The country is under the lockdown from almost four months now. Everything has come to a standstill, and slowly and steadily, the government’s step to reopening businesses is providing relaxations on lockdown so that people can go back to their normal life. Under the 5th version of the nationwide lockdown, many states have lifted the lockdown, but with this, the lockdown has also become rigid in the containment or red zones.
Being a developing country, the outbreak of the novel virus in the country has affected the small as well as the larger companies. Every sector is facing its difficulties, from cash flow in the market to the reduction of supply and demand in the market.
India, where the growth rate of the economy is already set to slow down to a record 11-year-old, a prolonged lockdown in the country will only further worsen the situation in Asia’s third-largest economy. Some of the research agencies are predicting a near-term halt in the growth rate of the real estate in India. The Prop Tiger data shows housing sales in India’s nine major cities declined by 26% in the period between January-March 2020. How badly, the real estate is affected can be seen in the last quarter of the fiscal because March is usually one of the biggest months of sales. In the year 2019, deal volumes in office space in India increased by 27% to an all-time high of over 60 million sq. Ft. However, any records or reports made before the lockdown stands retracted as the situation has changed now.
More than that, the Real Estate sector will have to recover from a record 65% default rate during the lockdown, and it is in this light that when a nationwide economic stimulus package was announced, the Prime Minister laid out a specific and separate plan for the Real Estate sector, this was hailed as a timely and much-needed implementation on the part of the government.
The builders of India had hoped from the government to announce some relaxations regarding the unsold stock that the builders had with them due to the ongoing crisis. The country’s non-banking finance sector, a key source for housing sector funding, made borrowing for the public extremely difficult, which jeopardized their plans to deliver projects within the stipulated time. The unsold stock with the developers was around Rs 6 lakh crores as of March 2020. The construction has been put on a halt due to the lockdown, and there has been a delay in supply of manufacturing material and equipment from China, this will further push delivery timelines of ongoing projects, consequently increasing the overall cost for developers. The government of India has announced several measures in its coronavirus-specific stimulus package and the EMI holiday for developers during the crucial period are some steps that might offer some relief to the builder community.
The pandemic has hit the country at a time when statutory pay-outs and streamlining of balance sheet happens for the builders. Therefore, to combat this situation, the builders have asked the government for some economic interventions like rescheduling loan repayments, a one-time rollover for debt restructuring and deep interest rate cut. Furthermore, the government has placed limitations on construction sites, requiring the presence of a COVID marshal at all sites, and requiring the workers at these sites to undergo a health check. While being welcome measures, are cumbersome and difficult to implement considering the largely unorganized nature of building and construction work; it should be kept in mind that most measures taken by the government in the construction sector have happened in the earlier stages of the lockdown, where towards the end of March the government had ordered the release of 52,000 Cr. to alleviate the income crunch of construction workers, in the same fell swoop, the government by the end of April had acquiesced to the demands of building and construction companies in their demand that sending workers home might be detrimental to the industry and in the ‘Lockdown 3.0” notification on May 1st had permitted construction sites to work at full capacity provided social distancing guidelines were followed.
The most significant measure taken during the lockdown, especially for the real estate sector has been the government’s instruction to treat the lockdown, and ensuing consequences of COVID as ‘Force Majeure’ under the RERA, this will allow the liabilities accrued during the pandemic to be written off, or rendered in actionable.
There were chances that the low-interest rates (home loan interest rates are 8%) and high tax exemption (rebate against home loan interest payment is as high as Rs 3.50 lakh per annum) were going to make some changes in the behaviour of the consumer in the market, but due to the outbreak of the virus, there are no chances that it will change the behaviour of the consumer. Moreover, amid the lockdown, it is next to impossible that site visits can be made by the buyer, which in turn is delaying the purchase decisions. As the coronavirus has impacted all the sectors of the economy, troubles have compounded for India’s realty sector, which has been dealing with a challenging scenario, since the government has released the economic policies. The slowdown in the business has been from February almost, and due to the non-existent of the site visits, the decision-making process for the purchasing is hugely delayed. As there is no clarity of the business security to many of the employees amid the lockdown, a final decision on property purchase cannot be made. Despite these issues, the industry is confident that demand for real estate will go up in post-lockdown, due to the potential increase in sellers of unused real estate assets.
Even when the RBI has announced several rate cuts, and the repo rate is brought down to 4%, still any of its positive results will only be witnessed in the medium to the long term. However, the step has come to major support for the current buyers who will be able to pay the EMIs in the short-term because of the lockdown and in the medium terms in the event of job loss.
Despite this, it is not all doom and gloom for the housing economy post-COVID, since individual buyers will be in an advantageous position for once, thus enabling them to contribute in a way to the speedy recovery of the Real Estate Sector especially the housing sector, there is also slated to be a surge in buyers looking for immediate accommodation in the aftermath of the pandemic, as the rental home sector has seen the highest number of evictions and uncertainty for the first time in a long time.
Recent reports suggest that India has indicated that over 70% of companies would extend the work from home policy for another six months to further avoid the spread of Covid-19. A similar trend is being adopted globally. The companies worldwide have debated, if the work from the home policy could replace the workspaces in the future. The answer to the debate can only be given through the ultimate level of success achieved by businesses through remote working.
The office utilisation demand rates will fall as remote working areas rise and landlords with exposure to short-term leases are the most vulnerable as the delay to investment activity and softer rental growth than previously forecast are headwinds to 2020 performance. This is not to say that short-term leases are not being considered on a serious note by many small and medium firms in the country, because of the increased investment in work from home capabilities, and cuts in expenditure therefrom, companies are considering halting long term rental plans to explore a more flexible short term arrangement for their employees. It is also theorized that companies, due to the lower prices of commercial real estate, would be more amenable to purchasing office spaces,for a more permanent solution to the ‘social distancing problem.
While stating that the demand for remote working and investment in collaboration technologies would grow, fast-tracking a widespread adoption of these practices, the report, says that this trend can’t be perceived as a threat to the future office demand. “A focus on higher utilisation and densification of space has already driven efficiencies and resulted in limited excess space in optimised portfolios. Rising employment in relevant sectors will more than outweigh any impact on demand from home-working. With a reduction in the demand of the working spaces, the economy of the country is also highly affected.
Every industry and sector is facing its own battles, and similarly, real estate is one of the major sectors which will witness a huge change in its demand. There is a huge drop in demand for the properties due to less or zero money supply in the market, and this situation in the country has been created due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Half of the population is with no income anymore, and half of the population is struggling with very basic income, this has put many restrictions on the sale of luxury goods. In these testing times, it is not easy to convince people to invest in areas like real estate. Moreover, the research studies suggest that India is currently the 4th country which has been the most affected by the virus the most, thus adding into the situation. It is important for the government now, to reduce the costs of real estate and make sure that people who work for real estate do not suffer. Laws can be revised for the same, and better policies can be created for the one selling, and also the one who is purchasing.
This article also highlights that there is the very real possibility and potential that the real estate sector might bounce back once the pandemic has been contained and both private and commercial consumers of real estate try to take advantage of a buyers’ market, and may also cause a frenzy in their desire to not depend on leaseholds that proved to be extremely volatile during periods of economic crisis as shown by the months-long lockdown.