Thousands of Pakistanis associated with the real estate sector are caught in an economic crisis as the industry faces a reckoning in the market. Outdated methodologies and the perception that this industry is high-risk and untrustworthy causes many educated, interested individuals to become wary of investing their hard-earned income into land, property or developments. However, with some major changes in both mindsets and industry practices, this industry can become profitable and rewarding for all involved. Whether you’re considering real estate as a career prospect, or you want to invest in this sector, this is an excellent opportunity to create real, positive change in this sector. These can be implemented through a change in approach on the part of real estate agents and developers.

First and foremost, it is the current pool of so-called “real estate experts” who claim to be skilled at what they do. The real estate market has been overtaken by uneducated agents and dealers who don’t have the necessary skillset to guide people further, and in most cases leads to cases of frauds, or losses in other ways. The high-risk, high return factor has disappeared as every dealer promises you a safe and secure investment with high and quick returns, without proper investment strategies backing up these claims.This can be dangerous for any market, especially in a currently brittle economy like Pakistan’s. Overseas citizens return home after working hard abroad for years only to lose their entire life savings to some land fraud cases. This has given real estate agents a bad name altogether. Furthermore, the ordinary citizens can hardly these price hiked houses in the first place, even without the added utility. Many are hand to mouth when it comes to their earnings, so owning a house is a dream for many so when these people do save up enough to get a house, it should be without fraud and complications.

One major issue that destroys the reputation of the real estate industry and makes buyers hesitant to re-approach this sector is the lack of on-time delivery. A worryingly large number ofresidents and overseas Pakistanis have a story of how they invested into a projected where they were promised a house or a plot after so and so years, but even after double the duration of the promised time period, they were still left waiting. The factors behind this can range from NOCs, fake claims, incomplete paperwork, sitegoing into litigation, and investment not procured by the developers in time. According to a report, around 17 sectors are stalled for development in Islamabad. The sector of E-12 is a prominent example where plots were sold out in the late 80s, but allotted owners have still not gained possession of the developed plots. The land award for C-13 was announced in 2008 and the sector spread over 745 kanals and seven marlas. The development of the sector is facing a delay due to pending allotment against land sharing and acquisition of the built-up property (BUP). The layout plan is also incomplete.This is what happens when the entire real estate sector is overpowered bydubious, unskilled and inexperienced developers or agents. The working class or middle-class people who had invested their hard-earned life savings should have been advised before about the status of these areas so they could have avoided huge losses. The government is also largely to blame here. This only goes to show the need of proper programs or committees to deal with such issues.

The fact that real estate is one of the most obvious tax haven and wealth concealment areas is a huge issue for Pakistan’s GDP. This means a huge proportion of gains is not reported to the government or made a formal part of the economy because of the magnitude of the real estate industry coupled with less or no regulatory insight. On a more technical front, the supply and demand gap is yet another cause of worry for people interested in investing in the industry. According to a report, the urban housing presently amounts to around 350,000 units per year.However, the supply only amounts to 150,000 units per year. This does not bridge the gap at all. Many governments have historically opted to create informal settlements-slums to combat this issue, but does it really solve the issue? No, it only creates a temporary waiting period and that too a messy one.

Despite the fundamental issues within this sector due to the actions of untrustworthy developers and agents, this is still one of the most promising sectors for economic and professional growth for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Pakistan’s real estate market has evolved into a vital source of economic growth in the country. “The combined direct contribution of construction and housing sectors to the country’s GDP has been consistently higher than 9% of the past decade,”according to a report by the State Bank of Pakistan. The demand for apartments has increased sufficiently in urban centers, fueling the surge in the number of newly constructed high-rise luxury apartments in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. All these numbers are good indicators of growth in a country like Pakistan. Secondly, real estate is a rewarding career path for young people, especially fresh graduates, to kickstart their job experience. The current state of the market has become very stale and dull because there is no innovation in this sector. The strategies come across as outdated at this point, and young people can change that. For business graduates, the job market has become insanely saturated,therefore this is one area that can also generate employment and also has the potential to make the competition more interesting. Young people can have an excellent opportunity to learn from experienced and reliable property and development advisors who can mentor their burgeoning interest in this sector.

