Now that RERA is a reality, should you buy an under-construction property?


The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, or RERA for short, has come into effect from May 1, 2017.

With this happening, the question on everybody’s lips is, should we buy an under-construction property? If you plan to buy a home to live in, an under-construction property makes sense because it comes cheaper than a finished one. If you plan to buy home as an investment, given that an under-construction property is cheaper, the returns are always better, depending how early in the construction stage you make the investment.

But that it the theoretical part of it. It comes with the assumption that the builder will deliver the property for which you have paid, and he will deliver it on time. The problem is that this does not always turn out to be the case. Many people in the Delhi National Capital Territory region and other parts of the country, have found this out in the last few years.

In the process, they have ended up paying EMIs on the home loans they had taken to fund their home purchase and the rent on the home in which they continue to live in. The homes they had hoped to live in are nowhere in sight.

But all this happened in era when there was no RERA. Now we have RERA. The real estate sector in the country up until now had next to no regulation from the point of view of the buyer. Buying a house required a lot of leap of faith and prayers at the same time.

The RERA essentially has these five basic purposes: a) to make sure that home that has been bought is delivered on time. b) to make sure what has been promised has been delivered with respect to the actual size of the house, the facilities etc. c) to make sure that the money taken from the buyer is used to build what has been promised and is not diverted to something else, as many builders tend to do. They tend to raise money for one project and then use it to finance another project. d) to make sure that the many permissions required to build a housing project are in place. e) to make sure that if any changes are made to the project, they have the approval of the majority of the buyers.

RERA also makes it mandatory for state governments to set up a real estate regulator. As the Act states that: “Any aggrieved person may file a complaint with the Authority [i.e., the real estate regulator of a particular state] or the adjudicating officer, as the case may be, for any violation or contravention of the provisions of this Act.”

What this basically means that if the builder takes the buyer for a ride, he can approach the real estate regulator and hope to set things right. This is precisely why there have been a flood of acche din articles in the media saying how RERA is going to save the day for real estate buyers.

There are multiple problems here:

a) While RERA is a central Act, land is a state subject. Hence, states are allowed to make the operational rules to implement RERA. Given the nexus that prevails between state level politicians and builders, state governments have already started diluting the basic spirit of RERA. In particular, an effort is being made to ensure that the ongoing projects are not brought under the ambit of RERA. This basically means that many buyers who are currently in trouble will not be able to benefit from this Act.

b) Only three states (Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) have set up regulators up until now. Hence, the process of setting up a regulator is going to take some time.

c) It is important to understand that regulators don’t start becoming effective from day one. Take the case of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, the stock market regulator. It was set up in 1992 and in 1994 the vanishing companies scam, one of the biggest stock market scams, happened. This was followed by the Ketan Parekh scam in 1999-2000. Hence, it takes time for regulators to mature.

d) Also, it is important to know that the regulators don’t necessarily bat for the consumers. The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority(IRDA) of India, the insurance regulator, for a very long time, turned a blind eye to all the misselling carried out by the insurance companies. It kept clearing investment plans which worked well for the insurance agents but not for the consumers who had bought them. The point being whether real estate regulators bat for the consumers or the builders, remains to be seen. Also, this is something that may vary from state to state.

To conclude, there are many practical things which continue to remain unclear as of now. Hence, if you are looking to buy a home to live in, it makes sense to still buy a fully finished one, rather than something which is under-construction. This may mean compromising on the size or the location, perhaps, but what you will get in return is peace of mind. And nothing is more important than that.

The column originally appeared on Business Standard The column originally appeared on Business Standard online on May 3, 2017.

Why Real Estate Prices are Going Down at a Slow Pace

A few days back an email popped up, asking us, why had we stopped writing on real estate. We would like to assure the reader that we haven’t stopped writing on real estate, just that we have taken a break from writing on the topic.

It’s just that it is very difficult to write new things about Indian real estate in a scenario where very little data is available. But yesterday while reading a book we came across a concept from behavioural economics which weaves in beautifully with the real estate scenario that prevails in India currently. So, let’s discuss that in today’s edition of the Diary.

