Slowdown-hit real estate bets big on Budget

Published: July 1, 2009

Having been hit the hardest by the economic downturn, embattled realty majors are betting big on the forthcoming Budget, to be presented on July 6, in a bid to revive the sector’s fortunes. Experts say the sector needs government support as well as further stimulus to get out of the current slump.

While the government with a clear mandate has provided the requisite stability to the economy, it now needs to focus on retrieving the sluggish real estate which is now facing a severe financial crunch. This is important in view of the fact that real estate in India is the second largest employer next only to agriculture, and growth in the sector has a direct impact on ancillary industries such as steel and cement.

“In the backdrop of its importance to the growth of the Indian economy, it is vital for the government to nudge growth in the sector, through fiscal stimulus, to newer heights which would also help make affordable housing a reality and within the reach of the proverbial ‘aam aadmi’,” says Nandita Tripathi, associate director, KPMG.

As a first step, the government should accord ‘infrastructure status’ to the housing sector and appoint a regulator to act as a single window for overseeing and monitoring the affordable housing agenda. “After being hit by the global financial meltdown, real estate developers have now recognized the growing demand for affordable housing. To provide further impetus to this direction of development, the government should consider reinstatement of the tax holiday benefits under Section 80IB-(10) for affordable housing projects,” says Tripathi.

Brotin Banerjee, MD & CEO, Tata Housing, is also of the same view. “We seriously believe that the housing sector should be delinked from real estate and be accorded infrastructure status. This will enable easier access to low-cost institutional funds as also allow the sector to tap long-term funds,” he says.

Further, for affordable and low-cost housing, “we at TATA Housing believe that loans for such projects should be made available at lower rates and also qualify for stamp duty and fee waiver. Development and approval charges should similarly be done away with or at least subsidized,” says Banerjee.

Moreover, increase in the limit of interest on housing loan from the existing Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh and a corresponding increase in the tax deduction limit for the principal loan amount would also go a long way to enhance the common man’s appetite for home loans by lowering their tax outflows and, hence, making their dream home a reality. Besides, “tax benefit should be given from the year the loan is taken from banks, rather than after taking the possession of the house. This will help in providing stimulus to new launches,” suggests Neeraj Bansal, associate director - advisory services, KPMG.

In the current economic slowdown, real estate mutual funds (REMFs) could provide the necessary financial support to the cash-starved housing sector. However, since their introduction a year back, REMFs have not found any takers due to unclear regulations and absence of guidelines for their tax treatment. “Recognizing the need for REMFs as an important capital contributor for the sector, the government should consider aligning the regulations to global best practices, including providing a tax pass through status for registered REMFs,” says Tripathi.

Separately, outdated and draconian provisions such as Section 50C need to be repealed as they result in an unfair basis for taxation. In today’s times, where real estate transactions are governed by market dynamics, applying a notional basis for taxation causes undue hardship to the taxpayer, according to industry experts.

Also, large-scale developments such as SEZs and industrial parks are the answer to India’s next round of industrial growth. The existing law, however, provides unequal tax structures for SEZs and industrial parks. No wonder, despite the latter being granted ‘infrastructure status’, restrictive and stringent application of tax incentives coupled with delays in timely clearance of applications has seen far and few takers for development of industrial parks.

Therefore, “tax incentives similar to SEZs should also be granted to industrial parks. Given that such large developments are a key factor to growth of India’s industrial/ commercial sector, there is definitely a case for extending the tax holiday benefits for industrial parks, which expired in March 2009, to March 2015 and relaxing the tax holiday provisions,” says Tripathi.

Among other measures, rationalization of stamp duty across all states, encouraging states to release land for low and middle-income housing schemes, and debt restructuring where the government along with banks need to create a more friendly repayment mechanism in terms of payback time period so that the developer is left with enough to plough back into the project, should be considered.

Experts believe that in the backdrop of the above wish-list, it would be a tough balancing act for the finance minister, still real estate needs some ‘real’ boost given that till now the stimuli given to the sector through fiscal and monetary measures have been inadequate to steer clear of the current crisis.

Source: Economic Times

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