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Category Archives: Inland Western REIT

The Valuation Problem of Non-Traded REITs

When the non-traded Inland Western REIT went public recently, investors who owned previously purchased shares got their first look at the investment’s true value. What they discovered wasn’t pretty. Shares that were valued in June 2011 at $6.95 were valued at the IPO for $3.20 – a price that required a complex reverse stock split. For investors who bought Inland Western at its original share price of $10 a decade ago, the new price meant they lost some $65% of their original investment.

Other investors in non-traded REIT are in the same boat. Robert Block, a 74-year-old retiree in Florida, invested more than $400,000 in several non-traded REITs from 2006 to 2008 on the advice of investment adviser who told him the investment’s dividends were attractive and the REITs were “about as safe as anything you could get.”

As reported in a story by the Wall Street Journal, Block’s $400,000 investment was valued at about $300,000 based on REIT share valuations earlier this year.

“I needed income that I could count on and wasn’t risky,” said Block, who is seeking damages from his investment adviser in an arbitration case with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in the WSJ story.

Dividend cuts also have been an issue for non-traded REIT investors. In April, KBS Real Estate Investment Trust I told shareholders it was suspending its monthly dividend of 5.25%. It also marked down its share price by 30%, to $5.16.

Retail Properties of America’s Public Debut a Bust for Many Investors

Investors who bought a non-traded real investment trust (REIT) called Inland Western at $10 a share are less than pleased these days. That’s because the REIT went public earlier this month at $8 a share. Now called Retail Properties of America (RPAI), the split-adjusted value of the stock is worth less than $3 per share for investors who originally purchased it at $10. By any measure, that’s a huge loss.

By many accounts, it was expected that the pre-IPO target price would be in the $12 range. Even at $11, however, investors in the non-traded REIT were expected to be holding public stock valued at well below their original investment, according to an April 8 article by REIT Wrecks, a Website that tracks the REIT industry.

Most analysts estimated a split-adjusted value of between $4 and $4.80 per share if the company went public at $11.

Even after including the total dividend distributions of nearly $4 per share, accumulated over the full length of the investment period, investors were “only getting 80 cents back on every dollar they invested,” said Michael Stubben, president of MTS Research Advisors, in the REIT Wrecks story.

Problems with the Inland Western/Retail Properties REIT have been in the making for some time now, starting back in 2005 when the fund stopped taking in capital. When the market crashed in 2008, prices of the properties held in the REIT’s portfolio were extremely overvalued. As a result, dividend yields were cut from 6.4% to 1% by 2010.

Meanwhile, investors in the Inland REIT had little recourse. Unlike publicly traded REITs, non-traded REITs are not traded daily on a stock exchange. Non-traded REITs also have limited liquidity, unreliable market valuations, hefty upfront fees and commissions of up to 15%, dividend cuts and suspension of buyback programs. Moreover, an investor’s money in a non-traded REIT is tied up a long, long time, usually up to seven years.

Market valuation and lack of transparency are key sticking points for critics of non-traded REITs. As reported in the REIT Wrecks story, this issue is made all the more apparent in Inland Western’s September 2011 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Inland Western Goes Public & Investors Face New Reality

Earlier this month, Inland Western Retail REIT, now known as Retail Properties of America, went public, giving investors a first-time look at the value of their investment at a publicly set price. And the news wasn’t what they expected. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based real estate investment trust priced its offering of 31.8 million Class A shares at $8. It had been hoping to sell the shares at between $10 and $12.

Investors in Inland Western have now lost significant amounts of money, about 65% by some reports. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that many non-traded REIT investors know only too well. Several high-profile non-traded REITs also have seen their valuations plummet over the past 12 months, including Cornerstone Core Properties and Behringer Harvard REIT.

Issues surrounding non-traded REITs have met with increased scrutiny in recent years, raising red flags and questions among regulators. In March 2009, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) officially opened an inquiry into non-traded REITs and the broker/dealers responsible for marketing and selling the products to investors. Among other things, FINRA wanted to determine the suitability of non-traded REIT sales to retail investors and the disclosures made regarding fees, dividends and liquidity.

That same year, FINRA issued a regulatory notice requiring REITs to publish their valuations no later than 18 months following the conclusion of an offering. Then, in October 2011, FINRA issued an investor warning on non-traded REITs, citing the products’ lack of transparency, illiquidity, potential conflicts of interest, risks to an investor’s principal, and high fees.

Non-Traded REITs: A Darker Side Can Loom Large

An April 1 article by Investment News offers insight into the potential downside of non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs).  Shortly after investor Susan Fox, 63, bought a non-traded REIT – Inland American Real Estate Trust – for her IRA from her broker, it began to decline in value. Her broker, however, dismissed the losses and went on to sell her a second non-traded REIT.