In his book A Man for All Markets—From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market, Edward O Thorp discusses the concept of anchoring in real estate. As he writes: “Anchoring is a subtle and pervasive aberration in investment thinking. For instance, a former neighbour, Mr Davis (as I shall call him), saw the market value of his house rise from his purchase price of $2,000,000 or so in the mid-1980s to $3,500,000 or so when the luxury home prices peaked in 1988-1989. Soon afterward, he decided he wanted to sell and anchored himself to the price of $3,500,000.

And this is when the troubles of Mr Davies began. Luxury home prices started to fall pretty soon. But Mr Davies was anchored to a price of $3,500,000. While the price of $3,500,000 had meaning to Mr Davies, it did not have any meaning to the market in which he was trying to sell his house because the prices had come down. In fact, that is exactly how anchoring is defined. As John Allen Paulos writes in A Mathematician Reads the Stock Market: “We… become attached to any number we hear. This tendency is called the “anchoring effect”.

Anyway, getting back to the story of Mr Davies. As he hung on to his “anchored” price, he didn’t find any buyers for his house. As Thorp writes: “During the next ten years, as the market price of his house fell back to $2,200,000 or so, he kept trying to sell at his now laughable anchor price. At last, in 2000, with a resurgent stock market and a dot-com-driven price rise in expensive homes, he escaped at $3,250,000.”

In the end Mr Davies ended up selling the house at more or less his anchored price. Of course, what he forgot or perhaps ignored in the process of being anchored to the price that he was, was that there is a certain time value of money. As Davies writes: “In his case, as often happens, the thinking error of anchoring, despite the eventual sale price he achieved left him with substantially less money than if he had acted otherwise.

The point being that if Davies had sold at a price slightly lower than his anchored price and invested the money somewhere else, he would have ended up with more money by 2000, than the $3,250,000 he managed for the house.

Now how is this concept of anchoring relevant in the Indian context? In a weak real estate market the dangers of anchoring are faced by the seller of a house. This is precisely what is happening in India right now. Over the last few years, in many markets in the country, real estate prices have fallen. Despite this, many sellers are still anchored on to the peak price their home had achieved a few years back. I see this phenomenon play out very well in and around Delhi.

And given this, they aren’t ready to sell at the current market price. In some other cases, the home prices have been stagnant over the last few years. And investors are anchored to a higher price at which they are likely to make a good return on their real estate investment. I see this phenomenon play out in cities like Pune. These investors are also not in a mood to sell.

This has essentially led to a situation where real estate transactions have crashed across many markets in the country but the prices haven’t. This isn’t good for the real estate market because unless homes that have already been built are sold to buyers who want to live in them (and not invest), the huge inventory of built up homes with no one living in them, won’t clear.

Unless this inventory clears, no new homes will be built or homes will not be built at the same pace as they were in the past. And the new homes that will be built will only add to the inventory of homes that is already there. Clearly, we have a problem here. Also, with the home owners anchored on to a price, they will lose money in the years to come, given that it is highly unlikely that real estate prices will go up or even if they go up, they will not go up at the rate that they did in the past.

Meanwhile, the home owners will have to bear the cost of maintenance, property tax etc. Hence, overall, they will lose money on their real estate investment. In fact, they might just be better off by selling their home and investing the money even in a fixed deposit.

But that of course is not going to happen given that the idea that real estate prices only go up, is highly ingrained (or should I say we are anchored to it) in us Indians. And that is not going to change anytime soon.

The column originally appeared on Equitymaster on March 23, 2017


Will the Great Indian Real Estate Bubble Finally Burst? It’s for the Modi Govt to Decide


In a surprise late evening move yesterday, prime minister Narendra Modi told the nation in a TV address, that come midnight, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes will no longer be legal tender.

As I explained in a column published earlier today, one reason for doing this is to tackle the menace of fake notes. The second reason for doing this is to tackle black money.

