Madurai’s real estate is witnessing a rapid growth. A. Shrikumar explores what the coming year would spell for the market of living spaces

Once, houses meant bungalows that stood on an acre. From the times when owning a house was a luxury, we have come to a point where there’s a boom in real estate and housing projects. Half-a-century ago, the map of Madurai just showed the area around the temple, where numerous old vintage houses still stand in glory. Today, small town Madurai has expanded beyond 10 Kilometre radius embracing new extensions of residential areas into its urban fold.

“There are hardly any vacant sites or plots left within the city corporation limits,” points out Sikandar, Executive Director of Yasin builders. Land prices have shot up and congestion has become the order of every locality. “People are fast moving towards the fringes of the city. The outskirts are the new real estate hubs,” he says.

At a time when big cities are growing vertically, Madurai is expanding horizontally. But, many realtors forecast that the city too would see more of a vertical growth in the coming years. “There is little scope for peripheries to expand further. Transportation and accessibility to the main city already are the main concerns of the newly developing areas,” notes Arunachalam, a real estate developer.

As individual houses have become more expensive with exponential land cost, more people are moving into apartments. Earlier, a typical Maduraiite used to the large sprawling ‘mutram’ houses would dismiss apartments calling it a pigeon hole and those with conventional mindset would ridicule buying a flat. But it’s no more the case. Realtors say the amount one spends on an individual house in a far off suburb can fetch them an apartment in the centre of the city. “That’s why apartments are such a hit in the upscale pockets of K.K. Nagar and Anna Nagar. One will have to shell out billions to buy a house there. And apartments in these areas work out cheaper and the buyer ends up owning a house in a posh area,” points out Sikandar.

And flats are no more dingy spaces, they are as swanky and funky as individual homes. Meenakshi Sundaram of Shiva Shelter, who is building an 11-floor block near Mattuthavani, says though Madurai has been late in catching up with high rises, it will be soon in vogue here. Indeed, the skyline of the city is gradually changing.

“High rises give the opportunity to build more flats on a limited land. People prefer top floors, as they are pollution and mosquito-free. Some buy them for the breeze and the view,” he adds. In many apartment buildings, the terrace is sold off to the top floor occupant.

Lakshan, General Manager of Golden Lotus, a gated luxury apartment complex under construction, says, “Apartments have come to be known as luxury dwellings. And if the pricing is reasonable and the location is strategic, there are enthusiastic buyers for apartments.” “It’s become a status symbol to live in such posh gated compounds, where there’s social life and where your house repair needs and errands are taken care of. It has come to be a way of living,” he says.

But, a general concern that echoes among all realty firms is the sky-rocketing prices of building materials. The per-square-foot construction cost has steeply increased in the last five years. It has almost tripled from Rs. 650 in 2006 to Rs. 2,000 currently. “At this rate, realtors would be forced to stall construction activities. And even finished dwellings will remain unoccupied as it has become extremely difficult for people to afford homes. “Last year there was a major lull due to spiralling costs of essentials like sand and cement,” rues Seetha Raman of Agrini Homes, one of the first companies to develop gated communities and apartments in Madurai.

Realty sector hopes that 2014 would bring in a bright business prospect. Many of them feel that the FSI (Floor Space Index) will be increased in Tamil Nadu and the State would see an overall vertical growth. “Compared to other states, Tamil Nadu has stipulated a low FSI in its rules and that’s why our land prices are high and our buildings remain short,” says Sikandar. “If the rule is relaxed, there is chance that Madurai’s skyline will tower up.”