Thursday, October 20, 2011

Disha Direct and Soft Corner Properties - Are they a scam or fraud?

We have increasingly seen over the past two years, a lot of activity in the Holiday Home market in Mumbai. This activity is driven by pent up demand from residents of Mumbai, looking to either retire, or else have a holiday home or second home in close proximity to the city. While the wealthier residents have bought properties in Lonavala or Alibaug, there has been increasing activity in the Eastern corridor with two marketing companies in particular - Disha Direct and Soft Corner properties. Being one of the experts in this space we keep getting asked about these two companies by worried prospective buyers - primarily two queries - Are they legitimate companies? Are they scam companies or do they fraud buyers?

Firstly, lets be clear that we have not met either of these companies. We have tried to develop as much intelligence as possible using our network.

Who are these two companies and what do they do?
Disha Direct and Soft Corner properties seem to be purely marketing companies. They do not own the land that they sell and are essentially brokers and commission agents for the actual developer. The developers in most cases we have seen are locals from the rural / semi-rural area where these second home projects are situated or else older families who happen to own land in these areas. What is key, is the amount of due diligence that they have done on the actual landlord before the agree to market the property. Our assessment is that they must be very experienced in vetting the actual developers however it is important to keep in mind that their primary objective is to sell property. They spend significant amounts of money to promote the developments and pay for full page advertisements in mainstream newspapers like the Times Of India, DNA and Mumbai Mirror. The cost of these advertisements are definitely recovered from heavy commissions on the sales of properties.

There is nothing wrong with this and if they are able to provide a level of oversight and due diligence this is actually a good thing. However we see two important risks and buyers should be careful to take these into account when purchasing property via these two marketing agencies:-

1. Have firm due diligence of your own, on the title as well as permissions on the land. It is wise to not assume that these firms have done their own due diligence to an adequate extent and to go out and verify the same. While in many cases the title may be clear, experience has shown that conversion from Agricultural to Non - Agricultural may take a significant amount of time and face roadblocks, thus never happening.

2. Have a clear expectation of the kind of buyer that you are, and your intention to live in a location. We have visited some of the developments marketed by these agencies and while they are very glamorously planned and conceptualized no doubt, by a team well-versed in the desires of the upper middle class - there is a stark contrast between the lives and surroundings of these developments. It is our view that it is always dangerous to live in a bubble surrounded by under privileged and rural masses. If the developments are marketed primarily to non-residents, and there are no residents within close proximity apart from the rural poor, there are bound to be issues in the long term. These issues could focus around security, safety of the property and safety of the few owners who decide to reside there.

3. Lack of a clear strategy for creating activity in these developments to justify the significant upkeep and security costs in remote places. Most of the projects we have seen are in locations with no existing tourist traffic -e.g. Shahpur (or Shahapur), Karjat, Asangaon, Atgaon etc. This is unlike other locations like Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar etc. i.e. the earlier popular holiday home destinations. As such, it is unreasonable to expect amenities such as good restaurants, broadband, grocery stores etc. in the near future unless there is a concerted effort to build a tourism strategy in these destinations. We hope this is in the offing.

It will be interesting to hear from others on their experience with these developments. I invite you to leave these as comments on this article.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

10 Things to consider while researching your dream holiday home

Vacation home at mountain VlašićImage via Wikipedia
This is the first in a series of articles authored by Roshan D'Silva, founder of that will be appearing in the Times Property - a supplement along with the Times of India - the largest selling English language newspaper in the world. This article appears on the 30th of October, 2010.
Buying a holiday home is a dream and aspiration for most upper Middle Class families today. We have seen numerous projects and continuous advertisements promoting the concept of weekend homes. However, until recently second homes used to lack one key component that made them unattractive to investors – Rental income. Essentially a family owning a second home used to have to reconcile themselves to maintaining a ‘white elephant’ – a property that would need to be maintained for years, would be used sparingly and would serve as maybe a full-time residence for the owners once they retired. Vacation Renting has started to make a slight change to this and I’d like to outline below the top 10 things to consider before buying your Dream Holiday Home so that you can generate meaningful income from the same.
1. Joint Decision of the entire family: - The first and most important aspect to consider is that the entire family is in agreement with the decision of buying your dream home. It will mean sacrifices and adjustments from all members and a commitment to spending significant time (at the expense of holidaying in other places) and resources in making the place a storehouse of happy memories. This is not possible by a unilateral decision by one member.
2. Accessibility: - For you to enjoy your property as well as to attract Tourists to the same, the property needs to be accessible and a short drive away (max 6 hours) from a major city. It should be easily located by a first time visitor and in close proximity to some landmarks.
3. Weather: - For your own use, buy a property that enjoys for most parts of the year weather that you enjoy and that is pleasant. If you are a beach person, buying in the mountains and likewise will mean you will not benefit from your own property. Having pleasant weather for most of the year will ensure that Travelers are able to visit your property for a longer window thus ensuring more income.
4. Tourist Attractions: - It is always advisable to buy property in established tourist destinations. A good test is the number of hotels and resorts in the same locality as your property. Don’t underestimate the amount of marketing and advertising these businesses will do to promote the destination and its benefit to you. In addition, you will always be able to do brisk business by offering families a discount to a hotel with comparable facilities. Pay special attention to attractions like pilgrimage spots, amusement parks, wildlife sanctuaries etc. in close proximity to your location.
5. Amenities: - If you are buying in a ‘compound’ with multiple villas, pay keen attention to the common amenities that both you as well as anyone traveling to your property will enjoy. I would highly recommend buying in a location with a club house containing a restaurant and a swimming pool which is a big attraction for families with children.
6. Floor Plan: - Avoid the floor plans that mimic city apartments with 3 bedrooms in descending order of sizes. It is best to have all bedrooms with attached bathrooms and of similar sizes. This will generate significantly more income as you will be able to offer comfort to larger joint families and couples travelling in groups.
7. Staff Quarters: - It is advisable to have a full time caretaker staying at your Holiday home to avoid having to clean and do chores when on short visits. If you intend to have someone like this it is best to try and have a ‘back of the villa’ section comprising of quarters for a family and the main kitchen for your villa.
8. Legal Restrictions: - It is important to research all legal matters surrounding the villa. You will need professional help for this and it is best to do two separate agreements – a land purchase agreement which will ensure immediate transfer of the land to your name and a construction agreement where the builder will get paid in installments based on work delivered. In addition to investigating the title also clarify if any restrictions will apply to letting out your villa to travelers or any such restrictions that will impact your ability to generate rental income from the property.
9. Language and other barriers: - Buying in a cosmopolitan place or a location where the local population can speak one of the national languages will make life much easier and mean the place is more tourist friendly. Avoid places with law and order problems, history of communal violence or else a very strong anti-local sentiment.
10. Never lose sight of the budget: - Always start your search with a budget in mind and do your calculations about the amount of income you could generate in an ultra conservative manner. Remember that getting many things done in a remote location will be more expensive than a big city and so you must budget for a significant amount in order to make the place hospitable.
Finally, there is a wealth of information on our website and I would encourage you to seek that out before making what could be one of the best decisions of your life. Making the right choice will mean your family will have a comfortable place to retreat to for every special occasion while also generating income that can be used to maintain the property, enhance the fittings and furniture with time. The Home will eventually be passed on to future generations so that memories continue to be built upon and the family bond remains strong and vibrant.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Long Weekends to watch out for in 2011

RecentChangesCamp 2008, Palo Alto, CA. Day 3 -...Image via WikipediaHi Everyone,

Thought I would list out all the long weekends in 2011 so you can plan your vacation while using the least amount of leave. You can see an online version of this here.

