Luxury realty is the obsessive reality of the moneyed order. Spending money is the only currency that fortifies the social standing of the affluent – both on the Forbes list and off it. Real estate buys and sells make for a fiscal haven in these propitious months of the Indian calendar, but this time around, there are no buyers. The Indian realty index is stable, but it doesn’t compare to what it was prior to demonetization. The immediacy in the market is non-existent but it remains a lucrative market for investors, expats in particular, after the sharp depreciation of the rupee. But time is the key component at play here. Buying property today equals buying time too as a vital appendage.
A luxury apartment in Mumbai valued at Rs70 million will sell, eventually, but time will play a starring role in the sale today. Slashed to Rs55 million at a sizeable paper loss to the owner, it’ll sell within six months to a year. Cutting losses on luxury property investments was unthinkable, the crash of 2008 notwithstanding. I wouldn’t call this a seller’s market – it’s the buyers that decide the when and the where, with no ready money in the market. Realty purchases are entirely need-based and not investment-based, barring corporates who have the money and readily-available loans to enable their investments. Individual investors shirk buying as that entails endless tax probes and exhausting paperwork.
Realty projects are akin to a big Bollywood production that’s high on the collaborative trend today, making for sound business strategy, sharing profits and losses in the entertainment business. This seems to have found favour with realty developers too. But developers don’t really have a choice unlike Bollywood producers who can swing an independent film with Salman Khan playing the lead at whim. They’re compelled to co-build, sitting on overpriced plots that aren’t feasible to build on one’s own financial steam with the continued deceleration of money in the market. Few independent developers build in the luxury segment today. Co-building is a profitable proposition for developers but it makes it a larger liability for buyers to commit to new constructions.
India’s leaning more towards luxury rentals than luxury buys. Selling seems impossible. The return of investments on purchased property through leasing is abysmal, and not even marginally close to purchase costs. Reselling isn’t easy either. Future-forward individuals are now choosing to rent luxury homes with all the trappings versus buying. Fiscally, it’s more conducive to live the luxe life without a home owner’s liabilities. The freedom to shift in and out of cities, upsize and upgrade to glamorous homes and neighbourhoods when the mood strikes far outweighs setting up immoveable roots in one place – and all of it with clean bank transfers that comply with realty regulations.
Green is the new luxe word and agricultural neighborhoods is the trend du jour. India being an agrarian economy can take to agri-hoods swiftly, integrating agriculture into residential neighborhoods with working farms and green space. Agri-hoods suit the natural Indian landscape and will appeal to environment-conscious, rich millennials who are always seeking the “next level” in their lives. Living concepts of clean eating, organic produce, solar energy, climate change, rainwater harvesting and the great outdoors with fresh air are selling successfully through smart adverts worldwide. Under-construction properties advertise zealously with a definitive emphasis on green cover and integrating sustainable and organic food produce everyday – a miniscule attempt, but important nevertheless. Full-scale agri-hoods is the future of luxury realty and building agri-hoods will unify Indian community living.
Art that no longer hangs on a wall or is vulgarly placed in the middle of a room nor discussed in hushed tones, but tactile art is taking over luxury realty. Established and emerging artists are designing not just pieces of art, but entire residences, harmonizing their artistic voices with the distinct individualism of home owners. Fashion couturiers Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani are both engaged in residential design, adding their genius to concrete. Fashion and art create a historical archive of the times we live in.
Architecture is almost incongruent to individualism with high-rises taking over Indian metros, cities and towns. But the highest honor in the architectural world – the Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate – went to an Indian for the first time this year. Professor Balkrishna Doshi won the honor for his deeply personal and poetic architecture that touches lives of every socio-economic class across a broad spectrum of genres. If only the Indian realty business could turn a page as poetic as his works in its design ethos.
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on September 29, 2018