The second REIT, Cornerstone Core Properties REIT, also is tanking in value. In March 2012, the Cornerstone REIT had fallen more than 70% in value – to $2.25 per share, from $8.

Adding to Fox’s financial woes is the fact that the REITs are part of her IRA, which in 2008 had $105,000 in it. The REITs accounted for $56,616 of her account, or almost 54%, according to the Investment News article.

In July 2010, she instructed her broker to sell her non-traded REITs but learned she was unable to do so. That’s because non-traded REITs have specific redemption policies; in most cases, money in non-traded REITs is tied up for seven or more years.

Fox’s dilemma strikes a familiar and painful chord with many non-traded REIT investors.  Non-traded REITs can be highly risky. Because they do not trade on a national stock exchange, non-traded REITs are considered illiquid investments – a fact that many investors, including Fox, are often unaware of until it’s too late.

Non-traded REITs also lack transparency, have limited and lengthy redemption periods, and come with exceptionally high commissions and other upfront fees and charges.

Another potential downside of non-traded REITs concerns dividends, which are not guaranteed to investors and can be halted at any time. In the past year, a growing number of non-traded REITs have either suspended their dividends or stopped them altogether. Among them: Behringer Harvard REIT I, Cole Credit Property Trust, Hines REIT and Apple REITs.

Behringer Harvard, Other Non-Traded REITs Focus of Complaints

The following is an online post by an obviously unhappy investor who put his money in a non-traded real estate investment trust known as Behringer Harvard.

“I’ve been burned by Behringer Harvard. I sent my request for distribution in on Feb. 10 of 2009. They denied me (and others) without any notice at their next board meeting (after making me resend the damn thing because I needed a special medallion signature stamp from my bank!).

“I wasn’t getting my money for any reason other than I’d been unemployed since June of 2008 and needed money to live! To find out I could only get my money out if I died was so morose and in bad taste that I wrote appeal after appeal to the board…only to be told to die or become disabled…and then ‘get in line with everyone else.’!”

That investor – who signs his post as “Larry” – goes on to write that “no one ever told him that this thing wasn’t liquid or would ever have these kinds of issues. No one ever told me that the valuation was completely a fiction. They’d just raised another few hundred million and then closed the doors on everyone!”

Larry’s situation is shared by a growing number of investors who put their faith and money in non-traded REITs. In the past year, non-traded REITs such as Behringer Harvard REIT I have become front-page news, with investors filing complaints over what their brokers failed to disclose about the investments.

In the case of Behringer Harvard, as well as the Cole REIT III, Inland Western, Inland American, and other REITs, investors found themselves totally caught off guard after discovering, like Larry, that their investments were high-risk, illiquid and contained highly complex and lengthy exit clauses.

By the way, Larry’s post – and others like it – can be found on the REIT Wrecks forum. In addition to online discussions about non-traded REITs, the Web site provides in-depth data, news and analysis about the non-traded REIT industry.

Maddox Hargett & Caruso currently is investigating sales of non-traded REITs, including those associated with Behringer Harvard, Hines REIT I, Cornerstone, Inland American, and Inland Western. If you’ve suffered financial losses of $100,000 or more in a non-traded REIT and believe those losses are the result of inadequate information on the part of your broker/dealer, please contact us.

Non-Traded REITs: Brokers Love Them, Investors Not So Much

Non-traded real estate investments trusts (REITs) like Behringer Harvard REIT and Inland Western are a big hit with independent broker/dealers and financial advisors for their high commissions – sometimes up to 15%. Meanwhile, investors who buy non-traded REITs often find themselves in the dark, unaware of how the products actually work and the potential risks they hold.

Non-traded REITs, or unlisted REITs, do not trade on national stock exchanges. When an investor wants to redeem his or her shares in a non-traded REIT, there is a specific window of time in which to do so. In most instances, the holding period associated with non-traded REITs is at least seven years.

One of the biggest challenges of non-traded REITs is a lack of transparency, as well as a lack of any publicly available analysis. Prospectus language, too, is typically vague, especially when it pertains to getting out of a non-traded REIT.

In the past year, a number of well known non-traded REITs have either slashed dividends or drastically limited their redemption programs. In response, more investors are coming forth with complaints that they were sold non-traded REITs when, in fact, they were actually looking for a safe, conservative investment – something that a non-traded REIT is most definitely not. In reality, non-traded REITs are considered high risk and illiquid.

When a non-traded REIT program decides to suspend redemptions it, in turn, will no longer buy back an investor’s shares in the REIT. This leaves investors – many of whom are counting on consistent dividends from their investment – empty-handed.

