How new FDI norms can help transform India’s Real Estate Industry

The recent announcement by the government relaxing foreign direct investment norms for Indian construction and real estate sector comes as a shot in the arm for builders and developers. Though FDI in real estate has been allowed since 2005, the rules and regulations related to the size of investment, lock-in period and exit routes had so far restricted the free flow of capital.

Over the past few years, the flow of FDI in India’s real estate has been on a decline. During the current fiscal year until August, India received FDI inflows worth $17.4 billion, which is 70% of the total inflows received during the entire fiscal year of 2013-14. However, FDI inflows received by the construction, housing and real estate segment have lagged behind. The new rules aim to rectify this anomaly by creating appropriate investment architecture for attracting FDI.

The easing of FDI norms is therefore significant as it will provide an alternative route of funding for projects in construction and real estate development. These being very capital intensive activities, relaxing the FDI norms will help the players to address issues of liquidity constraints, which have posed a major challenge for even some of the leading developers.

In particular, the decision to reduce the minimum built-up area requirement for FDI in construction projects to 20,000 sq. meters from 50,000 sq. meters and lowering the need for minimum capital requirement to $5 million from $10 million will allow many projects to qualify for FDI through automatic route (no FIPB clearance will be required). The sectoral conditions of minimum area and capital will not apply if the developer sets aside 30% of the project for affordable housing, defined as dwelling units of less than 60 sq. m.

Among the other investor-friendly decisions are removal of the clause stipulating a minimum land requirement of 10 hectares for development of serviced plots; allowing an investor to bring in successive tranches of FDI till the period of ten years from the commencement of the project or before its completion; permitting foreign investors to repatriate investments and exit on completion of the project after three years. In this regard the modalities related to the date of final investment and the guidelines on development of trunk infrastructure are under consideration and formalization.

By creating an enabling regulatory framework for FDI to operate seamlessly in Indian real estate, the sector stands a good chance of experiencing a transformation through the introduction of global best practices into the system and more efficient, transparent and time-bound processes.

Among the key benefits to accrue from greater FDI in the sector would be an increase in the available housing stock, including affordable housing, and the development of smart cities as envisaged by the government. Under the new rules, developers will be encouraged to take up smaller projects in urban areas where the availability of land is limited. With FDI funding at their disposal, the risk of delay in smaller projects will be reduced leading to their fast and cost-effective completion, which would further advance the government’s vision of ‘Housing for all by 2022’.

Studies show that FDI triggers technology spillovers, assists human capital formation and contributes to creating a more competitive business environment and efficient use of resources. All of these are important factors to be harnessed for development of smart cities in India. By facilitating the introduction of new technology and know-how, FDI in Indian construction and real estate sector can help spread the adoption of “cleaner” and “greener” technologies for improving environmental and social conditions within the industry and among urban communities.

All of these developments would become catalysts for higher economic growth, which is the most potent tool for alleviating poverty and generating jobs. Apart from infrastructure creation, substantial employment and income generation over the entire spectrum from unskilled workers to engineers, architects, designers as well as financial and other supporting services, investments in the sector also create demand for products in related industries like cement and steel.

Advantages of buying a Property in Noida

By virtue of its planned development and well-developed infrastructure, Noida is one of the most preferred destinations for buying property in the NCR today. It is one of the most planned regions in the NCR with an excellent road network, drainage and sewerage facilities, water and underground power system. Abounding in reputed schools, retail plazas and malls, restaurant and leisure hotspots, hotel and hospital chains, the city stands out for planned layout of residential and commercial zones. Planned IT parks and industries, which serve as important avenues for providing employment and drawing in homebuyers, add to Noida’s appeal as a self-sustaining city.

Located very close to Delhi, Noida also enjoys excellent multiple connect points with the capital city and other parts of NCR. The social and physical infrastructure is comparable to Delhi, and some would say better than Gurgaon even though property prices are higher in those places. As a result, Noida and its sub-markets have emerged as an alternative cost effective office and residential destination to Delhi and Gurgaon.

