Banks have lent no new money to real estate this financial year

It is very difficult to get hold of numbers when it concerns the real estate sector in India. The numbers usually put out are by organisations and institutions close to the real estate companies. The one genuine set of numbers that are put out every month is related to the total amount of lending carried out by scheduled commercial banks to the real estate sector in India. These numbers are put out by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as a part of the sectoral deployment of credit data, which is released once every month.

The latest set of numbers were released by the RBI on July 31, 2015, and make for a very interesting reading, especially if you have had a long(and perhaps lost) dream of buying a home to live in. Why do I say that? Allow me to explain.

As on June 26, 2015, the total amount of lending carried out by banks to the commercial real estate sector stood at Rs 1,66,900 crore. As on March 20, 2015, three months earlier, the number had stood at Rs 1,68,000 crore. Hence, the total amount of lending by banks to real estate companies has actually come down by around 0.7%. What can safely be said is that in the current financial year (which started on April 1, 2015) on an aggregate basis, the banks haven’t lent a single rupee to real estate companies.

How did the scene look like last year? As on March 21, 2014, the total amount of lending by banks to real estate companies had stood at Rs 1,54,400 crore. By June 27, 2014, the total lending had gone up by 1.7% to Rs 1,57,000 crore. This year the total lending has fallen by 0.7% during a similar period.

How do the numbers look over a longer horizon of one year? The lending to commercial real estate by banks has slowed down considerably. As mentioned earlier, as on June 26, 2015, the total amount of lending to commercial real estate by banks stood at Rs 1,66,900 crore. Over a period of one year, it has grown by just 6.3%. The overall lending by banks grew by 7.3% during the same period.

This is the third month in a row when the lending to real estate by banks has grown at a much slower pace than the overall lending. In fact, we need to look at numbers in June 2014 to realise how much the situation has changed over the last one year.

As on June 27, 2014, the total lending by banks to real estate companies had stood at Rs 1,57,000 crore. It had grown by 17.2% over a one year period. The overall lending by banks had grown 12.8%. Hence, the lending to real estate companies by banks had grown at a much faster rate than overall lending.
Further, lending to real estate companies by banks had grown by 17.2% last year. This year it has grown by only 6.3%. Also, as mentioned earlier, since the beginning of this financial year, the lending to real estate companies by banks has actually fallen.

And all this should be good news for buyers.  Why? For the simple reason that the funding source of real estate companies is drying out. Real estate companies have to repay the interest on the loans they had taken on previously. They also need to pay interest on it. Over and above this, there are projects that are still being built and need to be delivered by a certain date. Money will be needed for all these things.

All these reasons will ensure that the companies will have to get around to selling the unsold apartments that they have built and have been unable to sell. The number of unsold homes in cities across the country is huge. As per an estimate made by the real estate consultant Knight Frank the number of unsold homes in National Capital Region stands at around 1.89 lakhs. In Mumbai Metropolitan Region it stands at 1.94 lakh. In Ahmedabad the number is at 42,000. In Bangalore the number is at 1.05 lakh. And so the situation is all across the country.

The only way these unsold homes can be sold is by cutting prices. While the real estate companies have resisted this so far, with the funding from banks almost coming to a standstill, they really have no more options left in the days to come.

Finally, acche din should be on their way for those looking to buy homes to live in.

The column originally appeared on Yahoo India on Aug 4, 2015

Taking a home loan? This is how dual financing by banks might hurt you

Paul Volcker, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, the American central bank, is once said to have remarked: “the only thing useful banks have invented is the ATM”. I would like to add “home-loans” to the list as well.

Home loans allow people to buy a home at a point of time in life when they are really not in a financial position to buy a home by making the entire payment upfront from their savings. Home loans allow individuals to buy a home and repay the loan over a period of time.

This essentially ensures that an individual can enjoy the benefits of owning a home much earlier in life than if he would have had to simply depend on accumulating enough money to buy a home.

But what if the home loan turns into a nightmare? And believe me it can. How, you may ask?

In the recent past, there have been many cases of builders collecting the money from prospective buyers and disappearing. This, other than leading to a situation where a buyer does not get the home he has already paid for, also leads to other problems.

Let’s try and understand this through an example. A builder wants to build apartments on a piece of land that he owns. He offers this land as a collateral to a bank and takes on a loan. After he has taken on the loan from the bank he starts marketing the project and starts collecting money from the prospective buyers as well. The buyers who want a home to live in, obviously take on home loans to pay the builder.

