Sunday, March 26

Still ‘robust’, Kolkata realty business adapts to, adopts Covid reality

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The demand for real estate is still strong in Kolkata, with over 200 Kolkatans having booked apartments worth at least Rs 80 crore between March 25 and April 30, and not a single deal falling through in the commercial sector, even as there’s very little certainty of when life would return to normal.

Realtors, after scanning transaction data, told TOI that the Covid-19 situation had not yet destroyed demand on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis and 2016 demonetisation.

“Demand remains robust,” said Biplab Kumar, the vice-president of NK Realtors, Kolkata’s largest real estate consultancy firm. “It may only be suppressed temporarily,” he explained. He said there were discounts and generous GST cuts. “In the past 35 days, we have received 120 bookings. Increased use of digital sales tools like apartment models, Google Maps, websites, digital brochures have helped reduce the booking cycle and marketing budget,” he said.

Another leading real estate developer in the city, Siddha Group, sold 35 units since March 25; it usually sells 70-80 units a month. The group’s managing director, Sanjay Jain, said they had been offering several benefits to customers. “We are offering no cancellation charges and full refund of booking amount as long as the lockdown lasts,” Jain said. “Also, we make sure to pass on benefits to customers if the prices of our flats comes down later.” Jitender Khaitan, director of Pioneer Properties, which managed a quarter of the usual bookings during the lockdown, believes the lessons and experiences of working in this new normal would have a lasting effect on the business. “Site visits will reduce, one-on-one meetings will be fewer,” he said. “Though one still has to sign final documents, last month’s experience is that customers are adjusting to the new reality. Had I been prepared, I would certainly have done a lot more numbers. Nearly half the customers haven’t been to the site.”

Sandip Halder, an engineer with a state government department who lives in Birati, near the airport, booked a Rs 40-lakh flat near Doltala crossing, near Madhyamgram, a fortnight ago. Goutam Roy, who retired as a marketing executive of an automobile company, has booked a Rs 38-lakh apartment in Joka for his daughter, who currently lives in Ireland.

“A flat not too far from Birati, where we live in a joint family, has been on my mind for quite some time but I haven’t been able to find the time,” Halder said. “Lockdown provided just the opportunity, and I began scouting online and liked a project whose location I was aware of. I wanted to see the project but that wasn’t possible due to the restrictions on movement. The executive of a realty consultancy firm offered me a virtual tour of the apartment and the complex. It looked perfect and I decided to book it.”

Roy, on the other hand, was on the verge of finalizing the flat in a project near Joka, when the lockdown was announced and he was stuck in his Bidhan Sarani home. The real estate agent he was talking to convinced him that the lockdown would not come in the way of his booking his chosen flat. He had a concern, though: what if he wished to cancel the booking? “I have been assured that the entire booking amount would be refunded if I changed my mind,” Roy said.

In the commercial segment, too, no deal has fallen through. With social distancing norms more stringent now, many companies may have to increase floor space, with each employee expected to be assigned about 100sqft — which, earlier, accommodated as many as three employees. “There have been requests for rent abatement. Occupiers will focus on re-negotiating their contracts or for rent-free periods,” said Surekha Bihani, managing director, eastern India, at Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate services firm specializing in commercial property and investment management.


Source: Times of India

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