GST on real estate: How will it impact home buyers and the industry

The GST Bill was approved in the Lok Sabha on March 29, 2017 with four supplementary legislations- The Central GST Bill, 2017; The Integrated GST Bill, 2017; The GST (Compensation to States) Bill, 2017; and The Union Territory GST Bill, 2017.

At the debate preceding the passing of the bills, finance minister Arun Jaitley said the GST, which will usher in a uniform indirect tax regime in the country, will make commodities ‘slightly cheaper.’ “Today, you have tax on tax, you have cascading effect. When all of that is removed, goods will become slightly cheaper,” he said. On why the GST Council has decided on multiple GST rates, Jaitley said one rate would be ‘highly regressive as hawai chappal and BMW cannot be taxed at the same rate.’

Intent of the GST
The GST will subsume central excise, service tax, VAT and other local levies to create a uniform market. GST is expected to boost GDP growth by about 2 per cent and check tax evasion. States will have to pass their State GST or SGST law that will allow them to levy sales tax after levies like VAT are subsumed.

Tax structure under the GST
The GST Council has recommended a four-tier tax structure – 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent. On top of the highest slab, a cess will be imposed on luxury and demerit goods, to compensate the states for revenue loss in the first five years of GST implementation. However, the Central GST (CGST) law has pegged the peak rate at 20 per cent and a similar rate has been prescribed in the State GST (SGST) law, which takes the peak rate to 40 per cent which will come into force only in financial exigencies.

GST’s impact on taxes
In the present tax system, there are a lot of different taxes that one has to pay, like the VAT, octroi or the local body taxes. GST will subsume all these taxes into it. Diipesh Bhagtani, Chairman-Exhibition, CREDAI-MCHI, explains: “Instead of paying various taxes, at various states and cities, we would soon have just one tax that is going to benefit us. So, in this process, a lot of labour will be saved, along with large sums of money. Also, we look at taxes to be in line with the standard of the absorption of the industry. We as an industry, who have been suffering from excess of taxes, which in sum, amounts to 40%; if all that can be reduced then it’s a big advantage to all of us.”

See also: GST impact on the realty sector: The short to long-term analysis

Current real estate transaction taxes
Bengaluru Mumbai Pune Chennai Gurugram
VAT 4.0% 1.0% 1.0% 2.0% 4.0%
Service Tax 4.5% 4.5% 4.5% 4.5% 4.5%
Stamp Duty 5.7% 5.0% 5.0% 7.0% 6.0%
Registration Charges 1.0% 1.0% 1.0% 1.0% 0.5%
Total Taxation 15.2% 11.5% 11.5% 14.5% 15.0%
Source: Industry, JM Financial

Impact of GST on real estate
The construction of a complex building, civil structure, or a part thereof, intended for sale to a buyer, wholly or partly, is subject to 12 per cent tax with full input tax credit (ITC), subject to no refund in case of overflow of ITC. In other words, residential construction services, will invite GST at the rate of 12 per cent, which will apply to developers selling residential units before completion of construction to the home buyers.
According to the JM Financial report on GST, for states with non-composite VAT (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh), the transaction value changes marginally from 10-11% to 12% under the new regime. With input cost credits available, developers in these regions may witness improvement in margins in case no price revision takes place (subject to the anti-profiteering clause).

Abhishek Anand, assistant vice-president (Equity Research), JM Financial Ltd, explains: “In the current regime, states with composite VAT require developers to pay lower VAT rates on the total property value without any input tax benefit (Maharashtra, Haryana) or partial benefit (intra state offset- Bangalore). Under this regime, developers pass on the transaction cost – VAT (1%) and service tax (4-5%) to buyers (total 5-6%). Developers get offset for only the input service tax component. In the GST regime, the transaction cost increases to 12%, with input credit available on both, services and material. Property transaction costs will increase by 6%, in case no input credit is passed on by developers. If developers pass on the input credit to buyers, the property price increase could be restricted to 1-2%.” If the developers pass on the credits completely and bring down the base prices, then, home buyers may marginally benefit under the GST regime.

Nevertheless, stamp duty will continue to be applicable, irrespective of whether the property is under-construction or constructed, in the pre-GST and post-GST regime.

Will GST help home buyers?
With the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the total incidence of tax will increase from 5.5 per cent to 12 per cent. However, developers will be able to avail of input credit, on all the goods and services purchased and spent in the construction of the property.

Shrikant Paranjape, president of CREDAI Pune Metro, maintains that “The impact of the GST on property prices, will be difficult to gauge at this stage because of the lack of clarity on abatement for land value. In a product, where the major raw material is not covered by the GST and the completed unit is also not covered by the GST, the tax input benefit will be hard to calculate or justify. Only the market forces, the ready reckoner rates and time, will decide whether and how much benefit will be passed on by the developers to the purchasers.”

Moreover, the prices of input materials can also be volatile. Cement and steel prices can soar, without warning. Similarly, sand is always in short supply and not available in the monsoons. Hence, it is likely that these industries may not pass on the entire benefit of tax credit.

