How state governments are supporting high real estate prices

For any market to work efficiently to arrive at a right price, transactions need to happen. Buyers need to buy and sellers need to sell. Take the case of the real estate market in the country currently. Transactions have slowed down. In many places they have come to an absolute standstill.

Those who own real estate are not selling it. Those who want to buy real estate are in no mood to buy it. A simple reason for this lies in the fact that the real estate prices all over the country are way beyond what most people can afford. Nevertheless, the reasoning is not as simple as that.

The area where real estate is bought or sold has a circle rate decided by the state government. The circle rate is the minimum value at which the actual transfer of a property between a seller and a buyer should take place. Hence, the buyer of the property pays stamp duty to the state government on the circle rate.

Over the years the market price of real estate in India has usually been higher than the prevailing circle rate. This has essentially led to a situation where the transaction is registered at the circle rate or a little higher, and the remaining transaction is carried out in black money.

Nevertheless, in the recent past the situation has reversed. In many parts of the country the prevailing circle rate is now higher than the market price. And this has led to the transactions in the real estate market coming to a complete standstill. People are not buying and selling homes because of this.

TN Ninan made this point recently in the Business Standard where he said that the circle rates at which stamp duty is collected had been raised three or four times by the Delhi government in the last four years. “The scuttlebutt is that the market rates for property have fallen in the ballpark region of 30-40 per cent. Consequently, the circle rates are now about 50-75 per cent higher than the real rates in the market,” he wrote.

A similar point was made S Murlidharan on Firstpost, where he wrote about circle rates in Sriperembudur near Chennai. The going circle rate in the area for residential land is Rs 600 per square foot. But, as he writes, there are no buyers even for Rs 400 per square foot.

This marked disconnect between the circle rates and the market price has brought transactions to a standstill.

As Muralidharan explains: “Suppose a transaction is done at Rs 350, the consequence for the buyer would be he would have to pay stamp duty on Rs 600 even though he bought for Rs 350 and for the seller capital gains on Rs 600 less cost even though he got only Rs 350.”

A buyer does not want to pay stamp duty on Rs 600 per square foot when he is actually paying only Rs 350 per foot to the seller. Along similar lines, the seller does not want to pay capital gains tax on Rs 600 per square foot when he is getting paid only Rs 350 per square foot. Hence, no transaction happens.

A similar situation prevails in parts of Kolkata as well, as this column points out. As mentioned earlier, the situation used to be exactly opposite in the past when the circle rate was lower than the market price. This used to allow a part of the transaction to be carried out in black.

Now that the circle rate is higher than the actual market price, it doesn’t make any sense for those who have black money to invest in real estate in many parts of the country.

The question is why aren’t state governments cutting the circle rates in parts of the country where this situation prevails? One reason lies in the fact that taxing property is seen as an easy way to fill the state government coffers. But with transactions slowing down that won’t remain true anymore. As an official told the Daily News and Analysis, recently in the context of Mumbai: “A majority of registration is lease and leave and licence. Actual buying is quite low. As a result, our revenue is decreasing. We should be generating Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 8,000 crore revenue a year in Mumbai; the current is Rs4,000 crore and below.”

Secondly, the black money of most politicians is invested in real estate. If state governments start bringing down circle rates, this would lead to the unofficial “wealth” of politicians coming down as well. This would happen primarily because transactions will start happening at lower prices. Currently, transactions where circle rates are higher than the market price, transactions have come to a standstill.

What does this mean? If state governments do not allow real estate prices to fall by maintaining high circle rates, then the mess in real estate will continue for a longer period of time. Transactions will not happen and the market will go through a longer “time” correction. And this can’t be good for anyone—buyers won’t be able to buy, sellers won’t be able to sell. The builders will continue holding on to the excessive inventory of unsold homes that they have accumulated over a period of time.
The column originally appeared on Yahoo India on August 18, 2015