As I mentioned in the earlier column, the move seems to be inspired from the American dollar as well as the British pound. In the United States, the highest denomination bank note is $100. When it comes to the United Kingdom, the highest denomination bank note issued by the Bank of England is £ 50. In the United States as well as the United Kingdom, the highest denomination note is essentially 50 times the smallest denomination note of one dollar or one pound.

In India, up until now the highest denomination note was Rs. 1,000 and this was 1,000 times the smallest denomination note of Re 1, issued by the ministry of finance. When a currency has notes of higher denomination, it is easier to launder money i.e. store black money, as it takes less space and weighs less as well.

As Ritika Mankar Mukherjee and Sumit Shekhar of Ambit Capital wrote in a recent research note: “For instance, the weight of Rs 1 crore in the form of hard cash rises from 12kgs to 100kgs if the denomination of the sum is changed from 1,000-Rupee notes to 100-Rupee notes.”

Also, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 form the bulk of the total amount currency notes in the Indian financial system. As per the Reserve Bank of India, the total amount of paper notes in circulation in 2015-2016 amounted to Rs 16.4 lakh crore. Of this, the high denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 amounted to Rs 14.2 lakh crore or a little over 86 per cent. The Rs 500 notes amounted to Rs 7.9 lakh crore whereas Rs 1,000 notes amounted to Rs 6.3 lakh crore.

This basically means that anyone who has black money stored in the form of currency notes is more than likely to have it in the form of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Black money is basically money which has been earned and on which taxes have not been paid. As Mukherjee and Shekhar write: “Given that 48% and 39% of the total value of currency in India is in the form of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes respectively, discontinuing usage of either of these notes can increase the physical costs and risks of holding black money significantly.”

Given this, anyone who has these notes, must go deposit this money in a bank account or in a post office account. And if the money being deposited is black money then questions are likely to be asked by the income tax department. Hence, that is unlikely to happen, at least not in a direct way.

One repercussion of this move that is being widely talked about is that it will lead to a fall in real estate prices. Typically, real estate throughout the length and breadth of India is bought using black money. A significant part of the payment is made in cash. Either this is black money being used or it is white money being converted into black. Experts are of the view, that the Modi government’s crackdown on black money is likely to lead to real estate prices coming down significantly.

The logic is that with Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 no longer being legal tender, it will become difficult to make the black component of the payment using currency notes. With the cash component becoming difficult to pay, it is expected that the real estate companies and builders will have to cut prices.

Further, the government plans to launch new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes. It will not be so straightforward to exchange the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes with these new notes, at least that is the feeling that currently prevails.

This is the logic being offered by experts who are forecasting a fall in real estate prices. As Yashwant Dalal, president of the Estate Agents Association of India told The Economic Times: “Property markets will see around 30% correction in prices…Apart from big property markets, tier II and III cities will be worst affected.” Property prices in tier II and tier III cities will fall more because the black component while buying a home is higher in these cities.

Further, as Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, JLL India, told Mint: “We have just witnessed a tremendous step towards increased transparency in the Indian real estate industry…The effects will be far-reaching and immediate, and shake up the sector in no uncertain way.” Rajiv Talwar, CEO of DLF, was a little more direct than Puri when he told The Economic Times: “There is bound to be a downward pressure on prices of everything including real estate.”

How do I see the situation? Given that I have been bearish on real estate for as long as I have been, it would be easy for me to say that prices will crash. But the past data (whatever limited data we have on real estate) doesn’t suggest the same.

So, my feeling is that real estate prices will fall, but whether they will crash or not, depends on how the government reacts to the situation. Allow me to explain.

This is something I had written in the last edition of The Vivek Kaul Letter, but it is worth repeating here. The current financial crisis that the world is dealing with, essentially started once the investment bank Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in mid-September 2008. Real estate prices fell across large parts of the world. But India beat the trend.

The question is why did this happen. Why did real estate prices in India not crash? How did India manage to beat a global trend? The answer lies in Figure 1.

