With construction resuming across projects, real estate developers are sparing no efforts to ensure compliance to safety norms, adoption of technology, and heaping discounts to continue the sales momentum
by Jayashree Mendes06 Dec 2020
Nothing else could have spelled good news for the people of this country than Unlock 6.0. Considering that the real estate sector alone employs millions across the country, the pandemic, followed by the lockdown, left them idle. After six months into hibernation, the government announced and encouraged migrants to return to their place of work so that economic activities could resume. The onus is now on the developer to safeguard its employees and sites.
Rules to adhere to
Safety measures abound at construction and infrastructure sites. Working on a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the post-covid scenario for workplaces, as well as construction sites, has become the new normal. Rakesh Reddy, director, Aparna Constructions & Estates, says, “We are taking the necessary precautions to prevent spread, as well as ease the impact of the lockdown. We are segregating our project site operations into three different shifts to ensure less crowding at the sites. Data analysis of the construction sites is employed to streamline operations and segregate teams.”
Most of them are also supplying necessary provisions such as vegetables, hand-washing soaps/liquid, water and uninterrupted power, as well as health monitoring and medical care, at construction sites. The projects sites are regularly disinfected and strict personnel movement is enforced throughout the sites.
PK Mishra, VP, Salarpuria Sattva Group, says, “We are abiding by measures to ensure safety and hygiene at the sites, and sanitisation is a regular affair. New rules and regulations have been formulated internally to meet safety requirements, post the lockdown. This included a proper run-through of the new guidelines to all the employees and construction workers before they resumed work.”
Developers that have several prestigious ongoing projects are more worried. Their list of safety measures appears endless. V Gopal, executive director, projects & planning, Prestige Group, says, “The safety measures at our sites include thermal scanning and sanitisation at all entry points; disinfection tunnels at entry points; entry only to people in face masks; maintaining social distancing; availability of clean water at site; rigorous disinfection processes at regular intervals; covid stewards at site for constant monitoring; and compliance reports to be submitted.”
With construction activities picking up pace, developers are adhering to the stringent norms. “We regularly disinfect office areas and worker camps at every project site. All visitors are required to submit a declaration of their travel history last one week. We also have a doctor visiting our sites to check on the health of onsite workers staying at the camps. Awareness sessions are conducted regularly,” says Amit Pal, chief projects officer, Mahindra Happinest.
Then there are those who are making the contractor liable. “We have re-defined certain rules and guidelines with our sub-contractors and other stakeholders to protect the larger interests of everyone. The contractor is liable to take insurance for his staff and workers for covid-19,” says Mukesh Jaitley, director projects, The Wadhwa Group.
Offering a different take, Manju Yagnik, VCP, Nahar Group, and sr VP, Naredco (Maharashtra), says, “The sales momentum reflects the much-needed economic confidence for the continuation of buying. Sustaining this next few quarters will depend upon several indicators, including the liquidity scenario. Another supportive decision by the government for first-time homebuyers to get income tax relief will buoy people to buy homes. Continuing of sops, duty cuts, reduced ready reckoner and bank interest rates clubbed with developer offers and schemes will continue the sales momentum.”
Making new moves
Many developers believe that the first step is to treat all human beings equally, and safety precautions have been prescribed for all. But some are going the extra mile. So obviously, use of technology is going to gather momentum. Investments that were earlier deferred will now be quickly raised. Niranjan Hiranandani, co-founder & MD, Hiranandani Group, says, “Technology has been a part of construction sites; the pandemic only enhanced its importance. Labour shortage, especially the migrant category, has created a platform for construction technology and mechanisation to be a viable alternative. Most of our projects are integrated townships with high-rise structures, so technology has been an important component at our sites. Technology is the ‘new fuel’ and companies have to increase technology adoption to stay industry relevant, competitive and effective.”
Information technology has emerged as an important part of planning, architecture and designing and also quality control. Construction cranes, reusable aluminium shuttering, use of precast or prefab walls – all of these, and other similar measures, will lead to construction that is sustainable, quicker, safe and precise.
