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Finding Manhattan on India’s real estate map

Finding Manhattan on India’s real estate map
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First Published: Fri, Feb 22 2008. 12 01 AM IST

Updated: Fri, Feb 22 2008. 12 01 AM IST
New Delhi: In the US, the trip might take more than a day, but in Bangalore, anyone can hop from Tribeca to Brooklyn, stop off at the White House, and head out to Melrose in just a few minutes.
The miraculous journey unfolds in a new housing development in Bangalore’s Electronic City named “Concorde Manhattans”, which sits on prime real estate across from a Wipro Technologies campus. While location is the major draw, developer Concorde Group is also betting that its American naming scheme will help attract Wipro’s globetrotting employees.
“Manhattans is a brand associated with grandeur,” said the company’s marketing manager Alok Mishra.
Turns out naming each street and section of the gated community also was an exercise in workplace bonding. “We searched the Net, and everybody gave one name,” said the company’s human resource executive Gangadhar Gowda.
As buyers in India rush to book new suburban luxury flats before ground-breaking—with prices topping Rs45,000 per square foot, according to one report—developers must do more than acquire land and churn out projects: They must generate names by the dozen.
While no specific data exists on the subject, observers of the high-rises increasingly gracing the outskirts of cities note that the names tend to be of faraway places or concepts that conjure images of gardens and greens, luxury and exclusivity. Developers describe the process of naming as largely random, turning to the Internet for inspiration or even their own mothers.
But as they jockey to distinguish themselves from the cookie-cutter feel of developments and largely similar floor plans, some are finding they need to brand projects better, starting with the name.
“Many people go with English because they are more aspirational,” said Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director at Samiska Marketing Consultants, as he explains the phenomenon. “If they can’t pronounce it, then it’s very aspirational.”
Gurgaon, the suburb south of New Delhi increasingly defined as a gated community mecca, is filled with such aspirational places. In DLF City, Phase V, residential developments such as Wellington Estate, Princeton Estate and Carleton Estate overlook a landscape that is still defined mostly by construction and open dirt fields. A handful of security guards sit at the entrance to Princeton Estate, keeping track of everyone that comes in and out. Manicured shrubs and short, pruned trees line the paved roads that lead to each of the 20-storey peach-coloured towers that, again, have their own security guards.
The residents, though, aren’t quite sure what to make of the name. When B.K. Sharma first moved to the complex, he was dead set against the name, for example. “Once I had a big discussion with my brother,” said Sharma, who is a retired railways officer. “Our childhood has passed in total Indian culture, but the first name is giving (the idea) that we are living in an alien area.”
A DLF spokesman declined to go into the details of how the company named its projects, but did say that it was largely an ad hoc process. “Someone goes abroad and sees a name they like,” he said, “then they choose it.”
To be sure, the urge for developers to use foreign names to evoke a sense of glamour isn’t restricted to India. Luxury residential developments outside New York have names such as Portofino, which is the name of a fishing resort in Italy, and Le Parc, which means “the park” in French. It’s also the name of a hotel in Los Angeles.
“Most of the people do not think so deeply when they designed the name,” said Sunit Sachar, who heads Parsvnath Developers Ltd’s Uttar Pradesh operations. “(They) just put in some good sounding names which had not been used earlier.” Parsvnath went with Green Ville (pronounced Green Vil-lay) for one Gurgaon development because the project ground was originally inhabited by greenery.
But if one school of thought relies on a thesaurus to name projects, another is more deliberate. According to Hari Menon, who is a marketing vice-president for Bangalore-based Mantri Developers, his company first picks an architectural theme and then leaves it to the marketing staff to propose a related brand. The company chose Espana (even though Spain actually spells its name with an ñ when translated to the Spanish) for one recent development, Menon said, because the project used some features of Spanish architecture. “It started from the insight that luxury more or less equates with larger spaces,” he said. “When we went back and searched for inspiration, we found that the old Spanish way of living was pretty similar to what we are looking for.”
An emphasis on finding the right name is a relatively new phenomenon for most developers. “A few decades ago, most developers used to focus on land-building,” said marketing consultant Kapoor, “now most developers are focused on land and brand building, because a brand appreciates more than land.”
There’s a reason behind this shift. Developers used to build and sell their projects, explained Vivek Menon, who handles marketing for Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj. But now they’re holding on to the buildings and just leasing th-em out. “It hasn’t evolved yet,” said Menon, “but developers are thinking brands, and not just naming their properties.”
There are a few upmarket firms, such as Raheja Developers Pvt. Ltd, that have stuck to Indian names—in Gurgaon, there’s Vedaanta, Atharva, Navodaya, and Raisina—to build its brand. The firm attributes this to “a belief in Indian rituals” and inspiration from promoter Navin Raheja’s mother, who was a Vedic scholar.
Outside major metropolitan areas such as New Delhi and Bangalore, the names of residential developments also tends to reflect local culture. In Agra, for example, Parsvnath built two projects called Panchvati and Prerna. “Agra is in Uttar Pradesh and people think more of Indian names there,” said Sachar.
In the end, brokers don’t think names play a big role in the buyer’s psyche. “Property prices and sales are driven by location to such a large extent,” said Danish Farook, a Bangalore-based broker with Silverline Realty Pvt. Ltd. “Name often becomes an insignificant aspect of the decision to buy.”
Some residents echoed the sentiment. When K.C. Sardana, a retired accounts officer who lives in Gurgaon’s Princeton Estate, was asked what he thought of his complex’s name, he shrugged. “A name is a name,” he said.
Even when developers try to stick to one theme, they’re sometimes forced to compromise. Bangalore’s Prestige Group, which is building projects named Notting Hill, Neptune Courtyard, Kensington Gardens and Wellington Park, is now working on a development called Shantiniketan that also happens to be the name of a home for elderly women in Shirdi, home to Sai Baba, who died in 1918.
“This name is chosen by joint development (where a developer and a land owner collaborate),” said Zaffar Sait, a business development manager for Prestige, as he explained the change in tone. “The landowner is a very staunch follower of Sai Baba.”
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First Published: Fri, Feb 22 2008. 12 01 AM IST
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