New Delhi: The local unit of the US-based real estate firm Hines Interests Lp., Hines India Real Estate Pvt. Ltd, says it plans to be conservative in making investments because it believes the Indian real estate market is overheated and ready for a correction.

Cautious: Hines India managing director Daniel MacEachron. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

“The real estate bubble will not burst in the sense that prices will collapse," he said. But he expects there will likely be a correction in prices up to 50% noting that, “even that is not a huge reduction considering the fact that prices have doubled and tripled in the last couple of years."

A bubble typically occurs when asset values get over-inflated, and when investors no longer see value in those assets it leads to a sell-off that can lead to a sharp downward revision in prices. “Hines has always been a conservative firm. We want to be careful about where we invest our money," MacEachron said.

Hines, a real estate development and investment firm, has built many landmark towers, such as the Bank of America Center in Houston, the EDF Tower in Paris, the Embassy House in Beijing and Harris Bank Complex in Chicago. Hines has set up a $300 million (Rs1,182 crore) equity fund to invest in real estate projects in India. The company plans to invest this money in three-five projects over the next three years.

This even as real estate prices have already softened by 15-20% in overheated pockets such as Gurgaon and Noida near New Delhi, according to estimates from several real estate consultancies.

While there are large tracts of land in India, land prices had shot up because of artificial constraints to acquiring land, MacEachron said. “Ownership of land and land titles are not clear in India. There are no clear land records here unlike in other countries."

In August, Hines formed a joint venture with DLF Ltd, India’s largest publicly traded real estate firm by market capitalization, to develop an urban mixed-use complex spread over 15 acres in Gurgaon. This complex will have a 30-storey high office tower, high-end retail shops, restaurant and entertainment venues, and a hotel.

Hines has committed an equity investment of $50 million in this project. This investment will be made out of the fund set up by Hines. The total estimated cost of the project is around $200 million.

Just as Hines is investing in Indian real estate despite its cautionary approach, overseas money continues to pour into the sector.

Nakheel Llc., a United Arab Emirates-based developer, along with DLF, plans to pump in as much as $10 billion in just township projects in India. Several other firms have also committed millions of dollars on the assumption that India’s real estate story is only going to get better.

Foreign real estate firms and private equity funds are keen on investing in the Indian real estate market, as the return on investment is higher in India compared with more developed markets such as the US. Hines expects to get a 20% return on its investments after taxes after it exits the investments, typically over a period of three years.

According to an Ernst and Young real estate report, nearly two-dozen US funds such as Blackstone Group ($1 billion) and Goldman Sachs ($1 billion) are raising funds for investment in Indian realty sector. Other funds such as Berggruen Holdings ($200 million), Kenmore, Bluestone Quantum Management Pvt. Ltd are also set to invest in the Indian real estate market.

Over the next three years, Hines plans to build one or more high-rise residential and commercial towers in India and an integrated township spread across 100-200 acres in partnership with local developers.