Houses

Bangalore was once known as the Garden City. Now it resembles a concrete jungle. Generic low or medium rise apartments blocks (and I do mean blocks) sprout about like mushrooms. That is why, when I saw a redbrick apartment luxuriously festooned with plants and creepers, I stood and gawped. The apartment was off Sarjapura Road and named after the tune from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.

The apartment was the result of a 1992 IIT Kharagpur architect named Kamal Sagar and his Total Environment Building Systems company. Sagar focussed on creating high quality living spaces and tried to include a garden with every home and customizing the furnishing to go with the design of the home.

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Interior of a Total Environment Project home

Sounds too good to be true? Well their homes are well outside my budget so I can only discuss them for now.

But this brings me to an odd point. Buying a house is typically, the biggest expense a young professional bears with loan repayment often running into decades. Unfortunately what he or she may receive in the end is too often a poor compromise. The price of a house is often determined by just a handful of factors locality, number of bedrooms, “amenities” and the builder’s reputation.

None of these points are a reliable measure of the quality of life you will end up with. For instance, it is often unclear till the time of construction how much sunlight your living room will receive as he original plans are often modified upon construction. A number of “amenities” like swimming pools may be costly to maintain but are sure to hike up prices.

The problem is that many buyers seem to have got conditioned to the state of affairs.

To make matters worse, most apartment buyers in Bangalore don’t intend to live there, but plan on renting the apartment out or reselling it at a profit once construction is underway. They thus have a lower incentive to concern themselves with the “quality of life” trusting that the large influx of people to Bangalore will bring some people conditioned to thinking that way.

The last rented house I lived in was refreshingly free from these conventions. It had a tiny drawing room but 1/3rd of the space was given over to a massive master bedroom that spanned one end of the house to the other. Both sides had large glass windows giving the space access to both the sunrise and the sunset.

I felt this was brilliant. Instead of spending space on formal rooms, all emphasis was on the one room I used the most. I felt that a young couple like I and my wife didn’t need a large formal dining table or sofa set but could dine informally while enjoying the pleasures of nature.

Well that’s what I thought. Turned out my wife preferred a dining table and sofa set.

My cousin bought a flat in Delhi a few years ago. It had 3 bedrooms and some living space. She knocked down the walls and put up sliding partitions instead to create a massive living space with studio lighting and just a small bedroom. It was the coolest space I had ever seen.

What was the neighbors’ reaction? Well the lady living below her was horrified. Why she insisted had my cousin devalued her property so much? It was likely the next occupant would judge the home by counting the number of rooms.

On my first trip to the US, I was amazed at the speed of construction there using prefabricated material. This is in contrast to India where typically every house is built to a unique set of plans.

An Indian couple in the US decided that they wanted to customize every aspect of their house and reject the pre-fabricated material regardless of the higher cost. The lesson of the story is to never violate the standard because they had a terrible time trying to resell it. Potential buyers just expected some things to be in certain places like electrical sockets etc. and the absence of these things made the house seem sub-standard.

So is there a lesson here? I don’t really know. But sometimes its expensive to have tastes different from the herd.

 

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