Investing in India

Priced-out buyers leave Mumbai property market stagnant

Gauri Bhatia | Special to CNBC
Mumbai property market stalls
Mumbai property market stalls

Despite the odd celebrity or billionaire shelling out top dollar for a prized piece of property, Mumbai's property market is ailing, as it pays the price of having just too big a boom.

The unrealistically high cost of apartments in India's financial hub, which is home to some of the country's richest people, has priced the majority of buyers out of the market, and stagnation is the result.

"A tiny 700 square feet apartment, some 45 kilometers from the centre of town, costs approximately 15 million rupees ($230,000), so the salaried class can't even afford this," Mangilal Jogani of Nikita Properties, a 30-year veteran in the Mumbai property market, told CNBC.

A similar apartment in a far outer suburb of Delhi, for example, would cost about half that price.

Mumbai: India's property style-setter

Mumbai has always been the most expensive city in India, where real estate prices compete with other Asian property hotspots like Hong Kong and Singapore. And big ticket deals that make it to the headlines in India are almost always from Mumbai.

Home to Bollywood, one of the largest movie industries in the world, and the headquarters of some of the largest Indian corporates, Mumbai has seen several multi-million dollar property deals this year. The biggest so far is the 7.5 billion rupees [$113 million] paid by an industrialist for a 50,000 square-foot property in one of the city's posh areas, according to Colliers India.

Movie stars and cricketers also hit the limelight while shopping for high-end properties, priced at upwards of 300 million rupees ($4.5 million), in the heart of the city.

"These are one-off deals by billionaires who can afford it, there is no depth in the market. For most people, the cost of real estate is unrealistic, compared to what they earn," Vivek Talwar, a real estate investor, said.

As a result, those already invested in the market are finding it difficult to sell and builders of new condominiums are desperately offering freebies such foreign holidays and free parking to little effect.

"Today customers are not running after anybody, you have to offer around 15-20 percent discount to get a deal done," said Talwar, adding that only apartments in the range of $45,000-$65,000 in far flung suburbs of Mumbai were selling. Other than that, the sales scene is dire.

I want it all, for free!

Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh visits the Steve Waugh Foundation's Flagship project at Udayan to new extension to girls Building on August 6, 2013 in Kolkata, India. Udayan, is a rehabilitation home for children suffering from leprosy in colonies near Barrackpore.
Australian cricketer Steve Waugh launches Indian property business

Atul Joshi, who asked that his real name not be used, has been trying to sell his ancestral property, a three-storey house in one of South Mumbai's best localities, for the past two years. He is willing to offer a big discount on his premium property, but there has been no buyer as yet.

"Wish I had thought of selling four years ago when the market was upbeat. Today there is so much supply in the market the customer is spoilt for choice," the worried 43-year-old told CNBC.

According to Colliers India, there were about 1,80,000 unsold units in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at the end of September. Such a high pile up of inventory has not been seen in two years. This is having a knock-on impact on developers.

"In the first six months of the year there has been a 40 percent year-on-year drop in new launches," according to Arvind Kapoor, director India operations, residential at Colliers India.

He added that builders were looking to get rid of old inventory amid tepid demand, before launching any new projects. "It s a tough market," Kapoor noted. "Even though builders may not be giving discounts openly, behind closed doors, negotiations are on."

"The buyer is king, he is dreaming of getting everything free. For example, today a buyer expects to get an apartment priced at 70 million rupees [$1.1 million] for rupees 50 million [$760,000]," said Rajan Ahuja, a property broker in Mumbai's prime localities. He added that some builders were now trying to let out apartments, having being unable to sell them even after offering incentives such as flexible payment options.

Wait and watch, but for how long?

Given there are no buyers in the market, property prices should, in theory, have crashed. But many home owners have paid top rupee for their properties and builders are highly leveraged, leaving both unable to stomach a huge drop in price and holding out for a market recovery, said industry experts.

"In Mumbai there are a lot of people who will not sell til they get a good price," according to finance broker Bharat Mehta.

"It all depends on a seller's holding power," said Ahuja. It is a game of who blinks first. While the buyer is holding on to his funds waiting for prices to come down even more dramatically, the seller is hoping that the new year brings a revival in fortunes of a market that sets the sentiment on property for the rest of the country.