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A House for Billionaires

A House for Billionaires

After a ‘lost’ year, luxury real estate is surging as the ultra-rich trade up to opulent city apartments or go green with villas in Goa, Alibaug and Kasauli.

Grand vistas of the 200-acre golf course greet you from the balcony of every DLF Camellias apartment in Gurugram Grand vistas of the 200-acre golf course greet you from the balcony of every DLF Camellias apartment in Gurugram

If 2020 was the year of the second home—that suburban getaway for the family, a refuge from a city in lockdown—then 2021 is the year of the luxurious primary home. Homebuyers are either consolidating their move to an urban haven with all possible conveniences and amenities, or flocking to the great outdoors—by the beach or in the hills—for a spacious, comfortable indulgence to live the WFH dream.

Whichever destination they choose, what unites homebuyers is the growing need for all possible mod cons and a newfound love for spacious, verdant areas. “All those who could manage an upgrade, in their lives, wanted slightly better spaces, amenities, services, safety, security and infrastructure; anything that promised more holistic well-being for the mind and body, for yourself or the family,” says Karan Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer of New Delhi-based DLF Group. “That’s why we’ve seen an interest and uptick in our super luxury portfolio.”

In India, the demand for luxury properties—generally anything priced above Rs 1.5 crore—has increased from 11 per cent during the first wave of the pandemic to 13 per cent during the second wave, according to a 2021 survey by ANAROCK Property Consultants and industry body CII. The survey was conducted across 21 cities and covered 4,965 respondents, aged 21-27, who were looking to buy new properties. As per the survey, nearly 63 per cent of this demand is from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), split equally between buyers wanting ready-to-move-in homes, those opting for new projects, and those willing to wait a year. But there’s no compromising on their need for spaces, greenery and amenities.

“Homebuyers are looking at larger spaces to reorganise their lives post Covid-19,” says Akash Puri, Director-International, India Sotheby’s International Realty (India SIR), which offers advisory services for luxury properties. “They want to access a WFH lifestyle. Some want private gyms, cinemas, nicer views and larger living spaces with an attached garden.”

Puri says some buyers are taking advantage of low mortgage rates while others are reinvesting their capital gains from the stock market’s bull run. Then there are high net-worth individuals (HNIs) loaded with money as overseas travel was curtailed. “People are not spending overseas, so there’s a huge fund available to upgrade their lifestyle,” says Puri.

Despite the pandemic, India SIR sold over 50 million-dollar homes, worth about $300 million totally, in India and Sri Lanka in the past one year. Their top markets in India are Golf Links—where an 8,000-sq. ft home is listed for nearly Rs 150 crore—Sunder Nagar and Jor Bagh in Delhi, as well as Goa, Mumbai and Alibaug, where a 6,329-sq. ft ‘glass’ house is listed for Rs 13.9 crore.

But as much as having the means, there’s also a behavioural shift, says Nibhrant Shah, Founder and CEO of luxury home developer Isprava, whose revenue almost tripled during the pandemic. “The entire mindset has shifted; perceptions have changed post-pandemic. There’s this whole new type of buyer who doesn’t consider this to be even a luxury home anymore. You have the uber-rich buyer who never wanted a holiday home. Now, if Covid-19 happens again, they can’t leave the country, so they need somewhere to go. Then you have the WFH-ers—the tech guys who work from home, who will never go back to the office. Why waste time in traffic or pollution in Mumbai or Delhi? And lastly, you have younger people who are never going back to the city. They’d rather buy in Goa and rent in Mumbai.” He gives the example of two buyers who paid Rs 25 crore for homes in Goa.

And they are hardly the exception.

While their homes in Alibaug are sleeker and more contemporary, Isprava’s forte is haciendas, or Portuguese-style villas with a heritage design. These fully serviced villas have butlers, cooks, gardeners, managers, concierge services, as well as tennis courts, walking tracks, swimming pools and, of course, gardens. “People want to be surrounded by greenery,” says Shah. “After the lockdowns, there’s a desperation to break free for the whole family, with more land, or a fruit garden.”

Isprava villas start at about Rs 4 crore and go all the way to Rs 50 crore for estates on large tracts of land. “People are now willing to spend more,” says Shah. “Earlier, you had that invisible buyer at Rs 15 crore and now there’s movement at Rs 20 crore to Rs 30 crore.” Their properties are mostly in and around north Goa, in Assagao, Vagator, Siolim, Anjuna and Ashwem.

“The property market in Goa rebounded in the second half of 2020,” says Puri of India SIR. “People find living in Goa pleasurable, with its natural environment, and practical, with access to infrastructure and roads. If you have Wi-Fi connectivity, you could live anywhere in Goa. Plus, medical facilities have improved.”

He says while people are looking at independent villas in the secondary market, others prefer gated communities with 10-15 villas for security. “These come with concierge services and a villa manager,” adds Puri. “People want good neighbours and to rub shoulders with like-minded people in a self-inclusive environment. In case there’s another pandemic, why be stuck in a city?”
While Isprava is in north Goa, Sun Estates Developers focuses on the lush eastern part of Goa, in villages like Aldona, Calvim, Paliem and Moira, where it scours for plots near a river or the ocean. “Five per cent of buyers want a larger plot of an acre (about 43,560 sq. ft) or more, while 60 per cent of my buyers go for a 4,500-sq. ft plot, starting from Rs 5 crore, with a pool and compound wall,” says Suraj Morajkar, Founder and Managing Director of Sun Estates Developers. The 26-year-old firm has 40 homes, priced at Rs 5 crore to Rs 7 crore, on the market and has sold around half its inventory. Their clients during the pandemic included actors Sunil Grover and Ronit Roy.

