The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the housing sector in Bogura where the real estate business is thriving the most, after three other divisional cities in the country.
Investing at least Tk 1,000 crore, real estate businessmen in the district are counting their losses for the last one year.
They say the country's fourth-biggest real estate business is in Bogura. Due to its central location, Dhaka's housing sector is the biggest in the country while commercial capital Chattogram and Sylhet are in second and third position respectively.
Within 20 years of the beginning of real estate development in Bogura, it reached the fourth position, surpassing other divisional cities.
But in the last year, real estate development in Bogura has steadily slowed down due to the adverse impact of the global coronavirus pandemic. Investing crores of taka, housing businessmen are now worried about how to overcome the increasing losses.
Talking to a number of housing businessmen in the district, The Business Standard learnt that the real estate business in Bogura was started in 1999 by one Moyez Mia, a prominent businessman of Bogura. He started with a building called 'Redlight' in the Azizul Haque College area of the city. His successful venture attracted others to also invest in real estate development.
According to local businessmen, due to its geographical position, Bogura is the 'centre of life' between the two divisional cities of Rajshahi and Rangpur. The district is a leading exporter of agricultural and industrial machinery in the country, as well as other manufactured goods. As such, demand for housing in the district town is high and the real estate business in Bogura started flourishing.
Md Zulkar Ali Khan Chowdhury, owner of Comfort Housing Limited, has been in the real estate sector in Bogura for the past 20 years.
Talking about various aspects of the real estate business in Bogura during the corona period, he told The Business Standard: "We have been running the business for the last one year, only to keep it afloat. Due to the acute countrywide financial crisis brought on by the pandemic, buyers are not being able to pay their installments in due time. In turn, we are also failing to repay our bank loans in time."
Before Corona, he continued, achievements in the real estate business of Bogra were noteworthy. But the pandemic has fully devastated the sector. Realising the potential for real estate business in Bogura, many prominent builders came to Bogura from Dhaka with big investments. But now they are having to close down their businesses because of the adverse impact of the pandemic.
With the expansion of the housing business in Bogra, the Bogura Real Estate Association (BREA) has been formed. According to the organisation, it had 50 members just a year ago, which has gone down to 31 at present," he said, adding that at least 600 workers are involved in the housing sector in Bogura. The coronavirus has not only affected developers, but the lives of these workers also.
He said more and more multi-storied buildings are being built within a stretch of about 6km from the Banani area of Shajahanpur upazila, to Matidali of Sadar upazila.
Sohanur Rahman Sohag, owner of Shah Sultan Properties in the Rajabazar area of the district town, has invested around Tk100 crore in housing. He said, "I have lost at least Tk20 crore in the last one year due to corona. Although I already know that more losses are in the offing, I have no option but to continue running the venture.
He feared he might be plagued by bank loans if the pandemic lasts for much longer.
Md Sairul Islam, another real estate businessman from Nowapara in the city, said he is surviving the pandemic, fighting like others. The pandemic itself isn't the only problem. On top of that, the prices of various construction materials are skyrocketing with unscrupulous suppliers capitalising on Corona. In the space of one month, the price of cement has increased by Tk60 to Tk80 per sack.
The price of iron rods has also increased by Tk10 per kg, while the price of plastic piping has increased by Tk30 to Tk40. However, the price of apartments hasn't increased at all. Rather, apartment prices have gone down dramatically during this time.
BREA General Secretary Sairul Islam started his real estate business in 2010 with Tk100 crore in investments. Although he suffered a little loss at the beginning of his business, he never faced a crisis to the extent of what has happened with the start of the pandemic last year.
Sairul also said, "Bogura is a suitable place for the real estate business. But the problem is in building design approval. Bogura Municipality does not approve more than 7-storey buildings. For the approval of a multi-storey building, permission of the deputy commissioner is needed, but the DC office rarely approves multi-storey buildings taller than 7 storeys.
Anwarul Karim Dulal, president of BREA, said, "Some of us have jointly invested around Tk200 crore in the real estate business. Coronavirus has been a major obstacle to our business for over a year. We cannot sell flats because people have cut down on their spending due to the pandemic.
"In a nutshell, coronavirus has cost us 40% of our annual profits. Last Ramadan, a lockdown was imposed to tackle the pandemic, and it may be imposed this Ramadan also. In this month of fasting we make up our annual profits significantly, like many other businesses, but corona has devastated our future," he added in frustration.
Anwarul Karim continued, "We, the real estate traders of Bogura, are contributing a lot to the country's GDP. Workers who have become efficient working in the housing sector here are employed as construction workers in various European countries."
"But discrimination in approval of building designs in city corporations and municipalities is hampering the growth of Bogura's housing sector," he added, observing that two different policies are being followed in the same country.
Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Bogura, Md Ziaul Haque, said other businesses have also incurred losses, more or less, due to the corona.
In reply to a query about not approving designs of buildings taller than seven-storey, he said, "We have a full committee to approve the design of multi-storey buildings. This committee meets every two months. After thorough scrutinising, the files are approved or not by the committee. We do not have the scope to bypass the law."