                                Figure 1: Bank lending to commercial real estate (in Rs. Crore) Bank lending to commercial real estate (in Rs. Crore)

The Figure 1, plots the total loans given by banks to commercial real estate, essentially, builders or real estate companies, which make and sell homes, in the period following the start of the financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, real estate companies in India were also under a lot of pressure. Loans had to be repaid. At the same time the buyers had simply disappeared from the market.

To attract buyers, builders did start to cut prices. Nevertheless, that soon came to a stop. Look at Figure 1. There is a huge jump in lending between January 2009 and February 2009. In January 2009, the total bank lending to commercial real estate stood at Rs. 78,401 crore. At the end of February 2009, the total bank lending to commercial real estate stood at Rs. 90,765 crore. During the period of just one month, lending to real estate went up by Rs. 12,364 crore or 15.8 per cent.

This, when the total lending by banks (non-food credit) between January 2009 and February 2009 went up by Rs. 26,380 crore. Hence, lending to commercial real estate by banks, formed close to 47 per cent of the total lending carried out by banks during the month.

This was a huge anomaly. It is safe to say that this was a bank-sponsored bailout of the real estate sector. If this bailout had not been carried out real estate companies would have had to cut prices majorly to sell homes, to be able to earn enough money to repay the bank loans that they had taken on. Chances are they would have defaulted on some of these loans as well.

The Indian banks managed to avoid this scenario by lending fresh money to real estate companies. The fresh loans were used by the real estate companies to repay their old loans. If these fresh loans hadn’t come through then the real estate companies would have had to cut home prices, so as to be able to sell homes and earn enough money to repay those loans. And India’s real estate bubble would have ended in 2009.

Look at Figure 2. It basically plots the growth in bank lending to commercial real estate over the years. So, in June 2011, the growth rate was at 23.2 per cent. This means that the growth in bank lending to real estate companies between June 2010 and June 2011, stood at 23.2 per cent. All other data points have been plotted in a similar way.

                              Figure 2: Growth in lending to commercial real estate (in %)Growth in lending to commercial real estate (in %)

It is clear from Figure 2 that the growth in bank lending to real estate companies simply exploded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In fact, it just went up vertically. Zoom!

And this explains, why the real estate prices in India did not fall in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Further, this also tells us why India beat the global trend of falling real estate prices. Of course, perpetual reasons like black money finding its way into real estate, were also there.

Further, the law of demand does not work in the real estate market. In a normal market, when prices go up, people buy less of that thing. In the real estate market, as prices go up, more and more people enter the market (as is the case with the stock market as well). This is what happened post 2009 in India. Rising real estate prices brought the buyers back into the market and the real estate bubble got a new lease of life.

In fact, it is clear from Figure 2, that the growth in bank lending to real estate companies goes through some sort of a cycle. Are these lending cycles linked to the rate of increase of real estate prices? The trouble is that there is very little data available on real estate prices in India. One of the real estate indices that one can look at is the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)House Price Index. Look at Figure 3. It shows one- year returns in real estate per the RBI House Price Index, since June 2011.

                                                      Figure 3: Real estate returns (in %)Real estate returns (in %)

What is clear from Figure 3 is that the annual real estate returns have come down over the years. Now what happens when we plot Figure 2 and Figure 3 together. Look at Figure 4.

                                                                   Figure 4: Comparison Comparisonn

The Figure 4 shows that every time the real estate prices start to correct (i.e. the rate of growth in real estate prices starts to fall), lending from banks to real estate companies starts to pick up. Of course, the mapping isn’t exactly one to one. But there is a clear correlation.

There are two possible reasons for this. One is that banks do not want real estate prices to fall. This is because they feel that if real estate prices fall, the real estate companies won’t be able to repay their loans. Given this banks give fresh loans to real estate companies, so that they don’t have to cut their prices. This keeps the real estate bubble going.

