New Delhi: Many developers are trying their best to create new zones and addresses across India that can appeal to HNI property buyers. This endeavour has met with varying degrees of success on the ground when it comes to swaying the ultra-rich clientele. Barring upgrades in design concepts and the addition of some new accoutrements to amplify a luxury lifestyle, the baseline concept of luxury homes has not materially changed in many cities. Prominent addresses or 'pin code value' still matter, and the ultra-rich are willing to pay extra premiums to get them.
That said, cities like Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Pune have by now seen a high incidence of developers offering branded residences as alternatives to premium homes at the most sought-after locations within these cities. The success in swinging interest levels of the target clientele has varied markedly in tandem with the actual features being offered. While there is evidence of first-generation wealthy buyers evaluating and considering such options in these cities, the conversion rate among the historically rich has been negligible. The consensus among this segment is that branded residences offering very little value addition, and that the premiums charged on them are based on artificial factors that do not provide true value.
Demand continues to be robust for options in bonafide premium locations of the key Indian cities, but newly tailored luxury addresses are also seeing their share of action as long as the projects on offer meet certain parameters. To begin with, deals conclude rapidly in sellers' markets where demand exceeds supply. Annual returns in such pockets are in the neighbourhood of 25%, and this figure will continue to see northward movement over the coming years as supply constraint drive prices up further.
In Delhi, the preference of HNIs when it comes to established and high-value locations is more or less inflexible. South Delhi is still the micro-market of choice for ultra-rich clients from Delhi, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh with budgets ranging from Rs. 50-300 crore. Golf Links in Delhi is a more vibrant market in terms of demand when compared to even to Lutyens Zone. Shantiniketan and Vasant Vihar are two other key HNI destinations where demand exceeds supply. Golf Links is actually the most sought-after location in South Delhi. Most other cities have similar pockets, but also show evidence of a certain degree of demand diversion to newer locations and concepts, which is not the case in Delhi.
In Mumbai, with the Central Business District (CBD) shifting to BKC for all practical purposes, clients who would previously not have considered any options other than Malabar Hill or Nepean Sea Road zone are now evaluating newer areas like Worli, Bandra-BKC and Mahalaxmi as alternatives. Considering the limited supply in the historically prized locations, HNI buyers are looking for premium options that provide 24x7 security, a gated community experience and premium club houses as an amplification on their experiences in stand-alone buildings in the traditional premium areas.
The arrival of K. Raheja Corp's ultra-luxury gated community Vivarea in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai has seen many wealthy south Mumbai residents accepting this as a luxury address in all respects. As such, K. Raheja Corp has definitely managed to create a new location that re-defines luxury in South Mumbai. There are similar examples in BKC and Goregaon, where Sunteck and Oberoi have played a similar role in creating new luxury housing addresses for HNI buyers - and in fact rebooting the whole concept of luxury living.
Similarly in Bangalore, developers such as Total Environment and Chaitanya have provided the city with genuine luxury projects in brand-new premium locations. These developers have been instrumental in turning Whitefield into a high-value address and their completed projects command steep premiums. The offering, product design, specifications and buyer profile are remarkable enough to make a difference. Total Environment's project in one of the best luxury offerings in India, and demand for such projects in Whitefield significantly exceeds supply. Likewise, another project by this company has turned Bangalore's JP Nagar into a highly aspiration luxury destination which now commands the necessary clout of 'an address that matters'.
What Ultra-HNIs should look for
1. The profile of the residents
It really matters whether or not you share the neighbourhood with the tycoons, celebrities and prominent CEOs of the city, as this makes a definite status statement and is also good for business. While ultra HNIs do gravitate to creamy layer environments for reasons of prestige, it is also true that many business deals are concluded at these residential locations during social interactions over weekends and holidays. In Delhi areas like Amrita Shergill Marg and Jor Baugh come readily to mind for these reasons. In Kolkata, Ballygunge and Alipore are practically defined by such a resident profile.
2. Low density
The rich and famous do not like to live in the crowded areas of a city, but prefer locations with lower population densities offer. For this reason, locations like Malabar Hill, Worli and Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai are traditionally locations where the rich pay very high premiums.
3. View and privacy
A sea view, a view of a golf course and a high level of privacy (integral to the concept of exclusiveness) matter a lot when it comes to defining luxury for India's ultra-rich. Luxury offerings in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore rarely generate a lot of interest from the wealthy set of buyers if they do not score high on this aspect are addressed in most aspects.
4. Ready access to the city's nerve centre
Apartments in Mumbai's legendary NCPA commanded highest premiums for various reasons, which included the profile of residents. However, their USP was that NCPA is closest to the erstwhile CBD of Nariman Point. Boat Club in Chennai and Golf Course Road in Gurgaon share this important attribute of proximity to these cities' 'centres of gravity. Mumbai's BKC area has become the new luxury address of Mumbai because the CBD as well as the Diamond Bourse have now shifted there.
5. Overall luxury experience
The definition of luxury has been extensively abused in Indian real estate, and is being closely scrutinized by ultra-rich buyers when it comes to evaluating offerings. Luxury goes beyond club houses and the quality of fittings used in a project's apartments. Multiple aspects of a project are evaluated to discern if the 'luxury' tag indeed applies. Among notable success stories, One Avigna Park in Mumbai stands out as a clear winner when it comes to offering real luxury in most respects.
It may seem strange that India's ultra-rich are indeed booking into luxury projects in new locations. However, this is nevertheless true in many cases such as Atmosphere on EM Bypass and Urbania by Bengal NRI, south of EM Bypass in Kolkata against the traditional luxury locations of Ballygunge or Alipore. However, this trend is catching on in cities where HNIs perceive a vacuum in terms of offerings at the traditional premium locations.
(Om Ahuja is the CEO - Residential Services of JLL India)