Nepali Times Asian Paints
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A home of one’s own


BINOD BHATTARAI


For Sushil Pyakurel it was simply the most practical thing to do. He was among the first hundred or so Nepalis who booked apartments at Kathmandu Residency, the first major organised housing project that was launched two years ago. The human rights activist, now a member of the National Human Rights Commission will be moving into his apartment later this year, after developer Ansal Chaudhary hands over the keys during Dasain.

"It was just right for me," Pyakurel told us. He saw the Kathmandu Residency, developed by the Chaudhary Group and Ansals of India, as safe housing, with guaranteed access to public utilities such as reliable drinking water, sewage disposal and other basic facilities, all things that can be a headache for an independent homeowner. "The other advantage was that we did not have to put up the entire money up-front, and were assured of financing," Pyakurel told us.

There are now more than 10 companies that offer a variety of community-style housing options-apartments, duplexes, and stand-alone homes in thoughtfully designed \'colonies'-and getting financing from any private bank to purchase a home is almost as easy as getting a car loan.

The boom could not have come at a better time for Nepal's ailing economy. The growth in housing and construction means more people are putting their money in the sector, more people are getting work, and industry is producing and selling more construction material. By one estimate, investment in organised housing in and around Kathmandu Valley already adds up to over Rs 2 billion rupees. The Ansal Group in its housing venture with the Chaudhary Group here, is into its third project and even newcomer Sunrise Homes is already planning to expand even as it still solicits bookings for apartments at its first venture in Balkumari. Ansal and Sunrise are presently selling apartments and plan to move into stand-alone homes. The market now offers apartments to suit almost any pocket, starting at Rs 700,000 at the low end and going up to Rs 5.2 million.

The range of group housing and financing options now available is also mind-boggling, especially to first-time homebuyers who have to weigh their decision to opt for, say, group housing against the traditional-even emotional-Nepali dream of building a house. Instinctively, most Nepalis want an independent house the moment they move out of their family home, usually because they have seen their parents build their home brick-by-brick.

But many young professionals don't have either the time or the expertise to shop for land and then supervise the construction of the building. And too often, even though they might have more disposable income than their parents ever did, their discretionary spending is proportionately high. This is where the specialists come in, taking care of the logistics of building houses, and offering them loans banking on their projected future incomes. By all accounts, young and upwardly mobile Kathmandu residents-as well as people moving to the capital fearing an escalation of the conflict in the districts can't get enough of it.

Ajay Ghimere, CEO of Ace Finance, is a developer who is aiming to cater to the upper-end of the market. His Grace apartments at Naxal are priced between Rs 3.8-5.2 million. He told us that his company was looking at developing Grace as a \'posh' neighbourhood, complete with amenities available in the best residential areas of the world.

Ace says it isn't just selling a \'community living' experience, it even chooses your community for you. "We are being very selective," says Ghimere. The price and the amenities offered by Grace apartments-such as a swimming pool, gym and sauna-guarantee a kind of self-selection right at the start. But the promoters are even choosier-they have decided not to advertise the complex, but sell it to acquaintances and personal contacts through word-of-mouth. One needs to have either good connections with the parent finance company, or the right references to even apply to buy a flat here. Ace says half of the 26 apartments on the southern complex have already been booked. "It will take time for people to realise they are looking for quality living-not just a place to stay," says Ghimere, who is optimistic about his venture. "We plan to use the northern complex as an apartment hotel."

Still another up-market option is the standalone homes offered by The Comfort Housing at Sitapaila. Om Rajbhandari, CEO, told us that he is trying to build a community by offering clients all the amenities they would want for quality living. Instead of soliciting bookings and advance payments from prospective owners, he decided to go ahead and start building the 60 individual units. He says 70 percent of the houses have already been sold. The Comfort community will start moving in by Dasain 2003. "Our project has taken into account the Nepali desire to have an independent home that can accommodate at least three generations-grandparents, parents and children," Rajbhandari told us.

All the projects offer assured water supply, open spaces, uniform exteriors and space-optimising interiors, and the security that comes with living in something akin to a gated community. Sunrise says it will also be having an independent sewage treatment plant within the complex while Ansal says that it is now planning to "Nepalise" or "Newarise" most of its future designs. "The customers are very choosy and are not looking only for a roof over their heads," says R Babbar, CEO of Ansal Chaudhary Developers. "They are looking for an edge in housing, in terms of effective design and access to public services and infrastructures."

A quick survey of the clients of most housing projects reveals that people who book apartments are typically professionals and white-collar workers with stable future earnings, and families where husband and wife both work. The apartments and houses in the lower and middle ends of the market are being snapped up fast and with increased demand and competition builders are becoming more efficient, and promoters are promising shorter construction periods and other add-ons. "In two months we've sold almost half of all flats and apartments we have on offer," says V Rajgopalan, president of Sunrise Homes. They are already planning to move into the second phase of building independent homes.

Then there are people who want to invest; they have cash in hand, but no safe place to put it into, because of the political uncertainty, massive slump in industry due to the conflict, and the fledgling stock market that has also been hit. What's more, apartments are transferable by law and will be more so once the cabinet approves regulations needed to activate the legislation. A law governing group housing was passed some years ago, but the government has yet to approve the specific regulations which, we are told, have already been drafted.

There are some nay-sayers who say that they are waiting for legislation governing the housing industry to come into force, and cite the poor track record Nepal has of drafting and implementing laws to cover new, rapidly growing industries. Some buyers also say that although they have invested, they'd be a lot more comfortable if they knew their promoters could be forced to comply with building norms and if pricing could be regulated. The industry is also untested on its ability to deliver, another reason for the general nervousness. "The regulations remain to come into force and because buyers make advance payments there is always an incentive for the sellers to cheat, especially when enforcement is lax," one developer admitted. "But that has not happened so far and we hope it won't-something like that can kill the market even before it matures."

But many Nepalis seem to be taking the risk, looking beyond "building one dream house" for their families. Says Ghimere, many first-time homeowners have begun to believe that when they buy a flat, they are keeping their options open-if things work out, they could always sell their flat, which is likely to be worth more in five years than what they pay for it now, and build their own stand-alone home.

The industry, for its part, is looking at further deepening of the market, as more and more builders and developers join the race. For the moment, though, few are bothered by the increased competition because of what effectively remains a seller's market, due to large unfulfilled demand. Rajgopalan told us that a government study conducted some years ago had estimated the need for over 200,000 more houses in Kathmandu Valley. Even half that number would be enough to keep businesses going for another 10-15 years, given that the annual supply of new houses every year is only a few hundred, even with the new projects. Industry insiders we spoke with said that, all things remaining more or less constant, the industry is looking at continued growth for at least a decade. Some firms, such as Sunrise, are already conducting market and feasibility surveys to expand to other urban centres such as Biratnagar, Birganj
and Pokhara.
Offers Location Product type Units Unit cost (in million rupees)
Kathmandu Residency Bagdole Apartments 123 Sold
Mount View Residency-I Harisiddhi Apartments/Duplexes 70 1.8-2.5
Mount View Residency-II Hattiban Apartments 140 1.3-1.7
The Comfort Housing Sitapaila Standalone houses 60 3.0-4.0
Sunrise Homes Balkumari Apartments/ Duplexes 102 1.6-3.7
Civil Homes Bhainsepati Standalone houses 59 2.0-2.8
Subha Avas Naya Naikap Duplexes 75 0.7-1.1
Oriental Colony Kuleshwor Apartments 500+ 0.7-1.5
Shangrila Villa Gangabu Apartments/Duplexes 36 1.2-2.8
Grace Apartments Naxal Apartments 56 3.8-5.2


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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