When buying a home, put it to the suitability test. It's the little details that matter and not the glitter on the packaging, says David Carun
If you're living in your own property now, have you ever wondered why what seemed perfect when booking, several property fairs, developer meetings and site visits later, was actually nowhere near perfect when the keys were finally handed over?
Going with a developer who is worth his salt invariably means your return on investment (ROI) is guaranteed over the longer term, but it pays to consider if besides capital gains your hard-earned money also buys you added value, aka the comfort factor through design when you take possession of your property.
At a recent property event, I came across a project that resembled The Titanic. I was actually impressed but only for a few brief moments because when I did get the attention of one of the sales people, I was told what seemed to be dynamic and very appropriate, given the coastal location, prow-like balconies to maximise the views and the sea breeze, were actually unusable “elevational features”!
How many times have you paid a premium for and purchased a car because it had a completely non-utilitarian but extremely beautiful appendage? Or a shirt that looked spectacular but was a total misfit? Why then, when we are so particular when purchasing our groceries and consumables, do we unwittingly make an exception to the “fit for purpose” rule when buying an apartment?
It is a given that most developers appoint architects to design their projects. In theory, while an architect is best placed to design and realise the best habitable environment in every sense of that phrase, in several developments, he or she adds no value whatsoever to the space you are going to live in. More often than not what is being built in Mylapore looks exactly the same as what is being built on the ECR, or worse, as is the case with some of the current developments, as though they have been regurgitated from Mumbai or Delhi and sometimes further ashore, from the UK or the US with nothing more than some cosmetic alterations.
Is this the by product of a phenomenon loosely called globalisation or is it exploitation of the mad panic we as consumers are in to get on the property ladder?
We need to collectively consider, firstly, why this beautiful city should follow in the footsteps of and morph into other cities elsewhere in India and the world and secondly, why our tastes have been, in the rat race to become property owners, numbed so badly that we have started to accept mere ornamentalised and accessorised boxes as our ideal abodes. Aren't we worth better and more?
Before being sold the next time on swimming pools, private cinemas and beauty parlours or a French theme, “state-of-the-art” gym and an acupressure walkway, therefore, it may be worth your while to check if the masterplan allows you to find your block quickly, if your flat is easily accessible, if there is adequate means of escape in the event of a fire or an earthquake, what the waste disposal mechanisms are, if the development is child-friendly and disabled-friendly, if the movement of energy is right within and outside your apartment, if your apartment is light and airy and laid out well and if it offers you plenty of storage and acoustic, olfactory and visual privacy.
This list can literally be endless but what it basically means is that in the quest for achieving the “wow factor”, let the architect, irrespective of the segment the design is for, not forget that design is more than just skin deep.
Lifestyle is one, changing your life to fit the style of your apartment block is another. Let architects not look at providing plug and play air conditioners but means by which no mechanical air conditioning is required. Let us not aim for 100 per cent power back up but 100 per cent self-contained power generation. Good design should contribute to sustainability in the future; not create copy cat ghettoes totally non integrated with the rest of the city.
Even if your property is only a trophy purchase, put it through the suitability test. Put it through the inappropriate aesthetics test. Put it through the developer and architect commitment test. In other words, check if the developer and his architect have added more user-friendly bang for your buck. When you move in, it is the little details and not the glitter on the packaging that tend to make a development truly satisfactory and more importantly, truly sustainable.
(David Carun is founding partner of clay onions, an architecture, project management and sustainability consultancy, operating from Chennai and London).