Homeownership is a sensitive and emotional issue for many, but the consensus is that owning a pricey landed property can only be a good thing. In one case that we've heard of, however, things have turned out quite the opposite.
Here's a rundown of how a $6 million (at valuation) landed home managed to sour family ties:
Note: The person we spoke to had strict conditions of anonymity, to avoid antagonising some of his family and relatives. Names and some details have been changed.
An initial decision to right-size a landed home
X, whose grandfather turned 80 years old sometime in the 2010s, had expressed a desire to sell his landed home and move in with his son. At the time, X was finishing his NS, and said his father was having some hardships with the family business.
"My dad sold our condo a few years back to move into a flat; and his business was barely surviving. His take home pay after paying his staff, utilities, all those other things was barely $1,500 – some months can even be below $1,000.
My mum has a medical condition so she can't work full time, her pay is on and off. And I couldn't help much until I finished NS."
A major worry at the time was how to also look after his grandfather's healthcare, which involved a growing list of chronic conditions.
"So when he said he was going to sell his house and move in with us, we almost fainted with joy. We didn't want the money, we told him very clearly, every cent also he can keep – only thing, just please let us use his money for his medicine. And we would look after him so there's no need to keep the maid. And he said okay."
This was also a big relief because the landed home is depriving X's grandfather of some benefits.
X says there are some benefits his grandfather is not entitled to, due to the Annual Value (AV) of the landed home.
Certain government benefits are based on the AV of your home. The AV is the estimated rental income a property can generate, based on URA's assessment.
Most private properties, from condos to landed homes, have an AV that's too high to qualify for certain handouts (e.g., during the Covid-19 pandemic, some self-employed homeowners didn't receive the $1,000 a month support, due to the AV of their registered address).
X says that his grandfather doesn't qualify for a lot of handouts, because he continues to have the landed home as his address. X says that: "I don't want to sound so hard up for these things, but when you're suffering it's painful to know he can be getting all these free things, but he has to take from your rice bowl instead."
But X's grandfather had a change of heart during the selling process
X says he knew something was wrong, shortly after they found an agent to list the house.
"He was in a bad mood. He sometimes shouted at the property agent when he saw him, he exaggerated that every day he got 'hundreds of people' in his house making it dirty, or that people were plucking things from his garden."
(There was no garden, just empty planting pots).
"The maid had to call my mother non-stop; he kept demanding she call her to come and see all the 'damage' or else he will complain he got a headache and difficulty breathing from the selling."
In the end, X's suspicions came true: His grandfather had decided against selling the property after all, regardless of the hefty $6 million potential.
"He always says he is strong enough to look after himself," X says, "I agree he's very strong. 80 years old still can bend down and pick up coins and put on socks, still can climb stairs, all that.
But strong and stubborn, and got no income. When you say about his treatment being expensive, he will tell you he will go out and work for it himself, he's not weak, he doesn't need you, all those things. But the reality is we got to cover all for him."
X says he had no qualms about his grandfather continuing to live alone, or even with continuing to pay for the maid; but he felt the property should be sold to pay for the essentials.
"If he sells the house," X says, "he still got more than enough to find another house, and keep the maid if he wants to stay without us. We don't pressure him to stay with us if he likes his freedom. But just sell the place."
Still, X's parents felt it wasn't right to compel his grandfather to sell
X got into several disputes with his parents, over the mounting financial difficulties. His family was trying to keep the business afloat, while also being saddled with his grandfather's medical costs and living expenses.
His grandfather's meals and live-in helper were also paid for by his mum, dad, and the help of an aunt; but they were all feeling the pinch.
However, X's parents felt it was wrong to compel his grandfather to sell. X's father reasoned that his grandfather had spent his life working to pay for the house, and that it was an irreplaceable freehold property.
"From my dad's view," X says, "Our ah kong wants the property to pass down to us, and when that time comes, whatever we want to do we can do. But for now, it's our duty to support him."
A bad decision to introduce alternatives
X then made a mistake, and tried to present alternative housing to his grandfather. This was during a particularly trying period for the family, when his parents were "Down to zero dollars – for three whole days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the whole family had no money to pay even one bus fare. Luckily SAF was feeding me."
That's when X tried to convince his grandfather to sell the landed home, and consider some nearby private properties he had shortlisted. Options were plentiful, as even a third of the sale proceeds would have bought a large family-sized condo at the time.
The result was a massive blow-up and argument, which resulted in his grandfather refusing to speak to him for months. X says this drove a massive wedge in their relationship, and his parents were also unhappy with him. He was expressly forbidden to bring up the subject to his grandfather again.
A more accepting perspective emerges over time
The property remains unsold, and X's parents are still paying costs for his grandfather, whom X says is still going strong.
X says his family's financial struggles have abated a bit, now that he's also working and can contribute. Over time, X has also developed a more accepting perspective:
"I felt it was putting my family through unnecessary hardship; but to my parents and ah-kong, nothing wrong to allow him to enjoy the house for a few more years.
Who is right, who is wrong, doesn't matter. In the end I also have to accept their way of thinking. No point to be angry anymore."
X says a big revelation to him was how a high-value asset, such as a landed property, can end up bringing more strife than relief. His bit of advice:
"Emotion is unavoidable for these things. Even if your parents own a big place, if you are taking care of them, you better just plan as if they don't want to move. Even if now they say they will, just be prepared when at the last minute they change their mind."