A swank home with a theme or a designer label is the latest in aspirational buying.

Life live king size. Real estate developers have taken this slogan rather seriously. A trophy house is high up in the list of objects of desire, and they are betting their last penny on branded apartments.According to a report on the Indian housing sector released by research firm RNCOS in January 2012, the luxury housing market will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of over 80 per cent during 2012-2014.

Another report predicts that affluent individuals with assets of at least Rs 25 crore will triple by 2016 to nearly two lakh. For developers the rising affluent and middle class are the potential consumers for branded homes.

Branded residences

Branded residences are an emerging concept in luxury housing, marked by developers tying up with celebrities, international luxury hospitality and lifestyle brands. As Armani- or Donald Trump-themed homes or popular architect Binoy of London’s creations make an appearance in the India, the clamour for such associations gets louder.

Developers claim it’s not all snob value. For the rich and the noveau riche, they make a statement about design, style, quality and even credibility.

Swimming pools and clubs are no longer markers of an upmarket existence and gated communities are already passé. Add to that blues about the economy and consumers want more to increase the value of their property.

Super-luxury housing comprises less than five per cent of the overall residential real estate market in urban India. But that is not stopping developers from reaching out to international labels in architecture, lifestyle and fashion.

Take a look at developers who have tied up with such names. While realty player Panchshil has tied up with Donald Trump and Philippe Starck for various projects in Pune, in the National Capital Region Supertech is in talks with Armani to launch themed residences. There are a few developers who have begun offering theme-based homes across the country. Lodha Group is offering Armani Homes at World One and homes designed by London-based fashion and interior designer Jade Jagger designed project at Fiorenza, both in Mumbai, and a golf course theme at its Thane project.

Mohit Arora, Director, Supertech, says: “We are already building a luxury tower. Our aim is to create homes which are clutter-breaking. A label like Armani adds not just glamour but also a dose of credibility. Also, they bring expertise in terms of technology and design.”

Designer fit-outs and hi-tech gadgets of international standards are all part of the plan. Also, when a brand ties up with a developer such specifications come built in at no additional cost. Consumers can avail themselves of the facilities of hotel or service apartments if a developer has tied up with a hotel or international service brands.

Real estate firm Ireo has roped in internationally-acclaimed hospitality chain Hyatt Hotels to introduce and manage branded Grand Hyatt Residences in Gurgaon. To cost between Rs 11 crore and Rs 25 crore or more, they would allow apartment owners to enjoy services such as valet, concierge, laundry, in-residence dining and housekeeping.

“All 265 houses have been designed by London-based architectural firm Foster Associates with interior designing by Tony Chi Associates of New York to overlook a 50-acre golf park,” said Pankaj Dugar, head of hospitality business, Ireo.

The trend, however, is not limited to super-luxury projects. Even smaller developers are roping in international architects and giving realty projects grand European names to attract potential buyers.

Sanjay Dutt, Executive Managing Director, Cushman and Wakefield, also makes an interesting point.

“The real estate industry is going through its evolutionary cycle in India. First it was plotted development, than came gated communities followed by golf courses and swimming pools. But now the customer finds these aspects a given in most development at least in top ten cities. So, he wants more than just that to cater to a lifestyle aspiration. It is here that brands play a role.”

Dutt says developers have a crying need to differentiate their brand from their neighbours. This has led to a profusion of international affiliations in architecture, design and landscape, among others. Buyers of such properties are assured of very high standards that go beyond the usual marketing claims. The developers, too, have to maintain their credibility by delivering international-standard real estate.

Kamal Khetan, Chairman and Managing Director, Sunteck Realty, which is promoting Disney-inspired homes, said, “This luxurious residential project will also offer Disney-inspired interiors and exteriors. Kids and families can choose from their favourite Disney stories or its beloved characters and own family spaces that are colourful, timeless and inspiring.”

Of Costs and Effects

Industry watchers say the pricing can go north where extensive design and conceptualisation come into play. The cost of such projects can range from Rs 1 crore to Rs 75 crore. The Disney homes cost between Rs 1.5 crore and Rs 3 crore.

Developers say that projects must be executed by conceptualisation which includes not only architectural and interior design but also construction management, concierge services, landscaping and hi-tech security systems which raise the cost.

Developers also focus on creating intelligent living spaces through latest gadgets and technology. Digital locks, electronic surveillance systems, temperature control, wireless communication for Internet and in-house entertainment are common in most luxury homes. A real estate broker in Pune notes that when Trump Towers, the first Trump-branded property in India, was announced, it generated substantial buyer enquires right in the first few days.

International brands also find merit in entering the Indian market. The property market elsewhere is still reeling under an economic crisis. But India with its growing millionaires is an ideal destination for such labels,” the broker noted.

Loyalty bonus

Developers, however, point out that an international affiliation includes 5-7 per cent of the total project costs as royalty charge. Also, such projects are largely defined by quality rather than volume which means their gestation period will be marginally higher than other projects.

Falcon Realty Services which tied up with with Teelock Associates Ltd Mauritius said the association would take fine living to greater heights.

“Teelock Associates Ltd Mauritius will help us in developing the sustainable urban planning project, coming up with effective structural designs and town-planning. Their expertise will fetch us good returns on the investment,” Bhim Yadav, promoter of Falcon Realty, said.

Developers, for their part, woo the end users rather than investors for such projects through their direct mailer system or adverts addressing such user brackets.

Ancillary industries such as home furnishing and furniture too are lapping up the moment. Meet Sawhhney of Meet and Co, which retails international furnishing brands, says modern luxury living is now emerging as a trend that reflects and enhances personal style. So what’s a few crores in the bargain?

(This article was published on March 7, 2013)
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