End of a watershed year

End of a watershed year
End of a watershed year

What looked like an optimistic start to the year with leasing activity picking up in the commercial segment was not to be, writes India Inc. property expert. If 2015 was a roller coaster, 2016 was definitely a steep downhill for the real estate sector. With the passing of the Real Estate Regulation Bill, residential buyers hammered away at residential developers with judges passing landmark judgments against developers for delayed delivery. If this did not have the developers scurrying for cover, the National Green Tribunal ruling on distances from water bodies and reserve forests got parts of Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi in a slowdown mode as under-construction projects had to be stopped until revised sanctions were obtained. The issue still has quite a few projects stalled across these cities. If that was not enough, the income declaration scheme targeting undisclosed income came with income tax raids where real estate companies were targeted in the hope of getting them to declare undisclosed incomes. Unfortunately, poor sales track record of the past 12 months had anyway consumed whatever cash they did have, yielding a poor haul for the income tax sleuths. The final nail for the year was demonetisation, which undid booked sales with buyers hopeful that this move of the government could make them eligible for further discounts from developers. And as we start a New Year, buyers are not buying and sellers not selling as the price expectations are completely mismatched. For the first time, nationally, most developers are giving a price guarantee for homes, assuring buyers that the current price is the best possible and if the price drops before June 2017, the benefit will be passed on to any buyer who had bought in December 2016. The market hopes that come January 15, buyers will blink and come back to buy with the backdrop of the Indian festival of Makar Sankranti - marking a good time to acquire homes for end use. The sellers will also be graceful and give some token discounts to get the deals going. But given that states have a target date of March 26, 2017 to implement the RERA bill, one wonders what stall effect this will have on the market, given that each move in 2016 has given more teeth to buyers to bargain and developers/ sellers pushed into a corner. Now any more push would mean painting oneself into a corner with disastrous outcome for the real estate sector as a whole, which is as it is suffering from poor sales and low liquidity besides the requirement to become compliant overnight. That said, the last quarter of the year has seen some large Chinese construction and development firms making their way to India and one of them also having acquired a Bengaluru company for $50 million. Hopefully, this will pave the way for a liquidity infusion into the market and possible consolidation of some of the larger domestic players, besides an exit of the smaller ones who do not have the scale or financial resilience - hopefully by way of a sale to larger domestic players. Deepak Sam Varghese, founder-director of Moonbeam Advisory, is a career banker with nearly two decades of experience in retail and private banking. He is a specialist in banking services and wealth advisory and has been advising domestic and non-resident Indians (NRI) in Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai, Singapore and London, where he was based. Now Bangalore based, his special emphasis is on financial advisory in real estate transactions, advising investors and developers in key Indian metros.

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