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The Low-rise Trend

Design

Delhi has been seeing a wave of low-rise buildings recently. Sapna Kulshrestha studies the shift in trend that is responsible for gradually changing the capital’s skyline.

Delhi has innumerable high-rises with many new ones coming up in and around the city and the National Capital Region (NCR). However, there is an interesting development gradually manifesting itself in the capital city – the rising number of low-rise apartments. Many real estate developers discovered that the option of low-rise apartments (a building limited to ground plus three to five floors only) was something the public wanted as well.

This trend seems to be a reaction to the slowdown in the economy and the subsequent dampening of the real estate market that happened in the past few years. The situation forced builders and developers to think of different formats so as to attract all types of buyers.

Besides, the construction of low-rise apartments rather than high-rise buildings was an attractive option for lower and middle-income buyers – as the cost of construction is less for such developments and the benefits can be transferred, making the purchase affordable for them.

Vineet Singh, senior vice president–domestic (North, East & West) and international sales of property, www.99acres.com says, “The plotted area concept was what Delhi started with before it moved on to an apartment-style living with multi-storeyed constructions by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) and later by private developers during the real estate boom. With the slowdown, developers are trying out various formats to attract buyers.”

An erstwhile concept
Delhi already had the concept of registering independent floors in low-rise buildings for freehold properties, later extended even to DDA flats. Now, with Haryana allowing registration of independent floors, the market is flush with independent floor launches which demonstrate the demand for such projects.

Another reason for the increase in low-rise apartments, especially in the suburbs and satellite towns is because the permissible covered area on a plot of land depends on the FSI available in that area.

Thus, while in centralised locations of the city a builder would opt for high-rise buildings to consume all available FSI, for the suburbs, which have lower FSI, a developer would have no choice but to build low-rise projects.

“Low-rise buildings are the forerunners of the Indian residential property sector, and continue to represent its bulk. However, the concept is also highly location-specific and has a lot to do with available FSI in any given location,” says Subhankar Mitra, AVP-Strategic Consulting, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj.

Experts in urban development also feel that the rising development of satellite townships would further push up the demand for low-rise apartments, which can be an answer to the intense pressure on civic infrastructure in the core areas of cities.

Traditionally, people in Delhi are used to living in individual houses rather than multi-storeyed buildings. Therefore, independent floors have been rather popular, with preference for bungalow-style apartments.

Also, with the easing of the ceiling on plotted floor apartments a few months ago in the NCR, the demand for such projects has witnessed a sharp increase.

Recent launches
Some newly-proposed low-rise buildings have independent floors covering a minimum of 180sqyd to a maximum of 300sqyd plots. Such independent floors can now be fully registered and may or may not be a part of group housing projects. Some of the developers, such as Unitech, Vatika, Assotech and BPTP Ltd have got favourable responses for their low-rise launches.

In fact, low-density housing amid sprawling green spaces are being pitched as niche projects by builders. “Senior executives employed with multinational corporations prefer exclusive low-rise buildings rather than suburban mass housing complexes,” says Anurag Mathur, MD, Cushman & Wakefield.

Some of the premium projects in this segment include Vatika Group’s recently launched low-rise apartments within Vatika City called Iris Rows and Laurus Apartments comprising 300 units. Also Delhi-based Raheja Developers is coming up with a plotted development in Sohna (Gurgaon), while BPTP Ltd recently launched Park Elite Floors at Parklands, Faridabad.

The question, though, is whether low-rise apartments would continue to grow in popularity in comparison to high-rise buildings. Rohit Malhotra, CEO of Realtech Developers, cites a survey of 40 new residential projects in Delhi NCR: “In mid-size housing, the concept seems to have taken off well with 28% of the projects being in the form of low-rise apartments.” However, the efficacy and long-term popularity of such projects is still debatable.

Pros and cons
Consumers prefer low-rise construction owing to their cost-effective advantage, as additional costs for lifts, greater common areas and maintenance equipment are saved.

However, this trend cannot be attributed to the cost factor alone – as customers also prefer the privacy and space that independent floors offer, besides the benefit of adequate space, which may be a constraint in high-rise apartments.

From the site planning perspective, low-rise housing implies the spread of population in a larger area as compared to high-rise buildings and results in smaller and more compact communities.

As Vivek Dahiya, founder and CEO, GenReal Property Advisers Private Limited says, “For the buyer, the primary advantage lies in the fact that the developer will usually pass on the cost advantages to the consumer – which can be anywhere between 15%-20% lower than in a high-rise building. Also, low-rise buildings tend to be safer, less claustrophobic and involve lower maintenance costs.”

For builders, there’s an advantage of lower cost of construction as a number of services can be done away with. For instance, fire norms are easier to follow, separate parking space does not need to be created within the structure, there’s no need to maintain a basement, and elevators are not required. Such a building also requires a less robust foundation due to lower dead load.

On the other hand, there have been concerns on the quality of construction for low-rise structures as well as the lack of water and power in some such buildings. Also, they are unlikely to be implemented as a gated community concept which provides common amenities such as clubhouse, etc.

Raj Dang, an architect from Delhi, points out certain drawbacks, “In comparison to low-rise buildings with apartments, high-rise and gated communities remain more secure in environments where law and order is a problem. Additionally, the lack of a housing society creates building maintenance problems in the long run.”

Property advisors caution that consumers need to verify the basics of such buildings such as background of the developer, quality/type of construction, and also whether the project offers easy accessibility and connectivity.

Moreover, experts feel that the popularity of low-rise construction may not be sustainable in the long run due to low profit margins for the developers – especially in the affordable and premium segment compared with that of a high-rise construction.

Also, the government housing policy insists on a particular density for every acre of developed land that makes construction of blocks of flats more viable. Another factor is the increasing land prices, especially in areas closer to the city centre where any developer would like to maximise the available area by building a high-rise project.

What is apparent is that both the high-rise and low-rise building concepts are valid in their own right and represent two very separate construction concepts that cater to different users and locations. But if ample space and a private dwelling are uppermost in the client’s mind, there are enough options.

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