Maddox Hargett & Caruso continues to investigate the selling practices of independent broker/dealers and investment firms such as UBS, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Morgan Keegan & Company, as well as others that may have recommended unsuitable investments in non-traded REITs to clients. If you have a story to tell about your investment losses in non-traded REITs, we encourage you to contact us.

2010: A Year in Review

Medical Capital Holdings. Securities America. Behringer Harvard REIT I. Main Street Natural Gas Bonds. Tim Durham. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Preferred Shares. Goldman Sachs CDO Fraud. Lehman Structured Notes. These names were among the hot topics that dominated the investment headlines in 2010.

In January, Securities America was accused by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin of misleading investors and intentionally making material misrepresentations and omissions in order to get them to purchase private placements in Medical Capital Holdings. Medical Capital was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in July 2009 and placed into receivership. Its collapse ultimately created about $1 billion in losses for investors throughout the country.

According to the Massachusetts complaint, as well as other state complaints that would follow, many investors were unaware of the risks involved in their Medical Capital private placements. They also didn’t know about the crumbling financial health of the company. Securities America, on the other hand, was fully aware of both, regulators allege.

In February, non-traded real estate investment trusts like the Behringer Harvard REIT I became front-page news, as investors filed complaints over what their brokers did and did not disclose about the investments. In the case of Behringer and other non-traded REITs, including Cornerstone, Inland Western and Inland American, investors found themselves blindsided after discovering their investments were high-risk, illiquid and contained highly specific and lengthy exit clauses.

In March, rogue brokers Bambi Holzer faced charges in connection to sales of private placements in Provident Royalties. Like Medical Capital Holdings, the SEC charged Provident with securities fraud, citing $485 million in private securities sales. In March 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) formally expelled Provident Asset Management LLC, the broker-dealer arm of Provident.

Ponzi schemes were big news, as well, in March. Heading the list of offenders was Rhonda Breard, a former broker for ING Financial Partners. State regulators contend Breard scammed nearly $8 million from investors in a Ponzi scheme that allegedly had been going on since at least 2007.

In April, Goldman Sachs and its role in the financial crisis faced new scrutiny by Congress. Internal emails became the driving force behind the interest. Eventually, charges were filed by the SEC over a synthetic collateralized loan obligation – Abacus 2007-ACI – that produced about $1 billion in investor losses. Goldman later reached a settlement with the SEC, paying a $550 million fine. The fine remains the biggest fine ever levied by the SEC on a U.S. financial institution. Goldman also acknowledged that its marketing materials for Abacus contained incomplete information.

In May, FINRA stepped up its own scrutiny of non-traded REITs. On its watch list: Behringer Harvard REIT I, Inland America Real Estate Trust, Inland Western Retail Real Estate Trust, Wells Real Estate Investment Trust II and Piedmont Office Realty Trust. In particular, FINRA began to probe the ways in which broker/dealers marketed and sold non-traded REITs to investors.

In June, 49 broker/dealers found themselves named in a lawsuit involving sales of Provident Royalties private placements. The lawsuit, filed June 21 by the trustee overseeing Provident – Milo H. Segner Jr. – charged the broker/dealers of failing to uphold their fiduciary obligations when selling a series of Provident Royalties LLC private placements. Among the leading sellers of private placements in Provident Royalties were Capital Financial Services, with $33.7 million in sales; Next Financial Group, with $33.5 million; and QA3 Financial Corp., with $32.6 million.

In July, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were back in the news, as a rash of investors began filing lawsuits and arbitration claims over preferred shares purchased in the companies. In 2007 and 2008, investment firms like UBS, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and others sold billions of dollars in various series of preferred stock issued by the two mortgage giants. According to investors, however, the brokerages never revealed key information about the preferred shares, including the rapidly deteriorating financial health of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the fact that both companies had a growing appetite for risky lending, excessive leverage and investments in toxic derivatives.

In August, new issues regarding retained asset accounts (RAAs) came to light. Specifically, RAAs allow insurers to earn high returns – 4.8% – on the proceeds of a life insurance policy. Meanwhile, beneficiaries often receive peanuts via interest rates as low as 0.5%. Adding to the issues of RAAs is the fact that the products are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC).

In September, new concerns about the suitability of leveraged, inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for individual investors began to crop up. Among other things, regulators cautioned investors about the products and stated that they may be inappropriate for long-term investors because returns can potentially deviate from underlying indexes when held for longer than single trading day.

In October, the ugliness associated with some non-traded REITs gained new momentum. A number of non-traded REIT programs eliminated or severely limited their share repurchase programs. At the same time, some non-traded REITs continued to offer their shares to the public. As of the first quarter of 2010, this group included Behringer Harvard Multi-family REIT I, Grubb & Ellis Apartment REIT, Wells REIT II, and Wells Timberland REIT.

