Rental housing: a potential growth spot in the Russian market

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

The residential rental market in Russia is now at the initial stage of development: professional* projects are just beginning to appear, and almost the whole supply is made up of private units in the unorganized* market. However, the active participation of the state and the expected set of measures to stimulate developers and support demand for rental housing should contribute to the active development of the segment: by 2030 at least 45 million sqm of rental houses are planned to be built. At the same time, the longer-term potential is estimated by market experts at the level of at least 20% of the total housing stock in Russia, with the current value of 6% (in absolute terms, about 520 million sqm). Even with the partial realization of the indicated potential, rental housing will certainly play a major part in the Russian construction market in the coming years.

*In this article, by ‘organized/formal/professional, we mean rental objects under professional management such as apart-hotels, rental houses with professional operators, co-living and so on, while by ‘unorganized/informal’ segment we mean individuals renting out their own apartments.

source: DOM.RF

Current rental market

Total rental supply in Russia is estimated at 240 billion sqm (DOM.RF) with about 97% rented by private individuals and most of them not being officially registered with no taxes paid. Yet, professional rental properties (apart-hotels, apartment buildings, co-living, etc.) throughout Russia total at about 60 units, with 45 located in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The segment, despite the current relatively low supply, is developing quite actively, though: over the past 3 years, the market increased 1.6 times in project number, and will likely continue to grow rapidly in mid-term since 31 new projects are under construction with 18.2 thousand dwellings (now the volume of supply in the market is about 10.4 thousand dwellings and about 3.3 thousand beds in co-living).

Plans for regulation

The active development of professional rental homes, the need to regulate the shadow rental market, as well as the current state policy to improve living conditions in Russia in general, have led to new legislative initiatives with three main goals: 1) creating conditions for the further development of the formal market; 2) tightening the regulation of the informal segment; 3) creating a large block of social rental housing on preferential terms for citizens with below-average wages who cannot afford to take out mortgage.

In August 2021, the Ministry of Construction proposed a number of amendments to the current state program dubbed ‘Provision of affordable and comfortable housing and utilities for citizens of the Russian Federation’. Although the planned changes have not yet been adopted and are being examined by anti-corruption experts, it is highly probable that they will come into force. The main measures of the state program for the rental segment are: 1) tax incentives, including building or creating 1buying out apartments (a separate section) in a building under construction and making it a rental object rental homes through collective investment mechanism, 2) tax deduction in the amount equal to rent payments, 3) building or creating rental homes through PPP schemes, 4) subsidizing rent and 5) the provision of land plots on preferential terms.

These measures will ensure the annual volume of rental housing construction of about 5 million sqm by 2030. The stages of implementation are as follows:

  • By end 2021: tax incentives, preferential terms for the provision of land and connection to engineering networks will be developed,
  • By 2024: a fully transparent and legal rental market must be created,
  • By 2030: 45 million sqm of rental housing built (between 2022 and 2030).

Social rental housing

The planned changes are to create the social rental housing segment mainly through the state-owned company DOM.RF, which is currently one of the main financial institutions for the development of the housing sector in Russia. They intend to provide preferential rent for people in need of better housing conditions and for citizens with below-average incomes who cannot afford to take out a mortgage loan to purchase own housing. It will subsidize up to 80% of the rental rate for these categories of citizens. In 2021–2024 about RUB 650 billion will be allocated for this purpose. It is planned to attract private investors and developers to implement social housing projects to build such facilities on preferential terms and are guaranteed to receive the required demand. The difference between the reduced preferential rate and the market rental value will be covered by the state budget, so developers’ lost profit will be compensated for. This should stimulate the construction of new rental homes and increase the attractiveness of the segment for developers previously not interested in such projects due to the long payback periods and the high level of market risks.

Whitening the segment

Another important area of ​​the regulation to contribute to the development of formal rental housing in professional projects is the measures to increase the transparency of the informal market. According to expert estimates, over 90% of housing in Russia is rented out by landlords not paying taxes. Even though the situation slightly improved after the law on the self-employed came into force which lowered the tax rate for renting out housing from 13% to 4% (under several conditions), but most of the market remains in the shadows. Authorities intend to resolve this issue through the introduction of measures in 2021-2024. As of September 2021, the real steps are still under discussion and specific decisions have not yet been made, but, in general, the following steps are planned:

  • a unified electronic system for all residential lease transactions with data from the register being transferred directly to the tax office,
  • a standard lease agreement to protect the rights of tenants,
  • a unified online register of owners renting out housing,
  • to regulate relations between tenants and landlords, a special state-owned company will be created as an intermediary between the parties,
  • penalties for failure to provide data on renting out residential property, and
  • a publicly available ‘blacklist’ of homeowners evading tax liability.

