Will property prices crash in India due to the Coronavirus outbreak?

If a demand slowdown has been keeping price growth in India’s residential real estate market in check, the Coronavirus pandemic, which threatens to drastically impact global economic growth as countries extend nationwide lock-downs to contain the spread, would wipe off any chances of value appreciation in the property market. In the near future, expecting price appreciation would be nothing but wishful thinking.

As it is, the nine major residential markets in India registered only negligible price growth in the past half a decade amid consumer sentiment hitting a new low, PropTiger.com numbers indicate.

 

Property prices in India’s nine prime residential markets

City Average rate per sq ft as on March 2020 Annual change
Ahmedabad Rs 3,032 6%
Bengaluru Rs 5,275 3%
Chennai Rs 5,184 No change
Gurugram Rs 4,893 -1%
Hyderabad Rs 5,434 9%
Kolkata Rs 4,134 3%
MMR Rs 9,472 2%
Noida Rs 3,922 1%
Pune Rs 5,017 4%

Source: PropTiger DataLabs

While there has not been any significant upward or downward movement in terms of pricing, cities like Hyderabad and Pune have seen a healthy appreciation over time. In MMR, were property prices are already much higher than the national average, price growth has been quite slow but steady. Only the housing markets in the national capital region and Chennai have undergone some downwards correction or insignificant growth.

As for the future, the effects of the pandemic, say some experts, would result in property prices dropping by at least 10%.

“Prices in most markets have held steady, despite the lending and shadow banking crises. They may come down by 10%-20% across geographies, while land prices could see an even higher reduction of 30%,” Pankaj Kapoor, chief executive of real estate consultancy firm Liases Foras was quoted as saying.

According to HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, developers should be prepared for up to a 20% fall in housing prices.

Some, however, beg to differ from the likes of Kapoor and Parekh. This segment is of the opinion that those expecting any reduction in property prices, in the  medium to long term, might be disappointed as property values, if anything, are likely to show an upward movement in the post-Coronavirus world, based on several factors.

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Why property prices in India might not drop after COVID-19?

The developer community in India has been in a tizzy after Union minister of commerce and industry Piyush Goyal on June 3, 2020, said builders needed to sell housing projects at reduced prices and let go of the high-priced unsold stock.  In a terse message to the community, the minister said the government might offer some concession in circle rates, to lower their burden but they must be more forthcoming in reducing prices.

“If any one of you feel that government will be able to finance in such a way that you can hold longer and wait for the market to improve — because market is not improving in a hurry — your best bet is to sell,” Goyal said during a video conference meeting organised by industry body National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO).

“You can choose to be stuck with your material (inventory), then default with the banks. Or, you can choose to sell it even if you have bought it at high prices and move forward,” he added.

The statement came as a rude shock to the NAREDCO, which has sought USD 200 billion in relief, to deal with the aftermath of the Coronavirus crisis. Before things went bad, because of the pandemic, the sector was already grappling with a $120-bad debt situation with banks.

Coming down heavily on the community, currently saddled with bad loans and huge inventory, the minister added, “You have to complete your projects before you sell, because buyers will not buy under-construction projects. In my life, I will not buy an under-construction flat from anybody.”

The next day, newly elected CII president Uday Kotak said he was in agreement with Goyal.

The Economic Survey 2019-20 also pointed out that builders should allow prices to drop, by taking a haircut as a remedy to reduce their inventory burden.  Similar views were aired by the HDFC chairman when he said builders should sell their inventory at whatever prices they get to generate liquidity. However, a number of issues are at play, which makes accepting such suggestions difficult.

When asked whether his company plans to reduce prices to boost sales in the prevailing circumstances, Godrej Properties’ managing director Mohit Malhotra replied in the negative. “We do not have any plans of cutting prices. The industry has been reeling under a slowdown for the past eight years. There is limited scope to cut prices,” Malhotra was quoted by the media as saying. Many of his peers in the industry feel the same way. Why so?

 

Will there be a drop in property prices in India due to the Coronavirus outbreak?

 

Developers are under tremendous pressure

As on March 31, 2020, developers were sitting on an unsold stock consisting of nearly 7.39 lakh units worth over Rs 6 lakh crore in the top nine residential markets. With buyers becoming fence-sitters, almost-completely making any chances of profit-making for a large number of builders out of question; sources of liquidity are also fast drying up with the ongoing non-banking finance companies (NBFC) crisis.

