Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Donald Trump's passage to India

Indian luxury real estate is stalled, but Trump's partners are cashing in... slowly

Published: Apr 13, 2017 08:09:53 AM IST
Updated: Apr 11, 2017 07:03:39 PM IST

Donald Trump's passage to India Building Mumbai’s first Trump Tower: Abhishek Lodha
Image: Vikas Khot

Less than two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, he received just his second delegation of foreign leaders. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been first. Then came a group of his Indian real estate partners: Kalpesh Mehta and Atul and Sagar Chordia.

That meeting, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not to mention stalwart allies like [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [UK Prime Minister Theresa] May, caused an uproar, prompting Trump to announce that he was putting a freeze on foreign partnerships.

For Mehta and the Chordias, though, the Trump presidency has created a business boon. “The Trump Organization...took a bold bet on India several years ago, and, recognising that it is a complex market, they have been...willing to go above and beyond,” says Mehta.

Mehta is essentially Trump’s Man in Mumbai. Whereas in most countries the Trump Organization focuses on one licensee, Mehta scouts for (and sometimes co-develops with) multiple partners. In all, Trump is licensing five projects, two of which are scheduled to break ground this year.

The politically well-connected Chordia brothers, who have appeared on Forbes Asia’s list of the 100 richest Indians, were the first to market, with a pair of 23-storey high­rises featuring signature black-glass façades in Pune. Sagar Chordia says the deal came together over a one-hour phone call with Don Jr. He met the future president for the first time when they actually signed the deal in June 2012.

Each floor of Trump Towers Pune contains a 6,100-square-foot apartment designed by Italian architect Matteo Nunziati and priced at a little over $2 million. Sagar Chordia claims that the Trump apartments have garnered a 20-25 percent premium over prices of luxury properties in the area. “Our association with Trump has given [us] an edge,” he says. “Everyone is talking about us.” And indeed, all but six have sold, including two units to actors Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor, who lease them out for a monthly rent of $7,500 (about Rs 4.8 lakh), a record by Pune standards. “I would love to say that I was a genius who foresaw that he would be president,” Rishi says. “But honestly, I liked the layout and was confident the Chordias would deliver quality.” Pune real estate has recently been struggling, so renting has become the path of least resistance; the Chordia brothers have put sales of the second tower on hold until the market revives.

A somewhat similar go-slow is playing out in Mumbai, where the city’s first Trump property, a 75-storey residential skyscraper with 375 apartments, is under construction, courtesy of another politically connected family, the Lodhas.

“Trump seemed a good fit because it is a well-recognised brand in this country,” says Abhishek, who runs the firm and is the son of billionaire Mangal Prabhat Lodha. “There is a certain grandeur to what they do.” The Mumbai Trump Tower will have a golden façade—“Indians are crazy about gold”—using gold-tinged glass and gold mesh. The building will be completed in late 2018, and Lodha says he’s moved 60 percent of the units, one-third of them to overseas Indians. “We didn’t want to be seen as exploiting Trump’s political success,” says Lodha.

A rival Mumbai property tycoon has a different take: He’s cleverly navigating the stagnant real estate market by creating artificial scarcity. Realpolitik meets The Art of the Deal.

(This story appears in the 28 April, 2017 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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