Don't be sleeping like the guy on the right. Make sure you apply for leave on the dates below so that you maximize your time off.

January 26 - Republic Day - Falls on a wednesday so you can either take 24th, 25th (Monday, Tuesday) or else 27th, 28th(Thursday, Friday) off and enjoy a 5 day break enough for a really good holiday anywhere in India.

February 16th - Id-E-Milad - Falls on a wednesday and so you can take either 14,15th off or else 17th and 18th off and enjoy a 5 day break.

For those in Maharashtra - February 19th is also off on account of Chatrapati Shivaji Jayanti and since it falls on a Saturday is a good option for those who have a six day week to club the same with the Id- Holiday to go on a 5 day break.

March 2nd - Maha Shivratri - Wednesday and so 5 day weekend can be availed by taking 2 days off.

1st - Banks Closing off - Friday -
4th - Gudi Padwa - Monday -
Since Monday and Friday are both off it is a 4 day holiday. You can extend the same to a six day holiday by taking Tuesday and Wednesday off or the Prior Thursday.

12th - Ram Navami - Tuesday
14th - Ambedkar Jayanti - Thursday
16th - Mahavir Jayanti - Saturday
Since they all fall so close to each other by taking 11th(Monday), 13th (Wednesday) and 15th (Friday) off you can enjoy a 9 day holiday by taking 3 days off coming back to work on the 18th.

22nd - Good Friday - Friday
Three day holiday without using any paid leave from 22nd to the 24th.

17th- Buddha Purnima - Tuesday - You can get a 4 day holiday by taking the monday off - 16th of May.

15th- Independence Day - Monday
19th- Parsi New Year - Friday
You can use either three day weekend for short getaway from your city or else take Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (16th, 17th, 18th) off to get a mega 9 day holiday while consuming only 3 paid leaves.

31st- Ramzan ID - Wednesday
This is adjacent to Ganesh Chaturthi on the 1st of september and hence by taking 1 day off - 2nd of September you can take a 5 day holiday

1st - Ganesh Chaturthi-Thursday- Best combined with Ramzan Id on the 31st of August for a longer holiday.

6th - Dassera- Thursday - You can get a 4 day weekend by taking one day off - 7th of Oct
26th,27th - Diwali - Wednesday, Thursday - You can take 3 days off - 24,25th and the 28th and enjoy a break of 9days enough to go on a long vacation anywhere in the world.

7th - Bakri Id - Monday
10th - Guru Nanak Jayanti - Thursday
Best clubbed with each other- Ideally take either 2 days off 8th and 9th and enjoy a 6 day holiday or else take 3 days off (add 11th) and you can enjoy a 9 day holiday.

6th - Moharrum - Tuesday - You can take 5th off and enjoy a 4 day weekend enough for a quick getaway within India.
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Friday, December 3, 2010

Places to look for your second home

Chauvery River in CoorgImage by s_w_ellis via FlickrThis article was carried by the Times of India on the 4th of December 2010 under the title "Make the Most of your Second Home"

When the time comes to look for a second home, we all have different ideas about what constitutes a second home. Most people will tend to agree that a second home should be one that is conducive to extended stays and one that probably could serve as a retirement home for the later phase of life. I’m going to try and profile some of the offbeat areas you can look at when considering buying a second home. Remember, the intention when buying a second home should always be to try and generate some additional income through holiday rentals that would pay for the upkeep and the staff needed to maintain the home. So what are the categories of places you could look at for your holiday home? Here are some of our picks:-

1. Tourist destinations:- These are great places to look at buying as they will usually have a bare minimum level of economic activity, a critical mass of inhabitants, some good restaurants and hotels, will be accessible by road, train and most importantly will have good potential for short term rentals.

2. Hill Stations:- India is a hot country and most big cities tend to face hot summers. During such times, it is a blessing to have a home in the hills where the weather is pleasant and where you don’t have the additional expenditure of electricity bills (or generator diesel) to keep the air-conditioning on.

3. Beach towns:- While not as popular as the hill stations, India has a series of small towns that dot the western coastline which are nice beaches and at the same time are in close proximity to reasonably large cities. If your thing is the sun, sea and your dream home is that Balinese villa, then these would be good options to explore.

4. Educational towns:- India has a great emphasis on education and there are now multiple small towns that have gained prominence as seats of higher education. Typically these towns will be homes to multiple educational institutions including a medical college, an engineering college, a university etc. The benefits from buying in such towns are the potential for additional income through teaching, renting out rooms to students and also potentially being employed or running a franchise of one of the numerous businesses that target the student audience in India.

5. Religious Destinations:- There are a number of towns which have a strong connection with one or other religious denominations. If you are strong believer/ devotee or would like to devote a significant portion of your time to their activities, you are best served by buying your second home in close proximity to their locations. These towns are again frequently visited by a large number of devotees. You should an ability to generate a reasonable amount of income from holiday renting to other devotees, running allied businesses. Even without the income the ability to be closely involved with a community that you truly believe in and where you can volunteer your time for the greater good will be a wonderful experience. Being able to visit regularly without worrying about a place to stay will be a big plus.

6. Agricultural locations:- Some places in India have been traditionally well known for their produce. Examples include Mangoes from the Konkan region, Coffee from Chikmagalur/ Coorg, Strawberries from Panchigani, Grapes from Nashik and Chickoos from Dahanu. If your idea of retirement is one of living on your farm and generating some income from farming then looking at one of these areas would be a good idea as they have over years been found to have the ideal climatic conditions for certain products thus doing away with your need to experiment and ensuring that there is an ecosystem around selling your produce at the best price with the least difficulty.

7. B and C grade towns:- Today slightly smaller towns as compared to the metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore tend to have all the major amenities and luxuries that city folk have grown accustomed to. Cities like Surat, Mangalore, Chandigarh, Indore, Bhopal, Gwalior, Cochin etc. all have good infrastructure – well known schools, malls, restaurants, supermarkets, doctors, hospitals etc. They offer a slightly more relaxed pace of life while not being totally cut off from the rest of the world. They also offer a stronger potential for appreciation, an ability to generate more steady income from long term rentals and an ability to visit more frequently as they tend to be well connected.

