Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For a Diversified Real Estate Portfolio

The Indian real estate boom means good news to you. As a young Indian who earns well, has spent wisely and drive his own car, live in his own house and is able to meet daily expenses without too much effort, good returns from real estate investments should typically be next on your investment agenda. So how do you determine how much of your investible surplus you should invest in real estate and how much to put into financial instruments such as mutual funds and Unit-Linked Insurance Policies (ULIPs). How will your investment in a second house allow you to capitalise on the current real estate boom?

“Anybody who is looking at real estate as an investment option is currently at least in the post-35 age group,” says chartered accountant Raghu Marwah. “In the current scenario, other financial instruments score over real estate as a long-term investment option. The returns in the short and long term are more attractive.” Portfolio advisor Sanjay Mittal too agrees. “Investment in mutual funds and stock markets is liquid. But investments in the property market are not. Mutual funds yield at least 40 per cent year-on- year returns. One of my investors put in Rs 20,000 per month in the Reliance growth fund and his returns are currently over Rs. 3.6 crore in 10 years.”

This is way above that in real estate. In fact, he gives a thumb rule based on the worst performing systematic investment plan mutual fund over the last 10 years. If you have invested for over seven years, returns are normally the amount invested multiplied by the number of years it was invested for. In the current scenario there is a phenomenal growth expected in sectors such as hospitality, logistics, warehousing, healthcare, etc. “Investment in real estate mutual funds, especially at a time when the SEBI has framed the guidelines, will be a bonanza for retail investors,” explains a market analyst.

The retail investor has more to look forward too in the future from real estate markets. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has already issued draft guidelines for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) a sound financial instrument in developed real estate markets around the world. “This will open up a class of investment to the real estate retail buyer that was earlier not possible,” says Goel. Till now investors ended up exposing themselves to segments of the real estate market and their risks were high.

REITs function as funds which consolidate investments in property in different segments and geographies and allow the retail investor to truly encash the potential of the entire sector. It thus minimizes his risk. The investor has different yields and rewards to choose from. Recently SEBI has also issued clarifications on the functioning of Real Estate Mutual Funds. According to these guidelines the REMFs have to be close-ended and have to declare Net Asset Values every three months.

While REITs invest in physical properties and capitalise on regular rental returns, REMFs invest in the real estate stocks. So why are people investing in real estate at all? Where did all the hype about real estate growth come from? Explains Arun Vikram Goel, CEO of Dewan Housing Finance Venture Capital, “The hype around the real estate market comes primarily from speculative, extremely short-term investors. They have bought at launch prices and sold as the values of each subsequent release by the developer was raised and encashed their investment in the short term. These would have yielded very high gains. Nobody who has invested for the long term has contributed to the hype because chances are that they have not exited the market and their computed returns are notional. A long-term investor should not be looking at hyped gains.”

Explains another property investment advisor, “At the height of the boom, I had advised various investors to put their money into multiple projects and to recycle the investments for maximum returns. In fact, I managed portfolios of investors who had upto Rs 1 crore to invest by putting in the 10 per cent that was required to book a property and then to exit when the next installment was due. The gains so achieved were then reinvested in newer launches and the money was constantly increasing.”

But the current scenario is different. After 8-10 months of slow-down in transactions, developers are completing projects rather than launching numerous new ones. Even the rate of hike of value is steady and therefore the short-term speculator is kept at bay. Goel explains this phenomenon. “Immature markets tend to behave erratically. Initially rental markets are not stable and more users think of purchase rather than rentals. Once the supply comes in the rental markets pick up and those who do not want to occupy, lease out property. This hike in demand brings in the speculators and short-term buyers. Finally when there is a glut and capital values stop rising, the rentals will rise. But typically yields from residential real estate investments are only 5-6% in stable markets and 3-4% in unstable markets.”

So again why invest in real estate at all? Why not only in mutual funds if you are a retail investor? “To diversify your portfolio,” says Goel. And he has a simple mantra for the retail investor:

Do not make investments on the basis of hype. Remember that in a market correction hype comes down and you get a realistic picture.

It is wise to hold a diversified portfolio with real estate as one of the options.

Time your entry correctly. The hype typically starts when the peak is reached. If you enter at the peak, you will not get the best rates and you may be part of the slide.

During investing for the long-term remember that returns average out. The property advisor, who does not wish to be named, maintains that normally even in weak market cycles property values double in five years. So if you are a 35+ age group, your property value will at least double every five years and you will never lose out. However, the rate of enhancement of the mutual fund investments is greater in the short term. Sanjay Mathur of Pearls Infrastructure says long-term real estate investments can be upto 200-300 per cent if you choose your investment destination correctly. If you invest in what is the periphery of the city today and hence cheaper, but if there is good economic activity there, the returns in the long term are definitely positive. Short-term returns are only high during speculative high-growth immature market cycles.

Goel agrees that the choice of investment destination is very important. “But real estate decisions are often very emotionally driven too. Aspirational considerations may drive the investors to look at property purchase than yield analysis alone. However, if the investor reads the future potential of markets correctly, he can get good returns. Goel sees younger investor opting more for systematic investments in mutual funds that is more speculative but has greater returns.

The REITs, which is expected to be functional by the next year, if the government gets its policy framework right, will attract an older investor who takes less risks, but opts for steady returns.

Source: Indian Real Estate (Vol.I)