The advent of Metro in Noida about five years ago proved to be the tipping point in the region’s accelerated growth and development. Though Noida had come to be regarded as an established industrial and IT hub by the mid-2000s, the enhanced connectivity in the wake of Metro magnified the region’s appeal as a nerve centre of office, retail and residential development. Ever since Metro rail arrived in Noida in 2009, there has been a surge in the number of residential and commercial projects launched in the region. Extension of Metro link to Kalindi Kunj and Greater Noida, expected to be completed by 2017, will further raise the real estate profile of Noida.

With quality infrastructure, metro connectivity and good road network, real estate development in Noida has picked up a fast and furious pace. New and upcoming infrastructure projects are catalyzing fresh demand and growth. Several plans to further improve infrastructure facilities and promote real estate development in line with the revised master plan 2021 has been set in motion by the Noida Authority. Plans are afoot to build and develop more numbers of wide roads, elevated roads, flyovers, underpasses, bridges, roundabouts on expressways and sewer-treatment plants besides also setting up a new 400MW power grid and augmenting and broadening supply of Ganga water to more residential sectors. An estimated Rs.6,000 crore has been budgeted in the current financial year for infrastructure upgrade. The aim obviously is to bring Noida closer to the world city tag it aspires for.

The anticipated gains from prospective developments along with the continuously rising demand for residential, office and commercial space has inspired all major developers to plan and launch new projects. With so much development going on and in the pipeline, real estate here is set to acquire greater value. Quite expectedly, commercial and residential properties stand to gain from handsome capital appreciation over a period of time. This apect alone explains why Noida is such a hot choice for investing in property. To make investments in Noida even more appealing, many upcoming commercial projects today offer 12% assured returns. Factoring in the rental income along with growth in capital value over the years, the rate of return would be much higher.

Returns are no less alluring for investors in residential property as well. Property analysts opine that the appreciation in prices in the already established prime sectors of Noida is 30% annually while in the new and upcoming areas capital value appreciation is 10-15% YoY. As property prices continue to rise due to strong demand, the opportunity to earn large capital returns is very bright. Now, with mixed-use developments on the rise, the chances of appreciation are still higher.

Take, for instance, price trends in Sector-79, one of the prominent localities in Noida where our own Lotus Greens Arena project is coming up. In the April – June quarter of 2014, property prices appreciated to Rs. 4795 per sq. ft. from the quarter earlier. In the July-Sep 2014 quarter, the prices appreciated further to Rs. 4950 per sq. ft. Even in the new emerging pockets, such as those along the Noida Expressway, property prices have risen 9 per cent annually—from Rs. 4,300 per sq. ft. to Rs. 5100 per sq. ft.— between March 2012 and March 2014.

With average property rates in the range of Rs. 4,200-5,000 per sq. ft. and onwards, depending on the size of the property, amenities on offer, and location, Noida offers a wide array of options in the affordable, mid-ticket and luxury housing categories. From budget apartments to luxury villas, commercial complexes to retail spaces and hospitality, there are options and ticket sizes to suit the needs of different pockets and buyer segments. For instance, in prime residential sectors such as 44, 45, 50, 51, the price range of Rs. 5,500 – 9,500/sq.ft. is the general benchmark in the primary and secondary markets.

In the belt encompassing sectors 71- 79, which is currently witnessing good traction, properties are priced in the range of Rs. 4,000- 6,000/ sq.ft. In sectors 93, 96, 97, 98, 100, 110 and 126 to 137 and further to 143, 150, 168, which are aligned with the Noida Expressway, the areas in close vicinity to Delhi command prices the range of Rs. 4,000- 8,000 /sq.ft while price levels are more affordable for sectors comparatively more distant from Delhi.

But for homebuyers looking to a great combination of locational advantage, affordability, and features, sectors such as 78, 79, 75, 76, 82, 100, 104, 110 and upcoming sectors from 116-123, 137, 143, 144, 150 and 168 along the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway offer a large bouquet of investable options with their relatively lower prices and the incentive for future capital appreciation. While demand for mid-ticket housing is high, premium properties too have attracted buyers in prime locations along the expressway such as in Sectors 93, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 107.