8. The Metros:- This is bound to be a surprising pick as many people would not consider buying a holiday home in Mumbai or Delhi. However, with fragmentation of these cities, this is something that I feel is now a good option. We must remember that the metros of India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad) are cities with long and rich histories in themselves. They have a variety of tourist attractions, local activities, shopping options etc. that make them the biggest tourist destinations in the country and will remain so for the foreseeable future. With increasing fragmentation of these cities into suburbs and the need for the business community to visit other metros frequently (all flights from Mumbai to Delhi and Mumbai to Bangalore seem to be full), buying a second home in one of these cities is a good option both from an investment standpoint as well as having a comfortable place to stay in whenever you want to visit for extended periods of time. Buying here however requires some caution and my view is that a compromise on size and a focus on location will serve buyers well as compared to their first residence.

In closing, buying a second home is a major decision and should be one that you make after a significant amount of research and due diligence. Most importantly, buying something you will cherish involves introspection and knowing yourself and your family’s aspirations and wants and choosing something that will keep you happy and engaged.

The author Roshan D’Silva is founder of – India's largest Holiday home rental website.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some ways to make your Holiday Home feel more like a Luxury Hotel

The Evolution of my BedroomImage by caribb via FlickrHi Everyone,

We all pay a lot of attention to our homes and try to make them as comfortable as possible for our guests. However, we eventually end up falling a little bit short. I thought I would outline some of the simple ways in which you can ensure that your guests feel like they are staying in a luxury hotel instead of a private home:-

1. Remove Clutter. A reason why hotel rooms feel so nice is that they don't have lots of knick nacks and unnecessary things lying around. Ensure you have a store room which can be locked and used to keep all the unnecessary personal stuff. If you have two of any kind of thing (even pens in the pen stand), remove the duplicates and ensure that only things that are required by the guests and will be useful are present and the rest of your things go into the store room.

2. Have daily cleaning. This is the next most important aspect where a hotel room differs from most residences. They are spotless and ultra clean. Ensure your maid and caretaker are trained to be able to clean thoroughly, make up the beds and do so on a daily basis so that the entire place is spotless and glowing. This is a good way to ensure that your property is not being misused and you can take corrective action quickly.

3. Bedroom. Put in a matress protector and ensure that it is washed on a regular basis so it is spotless. Bedsheets should ideally be white and without any prints. Same with pillows. Use 300 thread count sheets. To add color you can have a light blanket (fleece blanket) on top of the sheet and small show pillows on top of the white pillows. Ensure the beds are made before the guest checks in and that at no point of time the guest sees an unmade bed.

4. Bathroom. Try and replace the shower curtain with a Glass wall. This will go a long way in segregating the wet and dry areas and in also adding some glamour to the bathroom. Putting in superior quality shower heads and a better quality of Flush Toilet will also go a long way. Avoid Flush toilets where the flush tank is suspended much higher than the seat or where there is a need to pull a chain. Provide Toilet paper and a hand jet for the toilet.

5. Conceal all wires. This is important. If you have a TV, music system, cable TV connection etc. make efforts to conceal the wires so that they are not visible. To do so you can either create a notch in the wall and embed the wires and then cover up with plaster of paris and a new coat of paint or else use a false cieling and paint over the wires after cutting them to the bare minimum size required to ensure there are no coils lying around.

6. Uniform for staff. Have all staff who is present in the premises or who will be visiting adhere to a uniform. This could be a wrap around laboratory style coat for maids at the minimum to a full fledged uniform for your caretaker who wears the same every day whenever guests are visiting. Staff should definitely not be seen in baniyan (vest) or badly groomed i.e. unshaven or with unkempt hair etc. The same applies to yourself if you are residing within the property.

Lastly a good welcome gift like a bowl of fruits or a box of chocolates will also lend a feel of professionalism to your property. For more details please see my earlier article. I will also shortly be writing another article on creating a Guest binder for your property. Any suggestions always welcome!!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Protecting Yourself - Rental and Check-in Contracts

DisclaimerImage via WikipediaHi everyone,

I've seen that most people who run homestays don't actually have any legal agreement that is signed between themselves and the traveler. I felt it was important to touch on the same and while this is not legal advice at least provide an outline for the various things that need to be covered that you can share with your legal advisor.

1. Ensure that the agreement outlines the address of your property, your phone number as well as the check in and check out dates along with times for the same.

2. Outline all restrictions that you would like to impose during the stay at your property. For smoking, outline whether smoking is allowed in the garden etc.

3. Mention if pets are welcome or not. If pets are welcome, ensure you mention in the contract that their vaccinations need to be up to date and they must have had flea treatment / are well groomed. You may also want to impose some rules that pets are not allowed on the furniture or else that there is an additional fee for the pets.

4. Outline the payment terms and cancellation policy clearly. If you are charging a security deposit ( a must if you are not residing in the property and don't have a caretaker), outline specific acts when you will deduct from the security deposit. Also ensure that the security deposit is not the maximum that can be charged and that all damages will be billed on actuals to the traveler.

5. Outline the maximum number of people who are allowed to stay in the property and the additional charges that will apply in case of every additional person.

6. Cleanliness and Cleaning Service: Outline whether you will be providing housekeeping or a maid service and at what frequency. If this is not included/ needs to be paid for separately then outline the same too.

7. Overall disclaimer: Enter a general disclaimer to protect yourself from any injury, damages, burglary etc. that are incurred by the traveler during stay at your property. A good lawyer will be able to draft this.

8. Special disclaimers: If you have a swimming pool, bath tub, jacuzzi, barbecue or any place that can cause physical harm to the traveler, specifically put in disclaimers and rules for the same. Ensure you clearly mention that the traveler is responsible for his own safety and the safety of his children.

9. Disclaimers on use of kitchen, gas, stove: Outline all safety precautions to be used when using the kitchen equipment and put in disclaimers to ensure you are not held responsible for any accidents in the same.

This is not to be taken as legal advice and please consult a lawyer to draft something that will suit your requirements. However, it may be best to share this article with them so that they have something to guide them. I would be happy to review any agreements once your lawyer has prepared the same and give you my opinion.

