Monthly Archives: January 2009

Rush for affordable mhada housing

M U M B A IThe unprecedented rush for flats constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has proved that even in times of recession there is a huge demand for affordable housing in Mumbai.

Mhada’s affordable housing scheme for the economically weaker, lower, middle and higher sections of society has seen upto 1.89 lakh application forms picked up till Tuesday evening. All this for only 3,863 flats.

The surge from potential home buyers for Mhada flats comes at a time when private developers are struggling to sell their apartments, mainly high-end ones that are out of the reach of the average Mumbaikar. Despite the stagnant property market, most developers are resisting lowering their rates, although some have reduced them marginally by 10% to 15%.

“Builders should realize that their days of profiteering are over,” said former bureaucrat and real estate consultant Zafar Iqbal. Reacting to the phenomenal demand for Mhada flats over the past two days, Iqbal said that the housing recession is only for the “crazy fellow” willing to shell out over a crore of rupees for a flat. “I have always maintained that there is a huge demand for housing in the range of Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh,” he added.

Iqbal, who was in charge of land acquisition under the now abolished Urban Land Ceiling (Regulation) Act more than two decades ago, said private developers are not catering to home buyers in this category. “They are running their businesses like a glamour show, catering only to big names,” he said. According to him, the city will soon implode because of lack of public housing. “People will begin to move out of the city,” he predicted.

Builder Niranjan Hiranandani said the response to the Mhada housing scheme “vindicated” his claim that there will always be a huge demand for homes. Asked whether private developers should reduce their prices, Hiranandani said this has got nothing to do with property rates. “If there is adequate land with permissions and if banks and financial institutions start lending money to home buyers and builders the way they should, the market will revive,” he said.

Jaidev Mody, chairman of Delta Corp Ltd, a real estate, hotels and gaming company, said the segment of home buyers who rushed for low-cost Mhada flats was never affected by the recession. “I am not surprised. Builders should now focus on low-income housing because there is a shortage of such units,” he observed.

Former Mhada president and housing activist Chandrashekhar Prabhu said the middle class in Mumbai finds itself marginalized today. “On the one hand, it cannot afford flats put up by private developers and, on the other hand, they are not law breakers who will squat on public land,” he said.

Architect and housing activist P K Das said builders have never built houses for the poor. “There is a clear disconnect between the hype that there are no sales of flats and the pent-up demand for Mhada’s housing projects. I have always argued that it is the government’s responsibility to provide mass housing. It cannot be left to the developers alone,” he said.

In Mumbai, 60% of the population lives in slums, 5% live on pavements, 15% are tenants living in old cessed buildings and about 5% live in rental housing. “Barely, 15% of Mumbaikars live in private houses,” Das pointed out.

Prabhu, however, blamed Mhada for abdicating its role in setting up mass housing. “Under pressure from politicians, the housing authority, over the years has transferred land to private developers,” he alleged. According to government sources, many politicians have huge stakes in slum redevelopment on Mhada land. “A politician lets his cronies encroach on a Mhada plot by setting up shanties. Soon, a frontman of the elected representative approaches Mhada officers for permission to redevelop the slum,” explained a source.

For over a decade, hundreds of plots in the city have been arbitrarily allotted to societies or trusts, many of which are reportedly controlled by politicians or their kin.

Ambuja Realty plans to spread

Bengal Ambuja Upohar Condoville, KolkataAmbuja Realty will move ahead with the strategy to broaden its horizons into real estate, hospitality, life care and education at the period of economic slowdown.
Mr. Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty, said that the company had not deferred any projects. He said, “We are expanding in all business areas”. Since its inception couple of year ago after the Neotia family sold its stake in Gujarat Ambuja to Holcim, the company has invested twelve hundred crore rupees in projects, with real estate being the main aim.
In the early 90’s, the Neotias had made their foray into housing through Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Ltd in a joint venture with the Bengal Housing Board.
Currently, Ambuja is working on the projects in Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Maharashtra.
In Bengal, it is engaged with its projects in Siliguri, Calcutta and Shantiniketan. The company is engaged in various retail projects in Bengal and Chhattisgarh under the City Center brand. It is building two IT parks — Ecospace in Rajarhat and one more in Nagpur.
Ambuja Realty is also expanding in the hospitality segment. The company wants to build hotels and manage them, too. “You have to start somewhere. We have gained some experience running the fort after the Radisson agreement ended,” Neotia said.

Unitech is looking for restructuring loan

Uniworld City, Greater NoidaUnitech, India’s second largest listed real estate company, is looking at restructuring a Rs 800-crore loan from public sector banks, as it attempts to save itself from sinking under the huge debt burden. The company is pinning its hopes on debt restructuring, asset and stake sales to private equity (PE) funds to pay a debt of Rs 2,500 crore, which is due by March ’09.

“We are in discussions with public sector banks for rescheduling our loans,” Unitech head of strategy and planning, R Nagraju said. Another company executive, requesting anonymity, said Unitech was seeking to restructure a loan of over Rs 800 crore.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently allowed banks to restructure loans taken for commercial real estate without turning them into non-performing assets (NPAs). The RBI directive had come following intense lobbying by realty firms, which were finding it difficult to service debt, as sales had dried up and fresh debt was not available.

