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Cash-rich Indian technology workers home in on luxury

Manoj Namburu ran a technology consulting firm in the United States before he moved to India’s hi-tech capital three years ago to build luxury houses for wealthy software executives.

His Alliance Infrastructure Projects started with 150 villas named ”10 Downing”, with club houses, swimming pools and tennis courts, near the International Technology Park in Bangalore.

The villas located on the edge of the sprawling city of six million were an immediate hit with software engineers who were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy peace in Bangalore, where massive traffic jams and power cuts are a daily fact of life.

”A majority of the software employees have lived in the United States and they travel a lot. Having lived outside the country, they look for something similar here. They prefer villas over apartments,” Namburu said.

”Some of the villas were sold for 20,5-million rupees [$445 000],” he said. ”Almost 85% of the villas were bought by software professionals.”

Bangalore, home to more than 1 500 foreign high-tech firms, has been choked by its success as an outsourcing and software-development centre.

Leading Indian tech companies such as Infosys Technologies and Wipro, frustrated with declining quality of life for employees in the city once known for its gardens and parks, have threatened to open new operations elsewhere.

Many of the companies are eager to buy into the villas as well with rooms at the city’s luxury hotels the third costliest in the world after Moscow and Rome, according to a recent survey by United Kingdom-based corporate travel-management firm BTI.

The average room rate during the first six months of 2005 was $381 a night, the survey said, noting an influx of business travellers.

Nambru, however, sees the situation as an opportunity as forecasts say that despite the growing pains, the industry’s revenues will rise to $60-billion by 2010 from about $17-billion now and employ more than two million people from 700 000 currently.

The boom has prompted people to borrow large amounts to secure a space.

Surya Prasad, working with US-based management and technology services firm Accenture, bought a villa at 10 Downing for 10,2-million rupees ($222 000).

”Living in the city is not my choice. I need breathing space. Inside a villa, I feel at home as there is a garden around it. It also has security. After seeing houses in 35 countries where I have travelled, I decided I will own a villa,” said the 42-year-old.

”You also get your kind of people in villas. People who are of the same status,” said Prasad, an avid golfer. ”I earn about 2,5-million rupees [$54 000] a year and plan to take a bank loan to finance half the cost of the villa.”

Other companies are vying for business from people like Prasad by building walled enclaves of housing with landscaped gardens, meditation rooms, sun decks with barbecue pits, tennis and squash courts, billiards and karaoke rooms.

Singapore developer Keppel Land joined hands with Bangalore-based Puravankara Projects to launch ”Elita Promenade”, a 1 572-unit condominium spread across 9,6ha in July.

”The response has been very encouraging and bookings are coming in mainly from software professionals,” Girish Purvankara, director of Purvankara Projects, said. ”We will soon come out with more such projects.”

Manoj Benjamin, chief operating officer of Royal Indian Raj International Corporation, said his firm has tied up with US-based real-estate investment banking firm Greenwich Group International to secure $1-billion in financing for the development of townships in India.

”The technology boom is the driving factor for attracting foreign investment in India’s real estate sector,” Benjamin said. ”The economic growth is being fuelled by the IT sector and there is also a rapidly growing middle class.”

”India is a very challenging and chaotic place with bad roads, pollution and no proper electrical supply and water. Our customers are telling us, ‘You build it, then we will come.’ The infrastructure within the Bangalore city is pretty bad with pot-holed roads. So, when these top-notch executives reach home they need a place which stands out in terms of 24-hour power back-up and clean drinking water,” he said.

CB Richard Ellis, US-based real-estate consultants, said the demand for gated communities has been on the rise and that the value of residential properties in Bangalore has risen 30% a year since 2002.

”With better salary levels and higher incomes, such posh homes are now affordable. They are costly as land values have gone up and also the cost of construction,” said Ram Chandani, chief of Richard Ellis South India.

The rush to own luxury homes has raised eyebrows however in a country where, according to the last census in 1991, there were more than two million homeless people and 300-million lived on less than $1 a day.

A United Nations report said that in addition to the official homeless, at least 46-million people lived in slums. — AFP



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