Remember, these are most important if you are not residing in the property / if the guests will be there under the supervision of only a caretaker. In India due to our culture, servants and hired help tend to be submissive to people like us and will not be able to exert much authority. They may also not have the presence of mind at multiple occasions and hence you as an owner should take all steps to protect yourself legally. A well worded legal agreement will do this and let you sleep in peace.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Listing of some second home projects in and around Mumbai

Fortune Hotel courtyard, Lavasa, Maharashtra.Image via WikipediaHi Everyone,

I have been asked to compile a short list of second home developments close to Mumbai. I will do so and slowly start reviewing them. Here is my list with quick comments:-
1. Lavasa - must see and evaluate for all. Pricing approx 3500Rs. /sq. foot, leasehold (999 years), tightly managed and regulated community where owners have limited freedom but overall you can expect better behaved neighbours and a community with critical mass.
2. Samira Habitats, Alibaug- Nice Villa Community - we liked the layout of the villas, with a central club house, team seems to be professional, pricing reasonable and Alibaug offers a decent destination close to Mumbai, clean title freehold land and villa.
3. Our Town- Khardi- Excellent pricing and accessibility to the Railway. Lots of investors seem to have bought plots and so limited villas which can make the place seem lonely. The developers seem to be trying their best. Good clean title though you are living in close proximity to villagers. This is not a fully gated community. They plan a modest clubhouse.
4. Ansal Housing - Thai Villas - Very nice though location is far away. It needs to be seen if they will manage to get critical mass given the location and the expense with maintaining such a structure - ability to get hired help, maids etc.
5. Nirman Developers - They seem to have built small villa communities in Neral. The villas seem to be nice but not glamorous. They seem to be marketing them silently or else only to close associates and the fear here is that buyers will be part of a community with not very cosmopolitan profile.
6. Artha Money - Blue Mountain - Ooty - Again an interesting scheme but one where the fine print confuses us. There are many grey areas the land is being sold at 10L an acre and yet the owner is a co-owner. We will try and get further details and at the moment my personal view is that Artha Money seems to be a marketing company with no competence in either property development or agriculture.

Disha Direct and Soft Corner properties two companies in Mumbai also seem to be advertising second home projects. These companies seem to be agents who tie up with property developers and market their properties. We have independently confirmed that they are spending money for their advertisements in Mumbai Mirror and are not private treaty customers of Times of India. However, we have not been able to talk directly to the management of these companies. In projects which they are marketing, we would advise to exercise caution and do a thorough title investigation as their staff may be on a high variable component and since the projects are not their own and their business is dependent on developers, they may not be in a position to ask the tough questions. Having said the same, I have not seen any adverse comments on the internet and would love to hear from customers who have bought properties in their developments.

If you have other developers who are building second home communities or else holiday homes in your city, please send me the links and I will be happy to review them and send you my views. If you have any comments on the above developments, please put them in the comments below and I will be happy to respond.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Now you can comment on our posts

Hi Everyone,

We have implemented a new commenting system. Now it is much easier for all our owners to comment on our articles. You guys are the experts and know a lot about this business. I welcome you and invite you to post your comments. This will also let you get to know each other and co-operate in whatever ways possible to grow your business mutually.

Happy Homestaying!!
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Making your homestay comfortable for the Great Big Indian Family

london_india_2004_b_day_040Image by saketvora via FlickrHi Everyone and apologies for the long absence. I have been working on multiple things. Unfortunately, cannot announce anything at the moment but hope to have some news to share soon.

I've been increasingly noticing an interesting trend among the inquiries we have been seeing through our system. We're seeing entire families travel. By this I don't mean husband, wife and their children. I mean THE BIG Indian Family. Think 2 brothers and their families, parents, cousins etc. Typically the groups are at the minimum 4-5 adults and 4-5 children. I've been trying to think of some ways in which our homestay owners can make their places comfortable for such travelers and here are some of my tips:-

1. The journey starts right from the time you get the enquiry. Remember, they are most probably traveling in one car or else two cars which are fully packed. As such it will be very nice if you can give them precise directions on how to get to your property - what time they should start, the specific restaurants and restroom stops they can take and the prominent landmarks in town they need to have saved so they know that they are not lost.

2. Ensure that there is someone to recv. them and to provide them with a nice breakfast/ lunch / dinner as soon as they arrive. Remember, the elders and women of the family would be very tired managing children after a long journey and so you should budget for this within the amount you are charging them. This small gesture will go a long way in making sure they have a good first impression.

3. Keep all telephone numbers handily available. Ensure that this includes numbers of a pharmacy, Doctor, hospital as well as someplace that will deliver food at short notice.

4. Families love Villas that have a full time caretaker living in the villa or just outside in an outhouse. The women are already very tired and may not be used to cleaning a large home and so having someone to clean / tidy up is really helpful.

5. Keep enough sources of entertainment available - e.g. playing cards, board games, carroms table are all really good options. A good collection of bollywood music (remember to throw in some old classic songs) and a music system is also a good idea.

6. If you have had kids, remember to collect all the toys they have outgrown and you can keep them in your homestay. A child can never tell if a toy is spoilt and having the kids occupied with a new set of toys will endear you to their parents.

7. Keep extra mattresses and linen in your villa. I cannot stress how often we see villa owners turning away groups because they are too big. It is common for Indian families to sleep on the floor or to share beds when they are visiting relatives. If you are flexible on this count, you should be able to easily target this audience. Also remember that many a time, families will travel with a cook/ driver and the extra mattress may be needed for them.

8. Child-proof the house. This is really important. Try and remove all big and dangerous stones from the lawn, put cushioning on dangerously low ceilings or doors and ensure that the bathroom floors are not slippery.

9. Make it clear on your profile that you are happy to accommodate such groups and your place is a friendly place ideal for families.

10. If you serve food, keep a few items on the menu that will be a surefire hit with the children. Things that come to mind are pastas, noodles and decorative cupcakes.

Happy Homestaying!!
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thumb rules for Crockery, Cutlery and Linen in your holiday home

Modern starch-polyester disposable cutlery.Image via Wikipedia

I thought I would do a small post on the quantity of Crockery, Cutlery and Linen that must be stocked at your holiday home for the benefit of guests. Firstly here is a list of Crockery and Cutlery:-

Eating Crockery
1. Plates
2. Side Plates
3. Soup bowls
4. Ice Cream Bowls
5. Katoris

Serving Crockery
1. Butter Container
2. Serving Dishes of multiple sizes
3. Salad Bowl
4. Biryani Dish

Drinking Crockery
1. Water Glasses
2. Beer Mugs
3. Shot Glasses
4. Wine Glasses
5. Whiskey Glasses
6. Plastic Water Mugs
7. Coffee/ Tea Mugs

1. Serving Dishes - many different varieties and sizes
2. Dal/ Soup Spoon
3. Ice Cream Scooper
4. Tea Strainer
5. Egg Slicer
6. Tea Spoons
7. Knives
8. Forks
9. Soup Spoons
10. Eating Spoons (Table Spoons)

In general my thumb rule for the amount of crockery to keep is this:-
1. Calculate the number of people that is the maximum your house can accomodate.
2. Assume that you have the maximum number of people living in your house and outline all the meals they will have during a day starting with tea when they wake up, followed by breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and a post dinner or pre-dinner drinks session.
3. Look at all the cutlery this requires plus some extra side plates and Tea Mugs.

