Bangalore: Some six months after they fled the real estate sector, investors are gradually making their way back. This time around, high networth individuals (HNIs) and domestic funds are putting money mainly into office and retail spaces.
As the economic meltdown unfolded in late 2008, commercial realty became the worst hit segment in the sector and lease rental and property rates fell by 30-40% in the metros and the bigger cities. The lower prices, in turn, have triggered some big ticket sales in recent months.
In May, Unitech Ltd, India’s second biggest listed developer, sold a 200,000 sq. ft office property in Saket, New Delhi, to an investor for Rs450 crore, nearly Rs200 crore cheaper than in 2007-08. Unitech didn’t disclose the identity of the buyer.
Big catch: The DLF tower in Gurgaon. The cash-strapped realty firm sold its 66% stake in a private mill property in central Mumbai to an undisclosed Chennai-based investor for Rs310 crore in May. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The same month, a cash-strapped DLF Ltd, the country’s top realty firm, sold its 66% stake in a private mill property in central Mumbai to an undisclosed Chennai-based investor for Rs310 crore. DLF had bought the property for Rs350 crore in 2007, at the peak of a realty boom in India.
In April, three investors from Kolkata bought 50,000 sq. ft of an office property near Bangalore’s Outer Ring Road for Rs35 crore, about 20% lower than the asking price till mid-2008, said a property consultant who brokered the deal. He didn’t want to name anyone involved in the deal. The developer had earlier leased the property to companies.
“Many HNIs and funds are now returning, looking at only commercial properties...to take advantage of the falling rates. The returns for such properties are as high as 12-13% compared to 3-4% in residential projects,” said Farook Mahmood, chairman of Bangalore-based advisory Silverline Group Inc .
For example, a Hyderabad investor with Rs300 crore is scouting for commercial properties in Bangalore, said Mahmood, without elaborating.
There is huge demand from HNIs for buying office properties, said a Unitech spokesman. “We are in contact with a group of HNIs with a portfolio of Rs1,000 crore each, who are looking at lucrative deals,” he said.
Unitech, also cash-starved, has been selling office properties and hotels the past two quarters in and around New Delhi and Mumbai. Domestic property-focused funds, which earlier targeted residential projects, too, are looking at commercial properties now. Red Fort Capital Advisors Pvt. Ltd, for example, has invested Rs400 crore in three commercial properties in New Delhi and Mumbai and is looking for more.
“In the current scenario, most developers are looking to sell their commercial properties. There are many such distressed assets and the pressure of liquidity is still there on them. For us, it’s a good deal because property rates have dipped,” said Subhash Bedi, director of Red Fort Capital.
Research and rating firm Crisil Ltd, the Indian arm of Standard and Poor’s, said in a June report that while the overhang of commercial property was enormous, demand was still slow.
In the first three months of 2009, there was a fresh supply of 11.5 million sq. ft of space, outstripping absorption of 5.78 million sq. ft, according to property advisory Cushman and Wakefield’s report in April, based on a survey of eight major cities.
The combination of over supply, poor demand and a liquidity crunch pushed many developers to focus on selling commercial properties.
Developers such as DLF and Unitech, which adopted the build-and-lease model the past two-three years when rental costs had skyrocketed and technology firms were expanding, now prefer to sell their stock.
“We are only keen on selling office space now. The focus will also be on developing non-IT space like pharma and telecom, where demand still exists,” Unitech’s spokesman said. Unitech has about 4 million sq. ft of commercial space under development. Its spokesman didn’t disclose how much of this would be up for sale.
Investors are also keen on buying pre-leased properties from developers who are in a hurry to sell, said Kaustuv Roy, head of tenant strategies and solutions, Cushman and Wakefield. “It’s much easier to sell pre-leased properties. There are more takers for them and they fetch better rates.”
“Going forward, most developers will adopt a mixed model where 80% would be sold and 20% will be leased out,” said a senior official of Maker group, who can’t be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
In April, the group sold 4,300 sq. ft of space at Maker Chamber VI, an office building in Nariman Point, Mumbai, to a pharma company for Rs12.5 crore at Rs30,000 per sq. ft. The price was Rs40,000-45,000 per sq.ft. in 2008, said S.G. Maheshwari, a property consultant in Mumbai.
“The thing to look out for in the coming quarters will be if there is a revival of interest among corporates for commercial space,” said Anirudh Wahal, national director, business development, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, a property consultancy.