Although this will likely increase the security of rental transactions for tenants, the main difficulty of the transition to the new system will be that it is voluntary for homeowners to register, transfer their data and start paying taxes. Thus, it is planned to provide tax incentives for landlords complying with the new rules in good faith, and to develop additional support measures such as the possibility of introducing a system of guarantees on the part of an intermediary company against non-payments for landlords, as well as insurance against early termination of the contract unilaterally by the tenant, among others. It is also assumed that penalties will gradually be introduced with a long transition period.

Despite all the advantages, the regulation of the informal rental market will lead to increased rental charges: additional taxes and other costs that landlords will have when switching to the new system will be passed on to tenants. This will raise the competition of the informal market with formal rental properties that on average are significantly more expensive than renting homes from individuals, limiting demand for them.

Residential forecast for Russia is available in the latest EECFA Forecast Report Russia up to 2023. For orders and sample report, please visit eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries, including Russia.

Fundamental factors determining the segment:

  • Insufficient level of living space and low availability of housing. At the moment, the former indicator is at the level of about 26 sqm/person, less than the values ​​in most European countries and less than the level of comfortable living conditions (30 sqm/person). The construction of at least 600 million sqm would be required, which, with the current volume of completion, would take at least 8 to 10 years. The level of affordability of own housing for the wide range of the population is low. According to the estimates of DOM.RF and the Ministry of Construction, mortgage loans – the key means to buy housing in Russia – are currently unaffordable for 35% of the population who needs to improve living conditions. Such families will not be able to take out a mortgage even with a zero loan rate as their income will be insufficient for monthly repayments. Housing rental is a potential solution, so social rental projects are of key importance.
  • Low level of development of the rental housing market. As of end 2020, only about 6% of the Russian population (about 8.8 million people or about 5.5 million families) lived in rental housing, while this figure in developed countries can reach 50%-60%. Even in the largest Russian cities with the most developed rental markets, the share of rental housing in the total stock does not exceed 10%, which can also be assessed very low.
  • High potential for development. DOM.RF (by far the biggest rental housing operator in Russia) estimates a realistic achievable share of rental housing in the total stock at about 20% long-term. With the current volume of the housing stock (about 3.9 billion sqm), this is potentially about 750 million sqm of rental housing, (about 240 million sqm already built and about 520 million sqm still to be built). The current version of the state program plans to build about 45 million sqm of rental housing until 2030. The market potential will surely not be exhausted in the coming years, making the overall prospects favorable for the segment in the long run.
  • Pandemic effects. The pandemic has had two main consequences. First, a sharp deterioration in the macroeconomic climate last year and a long-expected economic recovery after the recent shocks. Against the backdrop of falling real incomes, own housing has become even more inaccessible for many people, and for some, renting can become a permanent replacement. Second, although less significant to the rental market, the growing popularity of remote work and new sources of demand for rental housing. With many companies shifting to a fully or partially decentralized work format, employees have more opportunity to choose where to work. This raises the number of digital nomads, i.e. employees not tied to an office and having the opportunity to work from any Russian city. The number of transactions in the rental market in mid-term will to some extent grow due to this category. One of the trends in the rental housing is the workspitality format focusing on the needs of such nomads (separate work areas, co-working spaces, meeting rooms).
  • The absence of major growth in real incomes and the lack of macroeconomic prerequisites for this on the horizon. Real disposable income was in the negative between 2014 and 2017 (the decline varying from 0.5% to 4.5% per year), followed by a short period of positive correction (+0.1% in 2018 and +1% in 2019), and then by another decline at end 2020 (-3.5%). Thus, purchasing power has actually been declining for 7 years. At the same time, the Ministry of Economic Development forecasts a rather moderate dynamics of this indicator in 2021-2023: +1.6%-1.9% per year in a conservative scenario and +2.4%-3% per year in the baseline scenario. But even in the best case, by 2023 purchasing power will not return to the level of 2013, which should not contribute to more home purchases, but should grow demand for the rental market.
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    buying out apartments (a separate section) in a building under construction and making it a rental object

Russian Metropolitan Areas: Crisis Resilience in 2020

The economic turmoil of 2020 is hammering real estate and construction, but its degree is not the same across Russia. We saw this happening during the 2008 and 2014 crises, and we are watching it right now. Tracking the situation on the real estate markets of large Russian cities, we see that the dynamics of market indicators in crisis periods have always been different in various cities under the same external conditions, and different regional real estate markets react to macroeconomic shocks in different ways.

Written by Ilya Volodko and Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Moscow city – Source of picture

The 2020 crisis and regionality in Russia

While the past crises were mostly of macroeconomic nature, the crisis in 2020, in addition to the macro component such as falling oil prices and the ruble’s volatility, has a strong local component: different regimes and periods of lockdown measures due to the pandemic and the variety and unequal effectiveness of regional measures to support businesses and the population. Because of this, the current crisis affects local real estate markets even more asymmetrically.