This is the amount of cutlery that you need to provide. The reason for saying this is that if you have cleaning staff that comes in once a day, the cutlery needs to be sufficient so that the guests never have to do any washing before their next meal.

Remember, people when on holiday tend to eat a lot and food is the focal point of many vacations. Ensuring there is adequate cutlery and that they never have to do any washing will go a long way in making sure guests are happy.

Moving to Linen.

Here are some of the things that you will need to provide
1. Bed sheets
2. Pillow Cases
3. Pillows
4. Blanket and Bed Spread
5. Hand Towels
6. Bathing towels
7. Bath Mats
8. Dining Room Napkins.

To decide the quantity of linen you need to stock follow the following process:-
1. Decide the total number of people who can sleep in your house.
2. Ensure that there is one set of Bedsheet, blanket, 2 sets of pillows, 2 sets of pillow cases, for each person available in the appropriate bedroom. If you have provision for some people to sleep in the common areas using extra matresses then stock the linen for these people along with the extra mattresses and not in one of the bedrooms. Remember, guests from one room should never have to go to another room to fetch their linen.
3. For bath linen ensure that there is double the amount of linen as the number of people who will use the bathroom. So if it is going to be used by one person then ensure that there are two sets of hand towels, two sets of bath towels, two bath mats etc.

Ensuring that there is adequate cutlery, crockery and linen will go a long way in making your guests welcome. Remember of course to prepare an inventory list and ensure that your caretaker takes an inventory check before check out.

Tip:- I have found it a good idea to create a photo album of all items. It helps in identifying all things and ensures that it is easy to transfer information to a new caretaker once he changes.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Adding a Swimming Pool to your Homestay

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would write a small article on a question I get very often - Should I or should I not add a swimming pool to my Homestay? I have been struggling with this decision with my own homestay for the past month and I wanted to share with you'll some of my own thoughts.

Firstly, the Positives:-
1. Many more inquiries. We see this everyday when talking to our customers. Properties with swimming pools get more interest as compared to those without. In fact we have found in our surveys that one of the reasons that people prefer resorts - both families with kids and corporate groups - is that they have a pool.

2. You can charge more. This is another certainty when you add a pool. You will definitely be able to charge more for the property and people will gladly pay for the same.

3. Less dependence on season. This is very important. With a swimming pool of your own, you are not dependent on the season and your property is a self-contained tourist attraction with people being able to enjoy themselves within your property. Especially true also for beach properties and mountain properties where in monsoons the sea may be a bit rough or else it may be raining heavily and so treks are not so viable.

4. Customers enjoy themselves more leading to better reviews and them telling others. Again no doubt about this. A pool is something that is not very common for the average person and usually a good time is had by all. People who have a good time end up telling their friends and you get more repeat business.

5. You and your family get to use the pool.

Ok. Now to the cons:-

1. Cost to build and maintain. This is not a trivial investment. A decent sized pool as per my calculations would cost around 10 Lakhs to build and is a source of recurring expense to be maintained, cleaned etc. In addition if it is not maintained then it will end up becoming an eyesore and destroying the look of your property. As such, this is a decision which must be taken with care.

2. Having to sacrifice the lawn. The pool with hardscaping around it will take up a lot of place which otherwise could have been occupied by your nice lawns. A nice lawn is very useful for some large groups - esp. weddings, mehendis etc. and if building a pool is going to mean doing away with the lawn then I would caution against the same.

3. Risk. In india you will get a large number of visitors who will not know how to swim or for whom the experience of having a pool at their disposal is an overwhelming one. It will become necessary to police the pool and ensure that someone is available to rescue anyone in trouble at short notice. This in my opinion is something that is a big risk and worry for the holiday home owner to take on.

4. Added Tension and need to create rules. Adding a pool and keeping it open for outsiders will mean you need to protect yourself by framing rules and ensuring that all visitors sign the rules so that you protect yourself. Some rules can be such that kids are allowed to swim only if adults are already swimming, no food or drinks within the pool, pets not allowed inside the pool, no diving in the shallow side, proper swimwear to be worn and guests to take a shower before they enter the pool.

So in closing, this is a decision that must be taken with a great deal of thought and caution. What have I decided to do?

I have decided to install whats called an over the ground pool. An over the ground pool is basically an large pool that is sturdy but made of synthetic material and can be dismantled. It can be installed fairly quickly (1hour) and you can take it out when the weather permits and install on top of the lawn and take it out whenever you have functions. I have decided to import the same and install it and will put some pictures when it arrives so the rest of you can also see how it looks. The cost has worked out to about 4.5L inclusive of the shipping costs and my estimates of customs duty etc. in India and the pool is a very large one capable of handling 20-30 people at a time. Do send me your feedback if you feel I have done the right thing / wrong thing / anyone else has any other experiences they would like to share.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Homestay Basics: Should I form a company for my homestay?

076/365  I am accountant...Image by Venn Diagram via Flickr

Today's article relates to a basic query that most owners of Holiday Homes and Homestays have. This is even more relevant as quite a few may not be business people or experienced with legal matters. I'm writing this to give a quick overview and to outline the various options. This is my advice as an experienced business person. However, I am not a Chartered Accountant or a lawyer and you may want to take legal advice before you make your decision.

Essentially, there are three main structures that you could follow as any business:-
1. Running it in your personal name
2. A Proprietorship Firm
3. A Partnership Firm
4. A Pvt. Ltd. Company

