Sometimes it's best to fold your hand even if you're holding a pair of twos. You've got something potentially good showing, but the odds of winning the pot are long, and it would cost you money to see the flop.
That appears to be what happened with America's First Home LLP, a Florida-only builder who was building more than 1,000 houses per year in 2005 and 2006. The company's owners decided to cry "uncle" and turned the keys to the company over to a court-appointed receiver in December, as the company had become "unable to pay its debts as they become due, and is desirous of providing for the payment of its debts, so far as it is possible by an assignment."
The company's owners apparently pulled the plug long before true distress kicked in. The court documents filed in the Florida-version of receivership called "Assignments for the Benefits of Creditors" stated that the builder had $850,000 in cash on hand and owned more than $6 million in land mortgage-free.
The company also had mortgages on land for $28.9 million held by Bank of America, $18 million held by Wachovia, and $4.5 million held by Fifth Third Bank. The petition said America's First Home pledged real estate assets worth $24 million to Bank of America, $16.6 million to Wachovia, and $5.9 million to Fifth Third, according to court documents.
"It was a very well organized company," Lewis B. Freeman, who has been appointed by the courts and charged with liquidating the company's assets, said several times during an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
America's First Home's owners were the Frey family, who have been in the home building business in Florida for roughly three decades and have been through several cycle downturns. They retained ownership of Frey & Son Homes in the Ft. Myers, Fla., area, and they previously held another custom home building company in the area.
Managing partner Barry Frey has not returned a number of telephone calls and e-mails since the court filing, but the company's operators have apparently made a series of business decisions based on the assumption that surviving a downturn of uncertain length and depth would cost more than it was worth.
America's First Home was created in 2001 after the Frey family, which had invested in First Home Builders of Florida, broke off the Orlando piece of First Home Builders and created America's First Home.
Focusing on the first-time buyer market, the company quickly grew from 92 home sales that year to a peak of 1,129 in '05. Sales slipped a bit to 1,096 in '06, and then plummeted to a point where managing partner Barry Frey said in October that he expected the company to sell approximately 500 homes last year.
Will there be enough assets in the builder's portfolio to pay all the creditors in full? "We'll see," said Freeman. And that answer may come sooner rather than later. Freeman said he plans to sell as quickly as possible, and there is no shortage of potential buyers looking for a bargain.
"The vultures are all over," Freeman said. "We have lots of people talking to us, and it's going to happen truly very soon. Time is not on my side. Like old fish, they don't smell any better with time."