Supplement to Newsletter
Edited by Eddie Fernandes,
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3 June 2007

Old hippy haunt is the New Riviera

Boom time: Estate agent Chantel Halai says foreign investors are rushing to buy property in Goa
Stanley D'Costa is surprisingly frank. 'Even I could get robbed in a property deal in Goa if I was not careful,' he admits.

Considering he is from Goa, it does not sound like much of an advert for the Indian property project he runs for the Birmingham-based Claremont Group.

But D'Costa is just being brutally honest. The Indian property market is notoriously corrupt and property law is infamously bureaucratic. But then there are the palm trees, long white beaches -and the fact that for as little as £25,000 you can buy a permanent home in this holiday haven.

Goa, on the west coast of India, has been the destination for foreign fun-seekers for at least 40 years. The hippies of the Six- ties headed there for sun, sand, sex and drugs.

These days the region has become the destination for newly rich eastern Europeans, many of them looking for much the same thing. Locals are concerned that land is being snapped up by the Russian mafia and no visitor to Goa can miss the huge number of Russian visitors throwing money around conspicuously.

The worries among the authorities about unwelcome foreigners means they are keen on finding those who have not followed the rules to the letter. Britons seeking property are advised to take as much independent legal advice as possible before buying.

But India is increasingly being touted as the new property opportunity for more sober investors. And it is not just Goa. There are also city apartments in Mumbai for business bosses.

And what about in Himachal Pradesh? According to London estates agents Savills owning a ski chalet in the Himalayas could be the next big thing.

Residential property prices in Goa have jumped by 30 per cent in the past year and with the Indian economy still booming, investors could easily be led into believing that it is a no-risk investment. Goa has two million visitors a year, three-quarters of them Indians. There can be little doubt that Goa is fast becoming India’s Riviera.

The Claremont Group has a long pedigree of UK property development. Founded by Manjit Deol and his sister Prem Saini in 1999, it has most famously bought (and quickly resold) £25 million of flats in Birmingham's Rotunda.

Over the years the group has built up a client base of 1,400 buy-to-let investors in the £125,000 to 175,000 range. They hope to repeat the process in Goa.

Deol says: “Property prices in Goa have risen 30 per cent in the past year and the forecasts are for another 20 per cent a year for the next three years.” There is a real demand from abroad - £6.6 billion of foreign money has been invested in real estate in India in the past four years.

The Claremont project is still a rock-strewn field, albeit a spectacular one on the top of cliffs that drop away to white sands and blue sea. There will be 500 villas and apartments. It is a touch upmarket from some projects so prices start from £37, 000 for a one-bedroom flat to about £25.000, for a four-bedroom villa.

At the heart of the site will be a five-star hotel. Top groups, including the Marriott, are said to be considering becoming involved. Deol has already sold 120 villas. They will not even start work until December and the scheme and the scheme will be completed in January 2010. Deol and Saini have two other sites in Goa under way and are looking at locations farther south in the beautiful state of Kerala.

It all seems perfect, but as D'Costa says, the issues are tortuous. For a start, it is illegal for a foreigner to own property in India.

This may seem like a major obstacle to would-be buy-to-let investors, but Claremont, like many other companies, plans to offer off-the-shelf schemes for investors to bypass the notorious India bureaucracy. The entirely legitimate solution is to set up a company in India that owns the property - foreigners are not barred from owning companies.

The company then collects rents from holiday tenants and from these it pays out a dividend to the one shareholder - the owner.

While foreigners selling a property in India would not be allowed to take the cash out of the country, they can take out the cash when they sell their 'company'. Claremont plans to offer a completely managed. In theory, buyers need never visit or see their property, but can simply buy as an investment, taking the dividend and selling when they wish.

Of course, they can also use it as a holiday home -London to Goa is only a 12-hour journey, including local transfers.

British estate agents have realised this and most of the leading names have established offices in India. Savills is one of the later entrants, but after a roadshow across the nation last month, it is feeling bullish.