Another important factor that needs to be examined, is the stage of construction. If the project is at an advanced stage, where substantial cost has already been incurred before the application of the GST, very little input credit will be available and very less benefit will be passed on. If the project is at an early stage, more benefits can be passed on.

GST on under construction property – Affordable housing
It is important to note that if GST exemption is extended to affordable housing projects (affordable housing is currently exempted from service tax and a clarification is expected from the government for exemption from GST), then, affordable homes may become cheaper under the GST regime.

Impact of GST on property prices – Luxury segment
In the case of a premium properties, while the basic construction cost may come down a little, but as the input tax credit is limited to 12 per cent, it will not be sufficient to bring down the fresh tax liability to nil because of the taxes paid on other expenditures.

GST rates for real estate – Input materials
HSN Description of goods Rate
Chapter 72 Steel 18 per cent
2523 Cement 28 per cent
6802 Marble and granite 28 per cent
2515 Blocks of marble and granite 12 per cent
Chapter 68 Sand lime bricks and fly ash bricks 12 per cent
2505 & 2517 Natural sand, pebbles, gravel 5 per cent
8428 Lifts and elevators 28 per cent
Data provided by: BMR

Under the tax regime, many of the construction materials are under the 18 and 28 per cent slab. For example, steel and steel products, are mostly in the 18 per cent segment and cement and prefabricated structural components for building or civil engineering, are in the 28 per cent slab. However, as the input tax credit is available on products utilised for construction, the overall tax incidence should be neutralised.

Reverse charge mechanism in GST and its impact on construction costs
The mechanism, where the recipient of services pays the service tax, is called as ‘reverse charge mechanism’ (RCM). The same concept, with wider application, has been borrowed from the service tax laws in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

A developer has to pay GST on services availed, like those provided by a person who is located in a non-taxable area, services provided by goods transporters, legal services provided by an individual or firm, etc. The developer also has to pay GST under the reverse charge mechanism, on the services provided by government or local authorities, like municipalities, etc. Nevertheless, some of the services provided by the government, like renting of premises, specific services provided by the postal authorities, transport of goods by railways or by state transport undertakings, etc., are outside the scope of the GST, similar to the service tax regime.

A significant departure under the GST laws, compared to the erstwhile service tax provisions, is that under the reverse charge mechanism in GST, a person who is registered under the GST has to pay GST on all the services and goods that are procured from a person who is not registered under GST.

This has significantly expanded the scope of the reverse charge mechanism for all taxable persons and it will adversely affect the developers. Moreover, the tax payable under the reverse charge mechanism under the GST, cannot be adjusted by the developer against the input credit available from the GST paid on the inputs, but has to be paid by cash/bank payment.

So, under the GST, the builders are worse off, due to the dual effect of the levy of GST on the services availed from unregistered person, as well as the requirement to discharge the reverse tax on goods received from unregistered suppliers.This will certainly increase the costs for the developer, especially the small developers who were availing goods and services from unregistered suppliers earlier and were not bearing the cost of taxes to that extent.

GST on ready properties
If the OC for the project has been received, then, no GST will be applicable. A CRISIL report points out that at present, a developer pays excise tax and VAT, on inputs like cement and steel, at 27.7 per cent and 18.1 per cent, respectively, which vary from state to state. Now, under the GST regime, cement and steel will be taxed at 28 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, while other inputs like paint and white goods, will be taxed at 28 per cent. The final product – the housing unit – will be taxed at 12 per cent, with credit for taxes paid on inputs. As the tax levied on the entire cost including the land will be 12 per cent, the amount would be sufficient to provide for the input credit for developers. Hence, a buyer opting for a ready-to-move-in apartment, is saved from the tax burden.

However, the tax calculations under the GST regime, for the real estate market, are not so simple. For example, the GST on under-construction projects will be charged to home buyers on the sale price but the credit can be availed by the developers, only on the cost of construction. As the builder will have to pay the GST on the full project and the input availed is only on the construction cost, there may be a gap that is no less than 30 per cent. Consequently, whether you opt for an under-construction property or ready-to-move-in unit, the developer will hike the prices in that proportion, to make sure this gap is bridged.

GST on property rentals
“Credit/set-off of input GST is available to a developer, if the sale is executed prior to obtaining the completion certificate or prior to first occupancy. However, this credit is not allowed if the developer chooses to rent out the property. Hence, we might see a spike in commercial rentals,” explains Amit Sarkar, partner and head – indirect taxes, BDO India.

GST has also been levied on the renting of residential property, for use as an accommodation. Consequently, tenants may witness a hike in rent payment under the GST system, as there is no service tax applicable on residential properties, in the existing system.

Here’s how the GST will impact the tax computation on rental income:

With the clubbing of taxes on goods and services, under the GST regime, the confusion about levy of separate tax on service and goods is done away with.

Unlike under the service tax regime, the threshold limit for applicability of GST has been increased from Rs 10 lakhs to Rs 20 lakhs. So, many of the landlords who were covered under the service tax regime, will go out of the indirect tax net, under the GST.

