Whether you’re buying an HDB resale flat as a first-timer or just looking to “upgrade” now that your first BTO has passed the 5 year mark, choosing a resale home can be a daunting affair.
Unlike the HDB BTO route where you basically don’t have a say in anything, now the options are literally endless.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend an entire year searching for your dream home.
Because after your 12th or 13th viewing, everything will look the same to you.
Instead, you should make a list of as many criteria as possible to narrow down your search. (And no, silly, we don’t mean en bloc potential.) Here’s a list of key factors to look at when choosing a resale flat.
The very first thing to consider when hunting for a resale flat is your budget. If your budget is $400,000, that’s going to impact a lot of other factors: Location, flat size, age and so on.
Of course, what counts as “within budget” really varies from person to person. Some people want a home that’s roughly the equivalent of the proceeds from their freshly-sold BTO, while others don’t mind increasing their home loans.
Bear in mind, though, that you probably don’t want to overstretch yourself as you might have a lot of financial commitments (kids growing up, parents growing old) coming up at this point.
And stick to your budget! Sure, your property agent might upsell you some luxurious $1 million DBSS unit, but is he going to pay the extra $600,000 out of his pocket? Yeah, didn’t think so.
When thinking about your budget, also consider the subsidies available to resale flat buyers. For first-timers, you can get $40,000 or $50,000 in grants, while all HDB resale flat buyers can get a $20,000 grant to live within 4km of their family members.
My partner and I qualified for $70,000 in grants when we started looking for a resale flat last year, and this helped to stretch our budget of $400,000 to $470,000. This boost helped a lot, as it opened up more options in mature estates like Ang Mo Kio and Bedok.
While you don’t get much location options with an HDB BTO flat, all of a sudden you will have plenty to choose from when shopping for a resale flat.
Before you get too carried away with your dreams of living in expensive HDB estates like Queenstown or Tanjong Pagar, bear in mind that your budget will seriously impact your location options.
For example, while a $500,000 budget would get you a comfortable 4- or 5-room flat in a suburban estate like Bukit Panjang, it’d be a lot harder to find options in more central places like Kallang or Tiong Bahru. If you die-die must stay in one of these estates, be prepared to settle for a much older 3-room flat.
For those considering taking up HDB’s proximity grant of $20,000 to live within 4km of your parents or married children, that’s a good way to narrow down the options. You can use a search tool like 99.co to search by radius.
Once you’ve narrowed down the areas you can afford, it’s time to consider the details.
For me, having spent a decade waiting for feeder buses, my one criteria was to find a place within walking distance of an MRT station. I don’t mind a good 20-minute walk, as long as I don’t have to rot at the bus stop.
If you’re the type who doesn’t want the sun to mess with your carefully cultivated gothic pallor, look for a place with sheltered walkways; if you drive, it’s a definite plus to be located close to an expressway entrance.
Although the ubiquity of GrabFood and RedMart makes it a lot more convenient to live further than spitting distance of the nearest eatery or supermarket, it’s still nice to have at least a kopitiam, supermarket and ATM nearby.
Apart from the basic amenities listed above, you’ll also want to look for the ones that are more tailored to your lifestyle.
Obsessed with working out? Make sure there’s a gym or sporting complex nearby so you don’t have to drag your sorry ass all the way to Tanjong Pagar when you feel the urge to lift weights.
Have a high-maintenance dog that requires monthly grooming? Find a place with a vet, groomer and pet supply store, so you don’t blow all your money on ferrying Lil Bow Wow across the island every time he needs a trim.
Got a serious 4D habit? Find a unit with a Singapore Pools downstairs so you can scratch that itch anytime… J/K, actually please consider living as far as possible from it.
Singapore faces sunny weather almost year round, so unless you enjoy coming back to a free sauna, you’d want to consider units that are naturally cooler.
Most of us are familiar with the 2 rules of thumb: “No low floor” and “no west-facing units”.
