Situs appoints head of Europe as property market ‘leverages up’

Lisa Williams will set the strategy to drive growth while the servicer continues to seek opportunities to expand across the continent.

Lisa Williams, a longstanding employee of loan servicer Situs, has been appointed the firm’s new head of Europe.

She replaces Christian Bearman, the former Valad Europe executive who resigned as CEO of Situs Europe last September after seven months with the firm. Williams will join the executive management team and will report to Situs president Nick Rudenstine.

In her new role, Williams will focus on growing the Texas-headquartered company’s European business – which has €40 billion of assets under management in the region. Last year, the firm added €10 billion of AUM and repaid €8 billion on the loan servicing side.

“The market [in Europe] is leveraging up. There’s a lot more loans coming to refinance,” Williams told Real Estate Capital. “Some of the loans that we are managing now are being refinanced by another party. There is also early talk of some of the banks getting back into the CMBS market.”

Williams explained the firm is “fully engaged” with loan servicing in Europe, as there is still “substantial work” to be done in Ireland, while Spain remains a big focus. The Benelux market is also experiencing sustained activity, she added.

Based in London, Williams, who has been with the servicer for more than eight years and has 15 years of real estate servicing experience in the banking and financial industry, will be managing more than 90 people.

“I’ve been in the business a long time, I have lots of client coverage. So, I look forward to working with those businesses and colleagues in the US to continue to grow the business in Europe,” she said.

Following the financial crisis, Situs increased its presence in Europe by buying non-core business units from several financial institutions.

In 2009, the firm acquired Merrill Lynch and Ocwen’s NPL special servicing business HQ in Germany, with €1.45 billion in NPLs and asset managed across Europe. In 2011, Situs created a joint venture with HSH Nordbank to manage more than €3.2 billion of commercial real estate loans in the Nordics, and in 2012 purchased Deutsche Bank’s pan-European loan servicing and asset management business. In 2016, it bought rival servicer Hatfield Philips from Starwood.

“We will continue to optimistically look at opportunities to expand in Europe and the US for debt management,” said Steve Powel, chief executive officer of Situs.

Powel added the firm has also grown organically since it established in Europe in 2004. It acted primarily as a loan advisor and underwriter for some of the investment banks and then it tapped into the servicing business as a result of the financial crisis.

Although still significant, the volume of distressed debt on banks’ balance sheets across Europe is diminishing. Investment banking firm Evercore puts Europe’s gross non-core real estate exposure in H1 2017 at around €537 billion, a reduction of around €275 billion since the end of 2013.

Decreasing volumes of non-performing loans across Europe have not affected Situs’s strategy, though.

“There are always NPLs in the market no matter how good the market is. [Nevertheless] we have both pro-cyclical and counter-cyclical business units. The US is almost completely through the distressed portion of its market and it’s been recovering for many years, but Europe still looks distressed,” Powel said.