With an approach of ‘better late than later’, real estate developers have gradually started to utilise new technology at construction sites. Chintan Sheth, director, Ashwin Sheth Group, says, “Adopting construction technology helps the developer/organisation increase productivity, improve job site safety, and reduce risks. Adopting technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning cam help firms turn the massive data they have collected to predict future outcomes on projects and gain a competitive advantage when estimating and bidding. AI is also being used to monitor job-site progress with real-time, actionable data to improve productivity resulting in completion of projects on time and under budget with higher profit margins.”
Those constructing premium affordable and affordable housing projects too have begun to embrace technology. Murali Malayappan, CMD, Shriram Properties, says, “Construction in India is still hands-on, with limited use of technology. We have actively introduced the use of aluminium formwork across our projects. This technology offers strength and durability to a building. With a growing focus on affordable homes and “Housing for All”, real estate stakeholders are emphasising on the use of new and innovative construction techniques.”
Real estate no longer functions the same way as pre-covid times. That is a reality. “One needs to maintain a fine balance between provision of employment and use of technology in construction to ensure safety of everyone. We will be exploring the use of concrete pouring machines (boom placers) to reduce the manpower requirement at the time of concreting. Looking at the present scenario, IoT can be used to drive operational efficiency and improve safety at the jobsite by reducing costs. The use of IoT can assist in implementing social distancing as well as keeping a check on operations at the same time,” says Surendra Hiranandani, CMD, House of Hiranandani.
With multiple lockdowns and work from home becoming a norm in the last few months, people have realized the need for space to unwind and safety benefits in community living. Pushpak Pusegaonkar, sr. VP, corporate strategy and planning, Century Real Estate, says, “Customers are now looking at larger spaces for a home office setup and working stations. Further, the importance of community living and ensuring safety within apartment associations and RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) has resulted in an increased demand for well-maintained plotted and apartment projects.”
Aakash Ohri, executive director, DLF Home Developers, says, “Construction activities at our sites have started and manpower is slowly returning. The industry should think more about mechanisation and digitalisation to improve productivity. This requires adaptability and labourers should be reskilled. To attract local talent, we must improve living conditions, use of modern techniques and tools in construction.”
What lies beneath
The sudden imposition of the lockdown affected different people in different ways. The most affected were the daily wage earners. “The sudden lockdown due to the pandemic had destructed our project timelines. Since construction activities had paused suddenly and all equipment was lying untouched for several months, we ensured that all machines were serviced immediately as soon as the lockdown was lifted, erected steels were coated with anti-corrosive paints, expired cement bags were removed from the site, among other things. Our sites were always maintained and kept under watch,” says Eshwar N, chief marketing officer, Casagrand.
Krish Raveshia, CEO, Azlo Realty, says, “We have adopted modern methods of construction which have helped save time and cost. Ready to moulds and BIM are some of the latest technologies we have deployed. We are also looking at other variety of approaches to identify areas where there are inefficiencies. Focus is on increasing productivity to reduce delays and capitalise on the use of technology.”
The pandemic may have made companies conscious about safety and health. But there are some who have been adhering to such measures even before the pandemic. Amarjit Bakshi, CMD, Central Park, says, “We have gone in for more mechanisation. Then as a policy, we do not make concrete at the site as this causes dust and to tackle this we use anti-smog cannons at the site for dust suppression. These are already strategically placed on each tower within the condominium for our residents, but one is dedicated to the construction site so that the workers find it easier to breathe. Besides this, another initiative is the provision of a ‘lifeline’ wherein two layers of ropes offer extra safety and act as a psychological barrier as well as a physical one.”
Most of them are satisfied that even the workforce is cautious enough to abide by the guidelines without constant reminders. This encourages some developers to go the extra mile with health checkups and training workshops. Raman Gupta, director, branding & construction, GBP Group, says, “The permissions to resume construction activities under strict guidelines were granted after a period of around 70 days, it took us another 10-15 days to become equipped with all that was needed for our workers’ safety, and ensuring no further delay is caused in the development once the site is open for the labourers.”
Safety is a core value. Developers will have to improvise strategies to revive the sentiments of end-users in the current scenario. Lincoln Bennet Rodrigues, founder and chairman, Bennet & Bernard Group, says, “The coming times will see several technology interventions by developers in their projects to ensure the safety of the homebuyers. We have been adopting many new technologies at our construction sites. Now we use pneumatic plastering machines to reduce number of workers around the site and quicken work. We have also deployed automated water pumps that curb the excessive usage of water. Then there is the software for schedule planning to minimise manpower at work – and encourage social distancing. The Fordism model allows for work to be carried on stage by stage with specialist teams supervising & reviewing the projects that are in construction. At a managerial level, cameras are used for remote monitoring at sites.”