The builder is supposed to complete the project by a certain date, but doesn’t complete the project. At the same time he defaults on the loan he had taken on from the bank. The buyers are stuck because their homes are nowhere near completion. And there is another problem.

The builder before marketing the project had taken on a loan from the bank against the land on which apartments were to be built. What happens after that? The buyers take on home loans offering the apartments that are being built on that land as a collateral.

What is happening here? Basically the same asset has been offered as a collateral twice. But given that the builder took the loan first, the first charge is created in favour of the bank which gave the loan to the builder. A first charge ensures that the loan given by the bank to the builder takes precedence over the home loans that have been taken on against the same collateral.

What happens next? The bank which gave the loan to the builder goes after the collateral following the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act (SARFESAI Act).

What happens to the buyers? They will have to fight a legal battle trying to establish their ownership over the apartments. Meanwhile, they will have to continue paying their EMIs on the home loans that they had taken on. If they stop paying their EMIs, their banks will come after their other assets. In India, home loans are recourse i.e. the banks can go after the other assets of the borrower as well, other than the asset offered as a collateral, in order to recover their loan.

This situation is referred to as “dual-finance”, where multiple loans have been taken against the same collateral. This leaves the home-buyers in a total mess. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) does not allow primary urban cooperative banks (UCBs) to carry out this kind of lending. As the Master Circular- Finance for Housing Schemes – UCBs points out: “The builders / contractors generally require huge funds, take advance payments from the prospective buyers or from those on whose behalf construction is undertaken and, therefore, they may not normally require bank finance for the purpose. Any financial assistance extended to them by primary (urban) co-operative banks may result in dual financing. The banks should, therefore, normally refrain from sanctioning loans and advances to this category of borrowers.”

The term to mark here is “dual financing”. The situation is exactly similar to the example that I took earlier in the column. The problem is that while the urban cooperative banks are not allowed to carry out dual financing, there is nothing that stops scheduled commercial banks from doing the same.

As the Master Circular—Housing Finance for scheduled commercial banks points out: “In view of the important role played by professional builders as providers of construction services in the housing field, especially where land is acquired and developed by State Housing Boards and other public agencies, commercial banks may extend credit to private builders on commercial terms by way of loans linked to each specific project. However, the banks are not permitted to extend fund based or non-fund based facilities to private builders for acquisition of land even as part of a housing project.”
The phrase to mark in the above paragraph is that: “commercial banks may extend credit to private builders on commercial terms by way of loans linked to each specific project.” This is something that the RBI does not allow urban cooperative banks to do. The moment a bank is lending against a specific project, the collateral offered by the builder to take on the loan is the same as the collateral that will be offered by prospective buyers who will borrow home loans from banks in the days to come.

And this creates the problem of dual financing. In the recent past, there have been many cases of builders disappearing and leaving buyers in a lurch. Interestingly, the RBI Master Circular on housing finance points out: “In a case which came up before the Hon’ble High Court of Judicature at Bombay, the Hon’ble Court observed that the bank granting finance to housing / development projects should insist on disclosure of the charge / or any other liability on the plot, in the brochure, pamphlets etc., which may be published by developer / owner inviting public at large to purchase flats and properties.”

Hence, banks need to make sure that builder tells the prospective buyers very clearly that he has already borrowed money against the land on which apartments are being built. Further the circular also points out: “While granting finance to specific housing / development projects, banks are advised to stipulate as a part of the terms and conditions that: (i) the builder / developer / company would disclose in the Pamphlets / Brochures etc., the name(s) of the bank(s) to which the property is mortgaged. (ii) the builder / developer / company would append the information relating to mortgage while publishing advertisement of a particular scheme in newspapers / magazines etc.”

The point being that the builder has to communicate very clearly that he has borrowed money against the project from a bank(s). As the Master Circular points out: “Banks are also advised to ensure compliance of the above terms and conditions and funds should not be released unless the builder/developer/company fulfils the above requirements.”

While, this sounds very good on paper, such disclosures are rarely made. And my guess is that even if they are made, there are not many buyers going around who have the wherewithal to understand these things. Further, at the point of buying a home there are so many terms and conditions that a buyer has to go through that it is worth asking whether it is possible to mentally process and understand everything.

In this scenario, it is important that the RBI works towards stopping this practice of dual financing and making life slightly easier for a prospective home buyer.

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

The column originally appeared on Firstpost on July 28, 2015