Investment in REITs - Pros, Cons and ROI Expectations

Shobhit Agarwal, MD & CEO - ANAROCK CapitalIndia is waiting with bated breath for the first listings on its home-grown Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). In fact, the first listing will happen within a couple months. REITs are good news for investors who have a small appetite - as small as Rs 2 lakh - and yet want to invest in the otherwise highly cost-intensive commercial real estate market. With REITs, they can literally take a small bite of the large Indian CRE pie.

One of the major real estate players in the country (Blackstone-backed Embassy Group) is in the process of launching its first REIT to raise approx. $1 billion as part of its strategy to monetize its rent-yielding commercial properties.

Currently, this realty major is in the reshuffling of its property portfolio to include assets across Bengaluru, NCR and Mumbai. The company has more than 30 million sq. ft of leased office space and about 22 million sq. ft. more in the pipeline across cities.

Another player in the fray for listing REITs is IIFL Holdings.

REITs Decoded

Just like mutual funds, REITs are investment vehicles that own, operate and manage a portfolio of income-generating properties for regular returns. As of now, REIT-listed properties are largely commercial assets - primarily office spaces - that can generate steady and lucrative rental income. REIT-listed office assets are very likely to be followed by other REITable asset classes in India, including retail malls, hotels, etc.

Post its registration with SEBI, units of REITs will have to be mandatorily listed on exchanges and traded like securities. Like listed shares, small investors can buy units of REITs from both primary and secondary markets.

The Downside

On the flipside, a plethora of taxes have currently made REITs more than a little unattractive in India. For instance, when a REIT sells shares of assets, the capital gains are taxable. Further, in other countries where REITs have been functional for a long time have been exempted from stamp duty.

Such tax benefits, if and when are provided in Indian REITs, will act as a catalyst in making REITs more functional and attractive in the long run.

More importantly, if REITs become attractive to investors via tax sops, channels for foreign funding in Indian real estate market will open up. The potential is considerable, but a proactive decision on the taxation aspect needs to be made.

Global Players Galore

Sensing immense opportunity, large global institutional investors are already eyeing India's real estate market through REIT-tinted lenses. These include:
• Japan’s NikkoAm StraitsTrading Asia,
• US’ North Carolina Fund
• Malaysia’s Hwang Asia Pacific REITs and Infrastructure Fund
• Taiwan’s Eastspring Investments, and
• Canada-based Sentry Global.

The ignited interest of global entities for the upcoming Indian REITs is largely due to the uptick in office leasing activity in major Indian cities.

The Government and SEBI have incorporated several changes time and again to make the issuance of REITs a success. However, only time and circumstances can reveal the ‘real’ success of REITs in India. The first listing will be more of a test case for the Indian market. If it succeeds, there will certainly be no looking back.