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

High price not EMIs: Dear Jaitley, here is why Indians are not buying homes

Fostering Public Leadership - World Economic Forum - India Economic Summit 2010Sometimes I wonder if the finance minister Arun Jaitley has ever heard of Abraham Maslow. Maslow was an American psychologist who among other things also came up with the law of the instrument, which is better known as Maslow’s hammer.
As Maslow put it: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
The idea was also put forward by the American philosopher Abraham Kaplan, when he said: “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”
What the idea essentially tries to communicate is the habit of using the one tool for all purposes. In Jaitley’s case this tool seems to be a cut in the “repo rate”, or the rate at which the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) lends to banks.
In the recent past, he has asked the RBI to cut the repo rate time and again. Once the RBI starts cutting the repo rate, banks will start cutting the interest rates at which they give loans, the belief is.
At lower rates people will borrow and spend more and the Indian economy will grow at a much faster rate. For Jaitley its all about lower interest rates. “Now time has come with moderate inflation to bring down the rates. If you bring down the rates, people will start borrowing from banks to pay for their flats and houses. The EMIs will go down,” he
said yesterday.
The statement was essentially a continuation of the pressure that Jaitley has been trying to build on the RBI to cut the repo rate. But will it make any difference?
Let’s try and understand this through an example of an individual trying to buy a home in Mumbai. In a recent research report the real estate research firm Liases Foras had pointed out that the weighted average price of a flat in Mumbai was Rs 1.34 crore.
I had written a piece around this data in early November showing how expensive flats in Mumbai and other cities were vis a vis the average income of people in living in those cities. One criticism that came in was that the weighted average price arrived at was on a higher side because the data had taken only premium projects into account.
There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that is not the case. Nevertheless let’s take that into account and assume that the actual weighted average price of a flat in Mumbai is 75% of the price that Liases Foras had arrived at.
This works out to around Rs 1 crore. Let’s say an individual decides to buy such a flat and takes on a home loan to do so. A bank would normally give around 80% of the market price of a house as a home loan. So, the individual takes a loan of Rs 80 lakh (80% of Rs 1 crore) to be repaid over a period of 20 years. The remaining Rs 20 lakh he puts from his savings.
The RBI governor Raghuram Rajan in a recent speech said that the average interest rate on a home loan these days was 10.7%. Let’s assume that the individual borrows at the average interest rate. The EMI on this loan works out to Rs 80,948.
Let’s say the interest rate on the home loan comes down by 50 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) to 10.2%. The EMI on this loan works out to Rs 78,265 or Rs 2,683 lower.
If the interest rates are cut by 100 basis points and the interest rate on the home loan falls to 9.7%, the EMI will fall by around Rs 5,330. So, will an individual who has the ability of making a downpayment of Rs 20 lakh and taking on a home loan of Rs 80 lakh, buy a home simply because the EMI is Rs 2,683-5,330 lower?
An individual who has the ability to take on a home loan of Rs 80 lakh must be making around Rs 1.65 lakh per month(
as per the home loan eligiblity calculator available on And that is clearly a lot of money. Only a small set of individuals make that kind of money, even in a city like Mumbai.
The same exercise can be repeated for other cities as well, and the results will remain the same. The larger point is that the fact that Indians are not buying homes has got nothing to do with high interest rates and EMIs and everything to do with the fact that homes are atrociously expensive. And instead of asking the RBI to cut interest rates, Jaitely should be looking at ways through which home prices can be brought down to more reasonable levels.
He could start with ensuring that better data on real state is available to the people of this country.
Currently, t
he National Housing Bank has the Residex index, which gives some idea of the prevailing price trends across various cities. But the information is not up-to-date enough to be of much use. As of now, the data is available only up to June 2014. Also, the data is declared every three months. Something of this sort should be declared on a monthly basis.
Further, anyone trying to buy a home essentially has no data that he can look at to figure out what the prevailing price trend is. Typically, he has to go with what the brokers tell him. And brokers are not normally thinking about the best interests of the individual trying to buy a home.
For starters, the government could try and aggregate the stamp duty data from the twenty biggest cities in India. This will tell us the average price at which “homes” are “supposedly” being sold. Along with that the number of transactions being registered will give us some idea of what the demand situation is.
Of course, given the black money transactions that happen in real estate, the average price that we get through this route may not be totally correct. Nevertheless, this is not a bad starting point. Further, in order to cut down on black money transactions the government needs to ensure that the circle rate is close to the prevailing market value in any area.
A property when it is sold needs to be registered at the actual transaction value or the prevailing circle rate, whichever is higher. The stamp duty needs to paid on this value. Typically, the market rate tends to be much higher than the prevailing circles rate. This essentially leads to a situation where transactions are declared at the circle rate and not the market rate, ensuring that a significant part of the transaction happens in black. It also leads to lower tax collections for the government.
Further, in areas where the difference between the market rate and the circle rate is high attract a lot of black money. As Anuj Puri chairman and country head, Jones Lang LaSalle India,
told Mint in September 2014, “Reduction in the gap between circle and market rates means that the region becomes less attractive for those who are seeking to offload unaccounted-for funds, and more attractive for genuine buyers.”
These are the steps that Jaitley should be thinking about instead of asking the RBI to cut interest rates almost every time he speaks.

The article appeared originally on on Dec 12, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)