Most developers are hopeful that banks will reschedule their loans. “It makes sense for banks to reschedule loans, as it will help them show lower NPAs on their books. If banks were to re-possess land, given as collateral by developers, they may get in trouble,” says a Delhi-based mid-sized developer, who didn’t want to be named.

“Land in most cases was over-valued, and prices have been falling since the loans were disbursed. Moreover, in a market, where you have no buyer for land, banks are unlikely to recover even half their cost,” the developer added. Unitech is also expected to pay Rs 200 crore by March for the land it purchased earlier. Mr Nagraju says the company need not pay land dues immediately, as it is yet to get possession of the land.

Unitech is also banking on the sale of its assets, including hotels, office building and land parcels to raise cash. While any deal on its hotel in Gurgaon or office building in New Delhi is yet to be finalized, the company has reportedly sold off a few land parcels meant for institutional use. The company recently sold one school plot for around Rs 30 crore.

Unitech is also looking at raising funds through private equity infusion at company and project levels. Unitech is holding an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on January 19 to seek shareholder approval to raise Rs 5,000 crore by issuing fresh equity or convertible instruments. The RBI had raised the ceiling for FII holdings in Unitech to up to 100% in November 2007.

The company has been holding negotiations with multiple PE players to raise between $300-$500 million by issuing convertible debentures at the company level and around $200 million by selling stakes in mid-income housing projects.

Small realty cos rework deals with landowners

TCC-new-PortsmouthCampusWith reduction in land prices , an average 30% across India in the past 6 months, many medium-sized developers are trying to renegotiate the joint development agreements, they had signed with landowners earlier.

“Renegotiations have definitely started happening now with a drop in land prices,” says Cushman & Wakefield director (land & industrial) Manish Aggarwal. Players such as BL Kashyap, Sobha Developers, IVR Prime had entered into JDAs, when the real estate market was at its peak in 2007 and early-2008.

At the peak of the real estate market, several medium-sized developers found it too expensive to acquire land at very expensive rates in cities such as Gurgaon, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Then, JDAs emerged as the best option.

These same agreements are being renegotiated today because developers feel it is unviable to go ahead with projects in a slow moving market. But the agreement with landowners specifies a time limit for the project to be finished.

The market today is such that developers are being forced to offer lower cost housing, which will be impossible if they do not negotiate. To offer a lower cost product to customers, they will need to get land at a much lower cost.

On the other side, another pressure for some real estate developers is from their private equity partners who want better IRR (internal rate of return), as they perceive the market as higher risk today. Private equity players have, in some cases, increased their IRR expectation by about 10%.

“The land value and sale price along with the overall risk profile of projects have been altered considerably. Therefore, the structuring parameters will have to be adjusted accordingly too,” says real estate expert Anckur Srivasttava.

There are some developers who are trying to get out of deals completely. “Landowners have become more reasonable in the past 3-4 months. They are also willing to negotiate, as they understand that the market is slow and it might be difficult to get another deal in this scenario,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Mr Aggarwal.

Developers and landowners today are renegotiating both on time as well as percentages. According to a source, in a renegotiation happening between a developer and landowner in Pune, the land valuation has been pegged 10-15% lower, and the developer is asking for at least another 6 months before he starts construction.

Land purchase for SEZ comes under commercial realty

City ScenesThe RBI’s draft guidelines on classification of commercial real estate exposure of banks may provide some relief on loans provided for acquisition of units in special economic zones. However, RBI has not found merit in the commerce ministry’s argument to keep loans for special economic zone development outside the domain of commercial real estate coverage. It has reiterated that bank exposure for purchase of land for special economic zone and its development, will be recognized as commercial real estate, while infrastructure development will not be treated as the same.
Bankers said that more clarity will be required on the issue. The central bank’s draft guidelines have drawn upon the Basel II framework on income producing real estate and high volatility commercial real estate and the US Federal Reserve’s definition of CRE lending as income producing commercial property loans and commercial or residential developmental loans.
While it has not detailed on high volatility commercial real estate for want of documented history of real estate cycles in India, RBI has drawn upon Basel II framework’s definition of income producing real estate.
Under the framework, income producing real estate refers to a method of giving funding to real estate such as, office buildings to let, retail space, multi-family residential buildings, industrial or warehouse space, and hotels, where the prospects for repayment and recovery depend primarily on the cash flows generated by the asset. The primary source of cash flows is lease or rental payments or the sale of the asset.

Chandigarh mega projects under vigilance scanner

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtControversial mega projects in Chandigarh worth billions of rupees under prevailing market prices are under the scanner of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The CVC has sought all files pertaining to the mega-projects from the Chandigarh administration to investigate alleged corruption in land deals.

Using its powers as a court, the CVC has announced the setting up of a vigilance commission to probe the murky land deals worth billions of rupees. The probe will be a major embarrassment for the administration top brass as local NGOs have alleged irregularities and corruption in the land deals.

“We will comply with the orders of the CVC. All files will be sent for this probe,” a senior union territory (UT) official said.

