Ever wondered the reason why real estate projects in Mumbai lack thought and imagination? It’s the same reason that Bollywood largely churns out mindless crap that masquerades as entertainment: Thought and imagination don’t really matter for success or failure. Earlier I used to be enthusiastic to view new projects and plans by developers. Unfortunately, irrespective of the location or the brand, they all pretty much looked and felt the same. Such is the boredom in lately evaluating new projects that only a relentless broker can push me into making a visit.
Keeping it with the analogy of Bollywood, this is how I view it. The male actors are the branded developers. People buy on the basis of that brand.
Male actors are the company brand
Godrej Properties = Salman Khan: Unless it is a below-par product, the project manages to scrape through. If it’s a good product it’s a super-hit.
Oberoi Realty = Aamir Khan: Much like the Lagaan and Dangal star, Oberoi Realty does select a few projects but offers amongst the best quality in the business. It charges a hefty premium as well.
Lodha Developer = Akshay Kumar: Notwithstanding the current gap in the financial condition of the two, Lodha works on multiple projects simultaneously and does a reasonably decent job in all of them.
Hiranandani Developers = Shah Rukh Khan: Sitting on a lucrative asset base, Hiranandani is much like the former superstar, now dabbling into numerous other avenues – almost giving the impression that real estate is no longer where its heart lies.
Shapoorji Pallonji = Amitabh Bachchan: Resilient with a vast legacy, Shapoorji Pallonji executes projects with a performance that is reliable and consistent.
While there are many more examples between actors and real estate developers, most of them don’t really have any significant identity of their own that allows them to be categorised.
Actresses are the contractors
I mean no disrespect to either of the two but actresses are like the contractors in a project – They are necessary but the end-customer doesn’t really care who it is. His/her decision is influenced by the name of the developer. Example: Did you know that L&T is the contractor for most of Oberoi Realty projects?
Script-writer is the architect
There is no bigger illustration of under-employment in Mumbai real estate than the role of an architect. Limited by regulations and an environment that almost kills creativity, the role is primarily limited to getting approvals for the project or for giving certificates for facilitating bank disbursement of loans. It is similar to the feeling that many script-writers in Bollywood undergo where formula movies still rule the roost.
Item-songs are the brand ambassador
Bollywood is notorious for its usage of item-songs that even industry participants concede is meant for the rural and semi-urban audience. There is no empirical evidence to suggest it has any meaningful impact. Similarly, brand ambassadors are engaged by developers to lure in buyers by creating a differentiation or retention impact. There is empirical evidence here that it has no impact.
Exceptions exist – but not in Mumbai
Like with every norm – there are exceptions even in this. None of them though in Mumbai. Unexpectedly the way has been shown by a developer in Bangalore --Total Environment. Promoted by an architect who opted to become a developer, it’s a reminder that imagination and construction can go in the same sentence. Such has been the response that today its projects command a pricing premium to heavyweights of that region (Mumbai-based developers like Godrej and Hiranandani have been unable to make a serious dent in that location). The range varies but there is at least a premium of 20 percent in comparison to competing projects in the vicinity though I am unsure of its profitability level given the costs involved in creating such products. The premise is simple: We provide quality homes that are customised to your demand.
To understand this company, I connected with its founder – Kamal Sagar – for a chat. “Most people perceive luxury housing to be only fancy lobbies, expensive materials, numerous amenities, etc. The point is not just how a project looks – but also how it feels. That’s where design and customisation come into play,” said Kamal. He isn’t wrong. Every luxury project in the commercial capital as well emphasises the flashiness and amenities of the complex. The apartment in itself is almost soul-less.
So how did Total Environment do it? It wasn’t easy. Total Environment worked on miniscule margins or even at a loss in its initial projects over two decades ago. As acceptance gained for its differentiated offering that highlighted the feel of tastefully done customised apartments in granular detail (brochure is a must-see), people were willing to pay a premium.
The reason I give this example is to highlight that a major vacuum has the potential to be filled in Mumbai real estate – if the desire and talent exist. There exists a market for a quality offering that is executed and priced right.
The current environment of no differentiation among products is only leading to a bloodbath in terms of pricing and discounts. A bigger illustration of this is more visible in Thane where almost every project looks and feels the same – with the exception of Hiranandani Meadows.
Much like Bollywood, Mumbai real estate needs to also evolve and upgrade. It needs to find its Ayushman Khurrana. Time is running out. A market awaits. Otherwise many developers will be going the way of the bald “Bala"
When not busy with his newstoon platform Snapnews, Vishal Bhargava is a real estate enthusiast who views and reviews new projects. The views are personal.