In November, sales of structured notes hit record highs of more than a $42 billion. Leading the pack in sales of structured notes was Morgan Stanley at $10.1 billion, followed by Bank of America Corp., which issued $7.9 billion.

Because of their complexity, structured products are not for those who don’t fully understand them. Moreover, once an investor puts money into a structured product, he or she is essentially locked in for the duration of the contract. And, contrary to promises of principal by some brokers, investors can still lose money – and a lot of it – in structured notes.

Case in point: Lehman Brothers Holdings. Investors who invested in principal-protected notes issued by Lehman Brothers lost almost all of their investment when Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

Also big news in November 2010: Tim Durham and Fair Finance. The offices of Fair Finance were raided by federal agents of Nov. 24. On that same day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis filed court papers alleging that Fair Finance operated as a Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to pay off prior purchasers of the investment certificates. According to reports, investors were defrauded out of more than $200 million.

The effects of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy continued to unfold in December 2010 for many investors who had investments in Main Street Natural Gas Bonds. Main Street Natural Gas Bonds were marketed and sold by a number of Wall Street brokerages as safe, conservative municipal bonds. Instead, the bonds were complex derivative securities backed by Lehman Brothers. When Lehman filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2008, the trading values of the Main Street Bonds plummeted.

Many investors who purchased Main Street Natural Gas Bonds did so because they were looking for a safe, tax-free income-producing investment backed by a municipality. What they got, however, was a far different reality.

Cornerstone, Other Non-Traded REITs Haunt Investors

Their names may be different – Cornerstone Core Property, Inland American, Inland Western and Behringer Harvard REIT I – but these non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) have produced similar financial woes for their investors.

Non-traded REITs can be tricky investments. The products do not trade on national stock exchanges. Redemptions in them are limited at best; most non-traded REITs entail a lengthy holding period – in some instances, up to eight years.

The biggest fault concerning non-traded REITs is one of transparency. Non-traded REITs generally provide no independent source of performance data for investors. Instead, investors must rely on the broker/dealer responsible for pitching and selling the the investment.

And therein lies the problem.

In recent months, numerous complaints have come to light concerning non-traded REITs and, specifically, the broker/dealers behind the deals. Investors allege that they were never given complete details about their investment, as well as the many risks associated with non-traded REITs in general.

The lack of disclosure may have something to do with the high commissions and fees that broker/dealers take in from sales of non-traded REIT shares. In many cases, these fees are 15% or more.

This year, many investors in non-traded REITs have had to face a harsh reality. Instead of getting the stability, liquidity and a reliable source of income they were initially promised by their broker/dealers, they received dividend cuts and elimination of shareholder redemption programs.

Earlier this year, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) began to take a keen interest in non-traded REITs by conducting a sweep of the promotion practices and sales of broker/dealers associated with the products.

Maddox Hargett & Caruso currently is investigating sales of non-traded REITs, including Cornerstone, Inland American, Inland Western and Behringer Harvard. If you’ve suffered financial losses of $100,000 or more in a non-traded REIT and believe those losses are the result of inadequate information on the part of your broker/dealer, please Contact Us.

Non-Traded REITS: What’s An Investor To Do?

Non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) are big business. According to research from Blue Vault Partners LLC, non-traded REITs are on track to raise $7 billion in 2010, a 17% increase over 2009.

For brokers and firms pushing non-traded REITs, that’s good news. They stand to make huge commissions from sales of non-traded REITs. Investors, however, often come out on the losing end of non-traded REIT deals. That’s because non-traded REITs lack transparency, and they are not even considered liquid investments.

Moreover, investors in non-traded REITs often fail to realize that redemptions can be suspended at any time. The same goes for dividends, which could be reduced or suspended. The end result? Investors’ money in non-traded REITs is tied up, oftentimes for years.

As reported by REIT Wrecks, a Website devoted to the REIT sector, a number of non-traded REIT programs have eliminated or severely limited their share repurchase programs. Among these are some non-traded REITs that continue to offer their shares to the public. As of the first quarter of 2010, this group included Behringer Harvard Multi-family REIT I, Grubb & Ellis Apartment REIT, Wells REIT II, and Wells Timberland REIT.

Says REIT Wrecks: “Based on their Q3 earnings, the two apartment REITs are in heaps of trouble, while Wells Timberland REIT is playing a game of beat the clock with its lenders using money from new shareholders. Avoid these like the plague.”

Maddox Hargett & Caruso currently is investigating sales of non-traded REITs on behalf of investors. If you believe your broker/dealer or financial adviser misrepresented the facts concerning investments in a non-traded REIT, please contact us.

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