Sudhir Pai CEO, Magicbricks

Understanding property markets is not easy

Real estate is a good asset class only if you are able to unravel it

Sudhir Pai_CEO_Magicbricks

Sudhir Pai is the CEO of Magicbricks. com, India’s leading property site and the online real estate portal OPINION

If you have a good tenant who regularly pays his dues and has been looking after your apartment, hold on to him. Throw in a few extras and keep the guy happy. This might impact the value of your home when you choose to sell it. Good tenancies are hard to come by and valuable too.

Earlier in March the sale of a luxury apartment in Singapore made headlines because the seller opted to take an estimated $15.8 million loss rather than hold on to it. With fewer expatriates to cater to as policy seeks to push employment for the island nation’s local populace, attractive returns from real estate in Singapore is becoming a pipe dream. Unfortunately, the small investor is the last to realise this changing trend. In a market that subsidises the first home with attractive mortgages and access to pension funds, most citizens have been used to considering real estate investments as the safety net that yields regular income. So, the recent trend of a significant drop in rental values across Singapore came as a shock to those who realised that untenanted properties tend to be a drain on the resources of the owner.

By volume India is one of the largest real estate markets. About two years ago, residential property gave returns on investment to the tune of 2.5-3 per cent in India. Currently, this has edged up to 4.5-5.5 per cent as capital values remained stable and rental values rise across Indian cities

In India, stock is piling up across cities as buyers wait and watch for the best time to re-enter the property market. Here the property dynamics were very different. Investors entered the markets early and paid the early parts of the investment amounts. After the second or third installments investors tended to exit and sell to other layers of investors or end users. Developers ensured that those who exited the property would gain as the sale value was progressively hiked to allow investors to exit with gains. However, the tide turned when rising home loan interest rates, significant delays in schedules and very high escalation in prices, pushed end users out of the market. Today, investors are holding stock far more than they had intended and users are scouting for bargains when they do decide to buy.

If people always need houses to stay in, why are the property markets subjected to such vagaries? A property investment becomes worth the while when it yields regular returns while the owner holds on to it and gives a significantly high leveraged value at the time of sale. However, all properties in the same city, locality or even the complex do not fetch the same values. Across the world there is a whole lot of research on what impacts property values and is it possible to accurately predict them. A simplistic method would be to track historical values and assess future trends through a time-series analysis. That is possible in markets where real estate is transparent. However, across Asia, there are few markets that are completely transparent. Most are disorganised and opaque about how long the property remained listed and what the actual sale value was. Cash transactions are rampant in most Asian markets. As property portals such as Magicbricks, the largest in the Indian market, bring online listings to consumers and allow them to search for the property basis the amenities, facilities and location, consumer behavior is becoming more evolved and predictable.

Property is a local business. There are two distinct property buying trends witnessed in urban India. First, the traditional demand from within the city to those who want to upgrade to modern apartment living from traditional plotted development. In this case, issues that determine property values are the location, the community profile, safety features, and quality of specifications and ease of access. These buyers prefer to stay in core city areas that are home to the spillover demand of the wealthy.

However there is an equally, if not more strong, demand from the young mobile urban metronome that switches cities and goes wherever job opportunities exist, is not loyal to any particular part of the city, is looking for localities that match their lifestyle, earns well and spends better.They normally prefer newer developing suburbs with proximity to business hubs, entertainment centres, social infrastructure such as schools hospitals and retain centres as drivers.

Little wonder then that marketing budgets have started considering digital mediums as a critical component of their strategy to entice the metronome. Understanding property markets is not easy. However, it is logical. Study the data and read the story and let that be your investment guide.