I wouldn’t dismiss all low floor units, but it’s true that higher ones tend to get more wind. That said, the floor isn’t everything — there’s also the matter of how obstructed the unit is. If you have a view of your neighbour’s utility yard or the industrial building next door, that probably translates to poor ventilation.
Usually, good views = good breeze, but if you go too high up and opt for a “penthouse”, it might get too hot since you bear the full brunt of the sun.
As for “no west-facing”, this is to avoid getting the afternoon sun shining directly into your flat. Even if you’re home only in the evenings, you might find it warm and stuffy (it’s said that concrete walls trap heat).
If you get a unit that faces east, on the other hand, you’ll still get some sun in the morning, but there’s the rest of the day for your apartment to cool down.
When viewing a flat, try to visit in the afternoon so that you can see where the sun shines. Make sure there’s no air con on, and open all the windows so you can feel the air flow for yourself. Even if the unit ticks all the boxes, you might still feel warm if the windows are facing the wrong way.
5. FLAT SIZE/ SPECS
Like I mentioned, your budget would probably affect the type of flat you can afford. For example, 3-room flats are typically a lot cheaper than 4-room and above in the same estate. So if you absolutely have to live in a certain central estate, you may want to consider a smaller flat.
Of course, this is only if the living space is feasible for your family. I personally love tiny homes, but even so, it could be a real nightmare to be all up in your spouse and kids’ faces 24/7.
3-room HDB flats also usually come with just 1 bathroom, which is doable if you’re a couple, but not so much a family with kids who fight for the loo before school. For 2 bathrooms, you’d usually have to opt for a 4-room flat and above.
Another thing to note that 4-room and 5-room HDB flats usually have the same number of bedrooms, i.e. 3 bedrooms. So before you pay a premium for a 5-room, bear in mind that it’s not going to translate into more bedrooms for your kids. Most 5-room flats simply have larger bedrooms and a bigger living space compared to their 4-room counterparts.
This is a catch-all word that describes all the non-quantitative things that don’t fit into any one category, but make a difference nonetheless. Obviously, this is going to be highly personal.
Some people prize the exterior facade of the building, finding it important to have nice landscaping, well-maintained lifts and an eye-pleasing building design.
Others, perhaps helicopter parents, care more about the safety of the neighbourhood. Cigarette butts on the floor and unsavoury characters sitting on the staircases are a no-no.
Me, I don’t really care about all that stuff, but it was a major plus that my flat faces a park. It’s quiet and peaceful — I distinctly remember hearing only the sounds of chirping birds and rustling trees during the visit. Elsewhere in the same block, a unit facing the main road would have been a very different story.
Whatever the non-tangibles are, it’s hard to know what you want or don’t want at the start, but you’ll get an idea after a few viewings.
Notice that I didn’t include the furnishing and fittings of the place, because it varies from person to person. If you’re not terribly fussy about your living space, it’s a definite plus to find a place that’s reasonably nicely done up so you can move in with minimal or no renovation.
However, if you want every inch of your home to be bespoke, then it doesn’t even matter if the interior of the flat is in shambles. Just be sure you include a budget for the renovation to get rid of the seller’s horrible maroon walls and Linkin Park poster collection.
7. REMAINING LEASE
It’d be ideal if your resale flat could be your forever home, but nonetheless, it’s good to take note of the remaining lease, just in case you have to sell it one day.
HDB flats start with 99 years on the lease when they are first built, so that means freshly MOP-ed resale flats would have 94 years left. That’s the absolute longest remaining lease you can get for a resale flat.
As they age, though, most resale flats lose value, typically around the 30 to 40 year mark. (Just like in real life, huh? OK not funny.)
This means that if you buy a flat that’s currently pretty old, you may have to resell it at a loss in the future. To avoid this, you might want to limit your search to flats that have at least about 80 years’ lease left. These newer flats are also more modern, typically requiring less renovation work.
On the other hand, if you’re aware of the “lease decay” issue, by all means go for an older flat. These are currently quite a bit cheaper than their newer counterparts, so it might be a worthwhile trade-off.
This article was first published in MoneySmart .