Why do Karachiites love to live in apartments?

Karachi is a large city and the rising popularity of living in apartments is all but natural.

Karachi is certainly the financial engine of Pakistan’s recovering economy. When the city of lights falters, as it did over the past few years owing to security challenges, economic effects reached deep into other parts of the country as well. But thanks to the intervention by security forces over the last two years, Karachi appears to be getting back on its growth trajectory. The sentiment among the business community is witnessing a positive trend, jobs are coming at a greater pace and the real estate and housing sectors have seen heightened activity.

According to the property web portal Zameen.com, average prices of 125 square yards plots in Karachi increased by 35.53% during the 12 months in between November 2014-2015, while 500 square yards and 1,000 square yards plots registered impressive increases of 26.07% and 23.61%, respectively.

But as impressive as these increases might be, there remains a housing anomaly that is not apparent in any other part of the country. Karachiites love to live in apartments.

Or do they?

First impressions

Karachi’s innumerable apartment complexes were the first thing I noticed when I moved to the city from Lahore in order to pursue my degree. They were everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. They appeared to be silent giants, looking down on us mortals running about our daily chores. The skyline was a canvas of architectural contrasts and I wondered how life would be inside these apartments. I even imagined myself living in one, but found the idea hard to come to terms with.

For someone from Lahore, or other parts of the country, high rises indicate offices, retail therapies, rooftop restaurants and on other occasions, vacant spaces. People here haven’t really opened up to the idea of living in efficiently utilised urban spaces.

People here like to live in detached houses; they like to own their own piece of land and build a personalised structure on it. In most cases, an independent house provides them with the confidence (and bragging rights) to claim that they have finally made it, financially at least.

Living independently has its perks, but one also misses out on some remarkable social experiences. Karachi’s apartment complexes are teeming with life, the air has a peculiar murmur of liveliness, possess unique living dynamics and a distinctive culture in the larger scheme of things.

Raisons d'être

Cost has a lot to do with the housing trend in Karachi as compared to other parts of the country. Karachi is a magnet for job seekers and businessmen, as well as large and small companies, so housing has always been in demand and a problem for housing policy makers. Even though Karachi’s perimeters have been pushed to the limits time and time again, a massive demand for accommodations has kept prices mostly up.

According to Zameen.com, a 500 square yard house in Karachi’s DHA costs close to Rs68,000,000 on average. Comparatively in Lahore, a 500 square yard house in DHA Lahore will only cost around Rs42,000,000.

That sometimes becomes too much to ask for from younger individuals looking for a place of their own, so the obvious refuge is found in apartments. A three bedroom apartment in Karachi costs around Rs13,000,000 on average (in 2015), while two bedroom apartments sold for an average of Rs6,300,000. In Lahore, one could easily find a decent small house in that price range with some luck. In Karachi, it becomes much harder.

Another reason for living in communal spaces has to be Karachi’s volatile security. The city has remained a hotbed of political, ethnic and religious strife and apartment complexes have provided residents of Karachi a relative safety in numbers. In many cases, such apartment communities in Karachi have developed their own security protocols that keep the premises under a watchful eye, ensuring safety of all. Other parts of the country have been relatively stable and the need for living closer together has not emerged.

Tomorrow talk

The rising cost of living and rapidly climbing land prices across Pakistan are now forcing home buyers and builders to consider other means of extracting the most out of an investment. People in Lahore and Islamabad are now resorting to apartments since land is becoming scarcer and houses are becoming pricier.

Ambitious projects like DHA’s Penta Square in Lahore and Bahria’s The Galleria in Islamabad aim to offer alternative housing solutions to people in both cities without compromising on space, comfort or facilities. Apartments offer a resident numerous perks that house owners cannot avail. One of them includes the ease of maintenance, which is proving to be a prime motivational factor. Also, considering both spouses are engaged in some form of external employment in most households in Pakistan, this factor stands out even further.

Karachi is a large city and the rising popularity of living in apartments is all but natural for cosmopolitan capitals like it. As the economic sectors in Lahore and Islamabad grow and the cities find their populations rising, we will likely see their skylines dotted with high-rises of various designs competing for the spotlight – teeming with life and abuzz with bustle, of course.

I am still not sure I could do it, but kudos to those who are. Perhaps, a few years from now, I might own an apartment too.
Mohammad Azam Mahmood Butt Azam is an MBA and has been associated with the retail, media and real estate industries.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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