When choosing a structure you need to keep in mind the following:-
1. Personal Tax Planning: This is the implication of the business income on your personal income tax. Some of the factors that may be important to look at are whether you have borrowed money to buy the property in your personal name and so are able to take a larger tax deduction of the interest payments based on how you classify the property. Also, where you fall in the tax slabs if you were to declare an income from this business Vs. only taking dividends (on which tax has already been paid by the company) Another key consideration here would be if you are already salaried and if your employment contract forbids you from being an employee elsewhere- if so, your only way of income generation could be dividends. If you are not salaried, you could put yourself on the payroll of the homestay.
2. Ease of doing business / Cost of compliance: For many home owners this is a key consideration. Let us face it- doing business in India is sometimes very painful and involves a lot of paperwork. Here starting a business as a proprietorship firm or a partnership firm is much much faster and running the business on an ongoing basis is much cheaper as compared to a Pvt. Ltd. company. A Pvt. Ltd. company will need to have an auditor and a company secretary and maintain board minutes, conduct a yearly audit and submit various returns and the cost of doing these things may not be justified unless you are generating significant income.
3. Protection against any liabilities and litigation. This is an important aspect I would like to dwell on. Luckily we live in India and litigation here is rare - it is not common for a guest to sue you. However for the wise this is an important aspect to consider. Here doing business in your individual name, as a proprietorship firm or a partnership firm are all risky as the partners, proprietor is responsible for the liabilities of the firm. As such, if someone were to sue you for something that went wrong when they stayed in your homestay or holiday home, the judge could ask you to pay damages from your personal funds or by liquidating your assets. The only structure which offers protection here is a Pvt. Ltd. Company (recently india has also allowed Limited Liability Partnerships) - In a Pvt. Ltd. company you put money into the company in two forms - either as share capital or else as a loan from a shareholder. However, the law says that your liability is limited (or capped) at the amount you have put in as share capital. To explain further, if you have put in 1L Rupees into the company and over time the company has done well and has got now 5L as value of total assets and liquid cash, in case you get sued, if you need to compensate the customer upto 5L then the company can pay it from its own assets and if the compensation is greater than 5L, the law cannot ask you as a shareholder to pay the extra amount from your own funds or ask you to liquidate other assets you own (like your car, other properties etc.) In a partnership firm or Proprietorship firm, there is no distinction between your assets and that of the company and all liabilities have to be met by you.
4. Tax planning for the business. This is one of the important aspects that every business person must consider. An important word of advice I got from a very senior person was "Remember, individuals pay tax on their total income while companies pay tax only on their profit. " This is something every homestay owner should keep in mind. What this means is that as a homestay you are running a business and there will be expenses related to the same - these could be in the form of capital expenditures - e.g. new furniture, cutlery, linen or new construction. or else it could be Operating Expenses - .e.g salaries of the caretaker, electricity bill, water bill, commission payments to travel agencies etc. By running the business in your individual name you will lose the ability to claim various expenditures. As such, it is best to follow a corporate structure and at the minimum in my opinion a partnership model.
5. Ability to raise further capital if the business needs more money. This is another important aspect. For those who have larger ambitions, there may be a need to acquire larger plots of land, build bigger homestays and in such a situation get additional capital from external sources. This may be in the form of a financial partner or it could be a bank or Tourism fund. In such cases, you will need to choose a Pvt. Ltd. company so as to be able to issue them shares and to provide them comfort in the running of the company.

Each owner who wants to start making money from their holiday home/ homestay needs to evaluate each of the points above and reach a decision after taking professional advice. My generic advice considering the state of most owners in India would be to use at the minimum a partnership structure. I personally prefer using a Pvt. Ltd. company for the protection it offers though it is a more expensive structure to maintain. Trust this article was useful and I invite you to send me any queries you may have and I will try and answer them to the best of my ability.
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How do I decide how much to charge for Renting my Second Home?

1000 Indian RupeesImage by LLudo via Flickr

Hi Everyone,

Today we will cover one of the most common questions I get from Holiday Home and Homestay owners - What do I charge for renting out my Holiday Home? I wanted to cover some of the important things to consider before deciding the pricing:-

1. Check on pricing of hotels and resorts located around your property. This is a very important activity and something that every homestay and holiday home owner must do. This information is easily available by either visiting a online travel website and searching for hotels by name or else calling up your local travel agent or the hotel directly. If you call the hotel directly, please remember that the price they quote to you may be 20% to 30% higher than what they sell their rooms at. Remember to ask for the prices for different types of rooms and whether they include meals as part of the rate. If your property is a 2 bed room apartment, see if they have a 2 bedroom apartment available. It is also best to ask for prices at the well maintained and hotels which are visibly doing well as generally they would have a good idea of what rates should be charged.

2. Have a realistic expectation of where your property stands in terms of luxury and who the ideal clientele would be for the same. It is important to price based on the target audience. Some of us have high expectations from those who come and stay in our homes and if so, it is important that the home must have the luxury amenities AND that pricing is reasonable but not too cheap. If you feel the target audience is college groups then you might want to make some modifications to the property -.e.g by adding many extra mattresses, a dormitory etc. and thus bring down the average cost per person who is staying over yet ensuring that you make more money in total. If the average target is a small individual family - husband, wife and 2 kids then be reasonable - it is rare that they would spend more than 6000-7000 Rs. per night at the maximum.

3. Have rates that reduce for longer stay guests. Remember most people who come to stay will stay for one or two nights - as such, you must have pricing that encourages people to come for 3+ nights and ensures that if a person stays for just one night you make 75% of what you would make if they were to stay for 2. Drop your rates significantly for those who want to stay for longer than a week. In my opinion if you are charging 6000Rs. a night then if a person would like to stay for 15 days - you should not be charging more than 42,000 Rs. in my opinion - roughly a 50% discount.

4. Keep your eyes on the calendar. Remember to keep in mind the long weekends due to festivals and the kids holidays. If you get reservations many weeks in advance for these days you must hold on a little in the bargaining process before discounting as you may get more customer options in the days to come.

5. Keep in mind any important deficiencies w.r.t. a hotel or resort. The primary one I can think of is a Swimming Pool. Esp. in the monsoons when going to the beach is not safe, travelers prefer staying in a property which has an in house swimming pool. If your property does not have one, be prepare to give a slight discount as compared to the resorts. In your marketing, promote other activities that can be done without the pool.

6. Be flexible. Ask every customer where he works and the number of people who are coming along. I would recommend giving those who are influential - i.e. those who work for very large companies or those who are premium travelers - i.e. coming alone and renting the whole home. a better deal and asking them post their stay to tell their friends about the place or to visit you again.

Lastly, Be alert. It is important to beware of customers coming in very large groups and yet bargaining too hard or where it seems like they don't have a budget. If you provide food, esp. be careful if they ask and insist on all meals being inclusive. I have found that sometimes some of these travelers can be very difficult customers to please and may cost you more than what you make to serve them. I would also be vary of customers who don't seem like they would be good guests to have over. Use the messaging system effectively to interview the travelers. How? That I will cover in another article.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some things to keep in Mind when designing the Floor plan for your Holiday Home

A sample floor plan for a single-family homeImage via Wikipedia

Continuing with our series where we are reaching out to those who are in the process of building their Holiday Home, I wanted to point out a few things that we've learnt after seeing hundreds of Holiday Homes and learning from the good and the bad aspects of the same. As such, while we have done an article earlier on the things to keep in mind when acquiring land, I felt another article was needed on the things to keep in mind when designing the floor plan or layout of the home.

