Bose Gurunathan, an IT professional, was about to buy a two-bedroom apartment in Bengaluru. However, he realised the other bedroom will remain unoccupied and unutilised. That is when he started looking at flexi homes and invested almost Rs 80 lakh for a house a couple of years back, which is priced at about Rs 90 lakh now.
Currently, Rohit Singh, a young IT professional in Bengaluru is looking for a spacious two- or three-bedroom apartment in the city. He said, "I started looking for an apartment a few months back. However, with the budget constraint, I came down to 2BHK. But in the process, I came across articles on flexi homes and spoke to one of my cousins in Hong Kong."Singh said his cousin suggested he get a smaller home with flexible options for multi-functionality. "I have a hybrid working and my wife is currently working from home. It becomes very difficult in a 2BHK when we have calls simultaneously, especially with a kid among us," he added. Singh said if he has flexible options, he can turn one bedroom into a larger living space.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people sought an alternative way of living to balance their professional and personal lives while trapped inside their homes.
Anshuman Magazine, Chairman & CEO - India, South-East Asia, Middle East & Africa, Global Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE), said, "With ‘hybridisation’ of work, there is an increased demand for larger and more flexible homes to accommodate home offices. Homebuyers have now turned to a holistic view of a home, which can cater to both their work and recreational needs."
Anuj Puri, Chairman, ANAROCK Group, said, “The primary new requirement was size — homes needed to be more spacious, and this is what kick-started the exodus out of the costly city-centres to the cheaper suburbs. However, not all requirements could be met purely with extra carpet area. This is when developers started introducing multi-functionality features, built into the property layout and design and also in its furnishing.”
What are flexi homes?
Sweeny Noronha, Project Architect at Dzigns Architecture and Interiors, said, "The walls and furniture define the functions of the spaces. We can define a living room by the furniture or a bedroom by providing a cot. We thus came up with flexi homes where the walls do not define the function of a house."
For instance, according to architects, in Japan, the walls or the furnishings determine how functional open spaces are. The movable walls and movable furniture allow homebuyers to easily convert a bedroom into an extended living room or vice versa. "These add a lot of flexible functionality within a closed place,” Noronha added.
Subhash Saraf from A360 architects, Bengaluru, said flexi homes mainly comprise foldable pieces of furniture and movable walls where you can fold the bed and hide it inside the wall. This, so that the spaces can be reused or have multiple purposes.
Flexi homes from Tokyo to India
Tokyo-based architect, Rugved Rane, said the idea of flexible homes originated in places like Tokyo and Hong Kong. "In Japan, this has been going on for centuries. The houses are so small that people have no option other than to have super convertible furniture and movable walls. Additionally, in China, the prices are so high that people have to adapt to a flexible home lifestyle."
In Japan, they usually have one space called the Tatami room. It can be converted into a bedroom at night, while during the day it is a special room for worship and everyday use. "Also in Japan they have a sliding partition, so when guests arrive, the walls can be moved opening up to a larger space," Rane added.
For real estate developers like Karle Infra, Tokyo is a major inspiration for their ideas in India. Anilcy Verghese, AVP Sales & Marketing, Karle Infra Pvt Ltd, said, "While travelling to several countries we found space is a big challenge. Back in 2019, we came up with the idea of flexi homes after our trip to Hong Kong where we noticed the problem. And then back in Mumbai, we noticed a similar problem."
A sudden need for flexi homes in India
Builders and real estate consultants claim that the pandemic significantly influenced homebuyers' decisions to choose alternative living solutions like flexi homes.
A recent survey by NoBroker among 8,000 participants found that the percentage of buyers asking for flexi homes has gone up from 2-3 percent (before 2020) to 45 percent on the platform (post-COVID).
Kishore Reddy, Managing Director of Mana Projects, said the pandemic has opened several doors to exploring homes through different lenses. “Today, companies are giving several hybrid working options. People want to spend quality time inside their homes. Additionally, they can push a wall to a corner to open the bedroom into a larger living space for guests or work," he added.
Flexi homes leave experts divided
A recent survey conducted by Kotak Institutional Equities (KIE) across the IT and ITES space said 90 percent of employees are expected to be back in office within six months.
At a time when the world is slowly opening up, and people are gradually returning to work, would flexi homes continue to cater to homebuyers across India?
Though experts remain divided on the issue, architects say flexi homes become more meaningful in smaller apartment spaces where people can increase the functionality of the individual rooms. Saraff said, "People opt for flexi homes when either they live in a very small apartment, or they cannot afford a large one." Amirah Ahamed, an architect at Bodhi Design Studio, said flexi home is a new concept in India and it will take some time for people to get used to it.
Rane said after the pandemic, he has received several queries for sliding partitions or rooms that can be converted into bigger spaces with movable furniture. "A lot of people are shifting perspectives, and I see this work in some way in future," he added.Other real estate experts say the term flexi home is not widely used or well understood in India. Experts say this is not a general requirement for homebuyers in India and only caters to a certain segment of the clientele.
Saraff said builders float several concepts; some take off, some fail to attract attention. A few years ago, there was the concept of removing common walls. “We can safely say this is also a marketing strategy, especially when people found the opportunity amid the pandemic,” he added.
But almost all architects Moneycontrol spoke to agreed that this is more of a premium need rather than for the general homebuyers. Noronha added that eventually over the next few years flexi homes will penetrate the real estate sector across the country. "Today, we see a rising demand for convertible and movable furniture among young homebuyers," she added.
Are flexi homes affordable?
The flexi homes registered by the real estate builders in Bengaluru start from Rs 80 lakh, going up to Rs 1.5 crore. On average, the homes are priced at Rs 1 crore across the real estate sector.
Verghese said, "As per market definition, this may sound a little premium. It is an entry-level luxury product. And, I feel, that when we launched in 2019, we always thought our flexi homes would not be a buyer’s first home. But now we see with the surge of the IT industry in Bengaluru, the ecosystem is changing."
Reddy agreed that it is a choice of liking than need and can be perceived as a lifestyle product than a necessity. But people can easily save at least Rs 10 lakh by opting for a flexi home, he added.However, Noronha said while the flexible and movable furniture can still remain within an affordable range, converting the entire apartment with flexi walls adds 25-30 percent premium price on top of the apartment cost.