The federal government handed out more than 300,000 loans to the real estate industry as part of the Paycheck Protection Program - however few of them have been paid back despite a booming housing market as the Covid-19 pandemic ran its course.
According to data from the government's Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, some $3.9 billion was given to real estate entities claiming just one employee. While the average loan was around $13,000, 146 entities received more than $90,000 each, NBC News reports.
Many of the loans, as were the case in other industries, were forgiven if the recipient met certain criteria, including spending 60% of the loan on payroll and the rest on eligible expenses. For realtors, $3.1 out of the $3.9 in PPP loans have been forgiven - which has been rapidly sped up over the last eight months.
One such forgiven loan:
The SBA, which governs the PPP, says it has denied forgiveness for around 12,000 loans (out of 9.9 million), while around 4,200 borrowers have appealed that decision. 215,000 loans were also selected for manual review.
The $789 billion Paycheck Protection Program was intended to rescue American jobs and shore up businesses during the pandemic. Now 80 percent of all PPP loans — 9.9 million of them — and 84 percent of the total dollar amount have been forgiven by the SBA, according to the PRAC.
For real estate entities the percentage of forgiveness is almost the same, at 83 percent of all loans and 84 percent of the dollar amount, according to the PRAC website. -NBC News
According to a senior SBA official, programs which were passed with bipartisan support were "extremely liberal" and "extremely generous" when it came to loan forgiveness.
PPP loans were handed out by private lenders and backed by the SBA. In order to obtain forgiveness, borrowers simply had to apply to their lender and submit forms and documentation. In most cases, the lender will recommend for forgiveness or denial.
As NBC notes, the real estate industry boomed after the pandemic hit despite an initial shock "because obviously people didn’t want people traipsing through their homes," according to Erin Stackley, senior policy representative for commercial issues at the National Association of Realtors.
Yet while other industries cratered, residential real estate boomed as people of means working under lockdown conditions sought larger properties. By early May of 2020, it became clear from nationwide open house data that "something was about to happen."
And it did. Between April 2020 and Jan 1, 2021, housing sales jumped 53%, while prices are now 40% higher than they were in January 2020.
"I’ve been in this business since the 1970’s and I’ve never seen that kind of explosion in sales," said Steve Murray, a partner at Real Trends consulting.
And while sales boomed, commissions soard as well - jumping from $76.2 billion in 2019 to $85.9 billion in 2020, and $98.8 billion in 2021.
NBC News tracked down a few real estate agents who had successful years in 2020, obtained PPP loans in excess of $90,000, and who then had them partially or completely forgiven by the federal government.
Tina Guerrieri, who sells houses in suburban Philadelphia, sold more than $25 million worth of real estate in 2020, according to Zillow, and she also got a PPP loan for $100,000. Her loan was forgiven in 2021, and she no longer has to pay the money back, according to public records.
NBC News asked Guerrieri why she needed the $100,000. She told a reporter she did not want to share what she used the money for or how it was approved, saying, “So many people know me, I wouldn’t want all those details shared.”
Real estate agent Jenna Jacques sold $25 million worth of real estate in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2020 according to Zillow data. She also received three loans totaling $141,664 that were all forgiven by the federal government. Jacques did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
New Jersey commercial real estate agent Shane Wierks got two PPP loans for $151,833, according to federal records, and has paid $103,000 back to the federal government. Public records show $48,918 was forgiven. He said based on his conversations with other real estate agents that was “pretty much what everyone got.”
One real estate agent who got the money told NBC News she came to believe that asking for a loan of taxpayer money to be forgiven after a successful year could be inappropriate. -NBC News
Another agent, Gary Goldberg, sold more than $27 million of luxury homes in the Santa Barbara, CA region - down slightly from the $31 million he closed in 2019 according to data from Zillow. In 2021, Goldberg sold $82 million of real estate.
He also received $95,832 across two PPP loans, listing one employee. According to federal records, Goldberg asked for, and received, forgiveness for both loans by November 2021. Given that the average real estate commission is 2.5% of the sale price, making US taxpayers foot Goldberg's PPP loans - given his enormous income - adds insult to injury.