Budget 2015 and the Real Estate Sector: Not far enough

The real estate sector has been going through tough times and the expectations from the first full budget of the new government were extremely high

real estate graph

There has been an interesting sequence of announcements over the last few months. First came Make in India, Swachh Bharat, Digital India and – as the finance minister unfolded his budget – all key initiatives came together like a string of pearls strung into a pragmatic attempt to help India take the next leap. Budget 2015 has given a strong push to infrastructure and sustainable economic growth, which will be drivers of real estate in the long run. The key announcements that will impact real estate directly or indirectly, in my view, revolve around the following 10 key aspects: First, rationalization of capital gains on REITs and infrastructure investment trusts and the pass through status given on rental income of REITs will help small investors to invest in debt instruments in the real estate sector and help monetisation of commercial assets, helping developers repay debts and reduce interest burden. Second, the bringing together of Non Banking Finance Companies (NBFCs) of under Rs 500 crore under the Sarfaesi Act will reduce risks and the industry can look forward to NBFCs extending loans at lower rates. Third, the FM’s announcement of setting up an expert committee for expediting approvals is a step toward reducing multiple clearances and hopefully is a step closer to single window clearance. What is important to ensure is that the approvals expediting recommendations are concurrent at both the center and state levels for the benefits to translate into the reduction of construction delays. Fourth, the withdrawal of wealth tax is likely to boost real estate investments by the middle class and HNIs as they will no longer have to worry about getting taxed every year on investing in real estate. Fifth, the announcement of GST rollout from the next financial year is a reassurance that multiple layers of taxation on construction raw material will soon be a thing of the past. Sixth, the government’s intent under the monetary policy agreement with the RBI, to keep inflation under 6 percent, will hopefully see interest rate cuts that will give some boost to the sector as loans will become cheaper. The RBI reduced repo rates by 25 basis points in January and March 2015, each, and further cuts in the near future will help loans become cheaper. Seventh, the additional Rs.70,000 crore toward infrastructure development will provide a spurt in urbanisation, creation of more road and rail networks and new civic amenities. Eighth, given the overall theme of linking budget proposals with key initiatives announced earlier, a majority of the allocation of Rs 22407 crore toward urban development and housing will hopefully be for affordable housing and Smart Cities. Ninth, the allocation of Rs 1200 crore to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and establishing of a National Infrastructure Fund of Rs 20,000 crore that was announced will help in further improving road connectivity and help generate more employment in the sector. Tenth, the proposed Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill to curb black money to be introduced in the current session of parliament will help in improving transparency and curb use of black money in the sector. The real estate sector has been going through tough times for three consecutive years now and the expectations from the first full budget of the new government were extremely high to spur growth in the sector. Our PM has laid down a vision of ‘Housing for All’ by 2022. A recent NARDECO-KPMG study on Decoding Housing for All by 2022 talks about building an additional 100 million homes by 2022. While the government did spell out its intention to build 60 million houses by 2020, there were no concrete steps announced in this direction. In the Indian context, 95 percent of the demand in housing is in the affordable segment. Today, there is not much difference in the cost of construction of housing in the affordable and premium segments, relative to land costs. Taxes and duties lead to almost 40 percent of basic material and labour costs and there is an urgent need to look at the affordable segment through a different lens. Affordability lies in the efficient amalgamation of Public, Private and People Partnership. Financing in the affordable segment has tremendous potential and requires to be addressed as a new opportunity altogether. There were no announcements in making housing affordable in form of tax rebates on raw materials, additional exemption on housing loan or streamlining of other taxes. No special policy to boost the supply of affordable housing was announced. Instead, with service tax going up to 14 percent from the current 12 percent, buyers will have to shell out more, which will be a big negative in the current scenario when sales are at a record low. ‘Smart’ is a buzzword in housing today ever since the Narendra Modi government announced its resolve to create 100 Smart Cities. In this budget there was an expectation of a clear roadmap for the development of 100 smart cities but it did not find any mention, other than in the assurance of making GIFT city as a model Smart City by March 2016. The setting up of regulators for various sectors like TRAI, IRDA, SEBI and CERC have not only helped in protecting the interests of various stakeholders in the sector but have also helped the sector grow. The timelines for setting up of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority was another aspect that did not find any mention in the budget. Similarly, a long-pending demand for an “industry status” that would ease flow of bank loans towards the real estate sector, already reeling under a severe cash crunch, did not find its way into the FM’s budget this year. In my view, the government is committed to three key initiatives around ‘Housing for All’, 100 Smart Cities and Affordable Housing. This budget has tied up all the key initiatives announced in the last 3-4 quarters. Let’s hope for more to drive the real estate sector out of the current situation, sooner rather than later. Views expressed  are personal.

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