Centred on a haunted house in the suburbs of Mumbai, the Indian horror film Vaastu Shastra takes its title from ancient Vedic principles of architecture. The plot involves a young family who move to their new home with an old banyan tree in the garden. As the film rapidly descends into gore and nonsense, we learn the tree holds a curse. The developers have failed to follow an important rule of Vastu – choosing a site with good energy – and clearing away bad spirits.
Vastu, often seen as an Indian version of Feng Shui, dates back thousands of years. Tips for house construction include performing Puja rituals on auspicious dates preferably after consulting an astrologer. The location and shape of the plot, light, water and internal arrangements of doors, windows and rooms are considered vital to ensuring the health and wellbeing of occupants.
Some of the rules of Vastu Shastra will be familiar to agents and developers working in Mumbai but recently it has begun to pop up in the UK’s multicultural property market. Quintessentially Estates has noticed Vastu compliance cropping up in searches. Says CEO Penny Mosgrove “Feng Shui is a big thing for many of our clients, who will not set foot in a property unless it has had the once-over by their Feng Shui Master. But a similar set of principles exist in Vastu Shastra. This year I was asked to find a home in Notting Hill that was Vastu compliant, this meant that there had to be various ‘main’ entrances to the property, no bathroom near the main door, doors that are not black, a door that opens in a clockwise manner and an entrance that has not got a shoe rack near it, nor a bin. All mirrors need to be on the north wall and social rooms need to be facing north or at least north-east.”
” At the centre it requires a Brahmasthan, which is a space for reflection without any obstructions to it, and not leading to the kitchen or bathroom. “
The list of requirements went on – but in the end Quintessentially Estates found the family home.
Marc Schneiderman, director of Arlington Residential, also has firsthand experience of Vastu selling to the growing Indian community in London active at the middle to top end of the market.
“Not all, but certainly many sales we have concluded to Indian buyers have had to be approved by their Vastu consultant. We are currently working with an Indian family who dismissed several houses due to their orientation. Two weeks ago we agreed terms with this family on a large house in St John’s Wood, the buyers making clear from the outset that their offer was subject to Vastu approval. Their Vastu advisor inspected the house and made suggestions in terms of removal of water fountains in the garden, positioning of furniture in the reception rooms and repositioning of beds in the many bedrooms. The buyers are now happy with the Vastu of the house, and contracts are pending an exchange. A lot was riding on the Vastu for our client. The sale price is over £8million.”
“According to Vastu Shastra, the main entrance to a home is not only the entry point for the family, but also for energy and the front door should be North or North East facing,” he says, adding that the more he reads about the ancient theories, the more they make sense: ” homes do have an energy”.
Following changes in 2015 to the Liberalised Remittance Scheme in India, which increased the capital that buyers can bring into the UK to $250,000 per person, LCP (London Central Portfolio) saw a surge in enquiries from wealthy Indian families.
“Research based on our own investment data shows that in 2016 the Indian subcontinent represented 22% of our buyers in PCL, an increase from 5% prior to 2015,” says Naomi Heaton.
Pimlico and Westminster accounted for around a third of all purchases by these families, both as investments and homes. Marylebone, with its boutique shops and village feel, is also popular.
Simon Garcia, Director of Quintessentially Estates adds that the arrival of Lodha with the One Grosvenor Square development also provided a boost for sales to Indian buyers, giving confidence in a familiar brand . On top of that, the billionaire Indian PNC Menon has just opened a brand of Sobha Realty in Mayfair.
“We noticed a significant increase in Indian buyers over the last six months. The softening of prices and fall in the value of sterling both played a part as many trade in dollars,” says Garcia.
Westerners have long been on good terms with the simple measures and devices recommended by Feng Shui consultants to achieve harmony and good energy in the home. Mirrors, crystals, wind chimes, candles and other decorative objects are popularly recommended for various home ‘ailments’. Pale colours, uncluttered space and clean lines are all part of a look which is almost universally adopted by designers today. Westerners tend to look on these things as home improvements but the new wave of buyers, the nomadic High Net Worth, along with a revival of old cultural beliefs, demands a deeper level of understanding.
“Agents have recently begun to mention diverse cultural demands to me – it’s something quite new,” says Andrew Hawkins director of Rocket Properties which has launched its first residential project in Shoreditch.
“The design of a building, including its interiors, is often a primary driver for buyers. As such, for those looking to appeal to a global audience, it’s a vital factor to consider. Creating interiors which appeal to international audiences is not a new phenomenon, however we are increasingly seeing this considered much earlier in the development process, with developers now factoring global tastes into the fabric of the building itself.”
Nor is Vastu compliance confined to Indian buyers in prime central London. Mark Crampton of country buying agents, Middleton Advisors who has worked with several Indian families looking for rural homes, has found a real aversion to beams and what he calls ‘farmhousey’ properties.
In Vastu beams are considered oppressive while farmhouse properties are anathema to high class Hindus who consider living in a home connected (however remotely) with the land and animals to be low class.
“Having worked with several Indian clients, there have been a few interesting things to reflect on,” says Crampton. “A real aversion to any farmhousey or beamy houses has stood out. Also houses with clearly designated formal (family) and staff areas seems standard. We recently had a request from one particular Indian client, regarding whether it would be possible to build a prayer temple in the garden.”
Andrew Pritchard partner Knight Frank found that Vastu played a major part in when the sale of a house in Berkshire fell through. “The Indian family loved it. On the fourth viewing they came along with their Vatsu guru. He said; ‘I feel too many spirits. Is there a burial ground nearby?’ “
“We went away and a while later found that at the bottom of the estate where the house was there was a burial ground – for cattle. I made me wonder. ”
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright often flouted principles of siting and design, cutting into steep hillsides or building into hilltops. Both Hollyhock House and Ennis Brown house in Los Angeles replicating Mayan temples were beset by delays, and disagreements and required extensive restorations. Ennis House achieved fame as the setting in several Hollywood horrors including The House on Haunted Hill. Vastu and Feng Shui checklists would have rejected both homes outright.