For stability, NRIs turn towards realty

Recently an acquaintance, a fund manager by profession, relocated to India to set-up a domestic private equity fund. He had invested in a Mumbai residential property strategically located close to the primary business district and an international school. This investment, done a few years back, helped him crystallise his plans for relocation to India and start his venture without spending time in finding the right location, house and school.

What I found most interesting was that he had not even considered eventually relocating to India when he bought this apartment. He had simply done it for investment five years previously.

The Way Of The NRI

To date, I have not met a single NRI who is not keen to buy real estate in India. Home ownership in this country is one of the most satisfying means available to them to stay connected to their motherland. Very often, such investments in their country of origin help them to maintain their relationships back home while they seek their fortune abroad.

Another NRI businessman based in Europe and now relocating to NCR on the heels of the Euro crisis, was seeking to build a local business base here. Achieving this while resettling family on all fronts has not been an easy task for him. He is on the lookout for the ‘best’ location for a residential property in NCR and naturally finds the cost of properties in the prime areas staggering and beyond belief.

He had not considered investing in a property earlier. Completely out of sync with the market dynamics back home, he blithely assumed that his foreign-earned savings would make finding a luxurious home a breeze. He was ill prepared for the astronomical ticket sizes that now prevail.

Over the past few years, we have noted that NRIs are investing in residential real estate specifically in large Indian cities to build a back-up base in the country. This particularly applies to NRIs with professional/entrepreneurial ambitions who intend to set up businesses in these cities in the future.

After the 2008-09 global financial crisis, India has stood out as a showcase example of financial stability, specifically in terms of its conservative banking sector. More than anything else in the past, the crisis caused NRIs to seriously contemplate owning homes in India as their rattled confidence in all things foreign gave way to a yearning for familiarity and stability on both on the personal and professional fronts.

Rules Of Engagement

NRIs have no restrictions limiting them with regards to how many commercial or residential properties they can own in India. However, there are restrictions on the repatriation of sale proceeds, which is limited to two units. Effectively, this means that NRI face no restriction while investing into commercial or residential real estate in India. However, when a NRI decides to sell and take the money back to the country of residence, he can do so with the sale proceeds of only two units.

NRIs can invest into real estate by remitting funds to India through normal banking channels, or by invest through funds in NRE/FCNR/NRO accounts maintained in India. They cannot make payment via traveller’s cheque or foreign currency notes. They are also restricted from making any payments outside India or settling payments through exchange of funds outside the country.

NRIs can avail home loans from institutions approved by the National Housing Bank, and loan repayment can be done either through inward remittances, debit to NRE/FCNR/NRO account, via rental income earned in India or by borrowing from close relatives residing in India. NRIs can also avail of home loans from the employer in India, provided specific terms and conditions listed by RBI are met.

NRIs can mortgage residential property in India with a financial institution without any approval from RBI and a foreign financial institution with prior approval from RBI.

NRIs can rent out their property without the approval of the RBI. Rent received can be credited to NRO/NRE account or remitted abroad. Authorised dealers have been empowered to allow repatriation of current income like rent, dividend, pension, interest, etc. of NRIs/PIOs who do not maintain an NRO account in India, based on appropriate certification by a chartered accountant confirming that the funds proposed are eligible for remittance and that applicable taxes have been paid or provided for.

No one can exactly predict the fate of any currency, or the stability of any economy. Economies are notoriously ‘subject to market risk’ — for instance, no one had expected that west Asia would see political uncertainty a few years back. However, when it comes to personal and career stability, there must be no margin for error. The current trends suggest that more NRIs are taking important decisions with regard to owning residential real estate in India as a bulwark against uncertain times.



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