The second possible reason is that the government (I don’t mean just the current government here but any government) does not want real estate prices to fall. This stems from the fact that the ill-gotten wealth of politicians is largely invested in real estate and they work towards protecting its value. Also, real estate builders are major financiers of political parties at local and state levels.

How is all this relevant in the current context? Real estate prices will start falling for sure. The trouble is that this is also likely to lead to default of bank loans from real estate companies. As of August 2016, the total lending carried out by banks to real estate companies stood at Rs 1,81,700 crore. If home loan borrowers also start to default, then there will be a bigger problem.

In this scenario, will banks come to the rescue of real estate companies again? Will public sector banks be forced to give fresh loans to real estate companies? On these questions, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t have clear cut answers to these questions. If banks do give fresh loans to real estate companies, as they have done in the past, then the real estate prices may not fall by as much as they are currently expected to. Nevertheless, it is safe to say, that whether real estate prices will crash, is actually in the hands of the Modi government.

Also, it is worth pointing out here that public sector banks are currently in a mess because of corporates defaulting on loans. Will they be able to take on real estate companies defaulting on their loans as well? What will the government do in this situation?

To conclude, I must say this that if the Modi government does allow real estate prices to come down dramatically, it will improve the affordability of homes. This will allow many people who cannot currently buy homes to buy homes. Also, lower prices will spur demand, which is currently more or less dead. Higher demand will lead to the creation of many low-skilled and unskilled jobs, which the country badly needs, with one million individuals entering the workforce every month. It will also lead to a multiplier effect in industries which directly depend on real estate for their demand.

All I can say with confidence right now is: Watch this space.

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on November 9, 2016.

Rents equal EMIs: How Arun Jaitley Can Partially Fulfil His New Pipe Dream

Fostering Public Leadership - World Economic Forum - India Economic Summit 2010In yesterday’s column I had discussed how the finance minister Arun Jaitley’s idea of moving towards a scenario where home rentals will be close to home loan EMIs, is a pipe dream.

On closer consideration, I still think it’s a pipe dream, but there are ways through which a part of it can be achieved if the government is willing to take a few risks by doing the right things. (Before you get around to reading this piece, I would suggest that you read yesterday’s piece here).

Just to recap what Jaitley said earlier this month: “(The) housing market in India, it had picked up. During Mr Vajpayee’s government, bank rates had come down to such an advantageous level that it was easier to buy an apartment than rent it out. That sort of situation had existed where the EMI has been reasonable. I think that’s the direction in which we have to slowly push our economy.

So how can this be made to happen? As per the 2011 Census India had 2.47 crore vacant homes. Yes, you read that right, 2.47 crore vacant homes. Arjun Kumar makes this point in a research paper titled India’s Residential Rental Housing published in the Economic & Political Weekly dated June 11, 2016.

Out of this 1.36 crore homes were in rural areas and 1.11 crore homes were in urban areas. In rural areas, the vacant homes formed 6.2 per cent of the total homes. In urban areas, the vacant homes formed 10.1 per cent of the total homes. It is safe to say that this number would have crossed 3 crore by now, given that the census estimate is more than half a decade old.

Of course, all of these vacant homes are not up to the mark for the middle class (the primary audience of this piece) to live in, but a substantial part is. (I discuss this in detail in the last issue of The Vivek Kaul Letter. To know how to subscribe, click here).

These homes are not offered on rent for the simple reason that India’s rental laws are essentially screwed up. This basically discourages people from giving homes out on rent. Also, with the rental yield (annual rent divided by market value of the home) at around 2 per cent per year, many people feel that renting a home is simply not worth the risk.

Any overhauling of the rental laws will have to start with the rent control laws prevalent in many cities. This will have to be carried out by state governments. With the Bhartiya Janata Party in power in many states, the central government of which Jaitley is a part can nudge them in that direction. Of course, this will mean antagonising a section of the population that benefits from the rent control laws.

This section, given that it lives in cities, is likely to be very vocal. I mean who wouldn’t like living bang in the middle of a city, and pay Rs 200 per month as a rent. So, there will be a lot of resistance. And given that, is the government ready take this on?

