Monday, June 01, 2009

Real Estate from a Landlord's point of view.

Hi All,

This is my first post on this blog, after having spent a great time as a reader and commentor. I am feeling a sense of pride at being 'promoted'. (Thanks Vik :).

This post will discuss an issue dear to my heart and my wallet:

Being a landlord in Pune (the financial equation).

Firstly, some background info:
I own 3 flats in Pune in good areas which are rented out. All flats are 2 BHK, rented out to software professionals.

The rent : emi ratio for each flat is approx 1:2. This is because one flat was bought when the boom in Pune was just starting, and other two flats are part of a duplex bungalow constructed on a plot owned by the family.

The going rates in these areas are currently so high that a flat bought now (in June 2009) and given on rent will have a rent : emi ratio of approx 1 : 4.

The landlord is not buying a flat for her own consumption, but for investment purposes. But she does not want to sell it immediately and turn a quick profit, so she is not a speculative investor.
She is a long term investor who is also interested in the betterment of the society and the neighborhood so that rents can increase.
In this sense, she has the same concerns as a homeowner.

Increases in rent generally are linked to income and standard of living. So only when the overall economy improves, rents increase.
Rents go down quickly in recessions.
Also, people like to rent the cheapest house which will "just support their lifestyle", as compared to buying the best house which will "enhance their lifestyle".

All this leads to a question (for which I don't have any good answers).
When house price increases without a corresponding increase in house rent, this is a speculative price rise. Should the landlord be happy?

The argument for being happy is that the high price is due to a bubble, and all bubbles eventually burst.
So the landlord should sell the flat now, being happy that she has sold it for more than its financial worth. Then buy it at a reduced rate when the bubble bursts. This is not as easy as it sounds.

The argument for being unhappy is that you can no longer expand your renting business.
The basic financial principal behind renting is
Positive Cash Flow. This means that the rent in hand should be greater than the emi + taxes + maintenance + downtime. If there is positive cash flow, the property becomes self sustaining and you can think of expanding your business (i.e. buying another flat and giving it on rent.)
But now in a bubble, positive cash flow is not achievable, so there is a limit on how much emi you can pay out of your other income (read: salary).

In today's real estate scenario in Pune, rent : emi ratio is usually 1:3 or 1:4. Investing in a rental property makes sense only when rent : emi ratio is 1:1.5 or lesser.

Builders are not reducing rates quoting construction costs, growth of the economy etc.
A person who wants to stay in his own home can disregard the financial equation and buy the flat for emotional reasons.
But can a rental investor disregard the financial equation?
If not, should she predict that property rates will fall at least 50% in Pune so that rent : emi ratio comes down to 1:1.5?
Or should she predict that rents will double in the next year, so that a 2BHK which on average rents for 10k will command a rent of 20k next year?

Even when my rental properties have been bought at prices 50% lesser than today's prices, still the rent : emi ratio is 1:2.
This leads to some interesting questions:
1. Does this mean that not only prices will fall to pre-boom levels, but go less than that due to recessionary fears of the consumer?
2. Does it mean that rents are less than reasonable and we can expect a 20% to 30% increase in rents? Even though as a landlord, I would love to see an increase in rent, I don't think that in this recessionary phase, increase in rents is a practical possibility.
3. The ratio will decrease if the interest rates come down to 7 - 8%, from current levels of 10 - 11%. Is this a possibility? As might be expected, the builder lobby is pushing banks and the govt hard for an interest rate decrease.

Abeer Bagul