The year 2017 was considered as watershed year for real estate industry in India. After the trilogy of Demonetization, GST and RERA, the sector was reeling in despair. However, the indomitable spirit of Indian real estate developers didn’t fade a zilch. They rose to the occasion and started to repackage the product, the price and the promotion of their unsold home inventory. From a sales and marketing stand point, they tried to push the envelope to appease the discerning customer. Some of the initiatives which caught attention were in the form of upselling the product, adding the service element to the product, dove tailing technology with homes, bundle up offers with home finance. The home developers also tried superlative adjectives, spiced things up with bollywood and sports celebrities endorsing various residential projects. Projects got rebranded by international brands and innovative launches were executed in line with global best practices. Many developers even completed micro level infrastructure abutting their projects and took over the government’s role of providing external and internal work. The Government continued to follow a lackadaisical approach to urban planning and infrastructure which hurt the customer sentiment further. Many a times, a home buyer got homes but without a motor able road leading to her home. While all of this was going on, Government also tried to get their act together, albeit, at snail’s pace. The Central Government announced RERA (Real Estate Regulation Act) and the states started its implementation in third quarter of 2017. It pushed developers to fast track completion of projects and a certain deadline date was announced. Many residential projects got completed in this rush of deadline, however the sales velocity didn’t match up the speed of completion of these projects. Eventually, RERA implementation failed miserably in most of the states and could not fulfil its objective to provide transparency to the home buyer. It rather deteriorated home buyer’s confidence and hope in Indian real estate. The home buyer, therefore further delayed decisions to purchase homes and felt comfortable being a „fence sitter“. Due to this conundrum, working capital issues reached to unsustainable level with most of the home developers. Many a times, the monthly sales were still not even matching to meet /clear even the lenders liability. The government came up with certain impetus to announce the affordable housing policy and hoped that this might turn the tables for the customer and for the developers. The intent was to ensure faster delivery at a good price to the customer and in turn achieve good working capital for the developer. Many developers diversified into this space and many new entrants also emerged in this space, including some corporates. However, the product suffered immensely as these new affordable homes were too small and were in far flung areas. Therefore, the affordable home policy could not sustain interest of the buyer, after initial euphoria.
So, after all the hoopla of innovative marketing, government compliances and regulations for last couple of years, the sales further nosedived. The inflation in construction cost created the double whammy for the industry. The construction costs took an upward trajectory, thanks to inflation in cement and steel prices. The regulator also continued with its risk weightage on real estate. Therefore, the financing cost of real estate projects especially in residential side continued to be in the range bound of 15%-24% per annum. With increasing construction costs, depleting sales, increasing lending cost, the home developer was pushed to the limit.
While all this happened, the old age mantra of „reduce prices and sell more“ took a rebirth. The residential home prices which were chasing Manhattan prices started their journey back home. The home developers who followed this mantra created huge success, broke record of sales while others continued to sweat. Sales velocity became the buzz word and everything else took a back seat. Some of the home developers started to understand the sales velocity equation in a more pragmatic way. Rather than increasing the pipeline and increase the sales activity, the focus changed to win rate and reduction in sales cycle. Once the focus changed from increasing the sales activity to increasing the win rate, the sales velocity started to increase at good pace. Among the various associations of real estate developers, such sale successes were initially ridiculed as „black swan events“ and such developers were termed as „outliers“, in a negative way. There were corridor talks that such developers are killing the industry. The lenders however, welcomed this step and are now gearing up to back up these developers more in such trying times. A sense of appreciation is now being seen among many quarters for these developers and the corridor talk died its natural death. It is expected that many other developers in last quarter of 2018, will follow suit and focus on reducing sales cycle and thereby increasing sales velocity. After all, nothing succeeds like success.
This article is written to appreciate such entrepreneurs in the real estate space who took the call to correct their pricing to achieve higher sales velocity. This article is an attempt to also encourage others to follow suit. Let there be a sustainability in prices for the home buyer. It is an important way to achieve reasonable growth in real estate business in India. Once that’s achieved, the economics will start to favour home developer again and there will be Happier Sundays!
As they say, a fish always rise after striking its head at the bottom of the sea. Its time therefore to rise up and act aptly as per the changing landscape.
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