x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

India's rich invest in luxury property

India's new rich are snapping up luxury properties almost as quickly as developers can build them in a country that has the fastest-growing number of millionaires in Asia outside of Hong Kong.

Soaring high above the Mumbai skyline and offering panoramic views of India's commercial capital are the twin Imperial Towers.

Three years ago, their sumptuous apartments were put on the market with a unique sales pitch: the 60-storey buildings were billed as India's tallest and most expensive residential address.

With apartments available for between US$13 million (Dh47.7m) and $14m, and spread over between 8,000 square feet and 10,000 sq ft, Imperial is pure luxury, boasting Italian marble flooring, private pools and butlers and concierges.

"It has the feel of a hotel/service apartment," says Suleman Budhwani, the vice president for business development at SD Corporation, a major property company based in Mumbai that developed the 1.2 billion rupee (Dh99.3m) project.

"We're not just selling a house, we're selling a dream."

But Imperial Towers's claim to be the tallest residential complex was trumped this year by World One, developed by the Lodha Group of Mumbai. This 117-storey tower is expected to be ready by 2014.

The stunning development has also lost its "most expensive" tag. That now hangs on Mukesh Ambani's new pad, a $1.8bn 27-storey mansion known as Antilia, after a mythical island, in Mumbai's exclusive Altamont Road.

Mr Ambani is India's wealthiest man and the chairman of Reliance Industries, the country's largest private-sector company.

The billionaire tycoon has a net worth of $27bn and his new home includes helipads, crystal-adorned ballrooms and numerous lounges. It is also the widely regarded world's most expensive private residence.

But even though Imperial Towers is no longer the tallest or most expensive residential property, SD Corporation is still upbeat about sales. Since the block opened in March, 80 per cent of its 228 apartments have been sold.

What is happening at Imperial mirrors the rush in India for high-end homes in sought-after addresses. The demand has been fuelled by affluent Indians buoyed by a rising stock market and the country's rapid economic expansion.

India's luxury housing sector is expected to grow to about $13bn in 2013 from $4.3bn last year, according to a report by RNCOS, a market research company in New Delhi.

"We cater to a niche market that simply wants to live in the lap of luxury and flaunt an address that reflects their economic status," says Mr Budhwani.

According to the latest Merrill Lynch-Capgemini World Wealth Report, the number of high-net individuals in India with assets of at least $1m grew to 126,700 last year from 84,000 in 2008. India's growth in the number of millionaires was the second fastest in Asia after Hong Kong.

To underline the point, eight Indians were in the top 100 billionaires list of Forbes magazine this year. Two of them, Mr Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal, sit in the top five.

Last year, the Indian edition of Forbes reported the wealthiest 100 Indians were collectively worth $276bn and the country listed 69 billionaires, while the 100 wealthiest Chinese have assets of $170bn.

"With increased wealth creation and confidence among HNI buyers, luxury housing is witnessing a massive upturn in demand," says Sanjay Dutt, the chief executive for business development at the property services company Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj.

But most of this demand is limited to large Indian cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai, which enjoy the highest density of the new rich.

Despite the ravenous demand, property developers face a major land shortage for luxury projects in a congested city such as Mumbai.

To deal with the problem, many of them are knocking down shanty towns built of tin, asbestos and tarpaulin sheets and building luxury towers. About 62 per cent of Mumbai's 15 million people live in slums. The city's shanty towns, property developers say, are a goldmine. Slum dwellers are resettled in smaller apartments free of charge in exchange for property rights to the land.

Imperial Towers stands on the site of a former shanty town in a Mumbai suburb called Tardeo. Almost 10,000 slum dwellers in more than 2,750 shanties had to be resettled.

This redevelopment model is lucrative, even though the slum dwellers are rehoused without charge, Mr Budhwani says.

"This is the only way to free up land for construction," he says. "Not only do developers profit from this unique business model, but also slum dwellers are provided with a better quality of life."

In a similar project Unitech, India's second-biggest developer based in New Delhi, has started work on turning about 40 hectares of slum land in the Santacruz area in north Mumbai.

In January, the company's managing director Sanjay Chandra said he expected Unitech's share of sales from redeveloping the slums and building luxury apartments to triple in three years.

The Indian government is eager to promote such projects to make the country slum-free by 2015.

"As land becomes increasingly scarcer in big cities such horizontal redevelopment is the best way to accommodate the relentless demand for housing," says Ashutosh Limaye, the director of strategic consulting at Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj.