The last three waves of Covid-19 have seen working parents as well as school-going children locked inside their homes and deprived of any social contact.
Take the case of Bengaluru-based Ganesh, a healthcare professional, who was forced to consider a shift from an independent home to a child-friendly housing society. The couple is expected to move to their new address by December.
Another buyer, 41-year-old Shalin Jain, who works in an IT company in Pune and has a nine-year-old child, said: "I wanted my kid to avoid going out of the society and having all facilities within the compound helped me with that. It proved to be a crucial factor during Covid-19."
Child-centric homes have been finding acceptance among working professionals. Buyers like Shalin and Ganesh feel that these communities provide children an opportunity to participate in multiple outdoor activities instead of staying indoors and watching TV or being glued to their smartphones.
They feel that it also addresses safety concerns. Child-centric homes are equipped with digital features that allow parents to monitor their kids using mobile apps connected to CCTVs.
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By forcing people to remain shut indoors for long intervals, the pandemic has necessitated the need for self-sustainable housing societies. "A lot more is expected from our homes today than it was earlier. This is why more and more developers are launching projects that ensure children-centric facilities within the premise, considering that they are more prone to a virus spread and that they are the ones who had the hardest time remaining shut indoors during the lockdown. We expect the demand for such facilities to grow across price segments," said Vikas Wadhawan, Group CFO, Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com.
Wadhawan said that Housing.com collaborated with developers’ body NAREDCO to execute a consumer sentiment survey. It found that people wanted bigger and better homes and homebuyers across top-eight cities were looking for properties with access to social infrastructure such as educational institutes, healthcare facilities, and recreational/open spaces for kids within a radius of 1-1.5km from their homes.
Developers said that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the demand for child-centric homes going up.
While Gera Developments has its projects in Pune, Casagrand has its footprint in Bengaluru as well as Chennai. Gera, who claimed to have sold 2,000 units so far, said that the company is planning to come out with approximately 3,000 units this financial year.
Casagrand is planning to launch two to three kids-themed projects in Bengaluru in the next two years. There are other developers in the field as well which include Ashiana and Godrej.
"Through the pandemic, we have found that child-centric homes had a positive impact as far as families are concerned. The amenities and facilities in child-centric projects provide children with far more opportunities especially when they are unable to go to school. Our team engaged with the parents and the children through the lockdown which has been an extremely challenging time for the kids over the last few years," said Rohit Gera, Managing Director, Gera Developments.
While high-rise apartments these days in any case are equipped with amenities for all age groups including children, one may wonder why there was a need for children-centric homes?
Ankit Kansal, MD, 360 Realtors, said that close to 40-45 percent of the gated communities launched in Indian metros are kids-centric these days. He added that the category is growing at the rate of roughly 25-30 percent per annum.
Sathish CG, Director, Casagrand Builder, said that the rise in the number of nuclear families where both parents are working, has pushed the demand for a community that focuses on children safety and security.
"Working parents want a community that exposes their kids to a variety of sports and co-curricular activities. Kids-themed communities are in demand, especially after the pandemic, since parents do not feel secure sending their children out. To address their concerns, kids-themed communities include many amenities and features exclusively designed for the children like a kid’s pool, skating rink, arts and crafts corner, magnetic games wall, multipurpose court etc making it an ideal location for children," Sathish said.
Rohit Gera said this asset class is popular among young, highly aspirational Indian families who want to give their children the best in sports coaching facilities within the society.
"These are communities which provide 24x7 security service and surveillance using CCTV cameras. The play areas have a dedicated app-based visitor management system and provide live streaming of the area on phones. Also, special measures are taken to ensure safety inside the house by providing child safety locks specially designed for the main door and Shockproof sockets have been raised to a minimum of 4’ from floor level for kid’s safety," said Sathish CG.
Are child-friendly homes a marketing gimmick?
However, child-centric housing societies come with a higher price tag compared to conventional residential projects and experts feel that one should vet all the factors before investing in such homes.
Suresh Sadagopan, founder and principal officer of Ladder7 Wealth Planners, said that paying a premium in the name of kid-centric facilities may not be a good idea as facilities that may seem lucrative for kids at one point may become irrelevant for them after five or six years. "The maintenance of facilities is another issue. Once the builder goes out, the facilities may deteriorate/break in absence of proper maintenance and thus it may not be as good as it was initially," he said.
Rushda Majeed, Country Representative, Bernard van Leer Foundation, India, feels that child-friendly spaces that offer safe and independent mobility for toddlers and young children and are equipped with necessary services for children and their families should go beyond being just a marketing gimmick to support sales of houses.
"Including child-friendly elements in housing projects is much more than the installation of a swing or a ball pit. Projects that seek to be child-friendly right from the planning stage and incorporate elements in the design and development accordingly can definitely help children and their families. However, developers also need to plan for the long term for the proper upkeep of the spaces for projects to be truly helpful for the target residents. With the constantly rising population in Indian cities, it is vital that new housing projects are designed keeping the needs of young children and their families in mind. Not only will this work towards inclusivity for all residents, but also help developers in contributing to the healthy development of children in their peak learning and developing years," she said.
Majeed, however, said that there is no definitive scale for what a child-friendly development should look like. She added that the focus should be on play areas, safety and security, easy access to washrooms and ample greenery among other facilities.
"An often-overlooked but critical aspect here is that children using the spaces meant for them are accompanied by not only their parents, but other members of the family, who may be senior citizens, expecting women, or people with disabilities. As such, developers need to design spaces within housing projects for the convenience and comfort of all," said Majeed.
Shalin Raina, managing director and Head of Residential Services at Cushman & Wakefield feels that kid-centric homes are meant for working couples as they need facilities that take care of their children. "It's more like an end-use product and a lifestyle requirement for working couples today. Parents want their kids to get external exposure rather than watching smartphones. However, such facilities may certainly give a premium on rentals as there are many young working couples who want their kids to have those facilities but it's not an investment product that will have high appreciation going forward," said Raina.Raina also said that developers often charge more for the services they bring to the table just like in senior living homes.