Realtors are now trying to woo the ultrarich with high-end villas,which have some of the most exotic and exclusive amenities and features.SANJEEV SINHA writes

Call it the effect of the rising disposable income,changing lifestyle or what you have,but the demand for luxury and ultraluxury homes even in this slowdown is rising like never before.The focus is gradually shifting to the ultrarich with the product offerings in the villa format.

No wonder,taking a cue from this current trend,a growing number of property developers - ranging from Unitech to Ireo,from Tata Housing to the Lodha Group and from Sobha Developers to Puri Constructions - are trying to woo picky buyers with their own set of luxury villas.

"India is a growing economy and we are one of the most optimistic work forces in the world.As our incomes rise,our aspirations for better living and opulent lifestyle are rising commensurately.Higher aspiration and a suave lifestyle of HNIs as well as many cash-rich NRIs have produced a demand for such luxurious residences,"says Praveer Srivastav,head of marketing at Unitech,which is coming up with luxury villas in Noida and Gurgaon.

J C Sharma,the managing director of Sobha Developers,says: "At a growth rate of more than 20%,India is home to the fastest growing number of HNI individuals in the world and real estate comprises about 40% of their investment portfolio.Over the past few years,many successful first-generation professionals and businessmen with highincome profiles have emerged,who have the desire to live in houses which match their high-flying lifestyle.They either go in for a luxury house near the Central Business District (CBD),where the rate per square feet is high,or they prefer to live in the suburbs in a large-sized villa in a gated community with best-in-class amenities and facilities in a bid to get a feel of exclusivity,"he says.
Row houses and villas,in fact,are a common feature in developed countries like the US and Europe.And the same concept is now gaining popularity in India too.

However,instead of being located in the heart of cities,the villas are usually located in the suburbs which have a huge growth potential,and have more personalized amenities over apartments besides being elegant and spacious.
"Most of the elite in Delhi and Mumbai,for instance,prefer homes closer to the heart of the city.However,due to increasing activity and fast receding open areas in prime localities in central and south Delhi and south Mumbai,the residents are now looking at options where they can quench the desire to own a spacious,modern and elegant home complete with global features and a splash of sprawling lush green patches,"says Srivastav.

The action,however,is primarily concentrated in metros like the Delhi NCR,Mumbai and Bangalore,with micro markets in other major cities in India,like Pune and Hyderabad,as the infrastructure in these places is improving significantly and the cities have seen a rapid pace of urbanization over the last one and a half decade.

"Villas are perceived as a niche product among the residential market offerings in the metros and big cities.In other cities,however,the HNIs tend to buy land and build their own luxurious houses,"says Neeraj Bansal,director (risk consulting) at KPMG.

Whatever be the case,the growing preference of HNIs for luxury villas can be gauged from the fact that these villas,priced in the range of Rs 5 crore to Rs 15 crore on average,come with a host of interesting features and amenities.The villas of Tata Housing,for instance,are equipped with individual parking spaces and personal swimming pools with infinity edges.Features like pool seats are incorporated to provide residents with resort-oriented experiences,while privacy and separation is ensured through the use of dense landscape planting treatment.

"Uniqueness at all our villas is demonstrated through the smart intelligent home system and the modern home automation,which is integrated through web-based protocol offering a 'future proof' and scalable solution.This ensures that it is compatible to future developments.Further,the villas are fully equipped with ultramodern technology and amenities,which include contemporary open-plan houses,large private clubhouse and water bodies,"says Brotin Banerjee,the managing director and chief executive officer of Tata Housing Development Company Ltd.

In a bid to mitigate competition and create differentiation in their luxury properties,Unitech also claims to have incorporated many interesting features like expansive clubhouses with multi-sports facilities,private elevators,exclusive lap pools or jacuzzi,and personal spa.These villas are also equipped with a state-of-the-art home automation system,motion sensors,self timers,keyless entry,and mood lighting.

Similarly,one of the projects of Sobha Developers in Bangalore offers Spanishstyled row houses,which have a rich Mediterranean architecture.The villas and row houses have many top-notch amenities besides acres of greenery,fountains,pebble pathways,charming water bodies,dedicated play zones,and front and rear gardens in each villa and row house.
There is,thus,hardly any dearth of amenities for connoisseurs and those having deep pockets.In fact,you name it and they in all probability might have it."The trends in the luxury segment are shaped by homebuyers who are aware of the global trends,innovations in the world architecture and designs,home automation systems,etc.They are increasingly demanding better lifestyle,exclusivity such as an exquisite villa or an apartment on top of a hill,and amenities like exclusive clubs,lounges,spa,gym,swimming pool,and sports facilities like golf courses,etc,"Banerjee says.

All said and done,where do Indian villas stand in quality and amenities when compared to those in the developed world "These luxury homes are meant for the globe trotters who have seen the world and want to experience world-class living.Hence,the difference between luxury homes in India and any developed country is fast diminishing as the world is becoming even flatter,"says Srivastav,adding,"Our properties,for instance,are completely international in terms of design,amenities,securities and lifestyle.With modern golf courses,modern sporting arenas,putting green areas,sprawling shopping complexes,and strategic locations,these properties are in sync with any property in the developed world,if not better."

Banerjee of Tata Housing also believes that India's luxury villas do not only compete with those in the developed countries,but in most cases are far better.

"The testimony to these was the recentlyconcluded Asia Pacific Property Awards in Malaysia,where many real estate developers from India won many accolades,including Tata Housing.In fact,one of our projects stood out to be the only Indian project to be nominated to compete against the best in the world at the International Property Awards to be held in London,later this year,"he says.

An interesting feature of the property market in India is that while there is stagnation in demand for the mid-income and affordable-housing segments,the luxury and super-luxury housing segments are showing just the obverse trends.

The industry trend suggests that demand for premium apartments is on a rise and as the number of customers rise in this segment,the trend may get even stronger in the near future.

Due to the healthy demand in the luxury villa space,the pricing of luxury housing continues to appreciate."One of the main reasons for this is that this niche audience remains insulated from macro economic pressures with regard to their purchasing power of a luxury apartment or villa.This explains why even after sustained steepness in the interest regime of the RBI,the developers are increasing their supply in the luxury housing segment as they sit cosy on a healthy demand in this segment,"Srivastav says.

Apart from healthy demand,better margins may also be an important reason."In India,due to the existing laws of land acquisition - which are losing their relevance as they have not been amended for long - and no clear government policies on affordable homes,developers find the luxury and ultraluxury market better,as it gives them the desired margins,"Sharma of Sobha Developers says.

Be it better margins or healthy demand,as long as the luxury and ultraluxury segment keeps picking up,developers will also be seen cashing in on this trend by offering even more expensive and exclusive apartments and villas!