Q&A: KeyBank Real Estate Capital’s Christa Chambers Tackles New Role and Changing Market

Bellevue, Wash.--Three months after taking on her new role, she speaks to MHN about issues ranging from her new responsibilities and goals to the current state of the financing in the multifamily market.

Christa Chambers

Bellevue, Wash.–KeyBank Real Estate Capital has promoted 14-year company veteran Christa Chambers up the ladder to senior vice president of the northwest region. Formerly SVP and team leader for the Puget Sound, Portland and Bay Area locales, Chambers, who also brings to the table her experience as a former bank examiner with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, works out of the national real estate lenders’ Bellevue, Wash. office. Three months after taking on her new role, she speaks to MHN about issues ranging from her new responsibilities and goals to the current state of the financing in the multifamily market.

MHN: You were promoted to senior vice president of the northwest region in May. How does your new role differ from the previous position, which you held for five years?

Chambers: Prior to my promotion, I was focused predominantly on the Seattle and Portland regions, but KeyBank reopened its northwest region when the market started coming back. Now, I oversee commercial mortgage originations throughout the northwest United States, including Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City. I also oversee a team of relationship managers who assist in KeyBank’s efforts to provide lending solutions to clients.

MHN: Now that the entire northwest region is once again on KeyBank’s plate, have any new strategies been put in place?

Chambers: While we engage in all commercial lending, we now have a heightened focus on multifamily. Our main goal is to increase our presence and brand as a multifamily lender. We’ve added new hires and trained employees from our other businesses to help achieve our objective. Also, in terms of our focus on multifamily, we’re targeting owners and investors, as opposed to developers.

MHN: What spurred the decision to focus more on multifamily lending?

Chambers: Our mortgage group formulated our new multifamily strategy. We have always had a huge multifamily clientele; it has been a profitable business for us. In Seattle, for example, 40 percent of our client base has been in multifamily. So, we want to grow that part of our business and sell it as one of KeyBank’s strong points.

MHN: Do your lending activities encompass affordable housing properties?

We focus on market-rate housing, as we have separate divisions that handle affordable housing and seniors housing.

MHN: The recession and the weakened job market have taken a toll on multifamily housing across the country. What is the current state of the multifamily market in the region you cover?

Chambers: I’m very fortunate. In Seattle, unemployment is far below the national average, and while we did experience the recession, a lot of companies here were not as deeply affected as others. There are a lot of headquarters in the Seattle area that are doing quite well. In Portland, unemployment is higher, but people just flat out want to live there. There is more population increase there than job increase, but that bodes well for multifamily. Salt Lake City, however, is a different microcosm; it’s very unique. But in all the markets we serve, none of them has experienced the pain of places like Detroit and areas of Florida.

MHN: In terms of financing, how do you think the multifamily sector is faring compared to the office and retail sectors?

Chambers: Looking at the office, retail and multifamily sectors, multifamily is the last to be hit in a real estate market downturn and likely the first to come out of it. Looking at the current cycle, we are coming out if it; multifamily is emerging as the property type that is coming through it faster. Multifamily is more responsive because of the shorter leases, compared to office and retail where many tenants sign leases for 10, 20 years. So multifamily can re-price sooner.

MHN: As the country eases out of the recession, are you seeing any discernible changes in multifamily lending activity in your office?

Chambers: There is a lot more sales activity, and along with that, there’s a need for acquisition financing. My phone has been ringing with a steady increase since January.

MHN: The market is bouncing back, but it won’t soon return the glory days of 2007. Are you altering your approach as the market changes?

Chambers: Things are different now, and our strategy is different. We are chasing clients, not loans. And we really want to know the client and have a deeper relationship. We want to make sure our brand in the market is to provide comprehensive banking services from interim financing to permanent financing, from investment banking to treasury management, and loan servicing. We’re looking for a profitable relationship that benefits us as well as the client, a relationship that is profitable beyond the loan, beyond the borrowing relationship.

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