Got a commercial mortgage coming due? If the loan requires a balloon payment (as many such mortgages do), you may have a hard time refinancing -- and for reasons that haven't a whit to do with the health of your business. The problem: many life-insurance companies have exited the mortgage market after being burned in real estate crashes in the 1980s. So companies with property loans not fully amortized could be heading for a financing crunch.

Fortunately, deep-pocketed pension funds may be coming to the rescue. This past fall CB Commercial Real Estate Group (213-613-3420), a big Los Angeles real-estate-investment manager with lots of experience on the equity side of property deals, put together a $50-million pension pool that will invest only in commercial mortgages in the $1-million-to-$10-million range. The program (whose backers include several large public-employee pension funds) may soon expand, says Dick Clotfelter, president of the company's capital-markets group.

CB Commercial plans to diversify its loans geographically and by type, among everything from apartments to industrial facilities. Maturities will run from 5 to 10 years, with interest rates ranging from about 8% to 10H%.

Like other lenders, CB Commercial assesses the borrower's financial strength and local economic conditions. A property with a history of being fully rented, Clotfelter says, is a lot more appealing than one that's dogged by vacancies.

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