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During pandemic, working professionals seek more space

Millennials are buying or renting bigger homes to set up offices, make space for family, or just take advantage of better deals.

In her new apartment, Zelish co-founder Saakshi Jain has her own home office space.
In her new apartment, Zelish co-founder Saakshi Jain has her own home office space. (Saakshi Jain)

Chittransh Verma and Kanika Jain are getting married this weekend, but they have been planning their life together for a few months. And when it came to finding an apartment, the couple decided on a four-bedroom flat in a gated community in Gurugram, Haryana.

“I know it’s big for just the two of us but we are planning to convert one room into a home office,” says Verma, 30, who works with a venture capital firm and currently lives in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. A year ago, neither of them would have thought of renting anything larger than a two-bedroom apartment.

The pandemic and the resultant slowdown in the economy has brought down rentals, nudging people to move to larger spaces where they can set up offices, gyms and gardens. Pre-covid, says Verma, the Gurugram flat would have cost him 75,000 a month in rent. “It’s now 40,000, including maintenance,” he says. “We were also particular about a gated community as it would give us a chance to meet people at a time when we can’t go out much.”

Not everyone is thinking about downsizing during the pandemic. When it comes to homes, bigger seems to be better.

Going by recent data from real estate services company ANAROCK, there was a 10% increase in average apartment size over the previous year in projects launched in 2020 in the top seven cities, including Mumbai, where real estate prices are among the highest in the country. On average, people looked for 1,050 sq. ft apartments in 2019; this went up to 1,150 sq. ft in 2020. Hyderabad recorded the highest demand for larger apartments, at 1,750 sq. ft, which is nearly double the average flat size in Mumbai (932 sq. ft). Despite Mumbai having the smallest average apartment size among the top cities, the demand for larger flats there rose 21% in 2020.

Saurabh Garg, co-founder and chief business officer of NoBroker, a Bengaluru-headquartered real estate platform for buying, renting and selling houses, says the demand for three-and four-bedroom flats has increased 50% since March last year. “Earlier, we saw demand for 1 and 2 BHK flats in cities. From last year, across cities, we have observed a 13% increase in flat sizes that people ask for.”

Considering most professionals are still working from home, many are opting for larger properties on the outskirts of cities. “Families are moving to the periphery of cities for larger houses, while single people are renting places in smaller, exotic locations,” he says. The reasons for this, Garg says, are the need for a dedicated home office space, parents moving in with children or vice versa, and children needing space for virtual classes.

Property purchases have also risen in the past year, he says, especially for residences priced over 80 lakh. “Many people who were not in the market earlier, especially millennials, are looking to buy properties. With so much time spent at home, people are getting emotionally connected to their homes. Their expenses come down due to working from home, interest rates have come down, and the amount spent on rent vs EMI has narrowed,” says Garg.

The biggest reason, perhaps, is that a year of living with all members of the family at home all hours of the day has made people want their own space. In Bengaluru, Nayanita Ray, 30, moved to a 1,200 sq. ft, two-and-a-half-bedroom apartment from a 500 sq. ft one in April last year. She was expecting her first child, and her mother had moved from Kolkata in February to help her. By March, her sister, who worked in Delhi, had also moved in as she was working from home. Ray, a music teacher at a school, was desperate for more space—so she could have a room to conduct online classes, and enough space for the baby, her mother and sister. “It has been a big help having my mother and sister here. They have not only helped with the baby and all the chores but we have also supported one another emotionally. It was good we were all together during this time but we did need more space,” she says.

Mumbai-based Shibani Shah, 30, who works with a multinational firm, moved with her husband from a 600 sq. ft studio to a 936 sq. ft, two-bedroom apartment with a balcony—a rarity and a luxury in Mumbai—in August. “We knew that work from home would extend for some time, and we had saved money by not going on vacations, so my husband and I decided to invest in a bigger place with a sea view. Also, since we were not going out much, we wanted enough space to host friends and family,” she says.

Karan Kumar, chief marketing officer, DLF Ltd, says the last six-eight months have been “quite action-packed”. They have sold properties ranging from 5 lakh to 50 crore. Between November-January, the company put on sale about 150 independent floors in DLF City Phase III in Gurugram (valued at approximately 500 crore in total)—these sold out in no time. In one of its premium properties, The Camellias Gurgaon, which was launched in 2014, Kumar says they sold 24 flats priced between 25-50 crore.

Kumar agrees that staying at home has prompted people to upgrade homes. “Interestingly, covid-19 has also played a big role in families living in farmhouses and kothis (independent houses) moving to condominiums in gated communities because they are looking for more facilities as well as easy access to domestic help. Maintenance and cleaning is also taken care of in a gated community,” he says.

Bengaluru-based Saakshi Jain, 31, used to live in a 1,500 sq. ft, three-bedroom apartment with her husband and sister-in-law, who moved in during last year’s lockdown. “They used the work tables in the study and guest bedroom and I worked in the balcony or at the dining table. Initially, we were all pumped, productivity was great, but within a few months it started getting stressful for me. I felt like I was living in a cocoon,” she says. Her bedroom had become her sleeping area, work area and workout space.

She too decided to look for a larger apartment. And the first person she took on a tour of the 2,200 sq. ft apartment before signing the lease last September was her domestic help. The co-founder of the smart kitchen app Zelish had found cleaning quite a trial during the pandemic. “I am very particular about cleanliness and I wanted my maid to be comfortable cleaning a such a big place,” she says. Today, she is paying 55,000 a month as rent but thinks it’s worth it.

For some, togetherness is the reason for looking for larger spaces. Shivendra Kotwala, 28, who works for a strategy consulting firm, moved from Hyderabad to Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, in June. He and two colleagues decided to move in together. They rented a 1,650 sq. ft, fully furnished three-bedroom flat and turned the living room into their office space. “We thought we could save money and have company in each other,” says Kotwala. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would each have rented smaller individual apartments.”

Whatever the reason, bigger is in.

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