Friday, January 12, 2007

Prelaunch economics

Source realtyplusmag:

What is this pre-launch business all about? Pre-launch is being resorted to by developers in order to raise funds and to sell a major part of the project in advance and also to create a hype in the market. This creates curiosity among buyers and as they go on a property-buying spree, the developers sell it on a premium price. And all this without taking the pain of developers getting bank loan for which the builder has to make certain disclosure about his project and finances. Through pre-launch, the promoter can manage to raise 25-30 per cent of his total project cost which is sufficient to purchase land and pay for the necessary approvals as total project cost includes development cost, administrative and promotional expenses including profit margins.

By just paying the booking amount one can claim his or her right to residential and commercial property offered on pre-launch basis. The understanding is that the builder or developer will do the actual launching of the project at a higher price so that investor at the pre-launch stage can book a profit and exit the project. The company keeps on increasing the price of original booking to create resale market. The rates of return can be quite high as investors make only partial payment to the company at the pre-launch stage.

But then there is a risk involved here as pre-launches are normally done for projects which have yet not been approved by the authorities. In many cases, the developer doesn’t even have the land for his project. There are several instances where developers announce 50-100 acre township project but they tie up only for 10-15 acres of land by giving advance money. Recently, a leading Delhi-based real estate developer, which has a number of group companies engaged in pre-launch bookings, was exposed by the town planning authorities in Sonepat.

Developer-investor-broker nexus

The entire business of pre-launch sale of property revolves around the chain formed by developer, big investors and brokers. The investor comes first in the chain of command who is approached by the developer. He invests in the project, normally on the promise of about 40 per cent appreciation in property price at the time of the launch. Some big- time brokers are also involved in underwriting the project. Keeping in view the dimension of the entire business, some big-time investors have even formed joint ventures with developers on revenue-sharing basis for pre-launch projects.

The broker or estate agent is the most important link in the pre-launch business. “Since pre-launch is not a legally accepted practice, the developer does not come directly into the picture. Moreover, most of the investors cannot approach secondary market to find buyer for their booked property. Therefore, the real estate agent plays a key role while interacting on behalf of the developer with investor and on behalf of the investor to sell the property again in the market,” says real estate expert Rakesh Purohit. And the broker gets good rewards as well since he gets as much as 4-8 per cent commission (double the normal) for high risk pre-launch projects. It is this lure of big money which has drawn shopkeepers, business men and retired people into property brokering business. With such fat incentives, brokers have become bolder and pro-active in the attempt to hook common people to invest in such properties. “It is not just gullible, ill-informed retail investor but even well-educated and well-informed senior corporate executives with heavy pay packets and ESOPs who are involved in this gamble of striking it rich in short time. These people have lot of surplus funds to invest. An entry-level executive couple in an MNC takes home about Rs 16 lakh annually. So besides investing in their first home, they are putting in lot of money in pre-launch properties,” informs a leading broker of Delhi.

Most of these corporate executives do not mind putting their money at risk. Says Ramesh Menon, working for a leading real estate consultancy in Gurgaon, “We deal with lot of corporate executives and 15 per cent of my clients are women. These Gen X executives are investing in pre-launch business with due diligence and with proper risk spread. There’s this financial analyst lady working for a Fortune 500 company who has invested Rs 80 lakh in three different (residential, retail and office) projects. And her target is to grow her money to Rs 2 crore in two years’ time.”

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