Firstly I assume that the reason you are reading this blog is that you are not just interested in a holiday home which is a white elephant or an indulgence. You are a smart person and are interested in building a property that will appreciate and will start generating money for at least its upkeep and if possible in later stages for you to get a steady income stream. If so, here are some things I would like to recommend keeping in mind:-

1. Before you start find out about FSI. For those who don't know this term, the Floor Space Index is the ratio of the built up area to the total plot size. an FSI of 1 means you can construct 10000 sq. feet of built up area if your plot is of 10,000sq. feet. It is at your discretion to construct a single floor of 10,000 sq. feet or else 2 floors of 5000 sq. feet and leave the remaining area for a nice lawn. FSI varies by district and zone and so before you decide to plan out your floor plan it is important for you to know the maximum built up area of the property.
2. Abandon city living thoughts and floor plans - while it is good to take inspiration from the floor plans of an Oberoi, DLF, Lokhandwala, Prestige etc. remember that they cater to a single family living in an apartment. You are not building just a place for your own family to live but a place that you can generate money from by renting it out to other holiday makers.
3. Ensure that all bedrooms are equally sized and have attached bathrooms. This is very important. You will come across many instances where multiple couples are traveling together and you don't want to have to charge different rates from different people or else for them to have to decide who gets to keep the bigger room.
3. Ensure you have segregated the house in your mind into a living area and a 'back of the house' area - This is where I would put the following things - quarters big enough for a caretaker to live, adequate kitchen space for him to cook for himself as well as guests (food is the most important part of holidays in India) and ample storage for all the linen, cutlery, vegetables, provisions etc.
4. As your primary kitchen is in the back of the house, you can cut down the size of the kitchen within the main house. My recommendation is to keep just a kitchenette and if required merge it with a dining area. It should be adequate for a small fridge, toaster, coffee machine, kettle and for the food to be laid out for the guests.
5. Think about how you can cut down the size of your living room and utilize your topography to blend it with your lawn and with outdoor seating. This way you are not utilizing your FSI while at the same time giving city folk the pleasure of outdoor seating which is something rare and beautiful.
6. If you intend to have a swimming pool, then ensure that you have planned it out well from both the privacy, cleanliness and the overall greenery and landscaping surrounding the pool. I have seen an interesting trend of pools on the terrace (the slab needs to be laid keeping this in mind so it can take the weight) - this makes it quite private and protects a portion from the hot sun.
7. If you have a large property, strike a balance between building the home away from the main road and the amount of space you will lose by building a long driveway. Remember, it is ideal to keep amenities like the pool, lawn, vegetable patch etc. at the back yard and so if you keep a very long driveway, you are reducing the back yard space.
8. Budget for hardscaping (paving) and landscaping. These two things really add to the beauty of the property and if done well, are very cheap. It is surprising how few people pay attention to these areas.
9. There is no need for a common hand wash area or a powder room as each bathroom has its own attached bathroom.
10. Within the bathroom, please donot put the shower in between the Toilet and the Wash basin. Doing this will mean you will not be able to segregate the wet area and the dry area and will mean that the toilets are always dirty and will require frequent cleaning.
11. When building multiple story houses, keep the stairs friendly and not very steep. Remember, the guests will not be used to them and you don't want anyone to fall and injure themself on the holiday.
12. Reduce the use of Glass shelves and anything that can be easily broken by kids or boisterous crowds.
13. Plan your water tank and terrace area carefully so that you can use it as a rooftop sitting area and guests can enjoy their drink or else do a Bar B Q there. Again surprising but I have seen multiple terraces which are beautiful but where utility pipes, slabs and unnecessary walls have made the space unusable.
14. Plan the floorplan keeping in mind the topography, weather and setting of the plot. If you have a plot that is uniquely shaped or has natural ups and downs, borders a river, use the same to your benefit. Ensure that the front of the house has the best views.

All the best and do share your own tips if you feel I have missed something.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Reasons why you may not be getting responses to your Holiday Home listing on HomeStaysDOS

Coffee Shop Open SignImage by Mykl Roventine via Flickr

Hi Everyone,

I have over the past few months become close friends with some of the owners. Now some of you have got very good enquiries and some have not. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why some of you might not have got good responses. These points are meant to be constructive criticism and to help you in identifying what you can do to improve.

1. You are taking too long to respond. Typically, a user sends messages to more than one owner and at the same time is also on a travel website like makemytrip to find hotels. If he does not get a response within the same day, he may be getting close to his travel dates and he will make a booking elsewhere. This in our opinion is the biggest reason why our owners lose customers. We have also seen some owners lose business after exchanging a few messages because they finally delayed responding to the traveler at the final stage.

2. Your photos are missing, blurred, night shots or else incomplete. I would like to stress this. The traveler needs to be able to build a mental picture of your property after seeing your pictures. What this means is if there are three bedrooms, please put photos of all three bedrooms or else they will expect the worst. If you have not put any photos or have put in very few photos, expect that you will not get enquiries as noone will want to risk going to a place that they have not seen before.

3. Your description is a cut-paste of your website. This makes reading your property description very boring. Please avoid using words like Serene, Untouched and assorted superlatives. It is best to use simple, clear, factual language so that the person on the other side clearly understands what you are trying to say and gets a good mental picture of your property. Also try and use the section for activities to mention activities and how convenient it would be to stay in your property and partake in the activities. This will be the biggest sell as it will communicate that your property is a convenient place to stay.

4. Your Availability Calendar is empty. This point is psychological. When a traveler comes and sees that your availability calendar is blank, he will feel that the property is either not very popular or that the owner is slow to respond to enquiries. As such, we have given you the facility to enter even your other reservations into the calendar. This is a free service and we give this so that you can manage your reservations better. It will also give a true picture about your property and reduce number of questions that you have to answer.

5. Your rates are missing. Again, this is something that is a big mistake and really puts off travelers. Everyone wants immediate information and if they feel that you are too expensive or else don't know how much it would cost them, a lot of people would not send an enquiry. A better way is to give them a pleasant surprise about how cost effective your property is.

6. Description of property is too short Again, if your description of your property is too short, I strongly feel you will not get any enquiries. Ensure you put some effort into writing something that will appeal to someone else and at the same time clearly emphasizes the convenience, facilities and the cleanliness and service standards you have set.

7. No Reviews or Testimonials. This is a common feedback we have got. As we ourselves are very new, we are now adding Teddy Sirji reviews to some of the properties. However, my suggestion would be for you to add reviews to your own property with the name of the guests and their genuine comments. Try and put in longer comments and not just 2-3 words which they would typically write in a greeting book. Remember here, the traveler is looking for information which he can use to make a decision.

8. You are not featured on the homepage. This is a FREE service we provide to all our owners. The owners who are featured on the homepage have not paid anything for the same. Please feel free to contact me and ask to be featured and we will be glad to do so.

9. Your property details are wrongly listed. This is usually bad for business when you have entered details which make your property appear smaller than what it is. Frequently we have found this mistake to be made by people giving our rooms within their Homestay. There instead of selecting the number of rooms they have e.g. 5, a large number of owners have selected 1. This means that if there is a group visiting and looking for a place, they will not send you an enquiry as they feel you have only one room available. Hence, please check and correct this at the earliest. As always, if you need any assistance we are here to help.

10. Most Importantly, Your Profile may be Inactive!! When you register on our website, we send you an email with an activation link that you need to click to activate your account. If your account is inactive, messages will not be delivered to you. To check if your account is inactive, please try and login into your account. If you are unable to, first try and reset your password. If that still does not work, most probably you are inactive. Please then contact us immediately so we can resend the link to you so you can activate your account.

