Stronger regulations, deleveraging by listed developers and the advent of real estate investment trusts (REITs) seems to have prompted Banks to shake-off their conservative approach towards lending to the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) sector.

This is underscored by the fact that the CRE portfolio of scheduled commercial banks (SCBs) grew by a robust 22.94 per cent year-on-year (yoy) as on March 22, 2024, against 8.52 per cent as on March 24, 2023, per latest RBI data.

In absolute terms, SCBs exposure rose by ₹74,006 crore between March 24, 2023 and March 22, 2024 against ₹25,342 crore between March 25, 2022 and March 24, 2023.

As on March 22, 2024, SCBs collectively had an outstanding CRE portfolio of ₹3,96,579 crore.

Banks’ CRE portfolio includes loans extended to builders towards construction of any property which is intended to be sold or given on lease; loans for multiple houses intended to be rented out; loans for integrated township projects; exposures towards development of SEZ; exposures to real estate companies; among others.

Along with capital market (direct and indirect), exposure of Banks to CRE is reckoned by RBI as sensitive exposure, requiring them to set aside higher capital to give loans to entities in this sector.

Sanjay Agarwal, Senior Director, CARE Ratings, observed that the whole scenario for the CRE sector has improved substantially in the last few years, with a lot of regulatory changes -- REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) is gaining ground (equity capital is being brought into the system) and RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) is providing a lot of sectoral data -- and real estate players having lower leverage as compared to earlier.

“So, there is a lot of confidence that the banking system has on this sector now. CRE is a very large sector and Banks are stepping up their exposure. The growth in Banks’ CRE portfolio is likely to remain robust in the coming years,” he said.

Agarwal emphasised that historically, in case of default, recovery from assets in the CRE sector is the highest as there are active buyers and sellers. So, the loss given default is low. Given the security of the asset(s), the yields are good.

Renewed confidence among lenders

Prashant Sharma, President, National Real Estate Development Council, Maharashtra, said: “We are witnessing a significant positive shift in the lending landscape of the CRE sector. This is a robust indicator of the sector’s growing stability and appeal. The impressive growth in bank loans to CRE underscores a renewed confidence among lenders. This surge reflects the deepening trust in the sector as a viable investment.”

This positive trend is greatly supported by the transparency and regulatory clarity brought in by RERA, which has not only infused confidence among the stakeholders but also streamlined the approval processes, making it easier for developers to deliver projects on time, he added.

Sharma underscored that the commitment of reputed developers to adhere to timelines and maintain quality standards has played a crucial role in attracting more institutional funding into the sector.

Himanshu Jain, VP - Sales, Marketing & CRM, Satellite Developers Private Ltd, said, “This trend (of increased exposure of Banks to CRE) is a positive indicator of the robust confidence that financial institutions have in the potential of CRE as a viable and profitable investment.”

He opined that despite the traditionally higher risk weight associated with CRE loans, banks are increasing lending due to several key factors -- firstly, the demand for commercial spaces is rising, fuelled by the economic recovery and the expansion of businesses post-pandemic.

Secondly, the improving regulatory environment and clearer tax structures have enhanced the transparency and attractiveness of CRE investments.

Furthermore, the introduction of REITs has provided a structured and secure avenue for banks to engage with the real estate sector, mitigating some of the inherent risks.

“This, coupled with competitive interest rates and banks’ strategic focus on diversifying their portfolios, has significantly contributed to the current lending landscape. We see this trend as a positive indicator of economic growth and a testament to the enduring appeal of CRE as a key asset class,” Jain said.

Global institutional investors have consistently infused an average of $4 billion annually in the Indian real estate sector over the last five years, according to property consultant Colliers. Of this the office sector has received half the amount.

Leading APAC countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan are also gradually eyeing India’s growing real estate market. In 2023, investment inflows from the APAC region surged 57 per cent YoY to $1.8 billion, of which 70 per cent were in office assets.

Keeping up the momentum in Q1 of 2024, institutional investments into real estate touched $1 billion, with office sector’s share at 57 per cent.