July 25, 2024

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Donald Trump’s commercial real estate sales face brutal market

5 min read

The timing couldn’t be worse for Donald Trump as he faces the prospect of having to sell property to cover a massive verdict against him. 

The former president said in a court filing Wednesday he may soon need “to raise capital under exigent circumstances” to push ahead with an appeal of New York state’s $454 million civil fraud verdict against him. A brutal market for many commercial property owners means he faces significant losses in his real estate empire if he unloads assets.

The billionaire has few options. He must pay the full judgment by March 25 or arrange a bond for at least 110% of the amount in order to put the fine on hold while he appeals. To get an appeal bond, Trump will need to hand over cash, sell properties or use them as collateral, tying up most if not all of his liquid assets for months or longer. 

Unless Trump can convince the appeals court to put the verdict on hold during his entire appeal, he could find himself in a financial squeeze.

If he’s forced to sell, “there would be no way to recover any property sold following a successful appeal and no means to recover the resulting financial losses,” Trump attorney Alina Habba said in the filing. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James has made clear that she’s prepared to seize Trump’s assets if he doesn’t pay the verdict or post an appeals bond on time.

Brutal Market

Making matters worse is a brutal market for many commercial real estate owners. Property values plunged as borrowing costs rose, and the remote work trend that started during the pandemic continues to cut into demand for office space. Prices slumped 22% in the year through January, according to real estate analytics firm Green Street.

Habba didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many sellers have been forced to accept drastically lower prices. The Aon Center, a Los Angeles office tower, recently sold for $147.8 million, about 45% less than its previous purchase price in 2014. A Los Angeles office building located near Century City and Beverly Hills sold for about 52% less than its price five years ago.

The Trump Organization owns or invests in multiple office towers from New York to San Francisco. One of its key Manhattan properties, 40 Wall St., was purchased by Trump in what his business hails as “one of the great real estate deals of all time” back in 1995. In 2015, it was valued at $540 million, according to commercial mortgage-backed securities data. That has since fallen to $270 million, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates. 

Trump’s filing with the appeals court was the first time he’s hinted publicly that he may not have enough liquid assets to cover the verdict in the fraud case, where a judge ruled Feb. 16 that the former president had misled banks for years in violation of New York law. Trump also owes $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll, who won a defamation suit against him last month, making matters even worse for the presidential candidate. 

In testimony last year, Trump claimed to have more than $400 million in cash. While that’s a hefty sum, it wouldn’t be enough to cover the bonds he’d need to post with the court while appealing the back-to-back verdicts.

Trump SPAC Shares

Meanwhile, Trump’s finances could get a boost from his Trump Media & Technology Group — which operates the Truth Social platform he posts on daily. In 2021, it agreed to merge with a special purpose acquisition company called Digital World Acquisition to become a publicly traded company.

A frenetic rally in a stock tied to Trump Media & Technology Group has minted a nearly $4 billion windfall for Trump. But that won’t help him for now. The profit is only on paper and he’ll have to wait months to monetize it. If the stock stays up, he could use it replenish his coffers down the road.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the co-founders of Trump’s media company accused the former president of trying to water down the value of their shares. The lawsuit, filed in Delaware, could delay the merger deal even more, depriving him of billions as a fresh source of cash to pay down his verdicts.

Trump has proposed posting a smaller $100 million bond while he appeals the New York fraud verdict, arguing that the judgment against him was “more than adequately secured” without posting a full bond to appeal. Trump said his “vast ownership interests in New York real estate” was sufficient to ensure he’ll pay the fine if his appeal failed. After all, he argued, “trophy properties” like 40 Wall Street cannot be “removed from the jurisdiction in secret.”

In the appeals court filing, Trump’s attorney said other properties could be used for collateral, including Trump Tower and Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan, his Seven Springs estate outside New York City, and Trump National Golf Club.

‘Insufficient’ Assets

James balked at Trump’s offer for a smaller bond, arguing in a letter to the appeals court that risked leaving the state empty handed if Trump’s appeal failed.

Trump and the other defendants in the case, including his two grown sons, “all but concede that Mr. Trump has insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment,” James said in the letter. “A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to have her award secured, and defendants have never demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s liquid assets could satisfy the full amount of the judgment.”

James has made clear that she’s prepared to seize Trump’s assets if he doesn’t pay the verdict or post an appeals bond on time, mentioning 40 Wall Street explicitly as a potential target in a recent interview with ABC News. Habba, Trump’s attorney, criticized those remarks in her letter to the court, accusing James of “shamelessly” threatening to seize Trump’s assets “if she is not paid quickly enough.”

Despite Trump’s warnings about his financial condition, an appeals court judge in Manhattan denied his emergency request Wednesday for a temporary halt to enforcement of the verdict in the fraud case, at least for now. 

But the former president will get another shot at arguing for a delay that would last throughout his legal challenge to the civil fraud judgment. James will file a response to that request by March 11, with any response by Trump due March 18. A full appeals court panel could rule any time after that.

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