I have been writing on Indian real estate sector for a little over 7 years. For most part, real estate is a tough to beat to cover, since transparency is not something one associates with the Indian real estate sector. But that is what makes the beat so challenging and interesting. A couple of years back, the emergence of start ups caught my attention. Almost everyday, one hears of a new startup and most of them are based on unique concepts. I find start ups very intriguing and I love the enthusiasm of their founders. Not every startup ends up being a success and I look forward to tracking their growth in the future.
The 30 km drive from the Dehradun airport to Antara Housing in Purukul, Dehradun is so picturesque that you don’t want it to end. It feels a little hot by the city’s standards but the heat isn’t half as bad as Delhi’s.
Purukul, a village on the outskirts of Dehradun is home to Antara Housing, a senior living community by Antara Senior Living, a fully owned subsidiary of Max India Group. The property is set against an expansive background of the Mussoorie hills. The silence of the hills is broken only by the noise of the construction equipment.
In a way, the location was chosen by the buyers. When Antara pitched the concept of a senior living community to potential buyers, the popular feedback was it would work well in a semi-urban location. Dehradun was the natural choice for Tara Singh Vachani, CEO of Antara Senior Living. “I can’t hide my emotional connect to Dehradun,” says the daughter of Max India founder Analjit Singh. “My mother and my grand parents are from here, so I have pretty much grown up in Dehradun.”
In the US, senior living communities grew in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Indian developers woke up late to the market potential of senior living homes but are catching up quickly. An estimate by real estate consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle suggests that there are about 30 senior living projects in India.
Antara which will be ready by March, 2016 is trying out something new. In the absence of trained senior care manpower, developers either outsource the management of the community or use people from the hospitality/healthcare sectors. Moving away from this model, Antara has decided to manage the entire community with an in-house staff trained by the company.
The 20 acre complex will have 215 apartments ranging from 1,500 to 8,500 sq ft in size and apartment prices start from Rs 1.3 crore and goes up to Rs 8.3 crore. Construction work is currently in progress at the site and the only ready structures are a reception area and a sample apartment. In the reception area, the company shows us a video clip about the project. It is the same clip they show to potential buyers. A typical video clip about a property will take you through the brick and mortar details of the project but Antara’s video was all about the living standards they would offer to senior citizens. That explains their decision to in-source services. “We have in-sourced everything because otherwise you can’t maintain the community the way you want to. For instance, we Indians hire help a lot. Where do you find good staff these days? It is a big hassle, We take care of that hassle for our residents with our services” says Tara.
A home in Antara comes with a bouquet of services such as daily housekeeping, laundry services, concierge services and life time maintenance of everything in the house be it the flooring, plumbing, lighting or electrical appliances. It is akin to a serviced apartment though Tara believes it goes beyond that. “If you were to take hospitality, serviced apartments, health and wellness, put it all together and shake it up you get Antara,” she says.
All these services come at a hefty maintenance charge of Rs 40,000 to Rs 1,20,000 a month. The maintenance charge also includes one meal a day, limited medical care which is a consultation with a specialist doctor every month and maintenance of the resident’s medical records.
When it becomes operational, Antara will employ a full time staff of 350 to manage these services and other facilities inside the community such as club house, restaurant, library, arts and craft club, indoor swimming pool, gym and business centre.
One of the reasons for choosing Purukul was because there is a Max super speciality hospital ten minutes away from the community. But, not every ailment requires a visit to the hospital. So, Antara is building a dedicated health and wellness centre on a six acre land diagonal from the community. The centre is accessible by walk or a golf cart. “This is for ailments such as a ear, eye or dental check up,” says Tara. “It will also be home for emergency care if someone needs it.”
Antara has hired international architecture firm Perkins Eastman which specialises in senior living communities in the US and Esteva & Esteva, a Spanish architecture firm for its design. Tara claims the design promotes physical and mental health, promotes social interaction and is considerate of physical frailities. “There will be a total of nine buildings in the community all of which will be connected by a basement,” she says. “Residents can walk from one building to the other through the basement. This is a way to make people walk and keep them fit.” Staircases have been done away with it wherever possible especially in the common areas such as the club house, restaurant etc.
A sample 2-bedroom flat is already ready for showcasing. Potential buyers walk around the apartment trying to make up their mind on buying into Antara. The apartments are custom designed for every buyer. “If you were to buy a home with us, we will sit down with you and decide the interiors,” says Tara.
I took a walk around the sample flat to get a feel of the design. I did feel the apartment had a lot of fine details but some of it is typical of senior living homes. A feature that stood out for me was the hand rail near the threshold of the apartment. I am told it is for support and particularly helps those on wheelchairs. That was a thoughtful detail. Pushing in the wheelchair shouldn’t be a problem because the front door is large enough to accommodate it. But this isn’t unique to Antara. The brochures of most senior living homes talk of doors large enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
The interior of the house is focused around a large hall leading to adjacent rooms. Since it is a sample apartment, the house is furnished. Antara will deliver a bare shell apartment though the option of a furnished home is offered to its buyers.
The apartment feels cosy because of the dim lights used. I walked around with shoe covers on, so I couldn’t feel the flooring, which has anti-skid tiles to avoid tripping. The hall is flanked by a kitchen and servant quarters on the left side and two bedrooms on the right. I loved that the modular kitchen was more spacious than usual. The kitchen sink, cabinets, cooking stove and other work surfaces have all been kept at the waist level to make it accessible for a person in a wheelchair.
I loved the fact that the apartment has large sliding doors everywhere to accommodate wheelchairs. A lot of thought has gone into building hand rails and grab bars wherever needed. A few features stand out. For instance, motion-sensor lights have been built between the bedroom and bathroom to avoid tripping in the dark. Now, this isn’t a common feature in senior living homes. Antara claims the apartments comply with some of the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a first for any senior living home in India.
The community is open to people above the age group of 55. Around 30-35% of the apartments have already been leased. Strangely enough, there is no sale option for buyers. Antara claims the 60-year lease option has the same benefits of a freehold and allows more control over the community. “We don’t want the Residents Welfare Association kind of hassle in our community,” says Tara.
If the sample apartment is anything to go by, the project does offer good quality senior living homes but only for the rich. The apartments are pricey and when you consider the maintenance fee charged every month, the homes become out of reach for most senior citizens. Antara doesn’t shy away from this fact. “We are targeting people who have had a great lifestyle and are now saying that we don’t want to live in a city,” says Tara.