Once it is easy to rent out homes, more people are likely to rent out homes. At the same time, more people are also likely to try and rent homes, instead of buying one. As per the 2011 census, the home ownership rate in India stands at 86.6 per cent. This includes all kinds of homes, from homes with concrete roofs to homes with GI/metal/asbestos sheets as roofs to homes with stone roofs to homes with tiles as a roof to homes with plastic/polythene sheets as roofs to homes with grass/thatch/bamboo/wood/mud roofs to homes which do not have access to drinking water to homes which do not have the latrine facility available within the premises and so on.

Despite this, the ratio of owned homes in India needs to come down. And this can only happen when renting (both from the landlord as well as the tenant’s point of view) becomes easier than it currently is. This will mean lesser demand for new homes, which will lead to stable prices in the long run. This will ensure that the current high gap between rents and EMIs will narrow down. At a rental yield of 2 per cent per year and a home loan interest of 9.5 per cent per year, the EMI turns out to be around 4.5 times the rent (assuming that the home loan amounts to 80 per cent of the value of the home).

The second thing that needs to happen is that India needs electoral financing reform. Currently, the way elections are financed needs a lot of black money. And a lot of this black money that finances elections in India, comes from investments made in real estate.

As Sandip Sukhtankar and Milan Vaishnav write in a research paper titled Corruption in India: Bridging Research Evidence and Policy Options: “For instance, corporations and parties are only legally required to publicly disclose political contributions in excess of Rs. 20,000. This rule allows contributors to package unlimited political contributions just below this threshold value completely free of disclosure. Indeed, in 2014 the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) reported that 75 percent of the income of India’s six major parties comes from undocumented sources.”

This can end if political parties are brought under the Right to Information Act and are forced to declare their political contributions. At the same time donations through the various electronic routes or cheques should be made compulsory.

This will have an impact on the total amount of black money that finances the elections in India. And that in turn, will have an impact on black money being invested in real estate as well as real estate prices. This will lead to the gap between EMIs and rents narrowing as well.

The question is, whether Jaitley is ready to bell this cat?

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on September 14, 2016

Jaitley’s New Real Estate Pipe Dream: Where Rents Equal EMIs


Nostalgia is a funny thing.  It makes you remember the good things you had and the good things you lost along the way (with due apologies to Bob Marley!).

The finance minister Arun Jaitley recently said: “(The) housing market in India, it had picked up. During Mr Vajpayee’s government, bank rates had come down to such an advantageous level that it was easier to buy an apartment than rent it out. That sort of situation had existed where the EMI has been reasonable. I think that’s the direction in which we have to slowly push our economy.” Jaitley said this at The Economist India Summit 2016, earlier this month, in response to a query on how the government plans to improve the stressed housing market.

What did Jaitley really mean here? First and foremost, he was remembering the good old days of the Vajpayee government (between 1998 and 2004). During those days the rent one had to pay while renting a house, was very close to the EMI one would have had to pay by taking on a home loan and buying it instead.

The question is how did this happen? This is something that Jaitley did not tell us. And one can’t blame him for it, given that there is only so much that one can say in response to a query. The real estate market had seen a boom in the 1990s. By the late 1990s the market had started to crash and kept unravelling over the next few years. Then the dotcom bubble burst in 2000-2001, the stock market fell after the Ketan Parekh scam came to light and the real estate prices crashed.

Hence, for the period that Vajpayee ruled the country, real estate prices were reasonable. In fact, as late as 2005 (a year after Vajpayee lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections), property prices, even in Mumbai suburbs were fairly reasonable.

So, the EMI was low because the prices were low and it had nothing to do with lower interest rates.
Also, as I have often said in the past, lower interest rates aren’t going to make any difference to Indian real estate. Let’s understand this through an example. Let’s say the property you are looking to buy costs Rs 80 lakh. The bank gives a home loan of 80 per cent against the market price of the home. This amounts to Rs 64 lakh (80 per cent of Rs 80 lakh). The downpayment that will have to be arranged for is Rs 16 lakh. 
The home loan is for a period of 20 years and the interest to be paid on it amounts to 10 per cent per year. (The prevailing home loan rate is around 9.5 per cent. But we will work with 10 per cent just for the ease of calculation).

