Friday, June 07, 2013

Real Estate Regulator - Friend or Enemy

Sugata Ghosh  from Economic Times Writes -

 Verbatim copy from ET

Real estate regulator: Harsh rules & soft banks will keep realty unclean

After politicians, builders are the most despised lot. Everyone has a story of someone who got a raw deal. The keys were handed over three years after the promised date; buyers had to cough up more midway, thanks to a clause that initially appeared insignificant; the redeveloped apartment had two-and-a-half bedrooms instead of three; and a year later, another 20-storied tower sprung up on the "open space", blocking the view of the racecourse or the sea — for which the owner, taken in by pictures on glossy brochures, had paid a premium. The list is endless.

Some angry buyers move the consumer court while others grudgingly accept what they get. A few years down the line, they stop cribbing as properties in the neighbourhood change hands for double the price they had paid. By then, they could be browsing another brochure that has found its way into the inbox, planning a second home that comes across as the only sensible, even if a little sticky, investment.

The housing market is about spiralling rates that have priced out most buyers, ambitious developers who are answerable to no one, emergence of property as an asset class and mortgage instalments becoming the dominant outgo in household budgets.

Like politicians, developers require no qualification: anyone with a claim on a slice of land can put out an advertisement to attract buyers. It's a business that employs millions and flourishes without a watchdog. Thus, any hint of a new law that assures fair deals and exemplary punishments that would be handed out by a new regulator is irresistible.

But it won't be a cakewalk. Advocates of such legislation should be prepared for the tortuous road towards a well-regulated and cleaner property market.

First, home prices could go up in the medium term. Once the new Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013, becomes law, builders would be barred from selling a project till all approvals — as many as 70 of them — are in place. This would delay launch of new projects and push up prices of those that are cleared.

Second, corruption may rise as multiple agencies drag their feet on clearances. Developers may strike convoluted deals giving buyers the option to purchase later. Third, disqualifying a shoddy builder could stall construction in all half-done projects and hurt genuine buyers. And, lastly, the validity of many regulatory actions could be challenged in higher courts.

There would be hurdles on the way and unless there is a quick and effective mechanism to throw out unscrupulous developers and hand over unfinished projects to others for completion, harsh measures would backfire on home buyers. This could defeat the purpose behind an otherwise strong law.

The proposed regulator must play a meaningful role so that approvals are not held back without a valid reason. Besides listing out approved projects, its website should also spell out reasons why clearances are yet to come for pre-launch projects. This would make agencies responsible for vetting projects little more accountable.

It will be a tedious job but a real estate regulator, unlike most regulators, will have to play a far more proactive role that goes beyond giving the final green signal to a project when all approvals have been obtained by a builder. This will ensure that supply doesn't dry up in the short run.

But throwing the rule book would be ahalfway measure if men who bankroll developers are unwilling to pull the plug. More than any rule, this alone can make the biggest difference to the Indian property mart. So far, it hasn't happened. Banks could have brought about the change in 2008-09 when one of India's largest builders was on the brink of collapse.

Instead, lenders threw a lifeline to keep it afloat. While realty stocks plunged 90%, generous bankers thwarted a natural correction in property prices. India was among the few countries where real estate prices did not fall — in fact, even rose in cities like Mumbai — post Lehman. It was a reminder of the clout the trade wields. Having survived the worst crunch, its influence could have only grown since then. Pushing a righteous Bill a year before the polls may be a brilliant idea by the government. But make no mistake. It's aimed to restrain a formidable lobby.  


The question now becomes - will this regulator be actually beneficial to end users  - Will India make a law like China - where they are discouraging or banning buying properties for investment -
Will our builders which are in full nexus with the politicos comply ? Will the corrupt bureaucracy of India actually change and not let this regulator be yet another bribe to pay to get a home?