The emergence of real estate pioneers who identified that luxury living differs from existing has made vertical living possible in Sri Lanka over the last few decades. While the real estate industry in Sri Lanka is a well-known attraction of investors to the island nation, we also know that vertical living has made Colombo’s urbanization faster and more efficient over the years.
We spoke to Rohan Parikh, Managing Director of Iconic Developments, on his journey to becoming one of the pioneers in the real estate industry and his attraction to Sri Lanka as an investment location.
To start things off, how did you identify that real estate was where your passion lies?
I have always been passionate about engineering, design and consumer behaviour. With my academic background being in business with a minor in psychology, I have been fascinated by identifying what consumers need and finding products that meet those expectations. This aligned with my passion for engineering, a field I grew up in. I have always been surrounded by machinery, large equipment and detailed planning, which I have grown to love. When you combine these two things and add in my love for art and design, I found that real estate was the perfect junction where all my passions meet.
Following the recognition of your passion, talk us through your journey to becoming a pioneer in the industry today.
I think the stepping stone would be after I graduated from university and was back in India. It was notably the rise of the real estate boom in the country. The government was searching for private developers for low-cost housing, with the motive to rehouse slum-dwellers and develop housing for the middle class.
This was my first project, and it was an excellent learning experience as, on the one hand, we had to build efficient housing, while on the other, it had to be visually pleasing. Within four years, we developed more than 100 buildings with over 6000 flats under this project.
This was a passion project that I got involved in to enter the real estate industry. While it was, at its time, the largest redevelopment project in Mumbai, I was glad to have been a part of it and that it was a successful stepping stone to the industry. Subsequently, I worked on developing a country club, a hotel and a variety of residential buildings, which is when my passion really took off.
Personally, the learning experience during this time was immense. I realized that, in real estate, there’s so much a good developer can do through intelligent design of the buildings and a good selection of material. The difference between a good developer and an average developer is that a good developer can offer so much more at the same price due to their approach to product selection and design efficiency.
This is something I learned during my years which I could apply to our developments in Sri Lanka, which have been pretty iconic developments: 110 Parliament Road and Galaxy. In Sri Lanka, we have changed the value equation for residential buildings. We can guarantee that the price you pay per square foot of the spaces we sell directly has the best possible value for your money, primarily due to the amenities and facilities we offer.
We use intelligent design and efficient materials to ensure good use of spaces, air, and sunlight and strive to give the best value for the price the consumer pays, as I believe that is what makes us succeed in the real estate industry.
What factors do you consider when searching for ideal locations for real estate investment?
There is only one factor that I consider in the search for investment locations: the long-term value for the customer. We are very attentive to the fact that our consumers buy an apartment as an essential investment, as it is the most vital asset they would hold in their lives. We take that very seriously. Therefore, in our search for locations, we always consider the land, the area around it and the connectivity. We always choose locations where these factors are constantly improving. As a result, our consumers will view our developments as a long-term investment.
One great example is our development of 110 Parliament Road in Rajagiriya. When we instituted the building, Rajagiriya was a massively underdeveloped area, with just one restaurant in the vicinity. Now it has developed into a residential hub with many facilities. Our first investors have seen the value of their assets grow over the years.
You have made generous contributions to the real estate industry of Sri Lanka. What attracted you to the country, and how did you identify it as an ideal real estate investment?
Our company has been doing transportation for many decades, and we were a part of the development of the Sapugaskanda Power Plant and the Kelani Bridge before the Civil War. Therefore, we were a massive part of the infrastructure development in Sri Lanka for a long time.
Following the war, the government was looking for opportunities for restructuring, and I visited Sri Lanka hoping to invest in some options. Although that project didn’t take off, I have always been interested in long-term investment in Colombo as it has a reduced urbanization rate compared to other major South Asian cities. There is also a demand for condominium living as there are significant commute times from the people’s living spaces to the city centre and the growth of the middle class over the years.
I identified the need for suitable, affordable, well-built housing in Colombo and decided to invest in it for the long term. After thorough research of the market, Iconic 110 Parliament Road was born.
Where do you find inspiration for your structures? Have any developments in Sri Lanka provided such inspiration for you?
As we build ultra-modern housing, our design options are somewhat limited. However, what’s unique about us is that while we incorporate all the facilities of luxury living into our spaces, we also pay homage to the Sri Lankan architecture and heritage through subtle colour palettes, wooden floors and the art used in the common areas.
I have been very fascinated by Geoffrey Bawa’s work in Sri Lanka, but we cannot convert that directly into the structure we build. Therefore, we try to bring out the essence of Sri Lankan culture and heritage through our materials, colours, plants and use of spaces. It is more incorporated in spirit than actual design.
What do you think is the future of real estate in Sri Lanka, and how do you hope to contribute to it?
In the short term, this is an exciting time for real estate in Sri Lanka. While many are trying to buy property to own an asset that rises in value with the inflation, the developments have also been put on hold due to the supply crunch. New developers will also not initiate their projects, which will result in a drop in availability in the short term.
However, in the long term, due to the great demand for urbanization in Colombo, there is a space for redevelopment and infrastructure development. How soon the reformation will happen depends on the economic situation; however, the investors are waiting for the right time to continue investing in projects.
Our commitment to Sri Lanka is long-term. We will continue to bring in new projects. We have acquired lands over the last few years and plan to develop them in the future. The most recent unveiling will be the launch of Iconic Skye. This is unique to Sri Lanka as it contains only 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom duplexes. Iconic Skye is scheduled to open for sales in January, while investors purchasing multiple apartments will be given a chance to invest earlier.