Chantel Halai, head of Savills' India desk in London, found both newly rich Indians keen to buy in London and opportunities in India for London-based buyers.

Her parents came from Gujarat in North-West India, but she admits that she is a foreigner there when it comes to business. It is a view echoed by Deol, whose parents came from Punjab. 'I am not Indian enough to do business well there,' he says.

Halai has some clients from India who want to buy property in London. 'I am working for someone in the film industry who wants to purchase a central London property for 1 about £1.5 million, she says.

The other business prospect for Savills is selling Indian property to Britons. Savills, which is not connected to Claremont, is looking at a rival development in north Goa, close to the state capital Panaji.

Halai agrees that the private company route is a realistic way for Britons to own a flat or house in Goa.

D'Costa says two or three people visit the Claremont development site every week. 'We had one British woman of Indian origin and she brought all her cousins and extended family with her and they bought 20 units,' he says.

Savills also plans a luxury apartment block in Mumbai. Aimed at executives looking for a base in India's financial capital, the site will have properties ranging in price from £700,000 to £1.5 million. Even by British standards, this is far from cheap, but the biggest will be as much as 10,000 square feet, far more than such a sum would buy in London.

But the real ace up Savills' sleeve is in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, where a ski resort is under construction. It is early days, but Halai is convinced that skiing in the Himalayas will soon become a major draw for people tired of the overcrowded and expensive ski slopes in Europe and America.

Rich Europeans on skiing holidays in India? That would mean the country has arrived as a global property hotspot.

Before you buy your holiday hideway

Under Indian law, beaches must be accessible to everyone. Building within 216 yards of the shore is banned – a change made after the 2004 tsunami devastated the South-East coast.

Building within 550 yards of the shore must be cleared by Delhi. Make sure that such approvals are in place. Local councils -the Panchayats -are responsible for planning permission farther inland.

Corruption is rife and elections are so contentious in Goa that the otherwise trouble-free state declares an alcohol-free zone for three days during elections and armed police guard polling booths.

Property law means that extended family may have rights to a house, even though they have not lived there for years. Stanley D'Costa of Claremont Group says: 'I place adverts in the newspapers saying we have bought a site and calling on anyone who may have a claim to come forward if they want to contest it. That usually covers us.' In practice, new properties will have a clearer title.

Non-resident foreigners cannot own a home in India, nor can they take any income or capital gain from property abroad. Property deals must be done by setting up a company. Take legal advice and do not buy from anyone on site.

Travel connections can be troublesome. Several airlines fly direct to Delhi and Mumbai. Flying time is eight hours. Goa is a one-hour flight but transfer times may add three hours to the journey.

£25,000 for a stake in tropical paradise

Michaela Callaghan made her dream of a home in the tropical paradise of Goa come true for only £25,000. Michaela, 38, a British-born fashion executive who works in Kuwait, bought in Goa partly because of the soaring cost of property in London.

On a trip to Goa she took the plunge and bought a flat off-plan. 'I saw somewhere and I fell in love with the beach, which is just over 1,000 yards from the apartment,' she says.

Though Michaela bought on the spot from a local agent, rarely an advisable move, she did avoid the worst risks of buying in Goa. 'I was shown properties right on the beaches,' she says. 'They are illegal, but they are there and people will try to sell them.' When it is built, Michaela's one-bedroom apartment will be in Mandren in the northern end of Goa.

The development will include restaurants and shops and a gym and spa for residents. Michaela took just six days to complete the deal, putting down a 30% deposit. Completion is scheduled for two years, but Michaela is already looking ahead. 'At the end of 2009 I will be on the beach near my apartment bringing in the New Year,' she says.

The apartment will be owned by a company in which Michaela will be the 100% owner. She will be able to take as dividends any rent from letting, but that is not her plan. 'This will be just for me and for family who want to use it,' she says. 'I will not be letting it.' But the whole exercise has given Michaela ideas. 'Now I have a company in India, I have even thought about doing a bit of fashion business there,' she says.

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