Mumbai’s real estate sector — the uptown and the suburbs — reminds me of a folk tale of six blind men trying to decipher an elephant. Tree, snake, spear, fan, wall, rope is what they could conjure up.
This story personifies the sordid affairs of real estate industry and its constituents who have different perspectives — depending on whom you are speaking to and at what point in time. The sector’s defining moments began with the rupee note ban in November 2016, followed by the introduction of the Real Estate Regulation Act (Rera) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Let’s start with the builder lobby as the first blind man. For the last six to eight quarters, hardly a day goes by when builders were not making headlines. Though, for all the wrong reasons. Erring builders — Unitech, Orbit Corp, Hubtown, RNA Builders, Bhagtani Developers, Puneet Enterprises, Harishankar Kayal, etc, – the courts have intervened.
What more, Mumbai-based Vyas Developers lodged a case against another builder SM Associates for cheating to the tune of Rs460 million.
On the brighter side, there is the “never say never again” attitude. According to Cushman & Wakefield, residential launches increased 75 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 to nearly 6,300 units. Most of the new launches are happening in North Mumbai and within that, the Thane — Kalyan belt is most active.
We move now to the customer, the second blind man. Elusive, tough and with a wait-and-watch approach in anticipation of further price drops given the 86,000 unsold units. The customer believes now is the time to buy property but wants to time the entry right. Customers are also hunting for “affordability” — no wonder then that 70 per cent of the new launches were in the affordable segment.
While buyer sentiment is improving and “subvention” finance schemes galore, fact remains that it did not translate into higher sales volume. Prices in South Central (Lower Parel), Eastern Suburbs (Kanjurmarg) and Northern Suburbs (Thane, Kalyan) have dipped by 5-7 per cent. The launch of compact one- and two-bedroom hall kitchen homes have not contained the slide.
Investors — who represent the third blind man — are usually blinded by the promise of high returns. But during trying times, they too open their eyes to choose the right asset class. Ironically, the real estate sector has lost the tag of being a safe investment and entered the risky asset class thanks to negative returns.
A banker’s job is to provide funding to businesses and grow along with them. In India, however, the fourth blind man is known to grow “on” clients. It is this greed and ineptitude that has led to real estate related lending turning into non-performing assets. An estimated Rs77 billion worth of residential and commercial properties have been listed as NPAs and are up for sale.
Maharashtra, largely due to Mumbai, tops the list for bad loans to both commercial and residential properties. NBFCs (non-banking finance companies and housing finance companies like Piramal Capital and JM Financial are among those running huge asset liability mismatches in the last two years.
The fifth blind man is the entity created out of Rera, which fined Tridhatu Morya for advertising a non-registered project. It has awarded judgements in favour of homebuyers. RERA’s actions suggest that the sector has a lot to do before sanity prevails and thus has created a subdued spirit for new launches.
The broker, the sixth blind man, has no choice but to perpetually be sanguine about the sector. It is in his DNA to glib talk and nudge a customer to commit. It’s a different story that broker business is headed for disruption from technology and a change in evolving expectations from customers.
All in all, the elephant called real estate in Mumbai is moving at a slow, yet steady, pace. The six blind men might change their positions in the coming months, but as we all know, the elephant takes a longer time to change course.
Bakul Gala is Director at Brandmark Group.