IT professional Jitesh Mandrekar, 45, lived in a rented flat in Ghatkopar for 15 years. Six months ago, he decided he had had it with living in a leased accommodation, and started a search for a house that would be spacious enough to accommodate his wife, children and parents and cost not more than Rs 25 lakh. After a lot of house-hunting and consultations, Mandrekar bought a two-bedroom flat in Badlapur.
It fit in his budget, he could get there by a local train, and it was peaceful and uncrowded. “The serenity here helped me make my choice,” said Mandrekar.
Both builders and brokers say many such middle-class Mumbaiites are choosing to live in areas beyond Thane and Kalyan, in the Ambarnath-Badlapur-Karjat belt.
“In the last three to four years, many families, especially from areas such as Parel and Lalbaug, have moved into Ambarnath and Badlapur,” said Virendra Shetty, general manager (marketing), Marathon Group, which has a residential project in Badlapur.
While Ambarnath, Badlapur and Neral see people buying flats to move into, Karjat, which is further away, is a hotspot for second or weekend homes, apart from low-cost houses.
The key factor working for these areas is the real estate rates. It’s near impossible to buy a new two-bedroom flat in Mumbai for anything less than Rs one crore. “In Badlapur, you can buy a 1BHK for Rs 15 lakh, a 2 BHK for Rs 20 lakh, a 3 BHK for Rs 30 lakh,” said Shetty. For the same budget, a house in Thane will be half the size.
From Ambarnath to Karjat, the rates vary from Rs 2,300 per sq ft to Rs 3,000 per sq ft.
Those who aspire for a better quality of life and want to live in spacious homes and enjoy amenities such as a health club, swimming pool and garden that are available in new housing complexes are increasingly choosing to move out of the city. “People want a better standard of living and prefer to stay comfortably in a far-off suburb than live like paupers in the city,” said Abhijit Kulkarni, an Ambarnath-based broker.
These areas, though urbanised, are not as crowded, polluted or noisy as Mumbai and Thane. While the areas close to the railway station — for example, Shivaji Chowk in Ambarnath — are congested and messy, a five-minute drive takes you away from it, into what seems like a small town surrounded by hills and green pastures.
Reena Sethi, 29, a homemaker who shifted to Ambarnath from Ulhasnagar, said: “This area is far more green and less congested as compared to Kalyan and Ulhasnagar.”
The biggest advantage these areas have is rail connectivity. The Central Railway runs trains on this route up to Karjat, and the distance from Karjat to CST can be covered in two hours, making it possible for people to live here and travel to Mumbai on a day-to-day basis.
Chandrashekhar Prabhu, a town-planning expert, said: “The reason people prefer to stay in this belt over other new areas is because the local trains go here.”
What these areas currently don’t score on is infrastructure. Water supply remains a big concern, with some localities in Badlapur (east) and Ambarnath (east) getting water for only three to four hours a day.
“In Karjat, we get water for just one hour in the morning everyday and that’s very inconvenient,” said Advai Gupta, 32, a sales accountant who moved to Karjat from Kalyan in 2008.
These far-flung areas also lack big, super-specialty hospitals, and have limited entertainment options as there are no big malls and multiplexes here as of now. However, it will be a matter of time before this infrastructure is developed.
‘You can have a better standard of life here than in Mumbai’
Geetha Santhosh, 50
Bank manager and resident of Ambarnath
It’s a nice place to have a home. There’s space to go for long walks, children have the space to play and when I look out of my window, I see greenery and hills instead of slums and traffic,” said Santhosh, who has lived in Ambarnath since 1982 and has no intention of moving out. “Many people from congested areas such as Ulhasnagar are moving here.”
Until four years ago, she lived in Vadavli locality in Ambarnath (east); now she lives in a two-bedroom flat in Kher, which is just a kilometre away from the station. “We bought it at Rs 1,090 per sq ft four years ago. The rates have risen by three times,” she said.
Santhosh’s children, now in college, used to go to Kendriya Vidyalaya and she says the area does not lack any amenities. “You can have a comfortable or even a better standard of life here than in the main city.”