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The Changing Landscape

Pritam P Hans   Delhi     Print Edition: November 2011

The Indian real estate sector is in a state of flux with changing economic scenario and proposed real estate laws. In the evolving environment, both buyers and developers are embracing change. Developers are coming up with new formats of properties to capitalise on the changing environment. Buyers are also becoming more discerning and demanding better quality and services from the developers.

Demand for real estate is driven by economic growth. As industries grow and purchasing power of individuals goes up, new homes, offices and shops witness an increase in uptake. As the economic scenario undergoes change, the real estate industry is constantly evolving to remain on top of the situation and making efforts to generate demand from buyers. Here we look at some changes that are emerging in the country's real estate market.

SPECIAL:Buying a house? Here's how to steer clear of land troubles

VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES
Home buyers are realising the power of collective bargaining. They are coming together on common platforms to have better leverage, whether it is in buying properties or putting pressure on developers. Modelled on successful group-buying websites such as Groupon.com, some websites like GrOffr.com and SnapGhar.com are offering a platform for buyers to come together and get better deals through collective bargaining.

"The developers give discounts because they are able to move a large inventory in one shot and the economy of scale starts working," says Vikhyat S, co-founder, GrOffr.com.

Property deals are listed on these websites where buyers can express their interest in the offer. If the deal manages to attract the minimum number of buyers, the properties are offered at the discounted rates.

"The group rate is lower than the rates that an individual can bargain. The only time where group rates are equal to the individual rates is when the project is being launched because at that stage the prices are already at rock bottom," says Vikhyat S.

Flexi-homes
FLEXI HOMES
Home buyers are no longer content with the pre-designed homes being offered by developers. They want more flexibility and control over how their apartments will eventually look. In order to allow home buyers to customise their apartments, developers are offering homes where buyers can select their own layout, floors, kitchen and several other aspects.

In traditional apartments, home buyers have very little say in designing the house. With customisable homes, buyers do not have to spend time and money making modifications to their apartments.

"Buyers often end up spending as much as 15-25% of the original value and at least two-three months in making changes to their apartment after possession. This can be avoided with customisable homes," says Anil Kumar, executive director, Millennium Spire India Management, which offers 'flexi homes' in which the buyer decides the floor plan of the house along with other details.

However, these customisable homes have their limitations in terms of changes that can be made to the layout out the property.

"In customisable homes, the basic structure and plan remains the same. Only minor changes are allowed such as converting space allocated for a study into another room," says Rajesh Goyal of RG Group, a Delhi-based developer.

PE Muscle
PE MUSCLE
Funding has remained a concern for several developers over the past few years. As investors do not want to be stuck in a stalled or delayed project, real estate private equity (PE) firms no longer just finance realty projects. PE firms are forming joint ventures with developers and actively participating in the development of the projects. Fire Capital Fund and Indus Capital Partners, for instance, have formed joint ventures with developers for realty projects in places like Delhi, Bangalore, Indore, Nagpur and Chennai.

"A development backed by a PE fund creates a higher level of comfort in the minds of buyers," says Om Chaudhry, founder and CEO, Fire Capital. "Customers are now more focused on whether the developer has the operational ability and the financial muscle to deliver projects on time."

Chaudhry's real estate PE fund, Fire Capital, owns majority stakes in its projects and acts like a developer by taking the responsibility of developing the projects. Fire Capital promoters also floated a new housing company, Astrum Homes, in October 2011.

When a PE firm invests in a realty project, it has its own obligations towards its investors to ensure timely delivery of the project. PE firms do their own due diligence on the land, etc., because they are investing a lot of money.

"Involvement of realty PE funds is a symbol of financial security as well as legal due diligence. It also offers assurance that the PE fund will ensure that commitments are met and properties delivered on time," says Chaudhry.

Hotel Apartments
HOTEL APARTMENTS
Driven by demand from the corporate sector, particularly the information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services segments, serviced apartments are the new buzz in the real estate industry. With an array of projects across cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kochi and Kolkata, leading real estate companies are offering medium- to high-end serviced apartments in the price range of Rs 20-70 lakh. Serviced apartments are furnished residential units with accompanied housekeeping, concierge and maintenance services, just like a hotel accommodation.

"With several developers offering investors a chance to buy serviced apartments with the attraction of earning good returns through rentals, serviced apartments are offering new opportunities to both developers and investors," says Ganesh Vasudevan, vice president and business head of property portal Indiaproperty.com.

Investors also have the option of buying rooms in condominium hotels. The property is managed and rented out by the hotel management and the investor gets a share of the profits.

Silvexity Group-owned Tuscany Terraces, a condo hotel property in Neral near Matheran in Maharashtra, offers various format apartments for Rs 28 lakh to Rs 70 lakh. The company offers 9% annual return for the first three years for leased apartments. The leased apartments are maintained and refurbished at regular intervals by the company. Serviced apartments and hotel rooms offers 10-20% annual return, against 3-5% offered by residential apartments.

You can also sell these properties to realise the appreciation gains. "The investor can sell the apartment to a new investor on the condition that the lease agreement, if any, shall be binding upon the new purchaser also," says Amod Kumar Singh, vice president of Silvexity Group.

With the boom in IT and related services, the demand for transit housing (which includes hotel accommodation and serviced apartments) is expected to remain strong.

Green Homes
GREEN HOMES
As people are turning more conscious about the environment and seek better lifestyle, eco-friendly homes are becoming popular. Developers are implementing eco-friendly building concepts in homes even if the properties do not have green certification from rating agencies.

Green buildings do not only offer better living spaces to home buyers, they also help builders market their products. With several corporate houses opting for green buildings and the National Housing Bank and some commercial banks offering incentives on loans for environment-friendly buildings, it makes sense to go green.

Currently, India has around 800 million square foot of green built-up space, of which 40% is residential, according to CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre head S Raghupathy. It is expected to go up to 1 billion square feet by 2012 and again double in the next two years.

"Green buildings are here to stay. As costs come down, both awareness and legislation will drive green buildings," says Anshuman Magazine, chairman and managing director (South Asia) of CB Richard Ellis, a property consultancy.

Eco-friendly homes with green certifications are more expensive than traditional homes. "Green homes do increase construction cost high by 5-10% but bring in overall efficiency and reduce operating costs by an equal or more percentage," says Bharat Dhuppar, chief marketing officer of Mumbai-based Omkar Realtors and Developers.


Five Tips for Investing in Properties

1. Houses or Shops
The choice between residential and commercial properties depends on availability of money and your investment objective. Commercial properties generate regular income through rentals (8-10% of the property value annually), while residential properties offer more appreciation benefits (average 8-10% per year).

2. Apartment or Land
Any developer will tell you how land prices are skyrocketing. "Investing in land is always good for long-term investment, especially when you want to avoid maintenance costs. Plots give high returns," says Aditya Verma, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Makaan.com, a property portal.

3. Loan for Investment
Does it make sense to buy a property on loan with interest rate of around 12% per annum? Annual rental income from residential properties is 3-5% of the property value. When you are borrowing money to invest in homes, your total return (rental plus appreciation) should exceed the interest that you are paying.

4. Appreciation prospect
The price of a property appreciates based on factors such as infrastructure development, local economy, availability of land and connectivity. If there is a boom in the local economy and commercial development goes up, demand for both residential and commercial properties will reflect the trend.

5. Exit Strategy
When you invest in a property, you also need to exit to realise the gains made through its appreciation. You must have a clear investment objective before you put your savings in a house or any commercial property. You must be clear on your investment tenure as it takes time to find a buyer who is willing to offer a good price.

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