Michael T. Cohen

Michael T. Cohen

Managing Principal at Williams Equities

Michael T. Cohen
By November 3, 2023 10:00 AM

Where is Williams Equities going to be in 2026?

We need to respond to market dynamics, and our portfolio needs to evolve with it. We’ll be looking at alternate uses for our assets and determining if each one should continue as an office/retail commercial building, whether it should be adapted into another use, particularly hospitality or residential, or ultimately torn down and replaced. 

Our portfolio will diversify. Today it’s 100 percent office and retail, but I expect it will come to include other types of assets. We’re also looking to grow the portfolio and take advantage of the likely buyer’s market. 

Tell us about a successful financing you’ve done in the last 12 months. Or tell us about an unsuccessful one. 

We’re in the process of refinancing a 100 percent-leased stabilized asset. We’ve found it challenging. Although we now have a handshake and a term sheet, we discovered that interest rates have more than doubled since we last financed most of our buildings; loan proceeds are down 25 percent or more from what we could have obtained a few years ago; traditional portfolio lenders like banks and insurance companies have fled the market; CMBS demand is tepid; new opportunistic lenders are filling the gap; and loan paydowns have become a sine qua non of many refinancings.

When will we know the market has stabilized? (Be specific!)

There are many markets, and they will not all stabilize at the same time. 

To achieve stabilization: For the leasing market, when leasing volume returns to traditional levels, and the office availability rate drops by about one-third from the current 18 percent to 12 percent. For the financing market, when traditional portfolio lenders begin lending again to commercial real estate. For market values, when there’s been enough price discovery that sales volume of commercial properties returns to historic levels. I suspect it will take three to five years for all three of these to occur.

 If you were to invest your own money in someone else’s real estate, who do you like and why?

I like REITs such as Vornado, even though they are currently out of fashion. REITs are horribly undervalued and have good management as well as considerable inventory to upgrade and develop. They also have better access to capital than most private developers.  

What business advice are you most tired of hearing?

I’m tired of hearing about the death of the Class B office building. Many B buildings are alive and well, and thriving. The challenge facing the commercial real estate market isn’t the building’s class but the availability and cost of capital.

 What’s the biggest market opportunity as we round out 2023?

Buying discounted debt. The buyers of well-priced debt will be the first profit-takers as we emerge from this market cycle.

Have you had a lot of staff turnover?

No. Many of our staff at Williams Equities have worked for us for 10 years or more. We’re like family.


Do you feel personally safe moving through NYC? Absolutely. NYC is still one of the safest big cities in the country.

Jerome Powell: Are you a fan or critic? I’m not a fan of further interest rate increases. I’d like to let increases that have already been made work their way through the economy and would be content with a higher inflation rate than the Fed’s 2 percent target if it meant avoiding further interest rate increases.

Can’t-live-without technology now? AI.

Elon Musk is …? A bigot.

Taylor Swift or Beyoncé? Taylor Swift.

Artificial intelligence — good or bad? Both. I hope our country does the right thing for all the people whose jobs will be lost to AI, and puts in the time, energy and capital to retrain them.

Mischa’s or Nathan’s for a hot dog? I can’t get enough of Nathan’s crinkle-cut fries. 

Netflix or Hulu? Netflix.

What character are you in “Succession”? I got bored after the first season.