All these sectors offer great scope for strong and sustained growth for all segments of the realty sector. Many of these locations enjoy mixed land use development, with easy accessibility to malls, schools, colleges, banks, MNCs & IT companies. Development drive in and around these sectors is inching up month by month, hence most of the sectors are poised for massive growth due to the rapid pace of realty expansion. A slew of luxury hotels, office space, retail outlets, and shopping malls are coming up at these locations, which will light up the commercial landscape of the region. With people increasingly looking to live in the affordable areas, demand, prices and rents will keep pushing up in the new emerging areas of Noida in the years to come.

Yamuna Expressway: NCR’s best bet for Affordable Housing

Going down the stretch from Pari Chowk in Greater Noida towards Agra used to be a test of your driving endurance until a few years ago. Switch to the present and a ride on this same stretch feels like a pleasure cruise. The opening of the Buddh International Circuit placed the Yamuna Expressway on the world map and has transformed the real estate profile of the whole region.

Today this whole stretch along the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and further down the Yamuna Expressway is buzzing with real estate activity. For people who are unable to find housing options in Delhi and the adjoining cities of Noida and Gurgaon, the corridor along Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and Yamuna Expressway has emerged as a favourable hub. There are projects for high-end housing, mid-ticket homes and mass housing, apart from commercial, institutional and hospitality projects.

It’s proven that highways and expressways help to unlock the real estate potential of its adjoining region and accelerate development. People want to live in well-planned projects, which have rapid commuting infrastructure that cuts down on travelling time while making it convenient to move around.

In the case of Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and Yamuna Expressway, it is amongst the best in the country. There are excellent roads that provide speedy connectivity to the capital city and other parts of the NCR. The region is also set to get Metro rail connectivity, which would propel demand further.

Besides, the Yamuna Expressway also enjoys strategic locational advantage of being close to the DMIC corridor. The Dadri-Noida-Ghaziabad node is expected to cover an area of 200 sq. km east of Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) and targets a population of 2 million. This industrial city is proposed to have a multi modal logistics hub, including a truck terminal, cold storage, warehouses and Boraki Railway Station. The station will come up on 160 hectare land North West of Boraki and has been visualized as a world class passenger hub which will integrate with an inter-state bus terminal and Metro.

No wonder that the region is pulling in big investment and a slew of infrastructure projects, which are helping in rapid development of real estate. A 285-km Agra Lucknow Expressway Project has been proposed with an estimated budget of Rs.15,000 crore, which would extend Yamuna Expressway to Lucknow, enabling faster transit. Also, land has been allotted in the master plan for 40 educational institutions and for retail development. Planned Export Promotion Zones, together with the Taj Economic Zone along the Yamuna Expressway, are likely to boost the economic development of this region. On its part the Greater Noida Authority, which is the parent agency for YEIDA, has announced several projects and initiatives. These include construction of an exposition mart, developing a transport hub and Night Safari for the region.

In recent years, the UP government has further stepped up efforts to lure industrial investment to the region. This business focus has helped Noida, Greater Noida and Yamuna Expressway emerge as the preferred destinations for IT, electronics and semiconductor industries. Greater Noida has already emerged as a self-sufficient industrial township that is home to about 3,000 industrial units, including 100 big players like Yamaha Motors, Hero Honda, New Holland, and Asian Paints among others. The Yamuna Expressway is likewise expected to grow into a major logistics and warehousing hub in the country, given its proximity to the eastern and western parts of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Today, there is huge interest and response for industrial plot schemes floated by the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority from automobiles, textiles and agrotech players.

Even as the Authority is trying to attract more industries to set up shop, housing and other ancillary services such as tourism, hospitality and education facilities are already making their presence felt, drawn by the region’s investment appeal and growth potential. As Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and Yamuna Expressway transport corridor also connects two major international tourist destinations – Delhi and Agra – there is strong tourism activity along the corridor, abetted by the presence of smaller tourist hubs located along this stretch such as Brindavan and Mathura. Understandably, the region has also sparked the interest of a lot of hotel chains and resort operators who are planning development in the region.