The land deals, most of which have been concluded in the last three years, have generated much controversy with the city’s mayor and senior Congress leaders demanding that UT Administrator S.F. Rodrigues, who is also the Punjab governor, give up his post as the city’s administrative head until a probe into the deals by a central agency.

At the centre of the controversy are ambitious projects like the Film-city, the Medi-city, the Amusement-cum-Theme Park and the new phase of the Information Technology (IT) Park.

The administration has not only been accused of rushing in with some of the projects but also making allotments to certain big realty companies at prices much lower than the prevailing market rates for land in the 114-square km city, which is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana but is a centrally-administered union territory.

The 73-acre Amusement-cum-Theme Park project has not got off the ground even couple of year after it was allotted to realty major Unitech as the administration failed to extend facilities on the land. Several rules were allegedly violated in giving concessions to the firm.

Some renowned companies, like Singapore’s famed Sentosa Island amusement park, were disqualified from bidding for this project.

In the Film-city project, realty major Parsvnath was allotted the 30-acre land in Sarangpur village of the union territory for Rs.191 crore. The company, which had deposited nearly Rs.480 million, is now seeking the money back with interest. It has excused itself on the ground that the land is not free from encumbrances.

Sahara announces partners for residential projects

Sahara Prime City, the real estate arm of Sahara India, has appointed different construction companies for developing residential blocks at Sahara City Homes.

The projects are the part of Sahara’s chain of 217 townships to be developed across India. Each township is spread over 100-300 acres. Development of the townships is taking place in phased manner.

In first phase, 102 cities have been chosen. The construction work in Lucknow, Nagpur, Gwalior, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad and Indore is in full-swing.

Buying home becomes affordable

The wish of millions of middle-class Indians to own a home remained just a pipe-dream as soaring prices and builders’ keenness to focus on exclusive gated communities shut them out of the market.

It could change because bank loans become cheaper. More middle-class Indians can hope to get a step on the housing ladder in 2009. Various builders cut prices to move unsold stock and build cheaper homes.

The past few years have seen houses become just another financial asset, as punters and wealthy investors, buoyed by surging stock market earnings, trooped into the property market in the blind faith that the only direction to house prices was up. Their faith was rewarded, and house prices were driven up to surreal levels. Builders were only happy to play along, and many of them focused on high-margin exclusive developments, almost oblivious to the fact that such properties were beyond the reach of the vast majority of India’s 300-million middle class.

But sometime last year, realty discovered reality. High prices together with double-digit interest rates put off genuine buyers and many families abandoned their search for a home. And the stock market collapse turned the tables on the speculators, and with them, the building trade.

Realty developers to meet RBI Governor for more packages

Members from the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) will be meeting the RBI Governor D Subbarao next week to demand more Government support for the struggling real estate sector. The developers are likely to push for lower interest rates and restructured debt for the developers.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pradeep Jain, Chairman, Parsvnath Developers said, “We will approach the RBI to demand a restructuring of existing debt by way of Financial Institutions (FIs) granting a minimum moratorium period of a year. Beyond one year, terms and conditions will be up to FIs. Also, the recently reduced interest rates for home loan borrowers upto twenty lakh rupees should be increased to thirty lakh rupees for customers in metros only. In addition, the home loan mortgage interest rate still needs to fall below 10%.” The real estate sector continues to demand relief even as the new stimulus package allows developers of integrated townships to borrow funds from overseas and asks states to release land for low and middle-income housing schemes. However, the industry believes that liquidity should improve as a result of these measures.

Akruti flashes rent guarantee card to attract home buyers

Realty firm Akruti Developers is wooing home-buyers to invest in its serviced studio-apartments project by offering a rent guarantee scheme to potential buyers. The proposed project — Afallon — will come up in the Whitefield technology hub, in close proximity to the International Tech Park, said Akruti Developers managing director Nikhil Jadhav.

With apartments priced under Rs 30 lakh, Bangalore-based Akruti says the project is targeted at young professionals who would benefit from investing in an asset and earn a regular income from it.

The studio apartments, ranging from about 700-800 square feet are priced between Rs 22-30 lakh and will be fully-furnished. We think it can be turned into a source of parallel income when the owner rents-it-out to guests on a regular basis. Over the years, the owner also benefits from the appreciation of the property’s value,” Mr Jadhav said. Housekeeping and maintenance will be outsourced to a professional firm.

Owners who sign a rental agreement with the developer will be paid a fixed rent for three years. These owners will not be charged a maintenance fee. But those who wish to fix their rent and look for tenants themselves will have to pay a monthly maintenance fee. “Rental guarantee schemes are extremely popular abroad and developers continue to add new incentives to attract buyers, especially since sales have slumped,” Mr Jadhav said.

Afallon comprises 120 studio apartments and are being sold by invitation only. The project will include facilities like a business centre, car hire, daily housekeeping, gym, cook-on-request and a doctor on call. Akruti plans to sell only sixty units and retain the rest.

“This will help generate investor confidence; that we are committed to creating a quality product,” Mr Jadhav said. Construction will commence in February and the apartments will be ready for handover in two years. The company has eight completed projects in Bangalore and two in Goa.