The Future of Housing is Here : John Keells Properties

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Identifying a shift from individual houses to multi-family housing blocks, Sri Lanka’s real estate sector is seeing a new trend in urban development. While some expect an impending bursting of the real estate bubble, companies like John Keells Properties are looking to the future and gearing up to play a key role in Colombo’s evolution.

With changing lifestyles, people now want to move away from the city. How has this trend affected those living in the city?
Over the last decade, people have certainly moved away from the city—statistics show a very clear migration to the fringes. This results in runaway congestion and a range of social and environmental issues, which are becoming increasingly problematic. A million people spend around 2-4 hours a day stuck in traffic. This is not good and not sustainable.

Within the city, there is a palpable transformation underway. It’s going to be interesting to watch the next decade or two as we go from a city with single family detached housing to higher density. There are concerns about all the high rises coming up, but it’s an opportunity to redefine the city and unlock its potential, while holding on to open spaces, heritage and other nuances that make Colombo unique. If managed well, a diversity of people can live and work in the city, and have a better quality of life.

We don’t look at TRI-ZEN as a building; we look at it as an urban community

Are customers looking to move into apartments rather than owning homes?
Yes, the trend is clear. Sri Lankans are getting wealthier and beginning to demand better quality housing, and apartments deliver convenience and value for the modern city-dweller. We are looking to make the city more accessible for a wider spectrum of people. Young executives, for example. Even retirees with empty nests in the suburbs.

What are demands coming from the young executives segment?
The younger demographic is really interesting. What is their lifestyle like? Are they tech savvy? Do they really seek sprawling houses? Will they hoard as much ‘stuff ’ as their parents? Will they ever hire a live-in maid? Will they be as dependent on cars? What kind of cars, if any? Where will they hang out? Will they entertain at home, or just go out? These are questions we are actively studying to engineer better urban communities. Tomorrow’s urban communities.

Affordability is key. Traditionally, the average 30-year-old gets married and looks for a house they can live in until they die. But, there is another way to look at it. You can enter the market at any point you can afford, capture gains and trade up as your income levels rise and lifestyle changes.

Nayana Mawilmada

Sri Lanka’s public transport system is not great. How has this affected the real estate sector?
Public transport has sadly not kept pace with our aspirations and demands. As we increasingly depend on cars rather than public transport, our communities are becoming sprawling and inefficient. In condominium buildings, we waste so much money on building parking lots—making housing more expensive, unnecessarily. It’s a vicious cycle.

With the likes of PickMe and Uber, you barely need a car now. This ecosystem of transport providers is undoubtedly going to grow. Public transport will eventually catch up. When that happens, the real estate industry will adapt too. In the next 10 to 15 years, we won’t need parking lots in every apartment block.

Is there potential for apartments in the suburbs?
Yes. Housing in the suburbs will always have demand, but the suburbs as we know them now will evolve. More densification is inevitable—although perhaps not to the extent of Colombo city. You already see suburban apartment complexes emerging, but quality and consistency are questionable.

How is John Keells Properties converting these ideas into reality?
We are working on a bunch of interesting projects, one of which is TRI-ZEN on Union Place. We don’t look at TRI-ZEN as a building; we look at it as an urban community—and are building into it the things that tomorrow’s resident will want. The physical apartment space is the anchor point for a much richer experience, which we believe will be sought after, and in turn, command premium rents.

An absolutely central location, efficient design, tons of smart technology features and attention to detail create an urban environment optimized for a better life experience. We have over an acre of community space at TRI-ZEN! That is unprecedented.

In the next 10 to 15 years, we won’t need parking lots in every apartment block

We are also giving people the choice to opt out of a buying a parking spot—something that is proving popular. TRI-ZEN is designed from the ground up to be completely e-enabled too. You will be able to do most of what you need from your phone, remotely. We also have Cinnamon Life, an equally ground-breaking, truly iconic development with residential as part of a fully integrated mixed-use development.

How does John Keells Properties fit into the property market in Sri Lanka?
We see ourselves driving change and innovation in the property space. We try to envision what the city will be like in five years, and build that. Our track record on quality, reliability and customer focus is well known. Our forward-looking strategy is also clear. I believe we will completely change the way people benchmark apartment living and urban communities in the decade ahead. TRI-ZEN and Cinnamon Life are just the beginning. We have lots of exciting projects being developed for the years ahead!