What is creating a huge appetite for housing in the region are factors such as availability of huge land parcels, affordability of real estate and the region’s proximity and superb connectivity to already established industrial and corporate hubs of Noida and Greater Noida, which employ a large number of people. To meet the anticipated demand for housing, the state government has notified a stretch of 10-15 km to the left of Yamuna Expressway, up to the Yamuna on the right side, for organized and well-planned development. Several leading real estate developers have bought lands from YEIDA and GNIDA and are coming up with their projects ranging from townships, plotted and villa developments and apartment complexes along Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and Yamuna Expressway.

Currently, the biggest attraction that this region offers to end-users as well as investors is good quality modern apartments at affordable prices. In mid-segment price range, one can find a decent two-bedroom apartment in Rs. 28-30 lakh. Also, as average home prices in Yamuna Expressway locations are significantly lower compared not only with Noida but other regions in the NCR as well, the region offers investors the promise of good price appreciation in the coming years.

Going forward, the demand for housing in the region is set to explode given the fact that the projected population growth by 2031 is about 1.5 million in Noida and about 1.2 million in Greater Noida. Once the number of industries, institutions and commercial/retail hubs reach a critical mass, as is widely expected in the next few years, the region will witness a remarkable social and economic transformation.

New Gurgaon: On the cusp of a Property Boom

Over the last couple of years, New Gurgaon – an area encompassing Sectors from 76 to 95 – has come to acquire great potential for property buying and investment. Thanks to its strategic location at the intersection of NH-8 and Dwarka Expressway, its proximity to thriving industrial and business corridors and by virtue of its seamless connectivity to the townships of Manesar and Dwarka, the region is attracting a frenetic pace of real estate development. Also, with nearby pockets located along Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, Sohna Road and Golf Course Road left with scarce land for new projects, New Gurgaon has emerged as a favorite hotspot on the Delhi-NCR real estate radar.

For potential home buyers in the NCR, and for the multitudes of professionals who work in Gurgaon, Dharuhera, Bhiwadi and Manesar, along an industrial belt of large and small industrial units and vast number of offices and commercial establishments, New Gurgaon is an ideal hub to live in. Apart from its proximity to NH-8 and the 150-metre-wide Dwarka-Gurgaon Expressway, a Metro line and Inter State Bus Terminus have also been planned near the Gurgaon-Pataudi road, which will add to the connectivity. The likely operationalization of Dwarka Expressway in the near future and the proposed expansion of Rapid Metro deeper into Gurgaon will ensure greater traction to real estate development in the area. The Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway (likely to be completed by next year) will also boost the investment levels. The 1,483 km-long Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor along NH-8, is another factor helping to attract buyers and investors. The area also offers excellent connectivity to the International Airport, and holiday getaways like Jaipur and Sultanpur National Park.

Property buyers also see immense potential in New Gurgaon due to its well-developed neighboring areas and planned development. The region enjoys good infrastructure, attractive pricing and good-quality well-planned projects, of which many are in an advanced stage of construction. Arterial roads to different sectors in the region are already present or are under construction at a relatively fast pace.

The Master Plan-2031 of Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex stipulates that residential areas would be developed along the lines of the Community Living concept i.e. there would be adequate provision for all community facilities and services within the sectors. These sectors will be self-sustaining, each constructed over an area of 200-300 acres and will house, apart from residential units, boarding houses, social, community & educational buildings, health institutions, cinemas, commercial centres & offices, retail shops & restaurants, petrol/CNG stations, bus stops, nurseries , hotels, cyber and IT parks.

To add to the region’s locational and connectivity appeal, developers are coming up with projects that integrate open green areas, social spaces and infrastructure in an environmentally sustainable way. It may perhaps be difficult to currently find any other place in the NCR with such a profusion of green-themed apartments and villas set amidst green expanses. Not surprisingly, many of these projects, including Lotus Greens’ Woodview Residences in sector 89-90, are SVAGRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) certified.

PPP as a tool for promoting Affordable Housing

The public-private partnership model in India has attracted huge private sector investments in sectors like Roads and Highways, Railways, Power, and Urban infrastructure. With investment in infrastructure expected to double to US $ 1 trillion during the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17), the PPP story in India’s infrastructure development will be of major consequence. About half of the targeted investment in the 12th Plan is to be achieved through private sector investment.

