India's real estate can be a winner

India's real estate can be a winner

To paraphrase Warren Buffett, a time of fear is a time for opportunity.

While all economies are shaken at the moment, it is in such times that smart investors buy into their preferred asset classes. For NRIs, opportunities back home are even more appealing with the fall of the Indian rupee.

As the equity markets continue to vacillate, NRI investors had become wary of the stock markets and fell back on gold, real estate and bank deposits because of the relative security of these products.

Interest rates plummet

Amid the turmoil in the Indian banking sector, SBI, the country’s largest lender, reduced interest rates on savings accounts and fixed deposits. SBI reduced interest on savings accounts to 3 per cent for all categories from the earlier 3.25 per cent for accounts with less than 100,000 rupees, and 3 per cent for accounts with more than 100,000 rupees.

Moreover, interest rates for fixed deposits for a tenure of fewer than 45 days have been trimmed by 50 basis points, meaning that they will earn 4 ettles at instead of the earlier 4.5. For tenures of one year and above, SBI fixed deposits will now earn 5 per cent instead of 6 — the lowest since August 2004.

Investors can gauge sentiment from the fact that this is the second reduction in interest rates in the past month.

Real estate vs. gold

Real estate is clearly a superior option for NRI investors. With the sector-wide turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price war pushing prices to as low as $25 per barrel, gold peaked and then reduced in the past few weeks. After opening March at Rs4,274 per gram, gold jumped more than 6 per cent to Rs4,536 per gram and are now once again on a downward trajectory.

Only early investors could book profits in this asset class.

Room to move up

Meanwhile, real estate prices in India are at record lows and can go nowhere but up from here onward. This market is defined by perennial demand on the back of massive urbanisation. For NRIs who will eventually return to India, this is an ideal opportunity to secure their now accustomed lifestyle back home.

Not all NRIs have an ancestral property to bank on, so they always constitute a significant share of buyers of Indian real estate.

The direct and indirect benefits of a slew of government measures in recent months continue to work in NRIs’ favour. A recent report stated that Mumbai — the oldest Indian real estate market — recorded sales of 180 billion rupees from 60 plus sales of ultra-luxury apartments. A reputed developer in Borivali, Mumbai sold approximately 2500 flats in three months. In Pune, expedited operationalization of three Metro lines by 2022 will spur demand for projects along the Metro corridor.

Plot rates in prime residential areas in Delhi’s Greater Noida increased by 40 per cent.

Attractively-priced projects by reputed developers will certainly appreciate in the mid-to-long-term. Over the years, real estate has invariably been a preferred investment asset class in times of turbulence, since it is agnostic of market volatility in the long run. It works especially well for patient investors with longer holding capacity (short-term speculative investment is no longer an option in India.)

Quality will out

Despite the overall sluggish economy, top listed developers have seen significantly improved sales performance in the last year. This vouchsafes the tried-and-tested mantra that in times of economic turmoil, security — not RoI — is the key metric for an investment.

Unlike equity markets, real estate investment does not require a lot of functional and domain knowledge. However, NRIs who have become unfamiliar with India’s real estate market should rely on credible consultants who will guide them to the best opportunities and also help them seal the deal.

This is especially important in times when most NRIs will be wary of travel in the immediate future, making personal site visits a challenge.

Fortunately, Grade A developers today offer 3D views, walk-throughs and actual site images of their projects, enabling buyers to assess the product remotely. For investors focused on the even more lucrative office space segment, site visits have become redundant since the best projects are already pre-leased and offer guaranteed rental during construction and post possession.

As worrisome and troubled as the current situation is, it is also a highly opportune time for NRIs to invest in Indian real estate and book profits on the back of currency depreciation, record low prices and organic impending growth of Indian real estate markets.

- Shajai Jacob is CEO — GCC at Anarock Property Consultants.