Nepali Times
Going up

Kathmandu's traditional silhouette of ramshackle brick buildings is changing so fast, people returning after a few years abroad can't recognise parts of the capital.

As land values soar and space becomes a premium, Kathmandu's housing companies are going vertical with apartment and office blocks over ten stories high.

There was a time when people preferred standalone villas or townhouses, but the ease of apartment-living seems to have caught everyone's imagination. High rise condos are suddenly the rage.

"With the growing trend of nuclear families where both spouses work and most need to travel, an apartment may be easier to lock up and leave for long periods of time," explains Hitesh Golchha, executive director of Mercury Housing, which is building Sterling Patan in Sanepa.

There has been a profound cultural and demographic shift. With urbanisation, there is also a tremendous demand on residential quarters. As new migrants rent rooms in the city core, inner city residents are moving out to apartments in the outskirts.

Adding to this trend is that apartments are hassle-free: no need to worry about buying bricks, cement, steel rods, water connections, phone lines and security. So, the added cost of buying an apartment is not just worth it, but it is also seen to be a great investment.

"The high rises maximise the utilities of scarce fixed resources and make them an important part of our available housing choices," says Kamlesh Jain, director of Parkview Horizon that has luxury apartments and penthouses in Dhapasi Height.

Udaya Shrestha, vice president of Sunrise Apartments says flats are more compact, take up less urban space and conserve green space. "They can use municipal infrastructure more efficiently. They have less impact on nfrastructure and public amenities are easily accessible," he says. Sunrise has already sold individual houses at Balkumari and the apartments of Sunrise Tower at Dhobighat are almost sold. Now, it has launched Sunrise Apartment at Nakkhu which will have 200 units.

The emergence of residential real estate developers is itself an indicator of the changing trend in the housing preferences of the public. Housing developers are scrambling to outdo each other with amenities once reserved for five-star hotels and resorts.

As crime rises, most buyers say they are attracted by apartment living because of security. Electronic access control, motion controlled perimeter lighting and 24-hour guards are standard features for apartment blocks. "Security is one of the main-selling points," says Golchha.

Uninterrupted power and regular water supply are the other draws. "We have power back up and water supply, which makes living much easier," says Shrestha, "People want to save time and energy and simplify their lives."

Many buyers are concerned about whether or not the high-rises are earthquake resistant. The builders claim the design and materials used are designed to withstand major earthquakes.Living in high-rises will require a new set of social etiquette and new home owners wil have to learn the skills of living in what amounts to a human bee-hive.

Once the apartments are handed over to owners, the blocks will be administered by a board made up of owners and residents. Maintenance and other expenses are shared, which brings down living expenses even more.

"People want the easy-living lifestyle that a city has to offer," says Shishir Nahata, executive director of Uni-World Infrastructure, which has started constructing Ashirbad Apartments in Gyaneshwor. "If one wants to live in superior locations in the core city area, there is no option but to opt for high-rise condos."

A rapidly growing middle class with a strong culture of home-ownership caused the demand for housing, but the government introduced a new provision calling for real estate buyers to declare their income source for purchase of property worth more than Rs 5 million. "This has had a negative impact on real estate business," says Nahata.

Cityscape, in Hatiban, is coming up with 16-storey apartment blocks with 577 units, the country's largest so far. The flats all have airy rooms, individual balconies and large windows to allow in the sun into every room. Cityscape's Arun Chaudhari says: "Our emphasis is on affordability, safety and comfort. If I were to buy an apartment, this is what I would want. "

I R Tamang, executive chairman of Civil Homes thinks the real estate business is thriving because it is a relatively safe area to invest in as the number of households is increasing. "The real estate business will continue to thrive as it is driven by demand," he says.

The Nepal Land and Housing Developers' Association, with the Housing and Physical Planning Ministry, has finalised a draft of the Real Estate Act to regulate and monitor the quality of buildings. It estimates that 6,000 residential units worth about Rs 60 billion are being put up annually by real estate developers.

Access to finance is another factor that has boosted the trend towards apartments. The banking sector has come up with competitive mortgage loan schemes with various innovative mortgage products and marketing campaigns, which Tamang says have brought about changes in residential living trends.

Because of all these factors, real estate business is thriving. Nepal Land and Housing Developers' Association is organising a first of its kind Real Estate Expo 2009 in March. Trilokeswor Malla of Direction Nepal says it aims at showcasing and bringing the real estate sector of Nepal to public. He adds: "It is also a branding and sales opportunity for investors and buyers to meet developers, agents and service providers."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)