Alibaug, a coastal town just south of Mumbai, too, has suddenly become a ‘Hamptons of the East’, so to speak. Its coastal appeal, improved infrastructure and proximity to Mumbai have made it a favourite. A fully-serviced, standalone Isprava property here costs anywhere between Rs 5 crore and Rs 30 crore.

The hills are also becoming a favourite haunt. “Our properties in the hills, in places like Kasauli, have performed really well,” says Kumar of DLF. The DLF Samavana, spread across 58 acres and surrounded by a pine forest, is one of the largest gated communities in Himachal Pradesh, with a mix of villas, independent floors, and plots. The average price for a plot here is Rs 5 crore to Rs 5.5 crore. Isprava also operates in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, and will have properties in Kasauli by the end of the year.

But for many, the city still has its appeal.

M umbai remains a hot market, with all the action centred in upscale areas like Bandra, Nepean Sea Road and Andheri. “We clocked Rs 1,500 crore of sales during the pandemic,” says Shraddha Kedia-Agarwal, Director, Transcon Developers Pvt. Ltd. “Everyone who was on the fence jumped in,” she says, adding that the Mumbai-based firm’s peak was this June.

Their latest launch is the third tower (T3) in Transcon Triumph in Andheri (West). Triumph’s super-luxury Tower 1 (T1), where actor Akshay Kumar owns a home, has a walking track, 16-person theatre, co-working spaces, cafeterias and a spa, besides the regular amenities. Its 1,700-sq.-ft to 2,870-sq. ft three- and four-bedroom apartments cost Rs 7 crore to Rs 10 crore. In comparison, T3’s 376-sq. ft to 1,000-sq. ft apartments are priced between Rs 1.2 crore for a one-bedroom flat and Rs 3 crore for a three-bedroom one. But they are no less lavish, with interiors designed by renowned architect Hafeez Contractor. “We’ve got beautiful amenities like a café, squash court, jogging track, rock-climbing wall—everything we’ve given T1,” says Kedia-Agarwal. She points out that many people combine two or even three apartments for a bigger space.

With easy access to movie studios, schools, hospitals and the airport, “location is Triumph’s biggest attraction,” Kedia-Agarwal adds. No wonder 100 T3 units were lapped up soon after launch even though the project will be ready only in 2026. Transcon’s other attraction is the 20-floor, super-luxe WestBay in Bandra (West), with sweeping views of the Sea Link. Its 1,500-sq. ft apartments sell for Rs 8 crore, going up to Rs 12 crore for a 2,000-sq. ft apartment.

Another Mumbai-based developer experiencing a surge is The Runwal Group. “Buying was subdued during the pandemic, but given the boost by the [Maharashtra] government, in terms of [lower] stamp duty charges, there was robust demand in Q2 and Q3 [of FY21]. This slowed down slightly in the last quarter of FY21, but we expect a sustained uptick in demand in the next couple of years,” says Saurabh Runwal, Associate Director, The Runwal Group. “In the luxury segment, we’ve seen a desire for that extra space in the house.”

One of its most palatial properties is The Residence, with an unobstructed view of the sea. Each of its 30 floors is a 5,000-sq. ft apartment priced north of Rs 60 crore. “Some people have taken two-three floors. It’s for buyers who don’t want to change where they live but upgrade their lifestyle,” says Runwal.

So, too, is The Wadhwa Group’s Samarpan in Bandra, just 100 metres from the Arabian Sea and surrounded by 10 acres of greenery. The 11-floor, Fibonacci-inspired building has apartments starting from 2,800 sq. ft, but can be customised into 7,000-sq. ft to 8,000-sq. ft duplex and triplex residences. The cost? An eye-watering Rs 1 lakh per sq. ft. “If you have the money, you won’t settle for smaller spaces,” says Bhaskar Jain, Head, sales, marketing, and CRM at the Mumbai-based developer. Jain says they recently sold a duplex and a triplex.

The Wadhwa Group’s sale of luxury units—anything above Rs 60,000 per sq. ft, for a roughly 2,000-sq. ft apartment—doubled from 1,500 in January to 3,000 in June. “Earlier, 60 per cent of people bought luxury apartments when the project was nearing completion, and now people are focused on inner spaces, on layouts, on spaces they could use for their families,” says Jain.

And, reflecting the direction of the luxury market, rentals for luxury properties have also soared. For example, in Gurugram, the rent for a 7,400-sq. ft apartment in DLF Camellias is around Rs 7 lakh a month, while The Crest commands monthly rentals close to Rs 2.5 lakh for a 3,500-sq. ft apartment.

On balance, the popular vanity addresses may still belong to the cities, but the non-metros are closing the gap. Whatever the location, though, one thing is clear—the number of vanity addresses is only going higher.

@PriyaKumariRana