Non-traded real estate investments (REITs) have caused the undoing of several high-profile firms and broker/dealers in recent years, especially following the collapse of the commercial real estate market and the credit crisis of 2008. Now, one prominent non-traded REIT player – Wells Real Estate Funds – is at least temporarily saying goodbye to the non-traded-REIT industry.
As reported Jan. 15 by Investment News, Leo Wells announced his departure in a letter dated Jan. 11 to broker/dealer executives. In it, Wells said his firm would not register any new investment products at this time but may in the future. The firm will continue to serve existing clients in its line-up of real estate investment trusts and private real estate funds.
Wells attributes his pullback to a lack of clarity surrounding the regulation of REITs.
“As most of you are aware, [the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority] has been working toward producing new transparency guidelines for alternative investments, which they expect to become effective mid-2014,” Wells said in the letter. “As a result, I do not believe it is prudent to register a new product that may or may not meet the new regulatory requirements.”
According to Wells, the Wells Real Estate Investment Trust II is moving to become an independent company early this year and the Wells Core Office Income REIT will close to new investments in June. The Wells Timberland REIT also is looking toward “its appropriate exit strategy.”
The Investment News article says Wells Real Estate Funds does not intend to close its wholesaling broker/dealer, Wells Investment Securities Inc.
Last year, FINRA imposed a $300,000 fine against Wells Investment Securities over misleading marketing tied to Wells Timberland REIT. In reaching the settlement, Wells Investment Securities neither admitted nor denied the charges.
Wells Real Estate Funds is one of the biggest sponsors of investments in the non-traded REIT industry, with $11 billion in assets and 300,000 investors. As the Investment News article points out, the man behind the company is known as an outspoken and colorful figure in the non-traded REIT world. In October 2003, FINRA’s precursor, NASD, sanctioned Wells Investment Securities for improperly rewarding broker/dealer reps who sold the firm’s REITs. Among those rewards: High-end entertainment parties and lavish dinners that included one at a Civil War fort complete with costumed Civil War heroes, fireworks, fife and drum players, skydivers and a cannon re-enactment.
The regulator also censured Wells and suspended him from acting in a principal capacity for one year.