The EMI on this amounts to Rs 61,761. Let’s say the interest rate on home loans falls (the reasonable EMIs that Jaitley was talking about). Let’s say the interest rate falls by a fourth to 7.5 per cent per year. The EMI will fall to Rs 51,558. This will mean a saving of around Rs 10,203 per month.

Of course, the home becomes more affordable if such a thing were to happen and home loan interest rates were to fall by a fourth.

Now let’s take a look a scenario where home prices fall by a fourth or 25 per cent. The value of the property falls to Rs 60 lakh. The bank now gives a loan of Rs 48 lakh (80 per cent of Rs 60 lakh). This would automatically make more people eligible for the loan than there were when the home loan of Rs 64 lakh had to be taken. The downpayment required falls to Rs 12 lakh. This is Rs 4 lakh lower than the Rs 16 lakh downpayment required earlier, making things significantly easier.

What about the EMI? At 10 per cent per year and for a period of 20 years, it works out to Rs 46,321. This is more than Rs 15,000 per month lower than the earlier EMI of Rs 61,761. Even at 7.5 per cent, the difference in the EMIs comes to close to Rs 13,000 per month. Also, it requires a lower downpayment of Rs 4 lakh. Further, at a lower value of the home, more people would be eligible for the loan, as a lower EMI needs to be paid. A lower EMI can be paid with a lower income.

Also, in this transaction I haven’t assumed a black component, to keep things simple. But if prices fall, the black component also comes down. Also, I  feel a 25 per cent fall, as has been assumed here, will not make much of a difference, the prices need to fall more than that.

The point being if Indian real estate has to get back, prices need to come down. Let’s take the argument forward. Mr Jaitley talks about an era where rents and EMIs were equal. Now, what would it take for the rents to be equal to the EMI, in the time that we live in.

Let’s take the same example again. The value of the home is Rs 80 lakh. The rental yield (rent divided by the market price of the home) these days is around 2-3 per cent. Let’s take the upper end of 3 per cent. At 3 per cent on a home worth Rs 80 lakh, the rent works out to Rs 2,40,000 per year or Rs 20,000 per month.

If one were to buy this house, the bank would give a home loan of Rs 64 lakh (80 per cent of Rs 80 lakh). The EMI on this would work out to Rs 59,656. (Now we assume the real prevailing home loan interest of 9.5 per cent per year).

Over and above this, the buyer would also have to pay Rs 16 lakh as a downpayment. This means that this money will no longer be available for investment. If the buyer had this money in a fixed deposit which paid around 7 per cent per year, this would mean letting go of interest of Rs 1,12,000 per year or around Rs 9,333 per month. Hence, the total opportunity cost of buying a house worth Rs 80 lakh works out to Rs 69,989 per month.

Now compare this to the rent of Rs 20,000 per month. What this tells us very clearly is that renting is a no-brainer as of now, as far as numbers are concerned. Of course, there are other problems associated with renting which an owned home does not have.

If the rent has to be equal to the EMI plus the interest lost on the downpayment, then it has to go up by nearly 3.5 times its current levels. If it has to be equal to the EMI, then the rent has to go up around 3 times. The other option is that the property prices need to crash big time so that EMIs come down dramatically and are equal to the rent. Both options can be ruled out.

What will happen instead is that rents will rise gradually and property prices will fall gradually, in the years to come, but not dramatically (given that there are too many vested interests at work).

Only that is a given.

What this really tells us is that the finance minister Jaitley’s dream of a time where rents are close to EMIs, will remain a pipe dream at best, unless the real estate prices crash big time. Also, there is a fundamental disconnect here, the cost of owning something has to be greater than the cost of renting it.

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on September 13, 2016