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Friday, May 20, 2011

Real Estate: Unsold Inventories With Six Top Developers Equal 1/5 the Size Of Chandigarh; All Listed Cos May Report Losses In FY12

Dentist couple Sushma and Vikrant Mohanty had been looking to buy an apartment in Delhi-NCR for almost a year. But after several rounds of unsuccessful discussions with builders and umpteen visits to property sites, they decided to wait till prices came down. 

The 2009 real estate slump had created lots of buying opportunities, but prices have climbed since then to what some believe are unsustainable levels. 

Last week, as home loan rates shot up after RBI hiked interest rates, the couple saw their dreams come crashing down. They have now dropped all plans of owning a house. "This is like a double whammy. Now I don't know when we will be able to buy a house. We are already paying heavy rent in Delhi," says Mohanty. 

Across the city from where they live, RK Arora, managing director of Noida-based real estate company Supertech , is a worried man. He has seen a 10-15% drop in sales in the past few months. His company launched six projects in the past one year and prices have already risen 15-20%. He fears a further drop in demand. "Rising interest rates have already impacted demand," he said. 

Builders like Arora and prospective home buyers like the Mohantys are caught in a bind. Rising interest rates and soaring prices are forcing more and people to put off purchasing plans, affecting builders who desperately need money to pay off costly loans and start new projects. The unsold stock in major cities has been going up, forcing banks and equity investors to call for a price cut. 

"It's not interest rates that have spoilt the party, it's home prices," says Renu Sud Karnad, managing director of HDFC Ltd , one of India's biggest housing finance companies. 

"There has to be some rationalisation of prices-by at least 10-15%-in the next few months," she added. Unsold residential units in projects that are completed or are nearing completion within the next 6-12 months in Mumbai and Delhi-NCR are as high as 25% and 16%, respectively, of the total number of units. 

In other top cities, including Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata , the numbers range between 12% and 19%, consultant Jones Lang La-Salle found in its real estate intelligence service for the first quarter of 2011 (see chart on Page 1). 

"A price correction is imminent. How long can developers hold back... I think prices will correct by a maximum 15%," says B Niyogi, chief general manager, real estate and housing, State Bank of India , India's largest lender. Real estate research firm Liases Foras says approximately 471.9 million sq ft of residential stock, one-fifth the size of Chandigarh, is lying un-sold in the country's top six markets. 

For real estate firms, with bad memories of the 2008-09 slump, these numbers are scary. But they also illustrate what could go wrong in a highly price-sensitive industry hugely susceptible to the vagaries of consumer sentiment, interest rates and commodity price changes. 

"Cost pressures are building up for developers. They will have to cut prices to retain volumes, failing which it will impact profitability and cash flow in the coming quarters and affect margins as well," says Aashiesh Agarwaal, real estate analyst at Mumbai-based Edelweiss Se-curities. 

Companies such as Gurgaonbased Unitech, one of the country's top builders, are feeling the pinch too. "Today, selling efforts need to be put in unlike earlier when all projects were selling on their own," says R Nagaraju, vice-president, corporate planning and strategy, Unitech. 

In the past one year, the industry managed to bounce back from the 2009 slump, though the recovery has been uneven. In 2010-11, the industry took full advantage of the positive sentiment, economic growth and softer rates to sell more. Prices rose, not just because of demand but also construction costs. Rising steel and cement prices fuelled a 60% jump in construction costs. Price of land is not coming down either. 

"It is becoming almost unmanageable," says Snehal Mantri, director-marketing at Bangalore-based Mantri Developers. Companies coped with the scenario by increasing prices and hoping that consumers would be able to pay. For some time they did, but the party may be coming to an end now. 

At the end of trading on May 18, 2011, the BSE realty index was at 2,120.45, down 47.5% from its 52-week high of 4,034.35 on October 7, 2010, and down 84.7% from its highest-ever level of 13,848.09 on January 8, 2008. Defaults, not unheard of in the real estate industry, are likely to re-turn. Bank lending is already down after a recent RBI directive and scams involving real estate companies. Private equity, the alternative to loans and IPO, is playing coy too. They want builders to cut prices and get rid off the inventory. 

"All private equity funds are working on the basis that there would be a 15% correction. No one wants to lose money," says V Hari Krishna, director-investments, Kotak Realty Fund , a sector-specific private equity firm. 

According to PropEquity, a real estate consultancy firm, in the last one year, prices of new and existing housing projects in some parts of the country have risen 10-40%. In the first quarter of 2011, Mumbai has seen a 17% drop in home sales, Bangalore 14% and Hyderabad 15%. 

Some builders think they can manage by focusing on small cities. Jaxay Shah, a real estate developer in Ahmedabad and vicepresident of Credai, insists that Mumbai and Delhi should not be considered as the barometer. These cities contribute hardly 4% of the national mar-ket. Sales in tier-2 and tier-3 cities are steady, though there is some panic due to hike in interest rates, which have climbed to around 11% from 8.25% a year ago. 

An executive at a large home loan lender gives the example of smaller cities where local developers understand the market demand and know how much people are willing to pay. So they price their projects according to the paying capacity. Markets like Lucknow, Indore, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and others are doing well because the ticket sizes are low. 

"The actual ticket size of a property is what matters. Rs 20-40 lakh is really the segment that will attract mid-income Indians," adds Karnad of HDFC. All this is happening at a time luxury projects are languishing. "Developers have not been able to interpret the activity in the mar-ket," points out Shveta Jain at Cushman & Wakefield . 

Mumbai-based Omkar Realtors and Developers recently launched apartments at Rs 7,100 a sq ft in Malad, a Mumbai suburb, where other builders are still selling at Rs 8,500-13,000 a sq ft. Within 20 days, Omkar was able to sell a tenth of its total inventory of 1,000 apartments. Similar price cuts have worked in projects in Chembur and Dadar as well. 

"Genuine demand still exists in the market. If one decides to stick to high prices, demand may remain elusive," said Babulal Verma, manag-ing director of Omkar Realtors & Developers. Across the country, many builders and lenders will hope that he is right. But there is another fear-the bottom could be a long way off. As Jaxay Shah of Ahmedabad says, "When buyers don't buy, they don't buy at any price, because of the sentiment." The industry will hope that he doesn't turn out to be right. 


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