Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Farmhouses host new subculture for India's wealthy


Farmhouses host new subculture for India's wealthy


A liquor baron and a beautiful model may have got murdered in farmhouses, but don't let recent headlines take you away from the real story: farmhouses host a whole new subculture for India's wealthy.
Saurabh Khanijo, 40, owns a few top-of-the-line restaurants in Delhi and is familiar with the propensity of some affluent people to display their wealth. However, there was one occasion when he was left speechless.

(The murder of liquor baron…)
"I was invited to a farmhouse party recently and when I entered the premises I saw that the entire place had been converted into one giant set along the lines of the Vatican City. The set, I later found out, must have cost at least one crore rupees to build," says the restaurateur.
But if you have followed the news recently, you would have noticed farmhouses hitting headlines for reasons far less savoury than being venues of ultra-expensive parties. The murder of liquor baron Ponty Chadha in Delhi and actor Laila Khan in Mumbai happened at farmhouses. There have also been several other instances of the police raiding parties in various farmhouses. Police officers have claimed that narcotics were the main reason they had to mount these raids.
That somewhat sinister aura is, however, the wrong story on farmhouses. The real story is this: farmhouses have become the site for a whole new subculture for India's wealthy.

A HOME FOR MR MONEYBAGS

Twenty years ago, farmhouses were palatial bungalows set up in distant rural areas by the wealthiest few in India. But in the past decade, hundreds of millionaires across the country who have seen their wealth multiply have set up farmhouses on the outskirts of the city where they reside.
While the exact numbers are unavailable, it is understood that almost every suburb in the country today hosts a farmhouse cluster.
Khanijo says that the rapid emergence of these farmhouses was on account of the increase in the number of high net worth individuals in the country. "The new millionaires who migrate to large cities from places such as Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Uttar Pradesh want to connect with the elite in Delhi, Mumbai and other large cities. The ticket to a farmhouse party is that you have to be a millionaire."
Thus farmhouses have become essential to upholding the social standing of the wealthy in these cities. "People never used to boast so much earlier. Now everybody wants to outdo the other," says Khanijo. So setting up live casinos, flying down models from Russia to act as hostesses and getting a Bollywood star to shake a leg for half an hour have become a must at farmhouse parties.
It is easier to set up a farmhouse than a second home within a city as land is cheaper outside rather than within the city. Moreover, real estate development of around 10% of a land parcel is allowed in the
case of agricultural land. This makes it easier for any aspirant to construct a farmhouse without having to deal with red tape.

FOR THE RIGHT PRICE

Delhi accounts for the maximum number of farmhouses - real estate agents estimate that the number of such residences in and around the city will be more than 2,700. In total, they occupy around 7,000 acres of land.

Last year, as an incentive for people aspiring to construct farmhouses, the Delhi government also came up with a new farmhouse policy that liberalised the floor-area ratio for these plots, ensuring that builders could construct larger homes in the outskirts.
The demand for farmhouses is huge in other cities as well.
Santosh Naik, a prominent real estate consultant in Mumbai, says that the number of people who are ready to invest in a second home in the outskirts of Mumbai and Pune will be around two lakh. "These people are waiting for the right price and property. If they see value, they will be ready to invest," he says.
According to Anuj Puri, chairman and country head of real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle India, the land required for setting up farmhouses is typically agricultural land, and is therefore much cheaper than urban land. The property tax structure is also far more amenable, since it is designed for farmers rather than city dwellers.
"Apart from Delhi, Karjat and Khopoli near Pune, Igatpuri near Nashik and the outskirts of Thane are seeing action in terms of farmhouses. The same is true of many areas around Bangalore and Chennai," says Puri.
The construction of these hundreds of farmhouses has spun off a separate ecosystem of its own, with these places serving as venues for hosting weddings, corporate meetings and other events.
Sushant Khanna, an entrepreneur based in Delhi, chanced upon the idea of setting up a website that would cater to people who would want to rent farmhouses while preparing for a wedding in the family.
He says while planning for lavish weddings, his experience was that almost every hotel in his wish list was sold out or had a very strict set of rules, which made planning the celebrations rather frustrating. He also found out that hosting the wedding at a farmhouse, on the other hand, was easier and economical. Khanna later collected a list of farmhouses that were available to be let out by owners across the country and set up a website called rentmeafarm.com.
According to Khanna, many people who have invested in farmhouses today want to earn some money by leasing out the property. "We even have clients who have leased out their farmhouses for organic farming. NRIs sublet the property to small farmers for eight months a year and in return just ask for their property to be maintained."
Source :  K P Narayana Kumar, ET Bureau

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