"In the current scenario, bringing in foreign funds will benefit the sector immensely. The original FDI guidelines issued attracted large amounts of foreign funds to the Indian real estate sector; however, subsequent amendments to the FDI policy relating to real estate have created unwanted apprehensions and confusion in the minds of global investors thereby affecting FDI inflows adversely. It is therefore, essential for the policy makers to look into this matter."
Ram Raheja, Director, S. Raheja Realty
shares his views with Sandeep Sharma
about his company, achievements, core competencies, emerging realty trends in MMR, signature projects, affordable housing, sustainable design and architecture, re-development opportunities, increase in building material prices, pilot housing start up index (HSUI), real estate as an asset class, government initiatives and solution to India’s growing housing deficit. Edited excerpts...
Could you tell us about your company, achievements and core competencies?
S Raheja Realty, the name that speaks trust and tradition, has been a prominent player in the Indian real estate market for more than 5 decades now. Our business policies have ensured purity not only in the quality of our construction but also in the nature of our practices. Associations with leading international and domestic consultants enable the group to continually innovate, and create architectural landmarks.
The company primarily has four verticals; redevelopment, corporate, luxury mid-level housing and second homes. The strategies for each of these segments are different. Keeping pace with the changing concepts of luxury, our second-home projects like the Cascades have been designed with keeping privacy and relaxation in mind.
While real estate is S Raheja’s key business vertical, the group’s portfolio also includes a diversified range of services in the construction and architecture industries. These verticals act as the backbone and work in sync with all other departments ensuring strong project execution.
Could you provide us insight about the emerging trends in the Indian real estate sector?
Indian real estate market is going through a very interesting phase with the general economic development. With buyers getting more of international exposure, the nature of the demands are changing as the consumers want quality projects that have all the amenities at par with the rest of the world. This is true not only for the metros but also tier-II cities. The concept of luxury is also evolving with far greater emphasis on personal space and comfort.
One of the emerging trends in the Indian realty segment is mixed use developments. There has been a considerable rise in mixed-use projects which encompass residential, commercial and even other facilities like healthcare. Their main benefit is reduced distances between housing, workplaces, retail businesses, and other destinations.
I see a huge growth in the smaller cities with each youth wanting to have his own home at a very early phase of his career. With many big companies coming into the real estate market, only good quality housing will survive as the investors are far more conscious and know exactly what they want. Sustainable architecture and green buildings are also a trend expected to become pre-dominant with concerns about the environment growing. In terms of innovation, I foresee a lot of improvement in terms of technology and demand for smart-homes. The process of construction is also undergoing changes with pre-fabricated materials and alternatives to raw materials like cement being used by developers to speed up the process. Thus, real estate sector in India will only grow into a larger and better market in the coming years.
How is the real estate space shaping up in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region?
With space being a major concern in a metro like Mumbai, there are two major trends that are shaping up in the real estate segment. One is redevelopment projects and another is expansion towards the outskirts. The MMR region has now started expanding and the farther suburbs are witnessing a metamorphosis. Most developers are opting for luxury projects in the redevelopment space. Also, the central suburbs are coming up in a big way with new retail and real estate projects.
Which are your signature projects in the luxury segment? Do you plan to launch new projects in the near term?
One of S.Raheja Realty signature luxury projects, ‘Cascades’ is an exclusive 15-villa-project with a total campus area of 2 acres. The size of each villa is 3500-5000 sq ft. The amenities that these villas offer includes landscaped gardens, clubhouse, Table Tennis Room, Snooker Room, Cricket Pitch with Nets, Children’s Play area with a Tree House, Recreation for the mind and body, Yoga Centre, Outdoor Spa, Library, Card Room, Terrace spaces provide a transition between the hard materials of the architecture and softer ones of the garden. Amongst others, the villa features includes private thirty feet waterfall, swimming pool with sunken seats, reflection ponds and provision for an outdoor hot tub that enhances both your experience & the environment in the villa.
Ideal for a romantic rendezvous or a fun evening with your friends& family, these villas are also equipped with other facilities like home automation, two car parks, Laundry Room, Room and bathroom for servants, automated security systems, WIFI and cable, Modular Kitchen, International fixtures and fittings.
Being one of the very few projects in the city with a 360 degree view of the park, Natraj is a premium luxury address located at the green and serene suburb of Khar in Mumbai. Natraj is spread across 25, 000sq. ft & houses 12 apartments (one on each floor) and a penthouse.
Gurukripa, located at the bustling area of Kalina, Santacruz which has an easy accessibility to the highway & Sea Link is spread over 30,000 sq ft. The affluent residency comprises of two& three bedroom apartments with beautifully landscaped terrace garden for each. Each of the flat is designed keeping in mind the requirement of the new age working class buyers offering the best amenities in terms of floorings, bathroom fittings, club house facilities amongst others.
S. Raheja is also a pioneer in the affordable luxury segment. SDS Raheja Residency in Varanasi and Raheja Prime in Palghar are two instances of such projects. Being the tallest approved buildings in the city and the only one with two-level basement parking facilities, SDS residency is a premium luxury address located at the green and serene Panchkoshi area of Varanasi. Planned with utmost care and crafted with discerning neutral palettes, the residency is spread over an area of lakh square feet(approximately) with 2 BHK and 3 BHK blocks ranging from 1010 sq ft to 1600 sq ft. the apartments are designed keeping in mind the requirement of the new age working class buyers offering the best amenities in terms of vitrified floorings, high-end bathroom fittings, semi modular kitchens with granite tops& stainless steel sinks amongst others.