It may be interesting to note that for the purpose of computing the aggregate limit of Rs 20 lakhs under the GST, all the taxable, as well as exempt goods and services supplied, shall be taken into account. So, unlike the service tax regime, where it is only the taxable services, which are taken into account for determining whether you have crossed the basic threshold, under the GST, the value of all the service and goods supplied in India, as well as exported, whether taxable or exempt, are taken into consideration for the Rs 20-lakh limit. The GST is proposed to be levied at 18 per cent, on the letting-out of commercial properties.

There is one more major tax implication under the GST, with respect to rent on commercial properties. The parliament has borrowed the concept of ‘reverse charge mechanism’ from the service tax regime, under the GST. However, unlike in the service tax regime, where the reverse charge mechanism is applicable in case of services and is not extended to the sale or manufacturing of goods, the same is made applicable for goods as well as services, under the GST regime. A person who is registered under GST, who gets supplies of goods or services from a person who is not registered under GST, will have to pay the GST under the reverse charge mechanism. Under the service tax regime, there is no provision of reverse mechanism, with respect to the rent paid by the lessee. The proposed GST provisions, due to the increased rate and the levy under the reverse mechanism, will eventually make it costlier to take any commercial premises on rent.

Will GST make home loans expensive?
Before evaluating the likely impact of the GST on home loan costs, it is important to understand the components that will be impacted by the increased rates under the GST. The main cost of taking a home loan, is the interest payment on the money. This cost will not change, as there is no service tax or GST on it. Similarly, any stamp duty charged in connection with the documentation of the home loan, will not change with the GST, as stamp duty is not subsumed under the GST.

However, there are various charges that are levied by lenders on home loans. First and foremost is the processing fee that is paid at the time of taking the home loan. At present, it is 15 per cent but it will go up by 3 per cent under the GST, to 18 per cent. This is generally a one-time cost and its overall impact on your home loan tenure, will be insignificant. The banks may also recover other charges like advocate fees, valuation charges, etc., in connection with the home loan, which will go up proportionately.

Like the processing fee paid at the time of application, you may have to pay prepayment charges, in case you decide to prepay the home loan before the completion of its tenure or shift the home loan to another lender. This is generally payable, in case the home loan is taken under a fixed rate of interest. For floating rate home loans, banks cannot levy any prepayment charges. Housing finance companies can, however, levy the prepayment charges, if you decide to shift the home loan to another lender. However, for payment of the home loan from your own resources, the housing finance companies cannot levy any prepayment charges.

The lenders can also charge you for any EMI default, either due to return of the cheque or ECS return, on which the GST rates will go up. So, it is practically on all the charges that are recovered by the lenders that the GST rates will go up by 3 per cent.

How are banks affected by the GST?
The implementation of the GST, will bring some tax savings for the lenders, as the input credit with respect to the services availed, as well as goods purchased, will be available for set off, against the GST output taxes liability. However, the reverse charge mechanism, which is borrowed from the service tax regime and which is expanded under the GST, will adversely affect the profitability of banks. Moreover, lenders are now required to register in all the state under the GST, whereas, under the service tax regime, they could have obtained one centralised registration. This will significantly increase the compliance costs of the lenders and affect their profitability.

Grey areas in the GST that could determine the final price of properties
It is still not clear what would be the abatement available for the land cost, for calculating service tax on under-construction projects. The abatement rules, as applicable under the service tax regime and the input tax credit facility for developers, will determine if the effective tax incidence on real estate, is lower or higher under GST.

Effectively, the composition scheme allowing for abatement against cost of land to the extent of 75 per cent of the house cost, for residential units priced under Rs 1 crore and less than 2,000 sq ft, makes the effective rate at 3.75 per cent. In other cases, the abatement goes down to 70 per cent, making the effective rate at 4 per cent. This will go a long way, in determining whether GST is tax neutral or tax adverse for real estate.

In addition, as states have different state-level taxes, the implication of GST may not be uniform, across all states.

Strong case for bringing real estate under GST: Finance minister Arun Jaitley
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, while delivering a lecture at Harvard University on October 12, 2017, has said that the real estate sector should, ideally, be brought under the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). “The one sector in India, where maximum amount of tax evasion and cash generation takes place and which is still outside the GST, is real estate. Some of the states have been pressing for it. I personally believe that there is a strong case to bring real estate into the GST,” Jaitley said. The finance minister said the move would benefit consumers, as they will only have to pay one final tax on the whole product. “As a result, the final tax paid on the whole product under the GST, would almost be negligible,” he said.

Will GST on real estate benefit home buyers and the sector?

There are many issues and grey zones that need to be ironed out, before GST becomes a reality in real estate. Niranjan Hiranandani, president of NAREDCO, maintains that bringing real estate under GST’s ambit, will benefit the consumers who will only have to pay one final tax on the whole product.

However, if the GST slab for real estate is finalised above 12 per cent, then, home buyers and developers may take a hit, at a time when property prices are already unaffordable in many places.

Moreover, the finance minister will also have to convince states to come on board, to create a consensus. This maybe particularly tough, in states where real estate transactions are major source of revenue for the state, through stamp duty and property registrations.

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