The office isn’t going anywhere, even as companies abroad and in India look at work from home as being the new normal. On Tuesday, none other than Canada’s alternative asset management firm, Brookfield Asset Management, with $550 billion in assets under management, reiterated the long-term importance of an office environment. It spent a staggering $2 billion to acquire 12.5 million square feet of rent-yielding commercial space in India, from Bengaluru-based real estate developer, RMZ Corp.
Touted as being the largest real estate deals in the country, RMZ Corp in a media release said that it has divested around 18% of its office space portfolio as well as its co-working business, CoWrks. The transaction, says Arshdeep Singh Sethi, managing director of RMZ Corp, “further accentuates the unabating strength and resilience” of the commercial office business in the country.
“This work from home is a temporary phase; it will not last forever. Keep in mind the fact that humans are social animals,” a senior executive of an India-listed real estate developer told Fortune India. “How will anyone be able to imbibe a company’s culture if they don’t go to office? On a Webex call or a Zoom call, nine out of 10 times you don’t understand the real intentions of what the other person is saying,” he remarks.
The RMZ Corp-Brookfield deal is said to be a win-win for both parties. While RMZ Corp gets top dollars to repay its rising debt obligations, Brookfield gets a larger foothold in India’s growing office market. According to real estate consultancy firms, that about 35 to 38 million square feet of new office space gets leased annually in the country.
Brookfield operates over 20 million square feet of office space in India, largely in the north and east, with plans afoot of listing a real estate investment trust on the Indian bourses. With RMZ Corp’s properties, the Canadian investor gets access to marquee commercial assets and foreign clients across the key southern metros of Bengaluru and Chennai. “A significant part of RMZ Ecoworld, a 14-million square feet development, is at the core of this transaction,” read a statement from RMZ Corp.
At present, from various industry data, U.S. private equity giant Blackstone is counted as being the largest office space owner in the country, operating over 110 million square feet of leased commercial space. “Both (Blackstone and Brookfield) want to be prominent (office space) players in the country and hold a majority share of Indian commercial real estate,” said a senior real estate consultant, who requested anonymity.
Interestingly, as part of the deal, RMZ Corp exited from the co-working space business, after having built over 16 centres across five cities in India. “They wanted to get rid of CoWrks, after the whole WeWork story collapsed. The analogy I would say is that if an Amitabh Bachchan film doesn’t work then what will the smaller heroes do?” quips a senior real estate consultant in Bengaluru. Moreover, Brookfield has invested in a similar platform in the U.S. called Convene.
Commenting on the transaction, Manoj Menda, corporate chairman, RMZ Corp., said, “RMZ has decided to divest a part of our core portfolio across Bengaluru and Chennai to raise $2 billion of fresh capital. Upon divestment, RMZ is now amongst the only zero debt real estate companies, globally.” With this deal, he added, “we have ample headroom to achieve our next phase of growth that RMZ 2.0 has defined for us. Our massive transformative purpose is to disrupt the way people view work, defining the future of space.”
Commercial property analysts say that the sector definitely faces short-term challenges owing to the work from home directives that many companies have issued to their employees. “But at some point people will come back to collaborate at work, and the shape and form of the office will not change. Only the way you use the office will change,” says a senior executive of a leading property consultancy firm, who didn’t wish to be named for this story. “The way the office will function will definitely change and there have been many deliberations over the last six months on the way forward. But in the long run, the office isn’t going away.”