Still, there exists a huge untapped potential for PPPs in real estate projects in the mass housing space. Currently, the housing shortage in the country is to the tune of about six crore units with the level of annual investments in the housing sector being about USD 110 to 120 billion at present. India would require about 11 crore housing units on a pan India basis by 2022 to achieve the government’s vision of “housing for all”.

To meet this ambitious housing agenda, investments of more than USD 2 trillion or about USD 250 to 260 billion annual investment until 2022 would be required. About 85 to 90 per cent of the total investments needed to fulfil the country’s housing agenda would go into developing urban housing, where development costs are high due to factors such as land prices, construction cost, fees, and taxes.

Mobilisation of such huge resources (funding, construction capacity, labour, technology, etc.) for mass scale affordable housing development by the central and state governments may be difficult, without participation from the private sector. Though PPP projects can play an important role in bridging the gap between the housing need and supply and can be instrumental in attracting private capital for financially viable affordable housing projects, some important issues need to be addressed first.

To make the PPP model successful in the mass housing segment, the government would need to address several structural issues first. These include liberalising urban planning process, providing access to adequate funding sources for private players, putting in place a mechanism for quick clearances of licences and approvals so that cost overruns and project delays can be minimised.

The PPP framework can be effectively used to address important issues in housing development such as land availability, approval delays, funding, and affordability by the poor. Among the more obvious advantages of the PPP model in affordable housing are:

• Easier land acquisition and consolidation – It is estimated that to meet the needs of urban housing, about 1.7 to 2.0 lakh hectare of land would be required till 2022. Expedited and easier land acquisition, made possible by the public sector, could enable reduction in project lifecycle and project costs. The central and state governments should provide the land acquired, at competitive prices to the private sector, which is often better in term of managing construction risks and project delivery. A deep analysis of these PPP policies in housing reveals that a PPP policy should aim at aggregating land for housing development, while the private sector should focus on managing operation risks (construction and finance). Land cost, which is anywhere between 20 to 60 per cent of total project cost (depending on project location), and lack formal funding channels for land acquisition (both debt and foreign equity), are major bottlenecks restricting overall housing development in the country.

• Faster Regulatory approvals – Issues relating to project implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution are among the key concerns of the developers. PPP mechanism can help ensure timely clearances of regulatory approvals, which can reduces the risk of cost and schedule overruns.

• Improved financing — A joint pool of private and public funds may be more effective and efficient in financing housing projects. Further, a PPP project with government guarantee may help secure lending from institutional lenders at lower cost.

• Improved affordability – With some relief on stamp duty and development fees, and tie-up with banking institutions, the affordability of houses by EWS/LIG sections could be improved.

For instance, to encourage PPP in affordable housing space, Rajasthan has drastically reduced the stamp duty in the case of EWS/LIG houses from 8% to mere Rs.10 in the case of EWS and Rs.25 in the case of LIGH. As a result, so far, over 75,000 houses (60% of budgeted target) for EWS / LIG groups have been delivered through PPP in locations such as Global city, Neemrana, Greater Bhiwadi and New Jaipur.

States like Haryana and Tamil Nadu have made good use of transferable development rights and a liberalised FSI approach to encourage PPP in the affordable housing sector. In fact, Tamil Nadu offers 50 percent extra FSI for projects targeting EWS in Chennai Metropolitan Area and 30 percent extra FSI for projects targeting MIG. Haryana has a proposal to increase the density norms from 300 persons per acre to 900 persons per acre, allowing developers to increase the maximum number of units per acre from 60 to 180. Cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad have drafted Township Development Schemes or Land Pooling Policy (type of PPP models) to encourage affordable housing developments through PPP route.

Going forward, it will be possible to motivate more private developers to take up construction of affordable housing in various urban centers of the country if the authorities can offer an enabling policy framework and in-built incentives.

Retooling PPP for sustainable Infrastructure Development

The Infrastructure story in India took off in right earnest about 20 years ago with the National Highways Authority of India adopting the public-private partnership model for the development of highways. Till date, over 240 highway projects have been implemented by the NHAI through the PPP route, despite the exit of a few private developers from PPP projects in recent years. The popularity of public-private partnerships in the delivery of public services continues to grow and spread. In recent years, the demand for infrastructure has grown phenomenally making it difficult for the public sector and government agencies to fund big projects by themselves. It has therefore become increasingly common for the public sector to look up to the private sector to provide financial resources, innovation, and technical expertise through the enabling framework of a PPP contract. Out of the proposed allocation of Rs. 51 lakh crore towards infrastructure investment during the 12th Plan period (2012-17), 47% is expected to come from the private sector.

