REDEFINING ‘COMFORT’ IN URBAN INDIA TODAY
Today, urban India is largely driven by up-and-coming single professionals and young, dual-income nuclear families. As per a recent study, over 10% of Indian families still had nine members or more in 2001 while only slightly above 6% of families had that many members by 2011. More and more Indian families have splintered off from their erstwhile joint families and are today being defined by five or less members – the quintessential nuclear family is rapidly becoming the norm. The buffer that the joint family system afforded in previous times has been more or less phased out. Within the joint family system, a number of functions such as care for children and elders were a given. Family finances were also less challenging as a number of income streams merged with elders’ retirement funds and long-standing family wealth. We bring you an analysis of this trend that is turning into a torrent, and how it is impinging on realty purchases. What are the factors driving this trend ? Seen in retrospect, quite a few. In the first place, our youth today want to make lifestyle choices in line with contemporary options, and this requires financial autonomy. Second, they prefer to choose their life partners without these choices being polled and voted upon from a traditionalist perspective. Third, they would like to raise their offspring in consonance with their own values, and facilitate their integration into the global village that India is rapidly becoming. While caring for the needs of elders is still very much a part of their value system, the immediate ties to previous generations are nevertheless loosened. Naturally, a nuclear family must maintain a sharp focus in order to succeed. Operative concepts are earning, career growth, raising and investing in the family. This last imperative means sending their kids to good schools and colleges, upkeep of elders, and their own eventual retirement. This is a complex program, but works very well for those who can maintain focus. One aspect – the quest for comfort – has not changed. What has changed is how this comfort is defined. In today's technology-driven environment, comfortable homes are no longer defined by their size, but by how much they contribute to the family's ability to enjoy a modern, secure and even trendy lifestyle. At the same time, keeping in mind that a small family unit depends on financial discipline to remain viable and enable growth in diversified investments, such a home should not cost an arm and a leg. In the past, this is where most developers of 'smart' homes erred, miscalculating demand for technologically enabled properties. People who consider such homes are not looking for buying into a social stratum of luxury defined by massively expensive homes – they are buying into a lifestyle. If their lifestyle is compromised by the purchase of a home which leaves little or nothing for other investments or lifestyle choices, that offering will definitely fall flat. It is for this very reason that the previous yen for 'central' locations has given way to 'well-connected' locations, while the focus on 'size' has yielded to a focus on 'lifestyle quotient'. The cost of a residential property is defined by the rupee-value the market assigns to its location, and the magnitude of space it occupies within that location. For today's nuclear family, access to workplaces, schools, shopping and healthcare is as important as ever, but they expect good connectivity rather than a central location to deliver on these. Likewise, they do not look for massive living spaces but instead for homes that will support their aspiration for comfort and convenience – within the living space and within the project. They want in-house services that will reduce the demands and stress that day-to-day maintenance puts on their time and energy, and lifestyle-enhancing facilities available on-site. A distant or expensive dream ? Not any longer. In previous years, the onus of meeting home buyer expectations fell solely on real estate developers. Developers, apropos, are merely building specialists – delivering on lifestyle factors was beyond the scope of the built environment not part of their core competences. Recognition of this deficit within themselves saw them bringing-in modern facilities management into the picture – but such services involve higher costs that they invariably on-passed to their customers. Today the challenge lies in providing a well-rounded residential property package, along with all the required lifestyle features within a reasonable budget range. Specialist agencies are now partnering developers to achieve just that. Unlike most facilities management firms, these agencies have a full grasp of real estate fundamentals that affect pricing. Because standardization is essential to reduce costs without compromising on quality, they give developers a model that provides high lifestyle performance in smaller spaces at well-connected locations. As size parameters are inflexible, this model cannot be juxtaposed on existing buildings with varying apartment dimensions. Therefore, such agencies partner developers right from the project design stage. The result is an entirely new breed of homes that can provide residents with lifestyle possibilities that were previously not possible within range-bound ticket sizes. And the response from nuclear families, working individuals and even buyers nearing retirement is understandably unprecedented. This is ultimate value in every sense. Because of their relative newness on the market, such lifestyle-oriented residential offerings are still few in number, but growing demand for them indicates rapid growth in this segment.