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COVID-19 Era – Wellness Real Estate in Focus

As evidenced by ANAROCK’s recent COVID-19 edition of its consumer sentiment survey, homebuying sentiment is on a distinct rise. The world we live in has suddenly been sharply redefined. In times of unprecedented job insecurity, rent is a burdening expense, property ownership is a vastly more attractive investment rationale than reposing faith in volatile financial markets, and the home is a focal point of an entirely new work ethos.

Changing ‘Premium’ Perceptions

ANAROCK’s survey also vouchsafes that the current breed of homebuyers is willing to pay extra for premium products and features. For most Indians’ single-largest lifetime investment, it makes sense to secure the best options available within one’s means. While branded builders deliver the desired premium via superior properties and locations, the concept of premium features itself is undergoing a rapid sea change. To the backdrop of the severest healthcare crisis in remembered history, wellness has become a core premium consideration.

Premium amenities have always been a draw when it comes to luxury homes. However, even before the coronavirus pandemic, ‘premium’ perception in real estate had moved from mere snob value into the realm of family wellness and health. Developers understood that genuine wellness goes beyond mere features and needs to be baked into the very design of a housing project.

Wellness amenities such as yoga studios, meditation rooms, spas, gymnasiums, tennis courts and jogging tracks became the new rage among urban homebuyers. Such features eventually transcended luxury home projects and came to be expected in mid-range homes, as well. Wellness amenities now deliver a far more convincing ‘premium’ punch than architectural eye-candy. Branded developers were quick to sense the shift and began integrating such features into their projects.

Wellness as a Project Design Imperative

Real estate that encompasses wellness elements in a building’s design, materials and amenities is a major global trend. Wellness features in a residential (and also commercial) building enhance its desirability as it improves the overall environment and enhances well-being. Among the most popular wellness amenities are gyms, yoga/meditation rooms, roof gardens and enhanced natural lighting and ventilation. As we edge more into the luxury homes domain, buyers also seek projects with art studios, hobby rooms and Zen gardens where they can unplug and rejuvenate.

The practice to get buildings certified for wellness is being followed by several international developers. This trend, which is being seen in residential, commercial and even avant-garde retail spaces, involves the building receiving wellness certification based on its design and operational strategies. Similar to the LEED certification program by the U. S. Green Buildings Council, where a building’s ‘green’ features are evaluated and rated, wellness ratings assess the wellness features of a real estate development – how much they contribute to the health and wellbeing of occupiers.

Wellness-centric Commercial Real Estate

While the residential real estate is gradually catching up to it, this trend is currently more visible in contemporary commercial spaces. Globally, owner-occupiers of commercial establishments are driving demand for wellness features and practices. Some of these features include active stairways, biophilia, enhanced air quality, natural sunlight, etc. Such amenities are seen as a way to attract and retain young employees who are highly focused on working in healthier environments.

Even Indian developers are savvy to the trend of tenants placing a high premium on wellness. An increasing number of Indian employees now look for workplaces which help them retain a certain level of fitness and wellness. India Inc is already replete with Grade A office spaces that feature gymnasiums, breakout areas, jogging strips and meditation corners. Coworking spaces, which millennial workers and start-ups favour, have been among the earlier adopters of this trend.

The ‘Premium’ Is High

There is obviously a significant cost attached to incorporating wellness amenities into a building’s architecture, so properties in such buildings cost more than those without any wellness features. The upkeep of such features also adds to the overall maintenance expenditure of the building. However, wellness features translate into benefits such as improved employee efficiency, performance and retention in office buildings, and a higher happiness and satisfaction quotient in housing projects.

Given that wellness amenities are in increasing demand, developers now look at including such features in their buildings’ design, over and above providing innovative health-centric amenities. Buildings in India which have wellness baked into their DNA are still a relative rarity, but even a lower saturation of wellness features can be a USP. Definitely, interest in such features in housing projects has never been higher than in COVID-19 era, which has brought the need for complete self-sufficiency in residential real estate front and centre.

Unfortunately, because of the high costs involved, we are unlikely to see this trend percolating down into affordable housing very soon. Such amenities come for a premium, and developers need to keep affordable housing… well, affordable. Nevertheless, some of the latest affordable projects being developed in the less expensive peripheral areas of our major cities do have a degree of basic wellness features.

They work because many buyers are willing to compromise on the conveniences of central locations – but not on the health of their families. Homebuyers with such an orientation can look for internationally recognised wellness ratings such as WELL Building Standard and Fitwel rating, which measure and certify wellness features positively impacting human health and wellbeing.

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