal or financial advisor to navigate your options and next steps.

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the aftermath of a real estate syndication bankruptcy:

  • How do real estate syndications work?
  • Calculating any debt
  • Your next steps

Read More:

Understanding Real Estate Syndication

First, a quick overview. A real estate syndication involves pooling resources from multiple investors to finance a property investment.

This approach allows individuals to invest in larger, often more stable assets that would be difficult to afford individually. The success of these investments hinges on clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the syndicate.

The Structure of a Real Estate Syndicate

A real estate syndicate typically comprises a sponsor or syndicator and several investors. The syndicator is usually experienced in real estate and is responsible for finding and managing the property.

Syndicators: These professionals or entities organize and manage the investment. They handle everything from selecting the property to arranging financing and overseeing daily operations.

Investors: These can be individual or institutional investors who contribute capital. Investors are often called Limiter Partners, or LPs for short. Often, these investors need to be accredited, meaning they meet certain income or net worth criteria.

In this structure, investors own equity in the property, which allows them to receive returns through rental income and property appreciation.

The relationship between the sponsor and the investors is formalized through an operating agreement.

Roles and Responsibilities in Syndication

In a real estate syndication, the responsibilities are generally divided between the general partner (sponsor) and limited partners (investors).

Sponsor (General Partner)

The sponsor plays an active role in the investment. Responsibilities include finding the property, securing financing, and managing the asset. 

They also ensure compliance with all legal requirements. The sponsor typically receives a fee plus a share of the profits.

Investors (Limited Partners)

Investors provide the bulk of the equity required to purchase the property. They play a more passive role, receiving regular updates and distributions from the sponsor without being involved in day-to-day management.

Their returns come from rental income and property appreciation.

Understanding these roles means that you, as an investor, will know what to expect from your investment and the syndicator.

In my friend’s case, the documents allowed for the removal of management with a vote so that the LPs could take over if they saw fit. I’d review for these types of governance clauses in the future, too.

Do You Owe Any Taxes?

The first step in the entire bankruptcy mitigation process is to calculate what you owe.

1. Is There Gain from Debt Cancellation and Depreciation?

The first factor to consider is whether there is any gain from debt cancellation and the depreciation claimed on the property. The gain from debt cancellation occurs when the forgiven debt exceeds the adjusted basis of the property.

Types of Debt

  • Recourse Debt: This is debt for which you are personally liable.
  • Non-Recourse Debt: This is debt for which the lender can only pursue the property, not your other assets.

Calculating Gain

  • Recourse Debt:
    • Gain = (Lesser of Fair Market Value (FMV) or amount of debt at foreclosure) – (Adjusted basis of the property).
    • Example: Property purchased for $5,000,000, depreciated by $1,250,000. Adjusted basis = $3,750,000. If FMV at foreclosure is $4,800,000 and debt is $3,800,000, gain = $3,800,000 – $3,750,000 = $50,000.
  • Non-Recourse Debt:
    • Gain = (Debt at time of foreclosure) – (Adjusted basis of the property).
    • If the debt exceeds the FMV, there could be Cancellation of Debt (COD) income.

If there is a gain on foreclosure, it will be allocated based on the operating agreement, potentially leading to taxes on phantom income.

2. Is There Gain from Your Basis in the Entity?

This aspect can become complex quickly. To simplify, examine your K-1 form from the syndication.

Capital Account Analysis

  • Positive Capital Account: If your capital account is positive, you can receive that much cash as a distribution without paying taxes.
  • Negative Capital Account: If your capital account is negative when the entity ceases to exist, you’ll be allocated income to bring your capital account back to zero. You’ll owe taxes on this allocated income even if no cash is received.

3. Do You Have Suspended Passive Losses?

Check your tax return for Form 8582 to determine if you have any suspended passive losses that you are carrying forward.

Utilizing Suspended Losses

  • Suspended losses can be used to offset any income or gain allocated to you due to the foreclosure.
  • If the LP stake initially resulted in a significant tax loss that was suspended, these losses might now be unlocked and available to offset the current income.

