Faced with tight liquidity conditions and falling residential sales, property developers are increasingly opting for selling their office properties than leasing these out.
Leasing had been the preferred mode for developers in the past, as it offered them a steady stream of income and protect them from losing the upside if property markets went up. But the slowdown in both residential and commercial properties has changed their conventional strategy.
Residential sales have declined 60-70 per cent in Mumbai due to high property prices and rising interest rates, limiting the cash flows of developers. Rising borrowing costs, sharp fall in stock markets and tightened bank finance have created additional liquidity problems for the developers.
In the country’s commercial capital, over a dozen large developers and double their number of smaller ones are selling office properties, according to Ashok Kumar, principal and managing director of Cresa Partners, a corporate realty services firm.
Mumbai has a grade-A office stock of around 67 million square feet, with a vacancy of approximately 13 million square feet, according to property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). The office vacancy rate has increased to 19 per cent, making it 14 consecutive quarters of increased vacancy.
Ackruti City, the Mumbai-based property developer, is selling offices in three of its properties—Ackruti Star, Ackruti Viva and Ackruti Solaris —in the Andheri suburb of Mumbai. Wadhwa group, one of the largest unlisted realty companies in Mumbai, is also selling floors in its soon-to-be finished ‘The Capital’ project in the Bandra Kurla Complex here. Further, it is in talks with large corporates to sell individual floors.
DLF, the country's largest property developer, is in the final stage of selling its IT special economic zones in Pune and Noida to global private equity player Blackstone and a high net worth investor, respectively for Rs 1,300 crore, respectively. Ackruti City and The 3C company are the other investors in these projects.
According to Shishir Srivastava, group chief executive and executive director, Phoenix Mills, the Mumbai-based developer, the company has seen a 50 per cent jump in the number of enquiries and transactions from end-users and investors
Phoenix has already sold 80 per cent of office properties in its mixed-use Market City projects in Kurla in Mumbai and Pune, respectively. It plans to launch another 300,000 sq ft of office properties in Mumbai in the next six-nine months.
“Leasing is impacted because of slowdown in economies. Residential units are not selling. Developers are in distress and they are finding it difficult to raise funds. That is why they are selling,” says Kumar of Cresa Partners. “If you are a ready buyer and go with the cheque, most of the developers are willing to give a discount of 10 to 20 per cent.”
Adds Ramesh Nair, managing director, West India, JLL, in a mid-2011 update last month: “As the gap between buyers’ and sellers’ expectations narrows, a number of investment transactions have begun happening.”
JLL is marketing half-a-dozen office properties in Mumbai city itself.
Nair says there has been a marked increase in the sale of small units to professionals, high net worth individuals and small businesses. “In fact,” says Nair, “well-capitalized HNIs with sufficient equity clout have realised that there are extremely good deals available and are re-entering the market in a big way.”
Developers say buyers are also preferring outright purchase of a property than leasing it due to decline in prices and in anticipation of the appreciation.
“Today,” says Vimal Shah, managing director, Ackruti City, “there are more buyers for outright purchase than lease as prices are down. They think that if they buy today, they can get better appreciation in the future.”
According to JLL estimates, after peaking in 2008, Mumbai office property rentals fell for two consecutive years, and are currently 38 per cent below the peak. Adds Kumar of Cresa: “Money is not a problem. If prices come down from Rs 30,000 to Rs 25,000 in a place like Bandra Kurla Complex, deals will happen.”
Raja Seetharaman, managing director, India, at Mumbai-based Apron Realty-TCN Worldwide, believes that developers are being selective in selling their office properties.
“If they have 100 per cent ownership, they will sell 40 per cent and keep the 60 per cent with them; otherwise they will loose control of the building,” he says. “Even if they sell half of their buildings, some clients may not like that. So they are balancing all of that.”