Speaking about his projects, Pradeep Aggarwal, founder & chairman, Signature Global Group, and chairman, Assocham National Council on Real Estate, Housing and Urban Development, says, “We started using AFW technology for construction of affordable housing and now we are trying to make sure that residents of our projects get green buildings to live in. Our projects are IGBC Gold rated. There are other factors that are working in favour of real estate such as low home loan interest rates, subdued prices, etc. The market has already started picking up pace, and one year down the line, we might see a boom in the sector.”
A push from authorities
On its part, the government too has been taking measures to boost sentiments among homebuyers. Abhishek Kapoor, COO, residential, Puravankara, says, “This is encouraging for developers and homebuyers. The measures taken by the RBI and the Finance Minister has helped improve the liquidity of the sector and stimulated buyers’ sentiments. So far the stamp duty reduction has only been announced in select states. We are hopeful that more state governments will take this approach to encourage investments and help developers clear their unsold inventories. Through this, the developers will also benefit as the liquidity created can be used for ongoing or future projects.”
Adding to the benefits of reduction in stamp duty, Pankaj KR Jain, director, KW Group, says, “We think it is a good thing and it will give the industry and customers a boost, which is needed right now. The government has taken a good step towards supporting us and citizens. In the long run, such decisions always prove beneficial and encouraging.”
The luxury market is already seeing a silver lining due to various factors like demand from NRIs, and work from home. The reduction of stamp duty by 4% is another major catalyst that is expected to encourage buyers and investors alike. Ram Raheja, director, S Raheja Realty, says, “The pandemic has brought about a paradigm shift in the home-buying preference of the buyers, especially in metro cities. After witnessing volatility, realty market started to gain momentum as people are now looking for reliability as a major factor before investing in real estate. This has created a need-state for branded developers in Mumbai as they are backed by years of credibility in the ecosystem. We have witnessed an inclined demand for luxury homes regardless of the current economic conditions. Our upcoming luxury project has clocked approximately Rs 50 crore even before its formal project launch. With the onset of the festive season in the country, premium buyers find this a suitable time to upgrade and hence the luxury segment is expected to rule the demand.”
The reduction in Stamp Duty may have seen a spike in home buying. “We are observing the situation. This sudden surge in bookings and registrations seems to be coming from fence-sitters or interested buyers who had shortlisted properties before the lockdown and could not complete their transactions due to the situation created by covid-19. We believe that once we go back to the 5% stamp duty charges, post April 2021 there will be a phase of lull and we will see demand coming back in the 3rd quarter of FY22,” says Ram Naik, executive director, The Guardians Real Estate Advisory.
The real estate sector has vital elements that are fundamental for the growth of the economy. Nishant Deshmukh, MD, Sugee Group, says, “Of all the various elements, the most imperative one for any stakeholder is delivery. Developers must have the capability to adapt to change and ensure timely completion and handover of projects. The novelty in the real estate industry will be before time delivery or on-time delivery. The reduction in stamp duty will not be enough to maintain the overall momentum of the sector as it is time-bound. More initiatives are expected to keep the sector going.”
Real estate has always been a sector driven by end-users’ demand. “Our designing and conceptualisation of projects have always been focused around what buyers expect. Increased interest for integrated townships is visible in Tier II-III cities for the residential segment, and as far as the commercial segment is concerned, organised and modern retail spaces are going to boom in the coming years. Technology upgrades have become an inevitable part of every industry, and real estate being a major yardstick for calibrating development and growth,” says Harvinder Singh Sikka, MD, Sikka Group.
“We are glad the authorities announced ‘force majeure’ in real estate, this has helped us maintain our promises to buyers without tainting our image in the market. Projects are in a good state now that work has resumed in full force. We were also glad that our teams working from home left no stone unturned for keeping the interaction with prospective buyers ongoing even during the lockdown,” says Dr Rahul Chaudhary, Promoter, SunWorld Group.
The overall scenario post-lockdown has been optimistic for the industries relying on technology as the government has started to show increased interest in making the nation self-reliant.