Steps to Take Next

  1. Consult with a Tax Professional: Given the complexity of these situations, it’s crucial to work with a tax advisor experienced in real estate investments.
  2. Review Your K-1: Analyze your K-1 to understand your capital account status.
  3. Check for Suspended Losses: Look at Form 8582 on your tax return to determine if you have suspended passive losses.
  4. Understand the Debt Type: Clarify whether the debt is recourse or non-recourse, as this will affect the tax treatment of any gain from foreclosure.
  5. Stay Informed: Keep abreast of any updates from the syndication sponsors and the bank handling the foreclosure.

Try to stay calm and triage yourself. Sometimes, there’s a chance to recover part of your investment depending on the asset and its market value.

Investing comes with risks. Given the headlines, some doctors in our membership group have been really against syndications for several valid reasons. However, keep in mind that these syndications did exceptionally well with low interest rates. 

If anything, it may be the best time ever to invest in real estate before rates drop, so try to keep a balanced approach.

Engaging with Legal Counsel

Engaging with experienced legal counsel is vital in navigating bankruptcy. An expert lawyer will help you understand your rights and obligations under bankruptcy laws. They guide the filing process for bankruptcy protection and represent your interests in court.

Legal counsel can assist in preparing necessary documentation and ensure compliance with all legal requirements. They also help negotiate with creditors and restructure debt.

You need to choose a firm specializing in real estate syndications to gain access to resources and services tailored specifically to your needs.

Investor Strategies for Recovery

When a real estate syndication goes bankrupt, you have to explore all available recovery strategies. I will cover evaluating your options, navigating distributions and losses, and leveraging tax implications for potential benefits.

Evaluating Syndicate Dissolution

If selling or refinancing isn’t viable, dissolving the syndicate may be the only remaining option. This involves liquidating assets and distributing the proceeds to the investors based on the syndication agreement.

You must practice caution during the dissolution process; transparency and adherence to legal requirements are unavoidable and create more trouble if you’re sloppy or irresponsible.

I can’t overstate the importance of conferring with legal and financial advisors to guide you through the dissolution process. All parties must be involved and aware of the procedures and consequences.

The Future of Real Estate Investment Post-Bankruptcy

Many investors are worried about their portfolios. If you want to move towards future success, work to rebuild confidence and, most importantly, learn from past mistakes. Otherwise, you’re just reinventing the wheel of misfortune.

Rebuilding Investor Confidence

After a real estate syndication files for bankruptcy, the trust needs to be rebuilt.

First, transparency is critical. Clearly communicate any changes, setbacks, and recovery plans. Investors need to see a clear roadmap to regain stability.

Regular updates and detailed reports covering asset performance, financials, and action plans can help reassure investors. Personal meetings or webinars with investors also help build trust. Be available to answer questions openly and honestly.

It’s also necessary to establish an open feedback mechanism. Not only does it foster partnership, but it shows you value their input every time you incorporate their suggestions.

This cooperative approach can significantly boost investor confidence in my recovery efforts.

Lessons Learned and Future Opportunities

Bankruptcy in real estate investing offers valuable lessons. One major lesson is the importance of diversification. Relying too much on one type of asset or market increases risk. I’ve found that spreading investments across different properties, locations, or even asset classes can reduce this risk.

Another key takeaway is the necessity of having an emergency fund. This reserve can cover unexpected costs or losses and cushion you in tough times. Proper risk assessment and management are essential, especially regarding loan structures and interest rates.

Despite the setbacks, new opportunities often arise post-bankruptcy. Properties may be available at lower prices, offering the chance for profitable future investments. This period can also be an opportunity to adopt better management practices and identify more resilient markets to invest in.

By focusing on these lessons and opportunities, I can navigate the real estate landscape more effectively and make more informed investment choices in the future.



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1 thought on “What to Do if a Real Estate Syndication Goes Bankrupt: A Step-by-Step Guide”

  1. This is timely for me as I am currently in an investment that is in the process of being dissolved and I am likely going to lose $100,000 of capital I put into the investment, this was the PEAK REIT that was advertised in the WCI network 🙁

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