When their daughter developed breathing problems in Delhi three years ago, lawyer Prashant Kalra and communications trainer Ayesha Garewal-Kalra, made the difficult decision of relocating to Goa. It meant starting from scratch – both in terms of their living arrangement and their professions.
Instead of setting up shop with their traditional vocations, they decided to market villas in Goa through social media. In just four months they had completed four sales, firmly establishing their new business, The Penthouse Boutique.
Prashant, Managing Partner of the firm, says, “Ayesha and I came into this business with backgrounds that were perfect for real estate. Between us, we studied law, communications, hospitality, and branding. We also brought the perspective of customers because we knew how we would like to be pitched at for a home to invest in, if we were the clients.”
Their first sale was to a lawyer from Delhi who had worked with Prashant in his legal days. They helped him find the home of his choice in his budget, without being present in Goa.
This set the ball rolling, with more and more people sending inquiries, on the basis of recommendations, and tempting pictures of properties displayed on the company’s social media pages.
The initial days
The Penthouse Boutique began with a minimal investment of Rs 25,000. With their knowledge of digital communication and branding, they were able to design their website, logos, portfolios, and graphics entirely by themselves. The expenditure was only on legal and accounting paperwork.
To this date, there are no employees simply because they are not needed. They believe that running the affairs all by themselves has given them an advantage on traditional brokers.
Prashant says, “I feel our biggest strength is our professional background combined with our digital skills. Clients appreciate it if their brokers send requested information, without having to send reminders or make repeated calls. We are also particular about collating our information and presenting it in a manner that is easy to comprehend yet elegant.
"In addition, our social media presence is very strong with the kind of beautiful homes we post on our Instagram handle @tpbrealty. Lastly, we make it a point not to list ‘average’ properties at all. If a home is not exceptional, you won’t find it on The Penthouse Boutique.”
As with most businesses, they adopted a trial-and-error method to arrive at what works best for them. Initially, they listed everything including apartments, old villas, and plots, but soon realised their clientele preferred them doing the legwork beforehand and presenting the very best on offer.
Now, they focus solely on new villas with private pools in Goa – properties that are RERA-registered and have been built by reputed developers.
In 2020, they took a big leap to include international listings by partnering with well-known and trusted developers in Greece, Cyprus, Dubai, and Portugal. Abroad, The Penthouse Boutique lists apartments and smaller villas as well, specifically aimed at those looking for foreign residency through real estate investment.
The Penthouse Boutique presently offers options in over 150 projects across its network in five countries.
“From October 2018 to May 2021, we’ve sold over Rs 72 crore worth of homes, amounting to 12 properties,” Prashant says.
The real estate startup charges clients a fee of 2 percent of the final base price plus taxes in Goa and 3 percent of the final base price plus taxes for international listings.
The journey till now
Since finding a home is often an emotional call, Prashant and Ayesha have had to learn to read between the lines of their clients’ wishes and gauge what they really want. Sometimes, the crystal-clear criteria that the clients arrive with goes out the window when they begin seeing properties.
More often than not, the search criteria evolves with each visit. Their ability to marry their client’s needs and specifications with what they have to offer is a skill set that helps.
Mumbai-based Anu Tiwari, Lawyer and Partner at leading Law Firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, is particularly appreciative of this quality.
He shares, “Prashant’s transparency, diligence and speed at closing a deal, while empathising with the buyer’s bespoke needs struck me the most. In a space that traditionally lacks trust, with advisors seldom adding value to a buyer’s experience, Prashant’s approach was a welcome change.”
Unlike many businesses, the pandemic proved a boon for The Penthouse Boutique. Simply, in terms of the value of inventory sold in Goa, they witnessed a jump of 100 percent in the last financial year. They also saw a marked increase in queries for their international listings, outnumbering the Goa queries by a ratio of 3:1.
Prashant puts this down to people’s fears of the virus and India’s ill-managed healthcare systems. “The worse things got in the big cities, the more people wanted to get out. We have witnessed many Indians putting in place a backup plan to move abroad, if necessary. While nobody has immediate plans to relocate, a lot of families are keen to invest in an exit strategy just in case they need it,” he says.
This observation indeed reflects a shifting trend in the home buyer market, as people prefer to invest in alternate destinations offering a better quality of life, rather than big cities.
Leisure homes have always been popular, but now offer an added advantage of generating the same ROI as a commercial investment in Delhi or Mumbai, allowing players like The Penthouse Boutique to become popular.
This was reflected in the case of Delhi-based Karan Kaushish, Co-founder and CMO at your-space, who sought his own “slice of paradise” in Goa, yet disliked the tedium of searching for it. “Unlike other brokers, at TPB, they educated me, showed me what’s available at different price points and understood my requirements - it was such a comforting experience!” he says.
Looking to the future
When it comes to investing in real estate, Goa has obvious appeal as the ultimate relaxation destination in India – away from polluted and overcrowded cities. Internationally as well, The Penthouse Boutique’s repertoire of countries is limited to those that allow foreigners to invest in property, with the aim of eventually gaining residency rights.
Looking ahead, Prashant and Ayesha are considering widening their net to include non-residency-based investment destinations like United Kingdom and Italy.
Growth is on the cards and their real estate venture seems poised for success. When asked about their quick rise in a profession for which they had no training, Prashant confidently says, “Our focus has always been on simplifying things for buyers while maintaining professionalism and transparency. It was this approach combined with our personal networks that really helped us.”
Edited by Teja Lele Desai