According to a World Bank report, India ranks as the largest market for PPP in the developing world. Currently, there are over 900 PPP projects in various stages of development. These projects are spread over various sectors such as power, water, health, education, energy, roadways, railways, airports, ports, tourism and urban development.

Private enterprises have developed metro airports in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai. The concessions for the operation of container trains have been awarded under PPP. New milestones have been reached with different forms of PPP implementation – turning minor ports into major revenue sources, such as in the State of Gujarat. Budget 2014 has given a further fillip to PPP projects by announcing new infrastructure projects on a mega scale. Among the most prominent is the 15,000 km gas pipeline. The most promising initiative in terms of boosting infrastructure development has been to allocate Rs. 500 crore for 3P India, a new institution tasked with the responsibility of refurbishing the PPP model.

Planners and development experts agree that PPPs can bring about constructive and productive partnership between the public and private sectors, which can be particularly useful and beneficial for developing infrastructure. For instance, India’s largest public sector behemoth, Indian Railways, which needs huge capital investments to finance bulk of its future projects such as high-speed rail and more freight corridors, is looking to raise substantial resources through the PPP route. Disclosing that the government needs more than Rs.9 lakh crore to complete the Golden Quadrilateral Network and another Rs 60,000 crore to introduce one bullet train alone, railway minsiter DV Sadananda Gowda, while presenting the railway budget in Parliament asked the House, “Can I depend only on hiking fares and freight rates and burden the public to realise these funds? This is unrealistic. I need to explore alternate means of resource mobilisation.”

As per a report (India’s urban awakening) by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), India needs to invest $ 1.2 trillion over the next 20 years to modernize urban infrastructure and keep pace with the speed of urbanization. The need to upgrade India’s infrastructure is especially acute in its huge cities with the urban population projected to reach 500 million by 2017 from 377 million, according to the 2011 Census. Projects such as mass transit systems, better rail connectivity, industrial corridors, smart cities, highways and expressways, energy investments, new airports, etc, will be needed to uplift the quality of living for people in the city and regions around it. It requires government and industry stakeholders to come together to promote and encourage PPP models as a way to financing and delivering capital projects more efficiently and effectively.

Successful PPP models not only create long term infrastructure for public use, they help to earn decent returns for investors while begetting revenue share for the government, which also stands to gain from ownership of assets at the end of the concession period.

Strengthening our institutional mechanisms for PPP is a pre-requisite to its successful implementation and the recent initiatives will help the PPP model to become more robust. As PPP models are complex structures, care has to be taken that we structure and design PPP projects in a way that helps to improve transparency, creates investment incentives and allows for expertise to develop and negotiate complicated contracts. To make the best use of the opportunities PPP offers for sustainable infrastructure development, we must focus on improving the transparency and the accountability of the projects. In this context, it is important to analyse the projects well before tendering. Global experience and PPP best practices have established that highly competitive outcomes can be achieved with 3-4 competent bidders.

At the same time there is an urgent need to modify our approach to the planning, bidding and execution of infrastructure projects, and how we approach issues of infrastructure maintenance, management and operation. To begin with, the interests of “owners” and “contractors” should be aligned in PPP projects. The focus should be on optimising the total lifecycle costs instead of only the up-front costs. It therefore becomes all the more necessary to adopt the right contractual structure and allocate risks fairly.

Acting on these fronts will ensure that partnerships for infrastructure development yield the expected fruits – for the investment partners and for the communities supposed to benefit from them. We hope that the new government, with its emphasis on establishing a climate of lasting trust and real partnership, will be able to make PPP an effective instrument for serving the wider public good. At a time when people are looking up to the government to deliver on the huge expectations it has helped to build, PPPs can be the right medium for improving the lives of the people through more inclusive and sustainable development partnerships.