Set to change the definition of luxury housing, Raheja Prime, located at Palghar is the first residential facility in the vicinity to have an elevator. The project has revamped Palghar and changed the dynamics of the location. The USP of the project is the fact that it offers latest technology and has state-of-the-art amenities at an affordable price. Raheja prime’s 1 bhk and 2 bhk apartments are complete with fine vitrified tiles (RAK), granite platform stainless, dado tiles, superior quality sanitary fixtures, chrome plated fittings, and antiskid flooring.
How would you define affordable housing keeping in mind the Tier-I, II and III cities customer? What kind of projects are you doing in the affordable segment?
Be it Tier-I, II, or II, today’s consumer is well-aware and demands the best quality at an affordable price. Higher disposable incomes, increased aspirational values for a better standard of living and also the infrastructural development and general economic growth have given a boost to affordable and mid-level real estate. Considering the pyramid of society, the demand in mid-income housing is bound to be high but in outskirts and tier-II cities, there is a lack in the supply of quality projects. S Raheja is primarily into luxury housing but having identified the potential of Midcap housing in the country, we ventured into this segment with projects on the outskirts of Mumbai and tier-II cities. We aim at bridging this gap by providing luxury housing at affordable prices and the success of our projects in Palghar and Varanasi are testimonies to that.
Could you comment on the need for sustainable design and architecture?
Sustainable architecture or ecological design is to ensure that our actions and decisions today do not inhibit the opportunities of the coming generations. Sustainable architecture or green design is a philosophy of designing buildings to comply with the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability.
We at S Raheja seek to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by using materials, energy and space in a way that is least damaging for the environment. Creating sustainable buildings starts with proper site selection as the location, orientation, and landscaping of a building affect local ecosystems, transportation and optimize energy use .Fresh water is an increasingly scarce resource and as a developer, we try to optimize its use or recycle water for on-site use, when feasible. We make sure that the materials used in our constructions minimize environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion, and human toxicity. The indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of a building has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort, and productivity and as an architect, I design keeping in mind optimal operations and maintenance of the building. As a real estate firm, we implement all possible methods to simplify and reduce maintenance requirements, reduce usage of water, energy and toxic chemicals to ensure sustainability of all our projects.
How big is the re-development space in Mumbai? Are you active in the re-development segment?
As I mentioned earlier, due to the space crunch and rapidly rising development and population in Mumbai, redevelopment is the only way forward for the housing segment. Also, it is the best solution to convert Mumbai’s old, ill maintained buildings and uplift the city’s skyline. Our projects like Gurukripa (Kalina) and Natraj (Khar) are redevelopment projects.
How far increase in building material, equipment and labour cost has contributed to rise in construction cost considering period of last 2-3 years? What is the way forward to control these prices?
Since building material, equipment and labour form the base of any construction, the rise in prices has definitely led to a rise in construction. One way of improving efficiency and reducing costs is using new construction techniques. Pre-fabricated materials, brickless technology, partition wall systems are a few examples of such techniques. India is gaining prominence in the global map as a place for investment.
The Pilot Housing Start Up Index (HSUI) released by Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and RBI recently has indicated decline in housing for Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai. What’s your take on this index?
It’s the first time that this index has been released and I think it’s a good initiative. I will help in analyzing the scenario and deciding future course of action. The decline is housing in Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai calls for government attention and intervention. Schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojana, which focuses on construction of houses for the urban poor and Rajiv Rinn Yojana, which offers loans for construction of houses to the urban poor need to be implemented in these cities.
The stock market is throwing mixed signals and investors are looking forward for safe investment. In the current scenario, do you think real estate as an asset class can be an attractive proposition?
Real estate is a tangible asset and will always be a good bet to invest in. However, in the absence of instruments like REITS, it is advisable to invest for long-term in realty to get best returns.
What kind of Government initiatives can go a long way in boosting the real estate sector growth?
In the current scenario, bringing in foreign funds will benefit the sector immensely. The original FDI guidelines issued attracted large amounts of foreign funds to the Indian real estate sector; however, subsequent amendments to the FDI policy relating to real estate have created unwanted apprehensions and confusion in the minds of global investors thereby affecting FDI inflows adversely. It is therefore, essential for the policy makers to look into this matter. Further, lack of consistency in rules relating to development of SEZs, increased monitoring of the sector by regulatory agencies, tightening of rules for lending to the real estate sector and increase of key rates by the RBI several times during the last one year, have arrested the growth of the sector. There is a need to streamline government policies and introduce reforms to boost the real estate sector.
What is the solution to India’s growing housing deficit?
Apart from streamlining current policies like FDI in real estate, the Government must provide incentives to the public and private sectors to take up R&D activities for new building materials and technologies so that the industry can deliver low cost, affordable, sustainable and environment-friendly housing and building structures. Also, developers must try to bridge the gap between supply and demand. They need to research and identify the need in the area they are developing; low-income, affordable, or luxury, and build accordingly.