The Young Turk of Broking Business
Amit B. Wadhwani , Director, Sai Estate Consultants is the man behind the steep growth of a small-time real-estate broking firm in 2010 to an ISO & CRISIL certified real-estate organisation with a sales turnover worth Rs. 2000 Crore today. In conversation with Sapna Srivastava, he briefs about his journey.
Entering the office of Sai Estate Consultants in one of Chembur’s newer buildings,one can feel the vibrancy and the buzz of activity around. Most of the workforce is young men and women with high energy levels. Keeping them motivated is one challenge that Amit Wadhwani, the young second generation entrepreneur of 33 years is undoubtedly doing well. “Brokers have always been seen as unsophisticated and unrefined guys. As I come from an airlines work background, and had the soft skills on how to treat a client, it became a differentiator and an advantage for me in this sector.”
Belonging to a simple middle class family, Amit dropped out of college to start working with Jet airways as a flight steward to support his parents and younger brother. After seven years of working at the airlines and experiencing various nationalities & people and traveling the world, he forayed into the brokerage segment. “I always want to achieve even more. Entering the broking business was social suicide for me at that time. Many of my friends, unfriended me on social sites,” Amit told laughingly.
I want to change the perception of brokers and broking business among home buyers.”
“When I started, the only infrastructure I had was a car, Bluetooth, a mobile and internet as the only medium to advertise that I am a local real-estate agent.First year of business was tough. It was a one man show. My strategy was not to be a competition to the local big brokers and consciously decided not to get in touch with the flat owners, but interact only with those who wished to take flats on rent. I would post free ads online, capture the response and service the client in a professional manner. Chembur at that time was the central area connected to Lower Parel, freeway and south Mumbai which helped me in a big way as the demand for rental accommodation was good.My benchmark of earning was to make minimum the double of the Jet Airways salary that I had left. As most of the rent property clients are corporate, they were happy to find a broker who could talk in polished English with refined manners. The other established brokers were happy as I was bringing them clients for their vacant apartments. That is how, though I was new in the business, I gained footing and steadily grew the company,” Amit recounted.
I had always been interested in equity market, mutual funds & real-estate and started trading while working with airlines. Like any middle class Indian, owning a home was a dream. This triggered my interest in real-estate and I decided to work on model of only ‘leave and license’ business mainly in Chembur area in 2010.
As I sat in his plush office, sipping on black coffee, it was hard not to notice Amit having a glass of hot water. A health enthusiast he informs that beverages, junk food and alcohol are some of the things he keeps away from and sleeping hours is where he needs improvement. “I am passionate about what I do i.e. getting people their homes at the prices they can afford. While other brokers negotiate with buyers that an extra few thousand are not much given the lakhs of property they are buying, I understand what a few thousand also mean for a buyer when he is making a huge investment of his lifetime. My agents are always available to the clients for even smallest of the queries which helps reassure them that they are being taken care of. I am in my office by 9.30 am and am available to my staff on phone or message till almost 4.00 am,”stated Amit.
Amit is now joined by his brother Vicky Wadhwani, an MBA and Managing Director of Sai Estate Consultants. The one man firm of 2010 grew to a 25 employee organization by 2013. According to Amit, this was a huge achievement as the young guys who had offers from banks and BPOs were reluctant to join a broking company with no brand name in the industry. Amit hired them at 30% more salaries and in just over a year by 2014, the company has 40 members. He elaborated, “The people I hire are primarily from airlines industry as they have the service background, soft skills and are English trained. They have humble & compassionate attitude that comes from serving the passengers.”The company at that time was making revenues of 300-350 Crore in sales in a year.
In last seven years a lot has changed, earlier considered a demeaning profession, today REMI, MBA School graduates are looking at broking business as a lucrative career.
The Company Today
At present, Sai Estate Consultants is associated with 308 brands with diluting of 5000 Crore inventory sales by 2018-19. Almost, 50-60 people are adding in the firm every month. “As per CRISIL, we are at a number one position in Mumbai as far as diluting of primary residential properties is concerned and the company has been valued worth 890 Crore as of today,” added Amit. The company has recently opened office in Delhi to sell Mumbai properties and in Dubai at Marina Bays. The Hong Kong and Singapore offices will be operational by December this year. According to Amit, they have no borrowings from any bank, equity or investors and he is still the 100% owner of the company
In affordable housing segment, Sai Estate Consultants is known to come up with offers like FMCG products such as buy 2 get one free or 40% off. Amit opines, “Consumer is welcoming that there is a broker that negotiates with builders to bring discounts to the buyer. The internet and telecommunications has made the buyers much more aware and mature, they want value for money, best developer, legal advice, customer care and after service.”
The focus of the company is only on residential and will continue to be so for next few years. With over one lakh of unsold inventory in island city and much more in suburbs, Amit feels there is a lot of business in this segment. With KPMG as the knowledge partner, the company has set parameters to market which projects including – project location, developer’s credibility, enticement in terms of product line, stage of construction, capacity to bear their marketing expenses among others.
Amit elaborated, “We do not charge buyers a fee, it is only paid by the developer. Also, we are only catering to the end-users and not the investors. In terms of developers, we select only those who can offer 20-30% discount at the outset. That is the reason most of our projects are by small developers who have debt free books. We have more than 300 exclusive contracts, whereby the company works with the developer right from the planning stage, brings fund flow through organic channel of end buyers, advises them on best practices and invests in marketing & branding of the projects. On the other end, the buyers are assured that if they are not satisfied with the developer or the project after paying the cheque, we return the money in 24 hours.’
By 2019, we plan to float public issue, grow to a 500 member firm and have 30 offices in 30 countries in 30 months.
The Way Ahead
Amit feels very bullish about real-estate growth. “If even 30% of “Housing for All-2022” is to be achieved, every company including banks, builders, infrastructure, investors, brokers etc. will have to double their revenue. In the next five years, the developers who perform will able to charge 5-7% premium, others will struggle. This is because it is a buyers’ market. Almost 99.6% of the industry is buyers; rest is 0.4% is developers, financiers, brokers and other businesses. From 2015-17, we have seen 30% price correction except in ready possession flats. Also, the carpet areas have reduced by 25%,”he said.
Going forward, the company plans to become Public Limited and will start dealing with investors as well as commercial properties. Amit feels that like commodities and Gold, real-estate too will start dealing the same way. “Presently, the ready reckoner rates across the country are not real indicative values as far as transactions are concerned. In next 15-20 months, one would just need to refer the book, check the plot no. look at value, multiply with area and get the property price with just 5% deviation depending on premium.”
On the topic of being served RERA notice recently, Amit takes it as a backhanded compliment. “We were the first to be served the RERA corrective notice and a regulator would always pick the most dominant player for corrective action to set example for others. We accepted the order of the authorities as we are a RERA-complaint firm and believe in carrying out lawful business.”
He added that RERA is good for brokers as well, as they will have recourse. The penalties though seem harsh for brokers, if 67% of transactions in Mumbai are happening through broker, it shows the faith buyer is putting in them and they will have to take some onus of developer fault if they choose to associate with faulty product. “We as a company have filed cases against developers for delayed possession and made them pay the buyers interest and got them possession,” Amit stated.
Concluding the conversation, Amit feels that one area he has neglected in last seven years of setting up the company is his personal life. He gives due credit to his wife Swati Nanda Wadhwani, Mrs India Worldwide 2018 who has been understanding and very supportive all along in his journey.