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India's biggest real estate miracle is unfolding here!

Last updated on: March 14, 2011 15:20 IST

India's biggest real estate miracle is unfolding here!

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Veenu Sandhu in New Delhi


Barely 20 km from the heart of Delhi, across a flyover called Mahamaya which establishes the territorial claim of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and off the eight-lane highway across Noida, is Shivom Gangwar's makeshift office -- on a motorcycle!

Balancing his diary on the bike's slippery seat, he rattles off the facts and figures of what he's selling -- a "dream house".

Every now and then he points to the area behind him where a blue tent, much like a circus big top, stands with Amrapali Heart Beat City written across. At the moment, this is 32.5 acres of barren land.

"But in less than three years, the project will be ready. This will then be the most sought-after property, well-connected with all key areas of Noida and Delhi," says the senior portfolio manager with Investors Clinic, a real estate brokerage.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Gangwar is an important link in the biggest residential real estate play ever to have happened in the country.

There are thousands like him on the rolls of hundreds of brokers who, in turn, sell houses made by over three dozen developers in Noida (this includes Greater Noida).

Statistics from PropEquity, a firm that compiles and analyses real estate data across India, show that by 2014, Noida will have 190,123 new houses and apartments -- almost 40,000 more than what Gurgaon, Navi Mumbai, Gachibowli (Hyderabad) and Hinjewadi (Pune) collectively offer.

Developers, on their part, reckon the count could go as high as 500,000. Shanghai, the biggest real estate market this side of Greenwich, does about 300,000 houses a year.

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Photographs: Reuters
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The development provides jobs to lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of workers, thousands of architects, every bank worth its credit line and over a dozen ad agencies.

The 500,000 houses will consume about 3 million tonnes of steel (rods, bars and angles) and 9 million tonnes of cement. To put it in perspective, India produces about 30 million tonnes of construction steel and around 260 million tonnes of cement in a year.

Noida is big business also for makers of tiles, glass, bathroom fitting, electric cables and switches, water purifiers, and so on, who are ready to offer discounts of up to 10 per cent on large orders from Noida.

HDFC's Noida branch bustles through the day with customers. The country's largest provider of home loans is desperate to get a larger office or open another branch to cater to the swelling volumes of business.

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Private equity funds like JP Morgan, Landmark Holdings and Red Fort Capital have put their money on Noida.

Noida started buzzing a little over two years ago. To cope with the slowdown, the Noida Authority ruled that developers needed to pay only 10 per cent of the land cost upfront -- the rest could be paid in installments over seven years.

Other sops, too, were thrown in. Then, all land for group-housing projects is bought from farmers and sold to developers by the Noida Authority. This is unlike neighbouring Gurgaon where the developer not only has to buy land directly from farmers but also get the permission from government to use it for realty.

Liberal construction norms also help developers pack more flats in a plot in Noida than elsewhere. These steps have sent residential real estate prices crashing from Rs 5,000 per sq ft three years ago to Rs 3,000 per sq ft now.

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Last year's Commonwealth Games greatly improved connectivity between Delhi and Noida. No wonder, the market has exploded.

This has opened the sluice gates for everybody. Vidur Bhardwaj of 3C is thus a green architect -- he is constructing 10,000 homes in Noida. "I am a developer by default," he says.

Anil Sharma of Amrapali, who is building 50,000 flats in Noida, could pass off anywhere as an academic with his long list of degrees -- M Tech (IIT Kharagpur), MBA, LLB and PhD.

Panch Tatva, a new project, has been promoted by a bunch of chartered accountants.

Most Noida developers are local and not national operators -- Jaypee, Amrapali, Assotech, Supertech, 3C, Prateek, ATS, etc.

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The reason: while developers like DLF, Unitech, Raheja and Hiranandani are focused on luxury, the bulk of the sale in Noida is happening at around Rs 2,800 per sq ft.

"Real estate is a localised game where the builder has to engage with the state government," says Ajit Mishra, managing director of wealth management company InvestCare.

"Bigger brands are more comfortable dealing with fewer states. The Rahejas and Hiranandanis are at ease in Maharashtra."

By far the biggest developer in Noida is Jaypee with the 1,162-acre Wish Town, 5,000-acre Sports City and residential projects across 425 acres.

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All told, it is building more than 50,000 flats in Noida and hundreds more are on the way.

