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Check out these super luxury flats
Samyukta Bhowmick in New Delhi | January 21, 2006
Sitting on his tenth floor office in New Delhi's Connaught Place, Dr Vijay Vancheswar, vice-president - corporate communications, DLF Universal, is jubilant. "Look at this building!" he says of DLF Place, where his office is located.
"Built in 1992, but doesn't it look new? It's easily the best-looking building in Connaught Place. It's because we're all about maintenance and upkeep. We don't build something and then go away and leave it alone - we invest in community."
This is one way of describing their latest projects, the super-luxury apartment complexes 'The Aralias' (launched in 2004, it is expected to be finished late this year) and 'The Magnolias' (launched last year, it is expected to be finished late-2006).
Short of shooting people as they walk through the gates, DLF has done almost everything else to keep up an almost superhuman aura of exclusivity around these two projects.
All the flats are offered out on invitation only; there is no marketing to speak of; and if you wander into the DLF office in your shorts and ask about them, you will more likely be met with the cold shoulder than the glad eye.
According to Vancheswar, 'The Magnolias', which started out with a price tag of Rs 4,500 per sq ft when it was launched last September, has now reached a price of Rs 6,000 per sq ft for an apartment, and Rs 6,500 per sq ft for a penthouse. Despite the fact that the project is not even half done, all of the flats have been leased out. Why is it so popular?
"First of all, these are among the first really high-segment luxury accommodation that is available. And people who buy in this super-luxury segment are often looking for exclusivity," says Vancheswar, "This is exactly what we offer. We screen all our candidates very closely, so that we can make sure each and every resident is someone we want to be part of this community. There is no re-selling policy, that is, when someone buys a flat, we don't allow them to sell it to anyone but DLF. This keeps up a sense of community, and keeps speculators out. And of course, DLF is a known name in property development."
DLF has a fixed price at which they buy back their flats; for instance, the buy-back price now is Rs 5,000 per sq ft for The Aralias, "compared to the starting selling price of Rs 1,800 back in 2004," according to Vancheswar.
So how do you get on to one of these exclusive lists? There are only 252 flats in The Aralias, and 300 (although many more are planned) in The Magnolias, so chances are the likes of you and I will have to sit this one out.
"After we had started this by-invitation-only scheme with The Aralias," says Prerna Aggarwal, chief manager - marketing, "there was a lot of pent-up demand for the Magnolias. We catered to this clientele first, and there was really no way other than word of mouth for anyone else to find out about it. Even the section on our website was password-protected."
So letters are sent out, along with an application form that asks about your profession, age, and income ("although a lot of people left that one blank!" laughs Vancheswaran). People are then short-listed, depending on how the management at DLF feels they would fit into the community ("it's not just about money, but also class", according to Aggarwal). It is only once you have signed on the dotted line that the one piece of marketing does go out to you.
This is where Gopika Chowfla, of Gopika Chowfla Graphic Design, comes in. If you're one of the lucky people who do get a flat, you will also get sent to you a lovely concept book full of pictures - a flower here, a golf ball there (The Magnolias will overlook the to-be-extended DLF golf course), and park benches covered in red autumn leaves.
"There is really nothing concrete in this book," says Chowfla of her creation. "It doesn't tell you what kind of a flat you'll get, whether you'll get a golf membership - it doesn't commit to anything at all. Rather, it tries to sell a lifestyle, a way of thinking. It also helps word spread, adds to the intrigue and the feeling of exclusivity."
In fact, it isn't really clear what kind of a flat you will get until the last minute - this is because you can play a large part yourself in the final design. There are three main kinds of apartments at The Magnolias; the standard apartment (which is 5-bedroom), the duplex and the penthouse.
But this is all you can know; when you buy the apartment, you can pull down the walls and redesign the layout according to your own tastes, and you have to put in the walls and floors by yourself, because the price of the apartment is only for the empty shell.
Of course, there is an option where you can ask DLF to do the interiors for you (at a price of Rs 1,500 per sq ft), but you can do it yourself as well, if you want to give your apartment an individual feel.
What is the impact on the industry of this kind of never-seen-before endeavour? "There is a lot of hype around luxury these days," says Chowfla. "No one wants to interview the property developer who is doing middle segment work; everyone wants to talk of superlatives - this is just natural."
Vancheswaran, by his own admission, only talks of the "premium, super-premium and luxury segments." DLF doesn't deal in property below this line. But given the opportunity, he says, he doesn't think that DLF would be averse to getting into the middle segment.
"We're on sound ground right now with Gurgaon," he says, "given the new stable government that has established itself. This is really vital. They have promised to plough the External Development Charges that have accumulated back into infrastructure.
They have pledged crores into creating 10 lakh jobs over the next five years. You really need this kind of public-private partnership. When it comes to the economically weaker segments, the government should provide subsidies on land.
Otherwise the margins are just too wide; costs would have to be cut somewhere, and no one would want to risk quality." "But," argues Chowfla, "you'd have huge volumes as well. And all you'd have to do is provide housing with a little imagination, cut all the frills that you put on the luxury segment, but design it with care and quality in mind. That's really what's needed today."
At the end of the day, of course, businesses do need to think of the bottomline, and given the near-hysterical response to The Magnolias and The Aralias, DLF is probably wise to invest in super-luxury.
There is clearly a market to tap into. Their clientele want peace, central air-conditioning, twenty-four hour power back-up, a nine-hole golf course outside their bedroom window, and neighbours just like themselves. And they're willing to pay for it.