Bangalore: In the summer of 2007, Yaron Gelbhart moved to Bangalore from Israel’s capital city, Tel Aviv, to tap India’s then robust property market. Gelbhart, a general manager with Meshulam Levinstein Contracting Ltd, an Israeli developer, aimed to launch four-five projects in India by 2010, investing about $100 million (Rs459 crore) to begin with.
Levinstein was among a dozen Israeli developers which had arrived in India between 2005 and 2007, after the country opened the sector to foreign direct investment. They formed the second largest community of foreign developers in India, after the Dubai-based realty firms that had come in earlier, say property consultants.
But three years and a downturn later, some of these Israeli firms have scaled down their India investments and are altering their strategies. The rest have wound up their operations in India.
Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
Many of the Dubai developers, too, have exited India but that’s more because of their exposure to the emirate’s depressed property market.
“After the slowdown, companies would make a choice for their international plans, between expanding in mature markets or in emerging markets like India,” said Anshuman Magazine, managing director of CB Richard Ellis, a real estate consultancy that’s marketing a Pune shopping mall for Elbit Plaza India, the local arm of an Israeli firm.
“Most companies would now look at fewer projects or do one-two projects, see how they fare, and then go ahead,” Magazine added.
Levinstein, for example, has launched just two projects—a 150-acre township in Mysore and a slum redevelopment project in suburban Mumbai.
“We are taking calculated risks and are not doing projects where we have to buy land at market value,” said Gelbhart. “We have committed in only three projects so far, and will cautiously look at other projects such as low-cost housing projects.”
Several Israeli real estate developers told Mint they had been sure of repeating in India their success in eastern Europe—in countries such as Romania, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine.
When these firms entered India soon after, they had wanted to build what was then in vogue—large townships and shopping malls, mostly in small cities and towns. Now, they are scouting for local support to understand the market dynamics and are adapting to what’s more likely to sell today—budget housing; projects with homes at various price points; and smaller, phase-wise developments.
“We have long-term plans but our future investments and scale of construction will really depend upon market reactions,” said Meir Boukris, a director in PBEL Property Development (India) Ltd.
PBEL is a joint venture of Hyderabad-based Incor Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd and Israeli firms Property and Building Corp. Ltd and Electra Real Estate Ltd.
Boukris said his firm is one of the five-six Israeli firms that have stayed back in India. “Rest have all gone back.”
PBEL wants to develop around 10 million sq. ft of space across cities with an investment of Rs2,500-3,000 crore. So far, it has invested around Rs500 crore in a 500,000 sq. ft township in Hyderabad and in five land parcels. It’s now looking for local developers to partner with for its second project in Chennai.
Hyderabad-based Hodu Ventures Pvt. Ltd, a part of Israel’s Gindi Holdings Group, has invested around Rs1,000 crore so far in a 40-acre township in Chennai but is yet to officially launch it.
“We have sold a chunk of the project but we want to control the pace of development and have made the project format flexible so that we can change it depending on what the market wants,” said Satish Gottitati, managing director, Hodu Ventures.
Elbit Plaza India, based in Bangalore, has invested around $320 million in two shopping malls and a commercial space in Pune, as well as in land in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The firm also wants to build residential townships than focus solely on the retail segment, said chief executive Yossi Ofir.
Some other large foreign firms that had either scaled down or shelved their India plans are considering local options again.
Among them is Trump Organization, headed by real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump Jr. The US developer had shelved plans to build its signature Trump Towers in large Indian cities after talks with local developers in Bangalore and Mumbai fell through over a year ago.
But after assessing opportunities in India again, the real estate firm believes the country is now ripe for luxury development in some sectors and top-tier cities, its chairman and president Trump said in an email.
“We have looked to avoid the mistakes that international developers have made in India, due to their inadequate attention to the lack of liquidity in the property market for prime development sites and challenges of local construction techniques and their impact on quality and timeline,” wrote Trump.