Two of India’s large business houses, the Birlas and the Tatas, are looking at real estate as a major investment area, albeit in different ways. While the Birlas, through a financial services arm, are offering real estate as an alternative investment option to clients, the Tatas are planning to develop surplus land held by group companies. The Tatas may also invest in the sector part of funds raised through recent public offerings.

These moves come at a time when real estate prices are correcting and low demand for projects has prompted large developers to default on financial commitments and project deadlines.
Aditya Birla Management director Ajay Srinivasan, who also heads the financial services business, said the conglomerate is merely gearing up for the future. “We are now putting a team in place and want to be ready when the time is right,” he told ET.

Tata Housing is now identifying excess landbanks owned by companies such as TCS, Voltas, Rallis India, Tata Motors, Tata Coffee and Tata Tea. Tata Capital, the financial services arm of the Tatas, is scheduled to close a largely successful non-convertible debenture issue on Tuesday; it has so far raised Rs 2,300 crore against a targeted Rs 1,500 crore. Although Tata Capital has said that it won’t lend to group companies, it has proposed to invest in most asset classes.
Anticipating a large value erosion in the realty space, Indian corporates are planning to float new funds to acquire assets in the domestic property market. Real estate funds such as Saffron Advisors have either floated or are in the process of floating funds with corpus ranging between Rs 500 crore and Rs 1,000 crore.

“As far as Indian realty is concerned, for the right projects, funds are still available,” said Saffron Advisors MD Ajoy Kapoor. “Conservative European investors, after conducting extensive due diligence and research, are more comfortable with investing in Indian real estate, provided they are able to align with right partners,” he added. A few months ago, Munich-based retail aggregator Deutsche Capital Management underwrote $20 million for Saffron India Real Estate Fund I, an India-focussed real estate fund. DCM is raising a specific fund for investing in Indian real estate through Saffron Advisors.

Tough lending norms, unfavourable primary market and global financial worries have affected fund flow into the Indian property market. Real estate deals have fallen and fancy valuations by developers are being corrected to a large extent.


In a move to help the cash-strapped real estate sector, the commerce and industry ministry is likely to waive end-use restrictions and allow realty developers to divert surplus foreign direct investment to real estate projects where it was not allowed so far. According to the norms, FDI is allowed only in projects with a minimum investment of $10 mn (in wholly-owned subsidiaries) or $5 million in joint ventures, and which has a minimum area of 10 hectares.

As per the proposal, which will require a Cabinet approval before being implemented, a real estate company which has brought in FDI in a project meeting the mandated conditions can now use the surplus funds in another project which may not meet the prescribed conditions. For example, a realty company that has raised FDI for a township in Faridabad which meets the minimum capitalisation and minimum area norms may now use a part of the surplus funds for a project in Gurgaon which may not have got a clearance from Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). Put simply, while the new norm does away with the end-use restrictions, it also nullifies the mandatory meeting of conditions for using FDI.

In the last FIPB meeting, the board deliberated that in view of the difficulties being faced by the real estate sector, some leeway is required, even if for a temporary period. “We will soon issue the guidelines to be followed in case of requests for receiving FDI by realty companies engaged in various projects, not all of which are FDI-compliant as per Press Note 2 of 2005,” a senior official directly dealing with the new policy told ET. He asked not to be identified. The official added that the relief would be extended to the realty sector for a temporary period with an in-built sunset clause.

Interestingly, this comes even as the government had recently stepped up vigilance against companies channelling FDI money to projects that had not received FIPB clearance. While examining real estate company Keystone’s proposal in a meeting held in January, the board had asked the department of industrial policy and promotion (Dipp) to set up a monitoring cell to track FDI inflows into non-FDI compliant projects under the veil of FDI.