Finally, remember your profile on is like the OPEN sign outside your Shop. Please make sure it is clear and welcoming!!

With best regards and Happy HomeStaying
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Simple and Good Ideas for a Welcome Gift

Gift BasketImage by Tojosan via Flickr

Many of you might feel this is unwanted but a Welcome Gift gets your relationship with the guest to a good start and creates a lasting first impression in his/her mind. This is why I would highly recommend it. Here are some of the things I would suggest as a good welcome gift. I have chosen items which are easily available and which you can stock in multiples so that your housekeeper can keep them around as part of preparing the homestay to receive guests.

1. Something of local significance and can be consumed while they are staying at your place at least partially. So for instance if you are in Lonavala - a Chikki or Fudge Box, a selection of teas, coffees if you are in a plantation etc.

2. Assortment of chocolates. These are easily available and are usually well appreciated. Try and not buy branded chocolates that are readily available but order from a homemade supplier who could prepare a box with a greeting card from yourself.

3. Gift Vouchers and Discount Coupons for good restaurants close to your property. I find this is something that may not cost anything - it would promote and add to the restaurant owners business and at the same time will give your guests something to look forward to.

4. An interesting book that has significance to your area. Make sure that you put in a personal message with the day and date of the stay on the book inner leaf as a memory of their stay.

5. Personalized gifts. In India, something that is very popular with foreign tourists is a small Ganpati or a doll in Indian costume. This will serve as a great reminder for them when they go back to their country.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So you want to buy some land and build your own farmhouse??

Little FarmhouseImage by Harshad Sharma via Flickr

At some point during our life, we all toy with the idea of buying some land and building our own small dream home. As urban educated Indians in well paid jobs we tend to feel after we've paid up our mortgages that this would be a nice way to invest some money and also build something that we could use in our retirement. Ever since I've started a lot of people (friends, family) have been asking me for advice on buying land and building a house.

Firstly, I'd like to stress that you need to get legal advise from a lawyer local to the district you are buying in. A lawyer from a bit city or a lawyer from a different state will definitely not do. My views below are meant more as things to watch out for and should not substitute your retaining a lawyer to advise you.

Now that this done with, here are some of the things I feel you should look out for:-
1. Investigate the title of the seller thoroughly. I cannot stress how important this is. Find out who the person bought it from and who that person bought it from. Go to the local land records department and take an extract for the particular plot. It should clearly mention all the owners and whether the land has a lien on the same.

2. Investigate the exact nature of ownership. India has complicated land laws which vary by state. These are termed differently in different states but to simplify there are varieties of what in the west is known as "Freehold" Land. In India, historically, land was owned by a landlord and tilled by a tenant farmer. Over time, this tenant farmer developed rights on the land and these rights were later legalized or legitimized to varying degrees by various States. You will need to examine carefully the exact right that the seller enjoys and whether you need consent from any other right holders to buy the same or transfer the said rights to you.

3. Investigate thoroughly if you as an urban person can buy the land. In case the land is agricultural, unless you are of an agricultural background and can prove the same, you will not be allowed to and so it is necessary for the seller to convert the land to Non Agricultural before you enter into an agreement to purchase the same.

4. Be careful of encroached land or Forest land. This is usually true in case the property borders forests or else the land is unusually forested or lush. In quite a few such cases owners own a certain portion of land and a certain portion is encroached forest land that they have been enjoying for maybe generations. I have seen instances where such encroached land is mentioned on official documents and have been sold and deeds registered. However, keep in mind that on Forest land, you will not be able to build or construct anything and essentially this land is useless in your purpose of building a farm house.

5. Right of Way. It is important that your property enjoys a clear path through which you can drive into your farm house. Try and ensure that the property borders a main road and you will be able to build a gate to access the same. In case you have to pass through someone else's property you may want to negotiate and buy a path as part of the same transaction or else buy right of way in a concrete agreement having paid consideration for the same.

6. Water Source. This is something I feel many people overlook and is one of the most important things to look for when buying land. It is worth the effort to get a diviner or a professional and evaluate for the depth of the water table within the property. If you are buying a property with a bore well or other water source already present then test the water for how potable it is. This will save you a lot of difficulty in the future.

7. Check rules related to FSI and construction in advance. In some parts the FSI is as bad as 0.2 This means that on a 1000sq. feet plot you can construct only 200sq. feet so in order to build a 3000sq. feet modest villa you will need 15,000sq. feet of land. In other parts there may be a restriction on how high you can build and the kind of electricity connection you can take.

8. Effects of different seasons. In India we have poor infrastructure in many aspects. Especially difficult are the monsoons and winters in some parts. Check the topography of the plot you are evaluating and foresee how it will be affected during the monsoons. You will need to evaluate whether roads to the property may get submerged - if the road has a bridge with a river or stream flowing below, if the adjoining properties are at a greater height- leading to water from there getting drained into your property, or in mountainous regions - if the region is susceptible to landslides. I personally like visiting the property in the most inclement seasons - these are usually when the sellers have limited buyers and the property prices tend to be lower.

9. Succession related issues. In case of succession, I feel it is best to buy property after significant time has passed since the death of the owner of the property. This is because time brings out differences and if there needs to be litigation, it would have happened. The last thing you want is to have paid one member of the family an advance and he is unable to consummate the transaction and does not have the means to return your money.

10. Plan for the economics. It is surprising how many of us buy land with a particular end use and yet buy land that is either too big(not such a big problem) or too small (a very big problem) for that purpose. I recommend doing a detailed analysis before you search for your dream plot - remember to budget for the house, garden, parking, sewage, water tank, as well as some space for a shed, external generator unit and maybe a caretakers room etc. If you are buying farm land, ensure you have worked out how much farm land you will be left with after you build your house and whether the produce for such activities will be meaningful to either your family or else for you to sell and earn a reasonable amount from for your hard work!!

11. Sea or River Touching Property. While such properties are very beautiful and we all love the beach, beware as India has very tough CRZ rules that prohibit construction anywhere close to the beach or the river. By close I mean about 200m for River properties and 500m for sea facing properties. This is very restrictive but does not seem to be going away anytime soon and so you must be aware that properties within this zone or likely to come under this zone in the near future must be avoided at all costs.

Lastly, my advice is to try and buy where a significant number of other people have bought property for similar end use. This will ensure some company and an overall alignment of interests. After all, you will need people to socialize with.

In closing, this article deals more with buying land independently. This is really the best option for those who want to build something unique and at the same time enjoy a certain degree of exclusivity and freedom on their own land. I have also gotten many queries from people about buying land within second home projects that are heavily marketed in most of the big cities. I personally feel this may be the best option for the young upper Middle Class Indian with limited time and resources in his hands. Most of these developers have also gone through the rigmarole of getting approved by banks etc. and so you may also get financing. I will go through the pros and cons and things to watch out for while buying in such gated communities shortly.

Look forward to your comments.