With pressure on land in the metros increasing by the day and with lifestyles changing, many are looking to escape the Monday-to-Friday nine-to-five routine by making a second home for themselves outside the cities they live and work in. It’s not just a long weekend, but even a regular one, that is tempting a number of people in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi to invest in that second house. It gives them a chance to get away from the familiar monotony of routine, an unshackling as it were, in many cases a literal ‘heading for the hills’. While hotels catering to these needs are a dime a dozen, somehow it’s a place of one’s own that proves to be a far greater attraction, for obvious reasons. “I actually look forward to my weekends now since I bought my own little place in Kamshet,” says Mumbai–based software engineer Parul Gadgil, one of a latest breed of second-home owners. “It’s not a great place, but it’s my refuge from work.”
Sales of weekend and vacation homes in resorty areas close to Mumbai are booming, say realtors. Mumbaikars are seeking respite in properties in places such as Alibagh, Lonavala and Khadakvasla for weekend getaways. And the trend is not confined merely to the spiffy, well-heeled set, which boasts large homes and sometimes, private boats to help them ease into their weekend couture. Increasingly, white-collar professionals are buying or building homes outside the city as they look to tide over weekday blues. The reasons are not far to seek. People say their lives have changed. The Soods, busy doctors who live and work during the week in New Delhi, make it a point to go at least twice a month to their weekend home near Manesar, about an hour from Delhi. “This is the best thing that has happened to us”, says Sameer Sood. It not only feels like a holiday every time, we are so relaxed and charged up when we return, though we might have done nothing at all on those two days, just lazed around, taken a walk or read a book.” Better roads have made travel easy too. “I have inherited an old haveli in Jaipur that I’m thinking of restoring and opening up as a weekend retreat for my family and friends”, says Amar Chandok, a businessman who has two shops dealing in electrical fittings in Chandni Chowk. “You can’t imagine how crowded and stressful my week is. The Delhi–Jaipur journey in my new car takes less than four hours, the roads are so good. It means a lot to be able to get away even for a short break. And it feels like a different world out there”.
A wave of interest in weekend homes has prompted architects and realtors to offer building plans and customized homes to cater to the growing number of second-home shoppers. Not many of these homes are rambling and huge in terms of living space. Typically, a weekend home has large common areas such as the living room and the veranda, with smaller retiring rooms. The idea is to retain a more rustic flavour in the interiors, with sliding glass doors and barbecue pits on the lawn taking precedence over marble floors and luxurious fittings. The Soods’ home in Manesar, for instance, is a brick-and- stone affair, built using low-cost, environment-friendly technology. It’s a far cry from the sprawling luxury they are used to in the city, “but that’s what makes it all the more worthwhile”, says Sameer Sood.
Second homes are also more often than not geared towards outdoor activities, so for a number of days in the year having a lot of living space is superfluous. Minimal square footage means low maintenance, less upkeep and low energy bills. As Neelkanth Pathore, senior manager of a call centre in Andheri, puts it, “If I buy a vacation home in Goa, the way people used to, how many times a year would I use it? I would have to rent it out most of the year and then be worried sick about who was in it.” His solution: he has just bought land in a tiny nook on the hills above Lonavala, and plans to get a small cottage built on it once he gets all the building approvals.
Heinz Mathias, managing partner in a company which manufactures industrial ovens, agrees. His three-bedroom home in Lonavala was bought by his father in 1966 when “it was not fashionable to have a weekend home.” He inherited it when his father died and over the years he has done renovations to the ranch-style house with a sizeable garden around it. He goes there about once or twice a month with his family and uses the time to “recharge my batteries”. “I switch off my mind on the highway,” he says. “To me my weekend home is a place of rejuvenation before I head back to the hustle-bustle of the city.”
Most weekenders say that a quick getaway home should be located within drivable distance and should ideally be located in a scenic locale where the natural surroundings are an intrinsic part of the landscape. Rahul and Sonal Gore, Mumbai-based architects, have done just that for Padma Bhushan Dr. K.H. Sancheti, renowned orthopaedic surgeon. His charming, 2000sq. ft, four- bedroom, four-bathroom, contemporary home is situated high on a hill with a panoramic view of the Khadakvasla hills and the lake from its all-encompassing wide veranda. Just 45 minutes from Pune, the home has no telephone lines and no TV, in keeping with the peace and tranquillity of the area. “As you start getting away from the city, you begin to shed the city layer by layer,” says Rahul Gore, of the need by his clients to surround themselves by a mass of foliage, something not very readily available in the concrete jungle on weekdays.
Which is the reason to buy a weekend home in the first place. Most second-home owners have absolutely no interest in playing hosts to a vast collection of drop-by friends over the weekend. “Most of my clients don’t want their weekend home to be an extension of their busy city life,” says Colaba-based interiors stylist Sunita Sethi. Others agree. “My family and I love to catch up with the locals and do quaint things like sitting on haystacks by the river,” says Mathias.
Walking along trails, trekking, eating at local dhabas or just sleeping-in become main activities. Following a trend, most new weekend home buyers are children of baby boomers, or the current Generation X. Many of the older homes are generational, passed down to grandchildren. However, the current crop of new buyers is not into second homes for investment purposes per se, but more for the other reasons we set out.
Whatever the reasons, prices are going up fast. With Lonavala threatening to get saturated, prices for a small cottage with minimal surroundings around it are being quoted at over Rs70 lakh. Rahul Gore remembers a time when the land where his parents built their four-bedroom family home in Lonavala, was bought for Rs45,000. That now remains a distant memory. A recent two-acre property in Lonavala with a huge 5,000sq. ft bungalow featuring an outhouse and extensive grounds was put on the market by its owner for outright sale. The asking price—a cool Rs3 crore.
Prices for these homes also vary by proximity to the Mumbai-Pune expressway, and also reflect the degrees of finish, types of materials used and design options. In general, weekend homes in the more popular destinations such as Lonavala and Khadakvasla range anywhere from Rs4,000 to Rs6,000 per sq. ft, say realtors.
“Beyond the National Capital Region (NCR), once you’ve crossed the Haryana border, land can be had for between Rs25 and Rs40 lakh an acre”, says Rajeev Agarwal, a Delhi-based architect. “On the G.T. Karnal Road, the costs are again in the area of about Rs40 lakh an acre. There are several projects under way in these areas, prices in the city have become so prohibitive that there seems to be no option but for people to move out if they want more expansive spaces. Gated communities of weekend homes could be a reality in the next few years”, opines Agarwal.
In Mumbai, architects and town planners worry that so much of construction in the once green areas around the city may lead to issues of too much development. When the Gores first bought their weekend retreat in Lonavala over two decades ago, their only neighbours were Hotel Fariyas and a couple of cottages. Now the construction boom in that area has drastically reduced the greenery, and the sound of drilling jacks has replaced the chatter of birds.
All this is not deterring the weekenders. On Friday evenings, the roads leading out of the cities are clogged with cars filled with holidaymakers scrambling to reach their individual destinations. The grass, as they say, does grow greener on the other side.
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