By Amrita Singh
Last week, realty firm Tata Housing paid Rs 218 crore for 2 Hailey Road, a large mansion on a one-acre plot with an outhouse that can accommodate a staff of ten. Open on all sides, it has large windows looking out on the grounds, ensuring lots of natural light in the living room. It looks a little rundown, though, and its garden is a wilderness of overgrown weeds - clearly the result of years of neglect.
The Tatas have decided to pull it down to make way for a low-rise block of luxury apartments. The main attraction of the new flats, which will come up in a few years, will be their location - very near Connaught Place and on the edge of Lutyens' Delhi. The other draw could be the reflected prestige of living in the close vicinity of VIPs. Hailey Road is home to the Nepalese and Iranian ambassadors, besides a few jet-setting businessmen and high-ranking government officials.
This new block of apartments in the heart of the city will also offer a rare occasion to those looking to own a pied-a-terre in this sought-after neighbourhood in central Delhi. After all, finding a property in Lutyens'' zone and its periphery is not easy. Such properties rarely come up for sale, and those that do, say brokers, are often embroiled in litigation with multiple claimants. In the Lutyens'' Zone the government owns most of the bungalows - only 75 of the 1,000 houses here are in private hands.
Supply might be limited but there are a few options available. You will, however, need at least Rs 30 crore to get a foothold in the most basic apartment in these elite enclaves. And what might you expect for that mount? Typically, a 3,000 sq ft space with two-three bedrooms spread over two levels, plus a living room, lounge and three-four bathrooms.
If you are looking for greater privacy and the closed confines of an apartment make you feel suffocated, then there are stand-alone houses available on Barakhambha Road. A 12-bedroom colonial bungalow with 12 bathrooms, large living room, huge portico and massive lawns on this thoroughfare is looking for a new owner. The address - 11, Barakhambha Road, opposite Modern School - is perhaps the closest you can get to living in Connaught Place. Adjoining is the glass facade of DBS Bank on one side, and similar bungalows on the other. The price? A cool Rs 350 crore.
But don't expect a floor plan or a detailed layout of the house before making up your mind. Real-estate websites are discreet about details and actual pictures are never put out in the public domain. The names of the owners too are kept a secret because of the big money involved in such deals. "Anyone who might want to buy something this large and expensive would know what to expect. He won't be a curious onlooker wanting to have a look at the property before deciding," says Rishab Bajaj, a real-estate agent who has a website that is curiously called www.kismatkiproperty.com. Buyers can always check out the building from outside, he suggests. The white-painted bungalow on Barakhambha Road has a low fence on its outer boundary, making it visible to anyone standing on the road. While the identity of its owner could not be ascertained, it seems to be in good hands since its exterior walls have been freshly painted and its lawns are perfectly manicured.
* * *
Discerning buyers with a few hundred crores to spare have many more options. Pradeep Prajapati, a junior manager at property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, says niche properties take longer to sell but there are bungalows to suit a variety of budgets and needs on the market right now.
For those looking for status, there are houses on Prithiviraj Road. The tree-lined avenue has been home to the country's top businessmen for decades. A drive down will take you past huge gated mansions of the Jindals, Punjs, Jaipurias, Singhs and Goenkas, besides the official residences of a host of other senior government officials and politicians.
The options here range from independent bungalows, plots and also apartment blocks such as the Terrace and the Marble Arch. For Rs 320 crore, you can get a 5,000 sq ft bungalow set on a 3,200 square yard plot and for a little more - Rs 485 crore - a 10,000 sqft bungalow on a one acre plot.
Most bungalows in Lutyens'' Zone come with the signature lawn at the back, high ceilings, several large bedrooms and bathrooms, outhouses, indoor or outdoor swimming pool, multiple garages, gym, solar panels and also a garbage disposal system. In addition are the pleasures of not having to worry about power outage or water supply.
Security is not a concern either. The presence of high-profile politicians and government officials in the neighbourhood ensures police presence is heavy at all times - evident also in the carefree manner in which owners leave their BMWs and Mercedes parked in the lane outside their house.
* * *
Life in Lutyens' also scores high on aesthetics. Push carts and vendors are kept out and pavements are squeaky clean so residents can enjoy obstacle-free strolls. Of course, it was the British who laid the foundation of this exclusivity so they didn't have to deal with the hoi polloi. The original inhabitants of these areas were banished to the boondocks across the Barapullah nullah to Bhogal. To this day the roads here are out of bounds for cycle rickshaws and vendors.
"There can't be a better place than this to live in Delhi," says Bubbles Suneja, the lady captain of the Delhi Golf Club who lives in a house on Tughlaq Lane. She counts clean air and greenery as the main draws. Her Tughlaq Lane house was bought by her businessman father about 30 years ago and sits in the corner of a lawn big enough to accommodate a small putting area. It has four bedrooms, an immaculately done-up living room in white and red, a garden overlooking it, five bathrooms and three servant quarters. It also has a walled patio next to the entrance that is used as car parking.
While the house does not boast of a swimming pool, its high-profile neighbours more than make up for the lapse. While an eminent intelligence officer is Suneja's immediate neighbour, Rahul Gandhi lives across the road and former president Pratibha Patil's retirement home is on the other end of the lane.
But the spirit of a place is as much about the people as it is about the prestige. Many residents rue that the detached houses and high profile residents are a downside to community feeling. "My friends envy my house. Yes, I do have a nice house but social life takes a beating here. Everyone's too busy, they don't know their neighbours well," says Romina Madan, a 24-year-old advertising professional who lives on Aurangzeb road.
Suneja says it is more likely that you might bump into your neighbours at the Gymkhana Club or the Golf Club than on the street. "I know Rahul Gandhi is my neighbour, but I do not know if he knows I am his."