As it is, several big developers in the country have been dragged to the insolvency court by banks over non-payment of large-scale dues. If the demand slowdown problem persists for a longer period, more builders might have to face the same fate — a highly likely scenario in the backdrop of the contagion.

Recall here that the total outstanding loans of real estate developers from commercial banks, NBFCs and HFCs are estimated to be around Rs 4.5 lakh crore as of March 2020.

While the government has already decided to set up an Rs 25,000-crore stress fund to help builders complete their pending projects and infuse more liquidity into the system through a COVID-19-focused stimulus package, an overall economic downturn would limit its capacity to focus on real estate and offer substantial relief. In a complex scenario like this, earning by way of home sales remains a builder’s only option.

“Residential real estate in India is likely to see a further slowdown in the coming months, given that attendant activities are at a standstill. With construction already coming to a grinding halt, project completions are slated to be postponed. If this situation prolongs, the deployment of funds, including the Rs 25,000-crore alternative investment fund (AIF), will remain on hold,” says Anurag Mathur, CEO, Savills India.

“Housing sales may see a sharp dip for at least the next one quarter as consumers’ biggest priority currently is health/safety and income preservation,” Mathur adds.

While the recent RBI move to lower repo rate to 4% and offer a moratorium on loan EMIs would provide developers some cushion against the overall shock, reducing property prices does not seem a possibility, especially as buyers remain elusive from the market.  In the meantime, project launch numbers would drop significantly. In the March quarter, in fact, only 35,668 new units were launched across the nine markets, data show.  This is a decline of 51% year-on-year.

 

Cost of supply materials to increase

Projects delays are on cards as supply of building construction materials that India imports from China is hampered in the wake of the pandemic. The impact of the situation would be more prominent on premium-luxury housing projects which rely heavily on supplies of fixtures and furnishings from China, the country where the source of the contagion has been tracked down to. The time gap will not only delay housing projects but also ultimately increase the overall cost of project building since builders here will have to rely on alternative sources to meet their building requirements.

The centre’s ‘Make in India’ program might get a boost from this difficult situation in the medium to long term, but short-term pains for developers are inevitable. Dropping prices in a scenario like this is hardly the answer. However, the government might launch measures that might make it more lucrative for buyers to invest in property. It is also expected to support real estate, the second-largest employment generator in the country, by waiving off tax on unsold inventory.

“Depending upon the duration and depth of the current crisis, prices may or may not see a downward movement as the holding cost of the developers will go up while the pressure to liquidate unsold inventory will increase. It would be too early to predict the extent of price change in the near-to-medium term,” opines Mathur.

 

Interest rates to fall, home-buying to become affordable

The RBI has reduced the repo rate to 4%, making borrowing cheaper for home buyers. Consequently, home loan interest rates are already as low as 7.75%. This would act as a booster for buyers to invest in property at a cost advantage, once clarity on the impact of COVID-19 on the job market is known.

“It is important for (banks) to immediately transmit the (repo) rate cut (by the RBI) to the home buyer, which will boost consumer sentiment,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO and country head of JLL India.

While the government has already extended the benefits offered under Section 80EEA till March 2021, it might also consider extending it further, in order to give a boost to first-time home buyers. Experts are of the view that anxiety over impending job loss among consumers is likely to persist, even after the worst is over and normalcy returns. The government will have to continue extending support till that period.

However, some correction would still be expected from developers’ side, as cheap home loans alone would not to the trick in a weak job market. Property investments might, in fact, rise if developers were to offer some reduction.

According to a survey conducted by Housing.com in collaboration with   NAREDCO, 47% tenants would like to invest in a ‘rightly-priced’ property. Moderation of prices would also attract tenants, who have so far been favouring renting over buying, primarily because of price benefits. Those renters who are not in a position to buy a house currently, because of price issues or the nature of their jobs, have also opined that they would buy a property within two years.

 

FAQs

Will property prices fall due to Coronavirus impact?

While any sharp increase is unlikely, property prices might continue to maintain the same level, because of a demand slowdown.

What will be the impact of COVID-19 on housing market?

Demand for housing is likely to be hit in the short term due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

 

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