One of the main influences on the degree of penetration of the crisis into the largest cities of Russia will be exerted by the structure of their economies because the degree of damage caused by lockdown and other measures to combat the pandemic on different sectors is mixed. To analyse these differences, we have used data from the Institute for Urban Economics Foundation on the structure of the economy of Russian cities and the volume of the Gross Urban Product (GUP).

To understand how strongly a metropolitan economy reacts to the crisis, MACON consultants have assigned a stability coefficient to each metropolitan economic sector (classification according to the Brookings Institution methodology), depending on its vulnerability, recovery rate and predicted consequences. Coefficient 1 means the greatest stability/no influence, 0 means the least stability/complete or partial temporary liquidation of the industry:

  • Local/non-market services. Stability coefficient 1. The most stable sector, including state and municipal services, education, health care, social support, culture and art, recreation, etc. Its volume is set to remain or increase due to additional indexation or one-time/permanent support measures.
  • Manufacturing. Stability coefficient 0.8. Despite a possible decline in output and employment, the sector is sufficiently stable as severe lockdown measures do not apply. Since these are large businesses, they receive the greatest support both directly (financially) and through government orders, tax incentives, subsidized interest rates and easier access to debt financing.
  • Utilities. Stability coefficient 0.8. They remain fundamentally resilient to the crisis. They are negatively affected by shrinkage in business activity, which is offset by the rise in consumption by individuals, many of whom still work remotely. Yet, the difference in tariffs for individuals and businesses is hurting earnings.
  • Commodities. Stability coefficient 0.7. It includes mining, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing. The impact is more significant, the dynamics of commodity prices has a negative trend. But given the large volume of employment, the traditional volatility in these markets, and the non-stop nature of many extractive industries, the sector is most likely to continue working and maintain basic employment in mid-term.
  • Construction. Stability coefficient 0.5. A major negative impact due to the industry’s high dependence on any macroeconomic fluctuations, as well as with the multiplier effect, due to which even a slight decrease in construction volumes causes great changes in related industries. But the nature of the industry guarantees a considerable degree of state support and hence stability.
  • Transportation. Stability coefficient 0.5. The sector contracted due to both direct factors during the lockdown (almost complete elimination of air traffic, reduction of railway transportation, prohibition of movement within cities, between municipalities and regions), and indirect factors during the lockdown (reduction of wholesale and retail trade turnover). Yet, the need to ensure commodity logistics preserves industry volumes at an acceptable level.
  • Business/Finance. Stability coefficient 0.4. One of the most vulnerable sectors of the metropolitan economy, including financial services, insurance, real estate and new technologies (science and technology). It is characterized by a great drop in business activity and a decrease in physical access to such services.
  • Trade and tourism. Stability coefficient 0.1. The segment of retail and wholesale trade, catering, hotel and conference services is the most affected in the current crisis due to the impossibility of carrying out such activities during the lockdown. It is aggravated by the low ability of the sector to recover fast, the simplicity of liquidation procedures, the lack of access to credit and inadequate state support.

Based on data on the structure of metropolitan economies, as well as the above estimates and stability coefficients, it is possible to compile a ranking of the largest Russian metropolitan areas in terms of the degree of resistance to the crisis, where the first place/highest value means a higher degree of stability.

The findings

The metropolitan areas of Perm, Chelyabinsk and Saratov demonstrate the greatest stability. In these cities, on average, more than 60% of the economy is accounted for by the 3 basic sectors: local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities. These are either fully controlled by the state/municipality or have a major systemic/city-forming character allowing them to receive benefits that contribute to the preservation of employment and production.

The metropolitan areas of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Yekaterinburg turned out to be the least resistant to the crisis. The share of the 3 basic sectors (local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities), in contrast to the leaders, is much lower here: on average 45% versus 63%. However, the share of Business/Finance and Trade and tourism sectors, which are the most vulnerable in the current situation, is much higher (42% versus 23%). But while Moscow and St. Petersburg, due to broader financial opportunities, can offset these factors with active financial, tax and other support of the population and businesses, non-capital cities do not have such a resource.

We have found that the poorer the city, the more stable it is in the current crisis. The paradox is that Russian metropolitan areas that actively developed before the current crisis with a great deal of financial, business services, improved construction market and IT-technologies are in a much more difficult situation today than those with an economic structure from the pre-digital era and with industrial enterprises and non-market services.

For construction forecast on Russia, consult the latest EECFA Forecast Report Russia that can be purchased on eecfa.com

Construction and resilience

The different resilience to the crisis in various cities has a direct consequence on the segments of the construction market. Apart from the obviously severely affected office and retail, the most indicative is housing where demand reacts rather quickly to macroeconomic shocks and changes in the external environment. The number of housing transactions in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020 decreased in most Russian cities and regions owing to the dropping income of the population, the restrictions on movement, and the temporary impossibility of state registration of transactions. However, the most pronounced decline in demand was precisely in the cities with the least crisis-resistant economies which experienced a bigger increase in unemployment and a much bigger reduction in general business activity and a decrease in household income.