Monday, August 18, 2014

Shall I invest in commercial properties with 12% assured returns scheme in India?

Author: Sachin Gupta | Find me on Twitter

Recently in the month of May 2014, the managing director of Vigneshwara Group and two of his family members were arrested for multi crore alleged fraud. What was the fraud? Well, the group is in the business of real estate. Ohhh…real estate…yea, most of the frauds happen in this sector only. In this case, the group had received money from investors (around 700 of them) for commercial office space properties in Gurgaon and Manesar. What was the selling point of this group? This group isn't a household name like DLF, or Unitech. So, what was the selling point which brought in these many investors? Well, the selling point was ‘12% assured return on investment, till the possession of the property’. So, if an investor invested about 1 crore rupees for 1000-1200 square feet of office space, then he/she will continue to get 12 Lacs rupees per year as investment returns till the property is handed over. And the builders normally in India claim to handover the property in 3 years.

However, Vigneshwara Group despite taking money from around 700 investors for properties in and around Gurgaon in 2006-07, and promising assured returns till possession, the group allegedly didn't begin construction of some projects and defaulted on payments to investors. And that was the reason "The three members were booked under sections 420 (cheating), 406 (breach of trust), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intent) of the IPC".

On the surface, the 12% assured return is not a bad deal. For an investment of Rupees 1 crore, one would get 36 lacs rupees back in 3 years as assured returns. And at the end of 3 year period, the property is handed over which can be leased to earn decent income. And of course, there will be capital appreciation gains as well. So, on the surface, it looks a good deal.

However, as is the case in life, one needs to scratch the surface to fully comprehend the deal. Let’s do it here:

Why do real estate developers come up with such fancy schemes?

  1. Bank money is not available or is very expensive: What do you think? The builder did not try to raise money for the project through banks or formal channels? Yes, of course, he did…but the money was expensive, i.e. @ 17 or 18%. And he found the easy goats in form of unsuspecting investors who have plenty of cash with them.
  2. These schemes ensure project is sold off at early stage: Real Estate is a risky business, but a builder is always carrying out financial engineering calculations to make sure his interests are safe. When a developer launches a new project especially in commercial category, he wants to play it safe and sell the project to investors along with the incentives of schemes like 12% assured returns. Selling a residential project is rather easy because of demand in India; however, selling a commercial project takes financial engineering skills.
  3. Lack of other funding options: Why can’t builders raise money from other sources such as Private Equity funds or other institutional funds? Well, all these funds carry out comprehensive due-diligence before investing in any project. And the due-diligence process also involves supply-demand analysis for the commercial property along with builder’s track record, etc. And based on their analysis they decide not to invest in such projects if supply of such kind of property is high or demand is low. Because at the end of the day, the commercial property will be valued on the basis of monthly income it can generate once leased.

Why do builders fail to deliver?

Well, all is not lost for investors who invest in such projects provided builder delivers on his promises. But a real estate developer seldom delivers on his promises and that’s why these issues of fraud and money laundering keep on sprouting every now and then.

Why do builders fail to deliver? ‘Greed’ is word that best describes the failure of the builder to deliver on time. Having successfully launched and sold the commercial project on the back of 12% assured returns scheme to fallible goats, he begins to start acquiring land parcels for new projects with similar schemes.  If one project can be successful, why can’t other projects be successful? And in doing so, he diverts funds received from first project to acquire land parcels. The construction progress of first project is delayed, and there is no money left to pay the assured returns as well.

If the builder has remained disciplined, the 12% assured return scheme would have worked. But that is a Utopian scenario.

Are schemes like 12% assured returns good for investors?

  1. Stay away from such schemes if you are a first time investor.
  2. If you have propensity to invest in real estate and can carry out due-diligence, then one can consider such schemes. Due diligence involves carrying out supply-demand analysis, builder’s track record, income levels of the people in the city, etc. It is a challenging task and one should look at if banks or institutional funds have invested money in the project or not? These banks or institutional funds will not invest money in any project without carrying out the due-diligence.

Good Luck with Real Estate Investment!

Have any Questions?


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