While the tax structure for the goods and services tax (GST) has been announced, the real estate industry is waiting to see which rate is applied to it and the construction industry. Given the finance minister’s clarification that the highest tax slab will be applicable to ‘sin’ items and other categories that are currently taxed at around 30%, it can be assumed that this rate will not apply to the real estate and construction industry. Similarly, the lowest tax rate of 5%, will apply on common use items and is highly unlikely to be applied to housing.
Possible GST rates for the real estate sector
That leaves us with two probable scenarios: the tax rate either being set at 12% or 18%. Naturally, a lower tax rate of 12%, would be welcomed by the industry, as it will help reduce the cost of apartments and increase affordability for end-users. Developers may resultantly see an uptick in sales in a slow market.
A higher rate of 18%, however, could end up increasing the cost of homes, especially in under-construction projects, unless the government offers more clarity on the composition scheme (i.e., abatements for the cost of land) as well as on service tax and value added tax (VAT) that are already applicable to under-construction properties.
The abatement scheme and taxes presently applicable on properties
Under the service tax regime, developers and home buyers can obtain benefits under the abatement scheme. In the case of an under-construction flat, an abatement of 75% was allowed, subject to the flat being less than 2,000 sq ft and sold for less than Rs one crore, taking the effective tax rate from 15% to 3.75%. If these two conditions are not met, the abatement was reduced to 70% and the effective tax rate to be borne by the home buyer, increased to 4.5%.
As most houses in Mumbai are priced above Rs one crore, an end-user buying an under-construction apartment, would currently pay both service tax (4.5%) and VAT (which is 1% in Maharashtra, but varies from state to state). Besides, there are other taxes applicable, such as excise duty, customs duty, central sales tax, octroi, etc., which are paid by the developer during procurement and passed on to the home buyer. Stamp duty, which is payable on property transfers, will not be subsumed into the GST.
Grey areas in the implementation of GST
Now, assuming that the same rules of abatement apply under the GST regime, properties under construction will attract a tax rate of 4.5% (after 75% abatement on a tax rate of 18%), which is the same as today. However, if the abatement rules do not apply, the applicable tax rate would shoot up drastically. Moreover, developers would have already paid service tax and VAT for procurement of goods and services, for their properties currently under construction. Will they be allowed to claim credits for input tax paid?
Clarification would also be needed, on whether credit for input tax would be allowed by the government, if the composition scheme has been availed by developers. Only after these clarifications have been issued, will the real estate industry understand the implications of the upcoming GST regime. On the positive side, there will be a reduction in the tax management expenses incurred by developers, owing to the single unified tax. The compliance costs would also go down.
The impact of GST on affordable housing
The union budget for 2016, had announced a zero service tax policy, for developers constructing flats of less than 30 sq metres in tier-1 cities and less than 60 sq metres in tier-2 cities, as incentives for developers to create affordable housing. Whether similar benefits will continue to be given for the real estate sector under the GST regime, remains to be seen. All in all, the industry awaits clear signals on whether the GST will prove to be a ‘win some, lose some’ position for the Indian real estate and construction sector, or a ‘win-win’ situation.
(The writer is chairman and country head, JLL India)