Jaypee, discloses Uttar Pradesh Infrastructure & Industrial Development Commissioner Annop Mishra, got 6,250 acres from the state government as an incentive to do the Yamuna Expressway between Delhi and Agra. Its site office runs a cafeteria where snacks and beverages are on the house.

The business model of the developers is straightforward. The land costs up to Rs 1,200 per sq ft and the development cost adds around the same. With an average sale price of Rs 2,800 per sq ft, this leaves a decent gross profit margin of about 16 per cent.

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Little wonder then that Noida developers can all be seen driving around in Bentleys, Porsches and BMWs. None of them, of course, lives in the flats he has built, preferring the old world charm of a kothi or a farmhouse.

Since the space has got crowded, many developers have taken on board celebrities for endorsement.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni bats for Amrapali, Sushmita Sen promises to be your neighbour in Assotech, Kailash Kher tells you no place is better on earth than Anthem Infrastructure, Kapil Dev lends his face to Panch Tatva and Gautam Gambhir endorses Rudra Palace Heights.

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Image: Indian cricket team captain M S Dhoni.
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Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par is the "happy healthy childhood" face of Palm Olympia. "I would like to see more developers emphasise green areas and sports facilities," says Kapil Dev.

The chartered accountants behind Panch Tatva handled Dev's accounts; the cricketer was always a ready choice.

Sharma claims enquiries have jumped at least 15 per cent since Dhoni was brought in. He buys media -- radio, newspaper and outdoors -- worth Rs 50 crore (Rs 50 million) a year.

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Image: Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par fame.

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Most developers set aside up to 5 per cent of the project cost for advertising and marketing -- overall, they are known to have a budget of over Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion). The total real-estate annual ad spend in the country is about Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion).

But they know that's not enough to convert enquiries into purchases. "You cannot have high quality, timely delivery and profit all at once. We have decided to sacrifice profit for the time being," says Sharma.

Thus, while most builders are happy to leave the construction to contractors, Sharma chooses to do it himself.

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Of course, gimmicks too are being thrown in. Jaypee is building a whole township around its upcoming Formula One race track.

One builder recently took prospective buyers up in a hot air balloon to show them the view from the exact location of the apartment they wished to buy.

Another builder, Supertech, is offering the "experience of beachside living" at a "beach village", and is also building the tallest high-rise of North India, aptly called North Eye.

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Amrapali's Heart Beat City promises personal lifts that will take you right up to your lobby. It also has the Dhoni Sports Academy for residents.

Developers, of course, don't go to buyers directly; they work with brokers. These brokers have a huge database of buyers, which cuts the go-to-market time for developers.

There are hundreds of brokers in Noida, though only about a dozen are large. They underwrite the flats, whole towers at times, and then sell them to buyers. This hedges the risk of the developer.

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So, most developers are ready to pay up to 5 per cent commission to brokers, but intense competition has made the brokers pass on almost all of it as discount to buyers.

Brokers, in turn, have armies of sub-brokers. It is they who contact prospective buyers. SMS alert is the chosen medium -- each can cost between 3 paisa and 30 paisa. "Approximately 10 million SMSes are sent when a new project is launched," says Ahad Kamran, the director of Jakasa Homes & Houses, a firm that underwrites large projects.

"We have a dedicated team to look after the SMS aspect of marketing," says Vivek Sawhney, director, Investors Clinic.

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The moment an unsuspecting person calls any of its numbers mentioned on a property advertisement, his phone number is fed into the Investor Clinic server. And then heaven help him -- every time a new project comes up, the server bombards him with SMSes.

Investors Clinic started with a group of five-odd people in 2006; it now has about 800 employees on its rolls and sells an average of 1,200 properties a month.

Such are the stakes that it too has felt the need to have a brand ambassador of its own -- Yuvraj Singh. "He's aggressive and when it comes to sales, so are we," says Sawhney.

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To leverage its sales force, Investors Clinic has ventured into construction and is coming up with Sanskriti Apartments, a 700-unit project in Greater Noida.

"I would call it reverse integration," he says. With the industry in Noida getting bigger, it also wants to set up a real estate school that will offer a two-month crash course in how to become a smart, informed worker in the real-estate business.

How long will the party continue? Developers claim Noida has attracted buyers from all over India -- people who come to Delhi and its suburbs for jobs or education or after retirement -- and this is unlikely to stop in the near future.

There will be chaos once the law of business cycles catches up with Noida.


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