Vandana D is an excited woman these days. She can’t wait to move out of her three-bedroom, 2,500 sq. ft apartment at Cuffe Parade to a 5,000 sq. ft duplex apartment a stone’s throw away. From a building with four lifts servicing 90 flats and no amenities to speak of, Vandana is moving to a building which has a pool, a gym, liftmen and a concierge, not to mention enough parking for her family’s three cars.
The new digs don’t come cheap. For her new 10th floor flat at Cuffe Parade, in an upcoming swanky building, Vandana’s family will shell out a cool Rs24 crore. All this so that she can proudly hawk her latest acquisition and join an elite group of super-premium flat owners in Mumbai.
Vandana, who didn’t want her surname used, is not the only one to be caught up in the latest trend. Super-luxurious housing in Mumbai is on a fast growth trajectory as developers move in at a frenzied pace to cope with this latest demand from those seeking to upgrade their lifestyles.
With each builder vying with the other to attract an exclusive clientele, these developments are boasting facilities that were once thought beyond reach.
According to realtors, superluxury housing is any space that is in excess of 3,500 sq. ft, offers a sea view or a picture-perfect skyline. Uptil recently, high-end apartments were confined to 3,000 sq. ft. Today those dimensions extend from 5,000 to 7,000 sq. ft and don’t pertain merely to the parking spaces and utilities offered. “The super luxury segment is defined by privacy and exclusivity, rather than the amenities offered,” says Nirmal Ahuja, partner, Ahuja Realty. So you have one apartment per floor, with the habitable floors starting from the 10th floor level or above, in order to rise above the clutter of the buildings around. “Besides space, these buildings will have top-notch clientele, people that each of the prospective buyers would like to associate with,” says Poonam Mahtani, national director, Colliers International (India) Property Services Pvt. Ltd.
While there are a few buildings with these specifications coming up in the suburbs, most of the super luxury segment is confined to South Mumbai and Bandra. Almost all the major developers have started projects in this segment, with construction slated to be complete by 2008. So there’s Villa Orb and Orbit View by Orbit Corp Ltd, Legend by the Raheja group, Beau Monde by Sheth Developers and Oberoi Skyz by Oberoi constructions, among other super luxury complexes coming up around town. Depending on the space, all super luxury apartments are pegged from anything between 20 and 35 crores.
Space is a coveted commodity, but the interiors of these apartments are not neglected either. The look and feel is being designed to emulate international standards and developers are not averse to hiring foreign architects to work for them. For example, at Orbit Corp Ltd, a Singapore architect has been added to a team comprising architects like Noshir Talati and Hafeez contractor. The reason? Singapore apartments soar amid beautifully landscaped grounds and Orbit wants that look to be replicated in all its complexes. “There is a paucity of not just good quality buildings but buildings with quality that makes them stand tall above the rest,” says Pujit Aggarwal, MD and CEO of Orbit corp Ltd.
Which is the reason why developers are trying to add features that will outdo the mere luxury label. So maids’ suites replace the poky little servant’s room, and you have entrance lobbies that replicate the five-star hotel ambience. Parking spaces can even accommodate up to five cars per flat, apart from providing valet parking to residents. According to Ahuja, one builder is even proposing to add private parking on every floor that can accommodate up to three cars.
Ravi Sandilya, director, Skanda Realty Pvt. Ltd, attributes the sudden rise in super luxury apartments to a clientele that is tuned to what can be made available to them, having lived abroad and travelled extensively. With a booming economy and a stock market that has created millionaires overnight, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of what people envisage in terms of an image and lifestyle. Returning expats, accustomed to a different lifestyle overseas, are demanding those same standards back home. Luxury apartments overseas flaunt mini-city status and are replete with shopping malls, sports centres and concierge and housekeeping services.
While that may not translate to a reality back home anytime soon, the influx of the foreign brigade has put demands on larger space. According to realtors, the main clients still remain the diamond merchants, top-rung investment bankers and stockbrokers.
Most of the time, sales of these apartments are by invitation only and as in the case of some of the bigger builders, getting a celebrity or two to buy an apartment in their complex doesn’t hurt the client list at all.
Realtors say the interest in buying property was never more, barring a period in 1995-96 when speculation was at its highest. In the early 1990s, many investors were drawn by the spiralling real-estate prices with the intention of making quick profits. But this time, the story is likely to be different as the end-users rather than suppliers drive the boom. With the economy booming and the real estate marching in tandem with the stock market, housing prices are soaring as builders cash in on a rich and savvy clientele. Indians are earning huge salaries, almost on par with their western counterparts. Experts say the bonuses and salaries for 2006 for top managers should be in the range of Rs6 crore to Rs10 crore, far above the Rs5 crore to Rs7 crore of the previous year.
Of course, all this comes at a price. “The lack of supply, especially in south Mumbai, is what is driving up the prices,” says Ahuja. As a result, price indices are skewed and these apartments cost substantially more in Mumbai as compared to the other large metros. Super-luxury apartments in Mumbai go up to Rs45,000 per sq. ft, Delhi’s prices for premium real estate in prime localities is about Rs20,000-30,000, in Chennai it’s Rs12,500 and Bangalore comes in a distant fourth with Rs7,000 per sq. ft.
In Bangalore, one of the premium offerings is by the Vancouver-based real estate group RIRIC, which has plans to set up The Royal Garden Villas and Resorts, a five-star community development which will feature shops, a winery and a luxury hotel, amid the plush high-rise apartments and villas. Also proposed are equestrian facilities as well as a Jack Nicklaus signature 18-hole golf course.
In Delhi, major builders like Ansals and Omaxe are not far behind. The Ivy in Gurgaon, an exclusive enclave by the Silverglades Group, will feature private swimming pools for the villas along with shops on the premises and computerized car parking areas for easy access.
In Chennai, The Patio by Vijay Shanti Builders features 15 high-end apartments spread over 22 plots. Apart from the usual amenities, there will be a party space that can accommodate 200, as well as a lumber room and a room for drivers.
Yet does the high price tag justify the super-luxury status? Or is it just a marketing ploy by developers to heat up a new segment? An investment banker who returned to India in August after a decade in New York has a realistic take. “I know I have paid 20-plus crores for the space and not for the facilities,” he says. “I was told that the building has a swimming pool—a wading pool is closer to the truth.”
With a discerning clientele and a whopping price tab, just how sustainable is this market? According to Mahtani of Colliers, the super-luxury segment accounts for a maximum of about 3% to 4% of the total housing market in Mumbai. And with space not readily available, most realtors don’t expect that figure to increase substantially. “The demand for this segment is because it is a niche market (and) the in-thing,” says a real-estate developer, who does not wish to named. “Once the space dries up, the market will come to a standstill”.
This, however, does not seem to worry clients like Vandana. Happily shopping for home accessories in Dubai and London, she is looking forward to moving into her luxury condo—and enjoying the whole nine yards.
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