By Bappaditya Chatterjee
Kolkata - The real estate sector, which witnessed a slew of policy measures through the year, experienced a market slowdown but the affordable segment emerged as its growth driver, say property consultants and developers.
The policy reforms, however, promise to make residential real estate dealings more transparent than ever before and the market is expected to see at least a partial recovery in 2018 on the back of revived confidence of homebuyers, fewer new launches, improving sales and declining unsold units.
The Centre's surprise demonetisation announcement late last year was a "real shocker" for the sector. But, simultaneously, it helped the sector to resist unaccounted funds from finding their way into the secondary and even primary sales segments as well as the luxury housing section.
Meanwhile, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act (RERA) was rolled out to improve financial discipline, boost market transparency and give consumers confidence and a clear legal choice for dealing with errant developers and brokers. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced to improve taxation transparency and the Benami Properties Act got further amended to make it more effective in curbing anonymous real estate transactions and ownership.
"There were reforms galore which literally altered the DNA of the Indian real estate business, focusing on eliminating black money and improving market transparency so as to make the country's residential real estate a better place for consumers and investors," Anarock Property Consultants' Chairman Anuj Puri said.
National Real Estate Development Council Vice Chairman Parveen Jain said all stakeholders adopted a wait and watch policy following the note ban and introduction of RERA and GST.
"This resulted in a somewhat slowdown in the sector as everyone was trying to understand the after-effects of demonetisation and the effects of RERA and GST. No one is willing to venture into new deals until and unless things settle down," Jain said.
GST, applicable to the purchase of homes in under-construction projects, prompted home buyers to either buy completed projects or hold back their purchase decisions. Also, developers halted sales in projects not registered under RERA across major cities, JLL India CEO and Country Head Ramesh Nair said.
"These factors led to a quarterly sales decline in five of the top seven cities to an all-time low of 4.8% in the third quarter of 2017," Nair said.
Residential launches up to the third quarter of 2017 saw a decline of 33% compared to the same period in 2016. Simultaneously, affordable housing saw a rise of 27% in the first three quarters, mostly by taking advantage of the new government regulations and incentives for homes in that category.
"Affordable housing is an attractive proposition both for developers and consumers as the demand is huge and largely unmet. The high focus of the central government has resulted in the availability of more funding options for the developers such as ECB, FDI and debt-financing from national financial institutions at highly competitive rates," Cushman & Wakefield's Senior Director, Research Services, Siddhart Goel said.
However, the flip side is the implementation RERA by the states. As per the central government schedule, by the end of July 2017, all states should have implemented the RERA with full functionality.
"Many states are still either in the process or don't have requisite infrastructure. Dilutions in a few RERA rules by a some states, has also hurt buyer confidence," Knight Frank Chief Economist Samantak Das said.
According to an ICRA study, by the close of third quarter of 2017, most of the major states had notified their real estate rules and set up real estate regulatory authorities as required under the RERA Act. While new project launches have remained subdued even after RERA implementation, the developers continue to push sales in ongoing projects, with expectations of improved customer confidence in those projects which are approved by the state RERA.
However, the inclusion of land and real estate (completed properties) under the ambit of GST has been a topic that has been debated significantly and will ultimately require a political solution since land is a state subject and any such move will require the concurrence of state governments.
"Any such move could bolster the transparency and compliance of real estate transactions (especially in the secondary market) since there would be an incentive to report transactions at market price to claim full tax benefit," said Shubham Jain, Vice President and Sector Head-Corporate Ratings, ICRA Limited.
The industry is expected to somewhat stabilise in 2018 as both real estate developers and customers become attuned to the changed regulatory scenario.
Developers are likely to take a cautious approach as far as new project launches are concerned, given the over-supply situation in various markets, along with their own stressed balance sheet positions.
The focus is likely to remain on liquidation of existing stock and reduction of the debt overhang before new projects are launched. This is already visible from the trend of decreasing quantum of absolute stock of unsold inventory available with the developers.