There used to be a time when Kathmandu residents who wanted to move out of the inner city area built their dream houses brick-by-brick.
They ran around finding the right plot, haggled over the price, bought the raw materials themselves, spent months getting a building permit, found an architect and threw out his plan to replace it with their own design. Then they got a contractor, got fleeced by him on cement and steel rods. And when the house was finally complete, they ran around from pillar to post for phones, water, drainage.
No more. For less than the cost of building a bungalow yourself and for a lot fewer hassles, one can go to Sunakothi and get oneself a Valley Homes unit (above).
It is pre-designed with water, electricity, phones and drainage all taken care of. There are wide roads, lots of parking space, a grocery store, a swimming pool, an ATM machine, a gym, a banquet hall and even a movie theatre. What more could you want?
"My husband and I both work full time, building a house by ourselves in Kathmandu was never in our plans," says Charu Pradhan, a resident of Sunrise Homes in Balkumari. Planned colonies are convenient for all, especially young professionals who work five days a week and those who are on the road or live abroad.
Sunakothi, Bagdol, Kalanki, Dhapasi and Sitapaila, once considered Kathmandu's sleepy backwaters, are now the names one hears being dropped at parties. And now, real estate wallahs are going up market with 'gated communities' like Valley Homes in Suthankothi which has launched luxury bungalows.
"People understand today that building houses requires special skills and they want to leave the construction to the experts," says Shakar Giri, managing director of Royal Homes at Dhapasi heights. "Usually when an individual is building a house, unanticipated costs increase and out goes quality."
Planned housing promises affordable homes at all price ranges with no compromises in quality. It makes perfect economic sense because the real estate developers save a ton of money buying construction materials in bulk and that is where the profit margins come from. Each planned community is unique. Royal Homes is geared towards middle class families and five of the 22 homes are complete and already sold.
I R Tamang, executive chairman of Civil Homes, says real estate is a booming market for investment. Most Nepalis want to live in the valley now for security reasons, which is driving up property prices and increasing demand.
"In the last three years, the real estate business has really prospered and helped generate businesses and jobs for many Nepalis," Tamang says. Earlier, young professionals who wanted a house in Kathmandu would have had to save for 15-20 years to build their own dream houses. Now, not only is the construction taken care of, there is also affordable financing from banks.
Standard Chartered, Kumari, Everest, Laxmi, Himalayan and Bank of Kathmandu all provide home financing packages. Home Loan Schemes can be paid back in monthly instalments lasting five to 15 years with 7.5 to 9 percent interest.
Valley Homes offers 115 luxury homes and is planning its construction in phases. Of the 28 houses in the first phase about 60 percent have been sold. Valley Homes promises the best view of the mountains around Kathmandu, open spaces and lots of greenery.
Siddarth Gopalan, architect for Valley Homes, admits that designing individual houses for clients was difficult. But these designs are based on surveys conducted with potential buyers on what they want in their ideal home. "We have kept the responses in mind while designing the houses but so much depends on the individual tastes of the actual buyers," he adds.
Suraj Joshi of Valley Homes says since the government has been unable to take the initiative in urban planning, private companies have had to step in. Civil Home's Tamang thinks the government should be involved in regulating new communities. "There is a role for the government in zoning and planning so that the city can be managed effectively," he says.
Seven years ago Ashtaman Maharjan bought a large tract of land in Bagdol and built a colony of houses. Almost five years ago Civil Homes took a similar risk and ventured into the planned housing business. Tamang of Civil Homes says, "There were risks involved but the idea has caught on."
Kathmandu's suburbia is the private sector's response to public demand. And it is the future, says Joshi of Valley Homes, adding: "Planned housing is more than a trend and it is not a bubble that will burst soon." Proof of that is that real estate developers can't build houses fast enough- they are snapped up even before they are finished.
Nowhere to go but up
As the Valley runs out of land, developers predict the future of housing in Kathmandu is in new self-contained high-rise apartment blocks. "Apartments will be the way to go because space is going to be a rarity and there is nowhere to go but up," says Sidhant Raj Pandey of the up-market Ace Apartments at Naxal.
Of 56 Ace units, 45 have already been sold. The complex caters to upper middle class families and is very selective about who they sell to. "Neighbours have to get along," Pandey explains.
Apartment living gives people the luxury of being at the city centre while having well-appointed housing. It saves the hassles of commuting, the units come with all the utilities and there is better security.
Indreni Apartments is building 48 units in Bhatbhateni, an area that it considers a prime location. "Our uniqueness is in our location, we are very close to the city centre," says Deepak Man Sherchan, executive director.
Ansal's complex of more than 140 apartments in Bagdol was sold out six months after opening. The firm has built another one in Harisiddhi, where nearly all of the 125 apartments are booked, mostly by Kathmandu's inner-city residents. "The business in apartments is gradually growing and will take off in the next few years," predicts Sandeep Bikr