by Anuj Puri
Overall, Union Budget 2019-20 is a balanced one with more of a long-term vision as a follow-on of the Interim Budget. It has obviously been formulated to restore confidence in the India growth story as a whole, and more importantly within India Inc.
As far as real estate is concerned, the budget had a few hits and several misses. Infrastructure stayed at the top of the government’s agenda. This is, of course, significant, since infra development is one of the main propellers for economic growth and real estate benefits both directly and indirectly.
The new FM had an uphill task of balancing priorities in Modi 2.0’s maiden budget. Most sectors – including real estate – stridently sought concessions to kick-start stagnant consumption and investments. Steering the country out of the stranglehold of economic slowdown and creating employment were also high on the priorities list.
The Union Budget was on track in terms of encouraging savings and investments and empowering rural India. Its thrust towards the digital economy and start-up evolution will have indirect benefits in the long run.
As expected, affordable housing under the PMAY scheme (also a critical employment generator) got a boost.
Positives for Real Estate
Affordable housing gets a shot in the arm:
The government announced major tax benefits that will help stimulate demand for affordable housing. Interest deduction up to Rs 3.5 lakh for affordable housing (priced <INR 45 lakh) as against Rs 2 lakh earlier will now be available until March 31, 2020. This can help attract first-time homebuyers. Further, nearly 1.95 crore houses are proposed to be provided to eligible beneficiaries under PMAY-Grameen between FY20 to FY22.
The FM underscored that the completion of houses that previously required 314 days/house in 2015-16 has come down to 114 days since 2017. If so, the target of Housing for All certainly looks a bit more achievable. The government has set for itself a grueling target under the Housing for All initiative.
Infrastructure development push:
As expected, a major boost has been given to infrastructure development via all forms of physical connectivity including industrial corridors, dedicated freight corridors, railways, and airways. The government plans to invest over INR 100 lakh crore in the sector over the next five years. This will significantly benefit real estate and particularly increase the demand for logistics and warehousing. However, the actual benefit will depend on its on-ground implementation.
Another positive within the sector includes the development of nearly 30,000 km of roads using green technology by recycling plastic. This can bring down the cost of road deployment and increase the sustainability quotient of a process which otherwise has serious environmental implications.
Rental housing may soon shed its ‘poor cousin’ status:
The FM called out the old rental laws archaic and stated that the government will soon formalize a modern tenancy policy and share it with all states. Clear-cut incentives to boost rental housing via a sound policy will positively help the government to further strengthen its Housing for All initiative. We await further announcements on this critical policy intervention.
Retail sector benefits:
Easing the registration process for small retailers and further simplifying the local sourcing norms for single-brand retail will benefit the retail sector in the times to come, and help the unorganized retail sector become more competitive.
Boost to Student Housing:
The government’s plan to launch a ‘Study in India’ program to attract foreign students in higher education – for which it allocated INR 400 crore in FY20 – will inevitably create more demand for student housing. This is one of the best alternative asset classes within the residential sector.
The government’s plan to develop 17 iconic tourism sites as world-class tourist centers will help boost the flow of domestic and foreign tourists to these destinations. It is a major positive for the hospitality sector.The regulation authority of housing finance companies has now been moved from NHB to RBI. This will help create more transparency, eliminate anomalies and improve overall regulation.
On the Flipside
From the real estate perspective, the budget did not meet many expectations as it failed to address the sector’s most pressing concerns. We may not see consumers and investors return to the market in sufficient numbers – barring in affordable housing. The all-important ‘industry status’ remained elusive, taxes were not sufficiently moderated and land reforms were not mentioned at all.
Tax benefits to home buyers and investors:
The deduction limits on principal and interest repayments under Section 80C and 24(b) respectively were last increased in 2014 after a hiatus of a decade. It was widely anticipated that the FM will try and revive consumer sentiments by increasing these tax exemption limits. The fact that these remained untouched is a definite sentiment dampener for many including real estate.
Investor sentiment will remain subdued:
To revive the ailing real estate sector and ease the liquidity crisis, the government has to revive investor sentiment. However, Budget 2019-20 failed to announce sufficient key initiatives and measures to bring investors back to the real estate market and thereby help pump some badly-needed liquidity into the system.
Pre-budget, there were strong indications that the Centre would create a stress-asset fund to get work started on the stuck projects and provide relief to cash-starved developers as well as aggrieved homebuyers. The fact that it did not materialize is a major disappointment
An increase in customs duty on various raw materials such as PVC, vinyl floor, etc. may put additional pressure on the pricing of residential real estate.
ITC benefit in GST left out:
Without ITC benefits, builders suffer a major cut in their profit margins. Not only are the consequent losses offset by higher prices to buyers, but they also result in a curtailed supply pipeline which does not bode well for amenable pricing going forward.