Buying a resale flat in Singapore
Image credit: Meter Cube Interiors
The wave of adulting has hit and the verdict’s in: you need a new home. But BTO wait times are loooong, and your fragile heart can’t deal with any more application rejections. As for ECs and condos, well, your bank account doesn’t have the requisite number of digits yet.
A happy middle ground: resale flats. But after projecting your dream Scandi design on over half a dozen flats, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important in your house-hunting quest.
To-be homeowners, don’t be swayed by charismatic property agents or glossy feature walls. Just like an astute auntie at a sale, this list will tell you if the resale flat you’re looking at is treasure or trash.
1. Look out for signs of a loan shark problem
Image credit: Bernard Oh
Ah-longs are not just the stuff of Jack Neo movies. They are true-blue nightmares, and you wouldn’t want one to hound your doors with pig blood and aggressive scribblings - just because the former owner couldn’t pay up.
Even if you don’t see any obvious “O$P$” around, look closer...especially at new coats of paint which might cover the tell-tale signs. Also, look out for special CCTVs installed - there must be something worth monitoring, mustn't there?
Don’t just limit your investigation to your unit, check the units beside or up or down a story - neighbours in trouble will become your trouble, too.
2. Find out if your unit is facing the sun
Bring a compass when you go unit visiting, and not because of your Boy Scout/Girl Guide past. It’s a useful tool to suss out the direction of the sun’s rising - and remember this, avoid the West.
Work around the sun’s journey to the West.
If your unit faces that suay direction, that means it gets the brunt of heat when the sun sets, and you’ll feel as sweaty as if you were at the Geylang Bazaar - even in the evenings.
Do not exercise blind faith when it comes to your agents’ words - use your own compass app, check if the unit walls are warm, or observe if a cool breeze caresses your face.
You’ll thank your lucky stars the next time Singapore gets a heat wave.
3. Check on the house’s lease
This isn’t a problem for those who’ve gotten a BTO, but if you’re buying over a house from someone else, you’d better check the ticking time bomb that is your lease.
Yes, when the 99 years are up, this baby’s gotta go back to the sweet embrace of HDB. As a result, units become harder to sell as the years fly by.
Imagine buying a 40-year-old flat (59 years left), staying in it for 20 years and having to sell it on the market with just 30+ years to spare, notwithstanding more CPF and loan restrictions:
Image credit: Are You Ready
And unless your unit is in a super prime area, you don’t have to be a property agent to know that you’ll likely be selling at a loss. En-bloc potential, you say? Why, the odds of that are similar to winning millions at 4D, so don’t bet on it.
4. Take note if the place is in a livable condition
The house might look picture-perfect when you first walk in, but it could be a mess if you look closer - just like the Kardashian life. Here’s a to-do list to check if everything’s in tip-top shape:
- Bathroom -
- Test the water pressure of taps and showers.
- Look out for watermarks on ceiling/walls - this could mean a leakage.
- Make sure the toilet’s working by giving it...a royal flush.
- Flooring and Walls -
- Check for mushrooms beneath the wooden flooring. Really, fungi does grow in this humidity.
- Make sure your walls are crack-free and have no bloodstains that signal bedbugs.
- Note the current tile pattern. If you hate that old-school design, it’ll be expensive to hack it all away.
- Cabinets and built-in features -
- Open and close all your doors, cabinets and wardrobes to make sure they’re functional and not sagging.
- Also, check for moisture in them.
- Note how many built-in features there in the flat. Demolishing them isn’t cheap.
And for us tech-dependent millennials, make sure that your new abode has sufficient electrical points so that your iPhone/WiFi/laptop will never die on you.
Tip: Don’t be paiseh to touch and feel stuff around the house. The owner might glare, but hey, you’re the one breaking the bank to buy a home.
5. Swing by at different times to gauge noise accurately
Image credit: epSos.de.
Living near the MRT is a convenience to be thankful for, especially when you drag yourself to work on Monday mornings. But with that privilege, comes great…noise levels.
The clattering of train tracks, the incessant horns of drivers stuck in traffic - all these add up to a symphony. And if you stay right beside the MRT or expressway, you’ve got a front-row seat.
If you’re someone who values peace, pick a unit that’s quiet day, night and everything in-between. We recommend making a minimum of 3 trips to the unit you’re considering at different times of the day to check out true everyday conditions.
Because 5am in the morning is definitely gonna be quieter than 6pm peak hour.
6. Evaluate the amenities around you
It’s a dream to stay in a self-sufficient enclave where malls, eateries, bus interchanges and sports facilities are but a stone’s throw away. You can easily grab food from a kopitiam downstairs if you’re feeling lazy to cook, and a gym nearby might motivate you to work out.
So, walk around the neighbourhood to visualise living there. And think long term - a popular brunch place might thrill you into thinking this is the next Tiong Bahru, but it might not be much of a value-add if you can’t fathom eating Eggs Benedict every day.
7. Check the size and layout of the flat
If it fits, I sits. Not a philosophy you want to apply to your house. Image credit: Earthporm
Besides the number of bedrooms, you should also be looking at an HDB unit’s size - measured in square metres or square feet. Generally, 4-rooms are in the range of 85 to 105 sqm while 5-rooms are about 123 sqm, and newer flats are reputed to be even smaller.
Think about the space you need for your current and future lifestyle. A young couple might not need much space now, but with a new baby in the fam a few years down the road, a spacious living room could well be a boon.
Tip: Also, take a look at the floorplan of your HDB to spot any weird angles that may result in wasted space. I mean, how’re you gonna fit your walk-in wardrobe in a curved corner?
8. Find out more about the house and its history
Just a little creepy. Image credit: Neo Tiew Estate
The golden question: “Why does the seller want to sell?” It may be for perfectly innocent reasons like upgrading to a private property or to stay with ageing parents, or...it could be something more sinister.
Sure, Bidadari and Bishan were both cemeteries in the past and are still coveted estates - but having a ghost in your flat is another story altogether. Ask the previous owners and property agents about the flat’s history, keep an eye out for religious paraphernalia and do your own snooping by checking if the unit has appeared in the news for less-than-savoury reasons.
Even if you don’t believe, others might, and that could spook potential future buyers.
9. Get along with the seller’s property agent
If you’ve done a little homework, you’d know that property agents cannot represent both the buyer and seller at the same time. In other words, only one side pays him/her a commission, and that’s not you.
That means the agent has an interest in selling the unit at the highest possible price and dodgy ones might even omit some less favourable facts. To make sure you get a solid price and THE TRUTH about the unit, try making friends even with the seller’s agents.
Tip: Being Mr or Ms Personality with the agent can only get you so far. Always do your homework, and rev up your knowledge of property trends and prices. Use the HDB Map tool to check on past resale transactions in the area to gauge if you’re being taken for a ride!
Buying a home of your own in Singapore
Even if you’re lucky enough to get a BTO or *cough* rich enough to get a condo, it’s always helpful to dip a toe in the resale market. Young couples who wish to sell their flats in future will know what buyers look out for, and if you ever move house, a resale flat might be up your alley.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the property jargon, or fear being cheated in the house-buying process. Just keep your eyes wide open, and hey, you might have some fun as you pursue that dream home. Happy house-hunting!