Want to buy an old Portuguese-style home in Goa, one of those charmingly quaint mansions painted white, sunny yellow or blue, with tiled roofs held up by wooden rafters and verandahs running all around? They may look sleepy and old-world, but make no mistake — they’re in huge demand among wealthy Indians and foreigners who’re ready to pay crores to acquire one.
Sylvester Fernandes, a real-estate agent in Panjim, says that the demand for old, colonial-style houses has really shot up over the past decade. A recent trend, he says, is to buy and renovate them, adding modern amenities but keeping the old-world charm, a la fashion designer Wendell Rodricks whose unassuming white and yellow villa in Calva village in south Goa is around 300 years old.
One such mansion up for sale is in a quaint village called Moira in north Goa, just ten minutes from Mapusa. It is a large house, spread over 21,000 square feet, which overlooks paddy fields and the river. The old section of the house, built over 100 years ago, consists of a sitting and dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen. There is also a new section, linked to the old by a patio, with three large bedrooms. Nestled among the trees on the grounds is a small courtyard. The house is partly furnished — the bedrooms have air-conditioners, the sitting room has thick, wooden sofas and two long chairs, and the kitchen, modern electronic gadgets. It’s also in good repair, and does not seem to need any major restoration. It’s going rate? Rs 3.5 crore.
Looking at the demand, many owners have converted these old villas into hotels or home stays which are let out in the tourist season, says Fernandes. For instance, Panjim Inn, run by Jack Ajit Sukhija along with the WelcomHeritage Group, was built in the 1880s and belonged to Sukhija’s grandmother. Sukhija has taken care to maintain the 90 cm thick walls made of mud, clay and lateritic stone. The massive Burmah teak beams and rafters have been also treated over the years to conserve them.
It’s hard to say exactly how many such old colonial-style houses there are all over Goa, but in 2010, the state government notified over 120 houses, including that of Mario Miranda, as “heritage structures”.
Prices of heritage homes, ranging in size from 800 sqm to 3,000 sqm, start at around Rs 65 lakh and go up to Rs 8 crore, says Benjamin D’souza who runs an estate agency in Panjim. At the high end, auction house Saffronart, and real-estate consultant Cushman and Wakefield have sold villas and apartments starting at Rs 1.3 crore and going up to tens of crores. Larger properties, especially those near the beach, are in huge demand from hotel chains, says Fernandes.
One reason for this is escalating land prices in Goa. Nish Bhutani, COO, Saffronart India, says that Goa is one of the few places where real estate prices were not affected by the economic downturn.
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If you’re looking to buy one of these old Goanese homes, proceed with caution, advises Om Ahuja, CEO, residential services, Jones Lang Lasalle. “Two things need to be considered: the title of the property and legal due diligence.” A clear title is critical since there are likely to be claims by different heirs; also potential buyers must find out which government body has jurisdiction over the property to ensure there are no problems later, says Ahuja. “Sometimes properties have been appropriated by parties who prevent or delay the sale by filing false claims, usually with a view to extorting financial gain,” says Ahuja. The easiest way to get around this problem is to engage a solicitor and get a thorough check done on the property.
While estate agents claim to plug these loopholes, for many buyers the experience of buying a dream house in Goa has turned into a nightmare. A few years ago, a British couple bought an old villa near Anjuna beach for £20,000, but didn’t know that it was a heritage site and so couldn’t renovate it. So potential buyers must check for restrictions on the house’s approved use, redevelopment, refurbishment or modification.
If buying an old house in Goa is not easy, restoring it is even more difficult even though there are specialised architectural restoration firms in Goa. Agnelo Fernandes, an architect who has restored many old chapels in Goa including St Fontainhas in Panjim, says that it is often hard to restore old wooden rafters which have been has been eaten up by termite or red ants.
The biggest problem, he says, is skilled labour. “There are very few people who understand and can work on restoring Portuguese architecture. Most young people aren’t interested in the heritage of Goa,” he rues.
Maurillio Mendonca runs The Attic, a restoration studio in Panjim which supplies antique furniture to hotel chains and clients who buy old colonial homes in Goa. He says he does not find it not too difficult to source materials as there many people selling off old wooden furniture and furnishings. Mendonca buys these and restores them for a ready clientele.