For this to work, developers, and especially the veterans, will have to change their behavior towards the market and our country’s youth. This generation will enter this market if they are given a chance to revolutionize and modernize the way the market has been running for the past decades. They will only work better and integrate better if they are guided by the existing established personalities in the market. Beyond verbal promises, the government still has a large role to play with the actual processes needed to provide a boost to this sector. The government needs to pay significant attention to this field and the thousands of Pakistanis associated with this sector need to be provided support through proper policies and relief. Investors, especially foreign investors, need to be drawn in with attractive and trustworthy projects and plans so both the foreign revenue and real estate industry can benefit. Additionally, there is a need to consult the common citizen on the exact nature of their housing concerns. For this purpose, the government should partner with community-based groups or local bodies in order to have a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. These community based programmed should be launched by the government themselves and employ responsible citizens who can be a voice for the general public. These forums can be used to raise awareness about which programs are government approved and they can also be used to highlight the fraudulent schemes in the market.

Real estate also needs to address its gender inequality issue. For a country to be successful, its women need to be given an opportunity to contribute to the economy and the real-estate sectoris proving to be a real asset to the economy in this regard. The taboos that this is only a male working space has slowly started to disappearas more and more women can be seen occupying spaces in this marketplace.Many women have started taking up managerial positions in development and building agencies. Some of the top projects in the country are getting to the point they are because the women in the industry have brought a different kind of element to the marketing methods that were being used. More and more women occupying top management positions in these spaces can pave the way for more female graduates to enter this industry as this is now turning into one sector of the economy where women might just beat men if not equalize them in terms of number. Working women are starting to realize that this sector can turn the tide and become a safe and engaging space for our brilliant women to test their skillset only the existing members of this industry create this space for them.

However, men in these industries must change their traditional mindset towards women. Men, especially older and more experienced developers and industry giants are still under the impression that this sector is male-centric, and women are only here to fulfill smaller positions. The men can’t even fathom being instructed or advised by these women right now, but they will face a great disadvantage if they do not embrace change and bring behavioral changes. The industry can encourage more female participation by holding real estate workshops and property law classes in women’s universities, invite female graduates to join their teams and create a safe, comfortable environment in their offices so that young females are actually interested in being productive members of the real estate market. One great advantage of these efforts will be the increased participation of female investors in this field. As more and more women in Pakistan build sustained careers and shun the shackles of traditional expectations, they are turning to opportunities for investment in the real estate sector. It would be even more beneficial for organizations and agents to have female representatives who understand the needs of these women and can cater to them.

Real estate might have been the biggest industry in terms of GDP for our country, but it is going to turn into one of the most rewarding and wanted career paths in the years to come. The last quarter of 2019 came as a small relief to the ailing economy as both the USD rate and stock market stabilized, which is an excellent sign for this new year. Latest news reports suggest that the heartening performance of the PSE is an indicator of macroeconomic stability. This is excellent news for those hoping for increased interest in investment in the country. These developments, which will hopefully be reflected via a real estate boost, need to be supplemented with excellent policymaking, more attractive offers to foreign investors and confidence-building on part of the real estate developers and agents. If real estate sector participants make a sincere effort to change their mindsets and create more trust in the country, they can succeed in making this sector more accessible for the common man. My vision for 2020 is to transform this sector so that investors, young people and foreigners play a greater role for the benefit of the entire country.

About the author/columnist:

Chaudhry Hammad Murtaza is a Real Estate Analyst and Director of Ebbstone Developments Pvt (Ltd). With about 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, Mr. Murtaza is a renowned member of the industry whose expertise is recognized by industry giants across the country. Having written extensively for Nawaiwaqt and being consulted on state channels like ATV and PTV to discuss real estate issues in Pakistan, he is renowned for his in-depth understanding and analysis of real estate growth and issues. With an active interest in business process automation and project management, Mr. Murtaza believes in revolutionizing and redefining real estate by setting unprecedented improved standards in Pakistan.