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Home > Business > Special

This is what dreams are made of

Arati Menon Carroll & Gayatri Ramanathan | March 11, 2006

From bathrooms worth a fortune to private golf courses and parks, the word "luxury" is being redefined in these premium developments.

A fully equipped gym with sauna and steam, a massage chair and a Jacuzzi - all fitted into your master bathroom. This is not one man's fantasy - it is a norm that 105 families enjoy in The Forest, Noida, developed by Omaxe Constructions.

And that's not all - there's an exclusive cigar lounge for the residents, and the 6,000 sq ft penthouses boast of private terrace gardens and swimming pools in each flat.

Ahuja Developers in Mumbai will offer you bathrooms with Grohe showers that cost over 100,000 each, gold-plated taps, Portuguese in-laid marble lobbies, Italian soundproof windows and onyx kitchen platforms.

Others make do with car parks with exclusive Bisazza tiles, hand-painted murals in the lobby, skid-proof car parks, your own personal remote control to open electronically controlled gates and security television-phones at every door.

And buyers are queuing up to buy these flats at whopping premiums. So much so that in bigger cities, many developers who made their money in the mid-segment are moving to the luxury segment. Take for instance DLF.

The group that pioneered good quality mid-market suburban housing in the 90s, has shifted to where the demand has been soaring in the last year - the luxury segment.

"There is a lot of pent-up demand for luxury, that's why we decided the time was right to enter the segment. And luxury itself is getting redefined as the big spenders want exclusivity," says Vijay Vancheshwar, vice president and official spokes-person for DLF.

And how! Ownership at The Magnolias, the luxury apartment complex the group has developed in Gurgaon, Delhi, overlooking an 18-hole golf course, under the DLF Luxury Homes banner, is by invitation only.

Ownership here comes with access to a concierge, a dedicated 9-hole golf course (apart from access to the 18-hole course next door), and the stock club house and swimming pool. The penthouse measures 9,000 sq ft and the standard flats 5,500 sq ft.

Adds Pradipta Sen, vice president-marketing, Alpha Buildtech, "Customers today are not just looking for a place to park their money. They also expect good value for that money. They look for infrastructure, aesthetics and hi-tech amenities."

Gurgaon One, Alpha's Rs 140 crore (Rs 1.4 billion) luxury residential project with 240 flats, villas and penthouses, expected to be ready by the year end, is already sold out. Buyers include fashion designer Ritu Beri, polo player Adhiraj Singh and politician Nafisa Ali.

Buckley Court is a set of luxury apartments juxtaposed over a heritage bungalow in the heart of Colaba, Mumbai, in a happy compromise between development and heritage conservation.

Designed by Hafeez Contractor, each flat has an area of 6,000 sq. ft with a 360 degree view of the ocean. The price tag? A cool Rs 11 crore (Rs 110 million).

Prestige Shantiniketan is a 105-acre township in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, which includes a convention centre, a five-screen multiplex and a five-star Radisson Hotel and an 11 acre park modelled on Central Park in Manhattan.

One reason many builders are switching to luxury housing are the returns on investment. In an environment where demand far outstrips supply, developers can command any price and get it.

"Though the period of realisation in the luxury segment is longer than in the mid segment, but the ROI is 20-30 per cent higher. That is one reason many builders are now shifting to the luxury segment, especially in heated markets like Mumbai and Delhi," says Kushagr Ansal of the Ansal group.

Says Pradipta Sen of Delhi's Alpha Buildtech group, "Land prices in Gurgaon are so exorbitant that builders can't do anything but switch to the luxury category to justify acquisition costs, so developers tie up with electronic equipment suppliers at half the cost, lump electronic appliances and other amenities together with the flat to justify the premium."

"While south Mumbai typically is not so amenity driven, in suburbs like Bandra and Andheri, fittings are important," says Sunil Bajaj, a Mumbai-based property consultant.

"Gold-plated taps, the best imported Portuguese marble, buyers are paying out the premium for these amenities." Ironically, when apartments are in the Rs 8-15 crore (Rs 80-150 million) segment, buyers prefer bare walls, says Bajaj.

"They'd rather spend another crore on differentiating their apartment from the neighbours', so the higher the price tag, the less you have to provide. It's the Rs 1-3 crore (Rs 10-30 million) segment that expects the apartment to be fully fitted."

Obviously, different cities have a different take on luxury - while cities like Delhi and Bangalore are looking for cool green spaces around, in Mumbai a sea view and the luxury of space within are the biggest criteria defining luxury.

"In Mumbai, luxury is about space; fittings are a more personal choice. In other cities, it's about the amenities in the compound, the lifestyle you provide," says Ansal.

"Given the scarcity of land, the demand for luxury apartments is largely unmet, especially in south Mumbai. Delhi is a more saturated market while luxury is an emerging niche," he adds.

In Bangalore, says Swaroop Anish, vice president, business development, Prestige Group, "Land permitting all developments come with the luxury of large proportions of open, green spaces. Constructions are definitely better looking and superior. Luxury here is still about space, both within the house and in the wide open spaces around the house."

But in Mumbai, geography still determines luxury, and ace architect Hafeez Contractor subscribes to this. "The so-called luxury flats in the suburbs and New Bombay have 250-300 flats within the compound. How can it be luxury, if 300 other people can afford the same?

"Colaba offers a certain lifestyle, you have the best views because the land is just a kilometer wide, minimum slums, you're close to theatres, museums, the financial district, the beauty of Fountain and Fort.

"A 5,000 sq ft home in Powai doesn't have the same connotation of luxury as Colaba, even though there is greenery all around, and the views are great," says Contractor.

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