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January 03, 2006

The Private Equity opportunity in Real Estate

While the other trends we are looking forward to in 2006 - a steady pick up in buyout activity and the re-emergence of early-stage technology investing - might or might not pan out, the rise of Real Esstate as a destination for Private Equity funds is something that is much more certain. Both domestic firms like HDFC, ICICI Ventures, IL&FS Investment Managers (IIML) and Kotak, as well as a host of overseas firms have lined up significant funds for this sector. While there have been some early nibbling investments in 2005, the funding tap for real estate can be expected to open up fully in 2006.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. Archana Hingorani, COO of IIML, (at an event organized by AVCJ in early December) on why the real estate sector presents an interesting opportunity for PE firms.

During her presentation, Dr. Hingorani pointed out that a key attraction was the fact that real estate investors can expect yields of 11-13% in prime properties (commercial) in India versus the global average of 5-5.5%. Real estate investments in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi provide among the highest yields in the world, she said.

The main drivers will be office space requirements of the IT & ITES industry, Retail (Shopping Malls, Multiplexes, etc.), Housing, Re-development of underutilized land (like the mills lands in the heart of Mumbai), growth of Tier II cities, integrated townships and infrastructure plays. Let alone Tier II cities, there is enough steam left in the commercial real estate in the major cities. "Even in Bangalore, only 30% of the commercial property is Grade A," Dr. Hingorani pointed out.

Another feature of the Indian market is the fact that builders here are significantly under-capitalized. The going will however not be all smooth and easy. Dr. Hingorani said the main challenges would be in educating players in the real estate industry on the expectations of PE investors - especially in terms of corporate governance. It will require significant effort in educating developers and changing their mindsets, Dr. Hingorani added.

Related article: I had earlier linked to a streaming video presentation on "Real Estate Investment Opportunities in India" by top executives from Kotak Realty Fund - S Sriniwasan, Executive Director and V. Hari Krishna, Chief Investment Officer - at the TiE Silicon Valley office in July 2005.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.