In a rush to build shops, offices and houses worthy of a thriving economy, a new elite is emerging in India - young men asked to turn plots of family land into a property business.

The 30-something businessmen have set their sights on capturing a piece of an estimated $2 billion (1 billion pounds) of annual inward investment earmarked for property in India, which eased rules on foreign financing of construction in 2005.

They are inexperienced. But they are accumulating valuable land in a billion-person economy growing at more than 8 percent this year but which is suffering a shortage of good quality housing for its burgeoning middle-class.

Shrirang Sarda, 34, describes himself as a reluctant developer whose 83-year-old family business, Sarda Group, employs 16,000 workers making bidis, cigarettes rolled in dry leaves that are hugely popular in India.

When his once-serene ancestral house in Nashik, between booming Mumbai and Pune, found itself on the main street of a horn-honking city of one million people, Sarda pulled it down and built the city's first modern cinema complex.

He sold the cinema and is now moving to develop a shopping center and a township with big-name foreign investors, which he declined to identify because a deal was imminent.

There's a huge change happening in India, with a wave of consumption, Sarda said. And if you enter the property business at a chaotic time, you've got a good chance of making it.

Some of Asia's biggest fortunes were made that way.

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing snapped up land in Hong Kong four decades ago when riots inspired by China's Cultural Revolution sparked a property slump.

Now only a small club of developers have the clout to compete in the cut-throat Hong Kong market.

And Li's empire has grown to include property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) and ports-to-telecoms conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.

China's private property market, barely a decade old but booming, has also spawned a group of mega-rich businessmen in their thirties, leading companies such as Shanghai Forte Co. Ltd. and China Vanke Co. Ltd. Many owe their beginnings to close links with local Communist party officials.


In India, success is more haphazard and often begins with the good fortune of owning prime plots of land.

Daleep Akoi's great, great grandfather was a contractor during the British Raj who built a forest research institute and a military academy in Dehradun in northern India and picked up land across the country along the way.

Now Akoi, 30, is giving up journalism and 11 years living abroad, mostly in New York, to turn a former British officer's mess in central New Delhi into a boutique hotel before developing other parcels of family land.

India, which hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2010, has just 12,000 high-quality hotel rooms, while tiny Singapore has 70,000.

I'm excited, Akoi said. There's liberalization of foreign capital coming in, confidence in the economy - you really feel it now - and the government is more open to new ideas.

He said young developers were also more open minded.

They've been abroad and have seen what value-added stuff you can do with property, Akoi said.

And the younger generation have no barriers of culture, caste and language, he said. You can shed that baggage and go to Mumbai, Kolkata, anywhere to do projects.


The property sector, with only a couple of listed firms, has few billionaires because a tangle of red tape and poor finance prevented firms from expanding beyond their local base.

The industry is hampered by poor foreclosure laws, tedious property registration processes, tax and transaction laws that vary by state, and frequent contests over property ownership.

In a Forbes magazine list of India's top 40 richest people, dominated by pharmaceutical and technology magnates, the only top-placed developer is Kushal Pal Singh, chairman of DLF Universal Ltd., who comes in fifth.

DLF, which turned a sleepy New Delhi suburb into a bustling zone of malls and offices, wants to raise $3.5 billion in what is expected to be India's biggest share offering. The sale in June of a 12.8 percent stake could value the firm at $25 billion.

Sarda and Akoi hope foreign capital can some day help them achieve the same as DLF and are encouraged by recent deals.

This year, U.S. bank Morgan Stanley has invested $68 million in Mantri Developers Private Ltd., compatriot developer Tishman Speyer tied up with India's ICICI Bank to pour more than $1 billion into the country and U.S. pension fund CalPERS has put $100 million in an Indian property fund.

Private equity arms of JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch are waiting in the wings.

Sarda said old-style wheeler dealers were losing out to businessmen like him, who attract foreign partners because they understand concepts such as cash flow predictions and internal rates of return.

Two years ago there was no market, it was just very traditional, handshake-driven, said Sarda, who travels to conferences in the region to network and learn more.

Because the funds are coming in there's a lot more transparency now. But they're also being very flexible because they're not willing to miss the India bus.