Home stretch

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 20:20 hrs

Move over Lonavla, Khandala and Alibaug - quaint Shahpur, Kasara and Murbad on the Nashik-Mumbai highway are the new weekend home destinations for Mumbaikars. And with prices still low, they're selling fast

Once every month, Preeti Bhopatkar, her husband and their six-year-old son travel from their 1BHK flat in Thane to their newly constructed bungalow in Murbad, a little off the road to Nashik. “There is none of this running around in Murbad,” says the Thane-based banker. “Spending a day or two there is like getting a recharge. It prepares you for the routine in the city.”

Bhopatkar is not the only Mumbaikar who, tired of living cooped up in match-box apartments, has invested in a holiday home in small towns nearby. The result — Murbad, along with Shahapur, Kasara, Vashind and other sleepy hamplets along the Mumbai-Nashik highway, has seen a surge in demand for land. Over the past few months, several such projects have been launched in these areas.

With real estate prices in the megapolis shooting up, buying a spacious home is a distant ambition for most. These weekend home projects, launched recently, promise affordable plots and bungalows giving the middle classes a chance to realise the dream of owning not just a big house, but land too.

For instance, a roughly 2,000 square feet plot of land in Shahapur, about 90 kilometres from Mumbai, is priced at just Rs 7 lakh . The project, named “Beverly Hills”, has sold more than half of the 200-odd plots spread over 45 acres. The cost of constructing a bungalow here works out to Rs 19 lakh. Several such projects have been launched in the past year, and the plots here and in neighbouring towns are selling steadily.

“There are families that live on rent in Mumbai and invest in land on the outskirts. There are even couples who pay EMIs on their house in Mumbai and still want to invest in a second home,” observes Anshuman Dev, manager for channel sales at Disha Direct.

A clutch of small, private developers who operate in suburban Mumbai are developing the land, which is non-agricultural. The plots are sold by dedicated second-home marketing companies such as Disha Direct and SoftCorner. Bungalows are built on customers’ request and can be custom-designed.

The rows of plots lined with saplings in the shadow of the Sahyadri range may not be nearly as picturesque as Lonavala or Alibaug, but they do hold out the promise of space and peace. Besides land is now scarce in the once-popular weekend home locations of Lonavala, Khandala and Alibaug, prompting developers to look at newer destinations. Competition among builders has also driven up costs in these locations — bungalows in Alibaug have price tags of between Rs 70 lakh and Rs 7 crore, while in Lonavala they could cost Rs 2 crore-Rs 5 crore. In contrast, the projects on the Mumbai-Nashik corridor are cheaper — Rs 18 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.

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For many buyers, the plots are investment. Soon after Pratham Bhoot landed a job as a software engineer in 2011, his father urged him to invest in real estate. “He saw me shopping a lot in the first few months and said you better put some money away,” the 23-year-old laughs. So Bhoot took a loan and spent more than Rs 10 lakh on a plot at Pen, near Uran on the Mumbai-Goa road. The engineer fantasises about building a bungalow there but says he might sell it a few years later to fund his higher studies. Like the Mumbai-Nashik highway, locations on the Mumbai-Goa road saw a spike in interest some years ago. However, delays in the commencement of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project, which will connect Pen and Uran to Nariman Point, have since reduced enthusiasm.

“With a plot of land, you have maximum returns. A built-up property is not easy to sell and requires more investment for maintenance,” notes Ashutosh Limaye, head of real estate intelligence at Jones Lang LaSalle. Before taking the plunge, buyers must be sure of what they want to do with the property, Limaye advises. “People are tempted to buy second homes but many are not clear whether they want to settle there after retirement, go there on weekends or use it as an investment.”

Weekend home marketers pride themselves on transparency and are even backed by banks but there is always the danger of being cheated, a la Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla. Encroachment is a risk on vacant land. So buyers must check whether approvals are in place, and the developers’ credibility and track record, Limaye notes.

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With strong demand, land value in these areas has seen annual appreciation of 15-20 per cent. As the pace of growth quickens and bigger developers prepare to enter the field here, prices are set to appreciate further, experts say.

Tata Housing Development Company has recently finished a second homes project in the small towns of Talegaon and Vasind, and is actively considering other areas. “These places are affordable, they are accessible and scenic,” says Rajeev Das, head of marketing and product development at Tata Housing.

While buyers seek a quiet getaway, they also want the comfort of modern amenities. So these plot projects come with amenities like clubhouses, spas, swimming pools, gardens and maintenance services. Resorts and water parks are also popping up nearby.

Weekend home developers are careful to clear approach roads of rubble and some even pave them to impress potential buyers. They also promise to provide streetlights, 24-hour electricity and overhead water tanks though a site tour is recommended to ensure amenities meet your needs. The marketing companies usually arrange for such visits with a pick-up and drop service.

As happened in Karjat, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is expected to start zoning and town planning on the Mumbai-Nashik route in coming years. Thereafter, the sanctioning of non-agricultural land is set to reduce as the authorities will focus on improving infrastructure. “Now is a good time for buying land here,” says Dev of Disha Direct.

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