Millennial couple documents home renovation journey of their 4-room Dawson flat and shares tips on Instagram

PHOTO: Instagram/@hometogoh

It took a three-month intensive house search, three to five viewings per week (on weekends) and wishlist compromises before Jeremy, 31, and his newlywed wife, Samantha, 27, were able to find a place called home.

Home is a 936 sq ft, four-bedroom resale HDB apartment in the Dawson area, which is a short walk to Queenstown MRT station. It comes with a lovely balcony that overlooks lush greenery – something the couple loves and takes pride in a lot.

They’ve even documented their before-and-after home renovation journey and offered detailed tips on their Instagram account. Overall, they paid about $836 PSF for the property.

Prior to moving into their new home, Jeremy and Samantha rotated between their parents’ homes.

Having worked in respective fintech and healthcare industries for five to seven years, they began their house-hunting in earnest two weeks before the end of Singapore’s circuit breaker in June 2020.

“This is our first-ever home purchase. We were browsing sites like 99.co to find suitable properties and arranging for physical viewings after the circuit breaker ended. We went through an intensive search – our weekends were packed with property viewings as we wanted to secure a property as quickly as possible.”

Unsure of where to begin

Jeremy and Samantha admitted that when they first started, they were unsure of market prices and lacked experience in looking out for defects or flaws when viewing properties.

To fill gaps in knowledge, they consulted their parents, relatives, and peers. They looked at online research, HDB resale price charts, HDB articles, Facebook groups and conversed with helpful property agents.

While they had a mental checklist of what they wanted in a home, they also knew that it would be impossible to find the perfect place. In Singapore’s context, it would probably mean compromising on space.

Jeremy wanted a newer resale property (longer remaining leasehold) while Samantha wanted to be close to family, a train station, and proximity to town.

Before and After - Living Room
Before and after shots of their living room. PHOTO: @hometogoh

“We finally decided that the Dawson area was a good compromise,” said Samantha. 

“The next main consideration was the cost of the unit as we were not keen to pay a COV (cash-over-valuation). We knew going in that units in the Dawson area would command a higher premium vis-à-vis units in other areas after our initial research, so that helped manage our expectations and further narrowed our search parameters.

"A major want was an open concept kitchen with an island, but unfortunately, not all prospective units in the Dawson area had the potential.”

Dawson area house viewings

The couple started their 1st home viewing in the unit directly above their current home. They were drawn to the greenery view but had to pass up on the unit as the asking price was above their budget.

That led to the three-month intensive search. They even had three separate viewings all within the same block – “which was quite interesting as we were able to experience units with different facings at different levels.”

At this point, they were considering other location alternatives besides Dawson.

“We looked at a few units in estates like Redhill, Buona Vista and Tiong Bahru. But we were eventually drawn back to the Dawson area because it comfortably met our main criteria.”

In the end, while photos from a listed Dawnson area apartment weren’t impressive, the exhausted couple decided to give it a chance. They were pleasantly surprised that it had the same greenery view as the first unit they saw.

It was unfurnished with minimal built-ins, which meant they would have more freedom and flexibility to decorate the apartment.

With the apartment meeting the couple’s main criteria, they made an initial offer, negotiated and agreed on a price before signing the option-to-purchase a few weeks later.

Bedroom view
When you find a house where you can wake up to greenery, don’t hesitate. PHOTO: @hometogoh

Documenting and sharing their home renovation journey

Once they’ve secured their home, Jeremy and Samantha began to plan their renovations.

They’ve documented quite a substantial amount of the experiences – particularly before-and-after photos, the food they’ve prepared to celebrate their new home and reno tips – on their Instagram.

One of the pride and joy of their new home is the balcony, which helps open up the living space and gives them the opportunity to relive alfresco dining within their home.

Samantha used to live in Australia and love the fact that it has a rich coffee and brunch scene. “Perth, where I spent most of my time, has large open spaces with an abundance of greenery.”

During her renovation journey, she wanted to introduce what she termed as her “Aussie” home design elements. These included open shelvings, a large kitchen with an island countertop and carpets and rugs.

However, given the smaller footprint of her home, and the constant cleaning needed for rugs/carpets and open shelving, she opted to keep these elements minimal and stayed more practical.

View from the balcony
Reliving that alfresco theme on their balcony. PHOTO: @hometogoh

“For our balcony, we have a little garden set up which helps me manage my ever-growing collection of plants,” she said.

“Another characteristic of the home we like is the minimal built-ins. We concentrated our built-in carpentry in key areas like the kitchen, master bedroom and toilets, keeping our living room free from built-ins and false ceilings to avoid making the space even smaller.

“We also made use of wooden and neutral-coloured furniture to hopefully create a space that can stand the test of time; having loose furniture allows us to change up the area as needed.

"For instance, we can configure our living/dining space to host larger groups of guests easily by shifting some furniture around and fully utilising our extendable dining table.”

Before and After - DB Box
For their renovations, they've done quite a significant overhaul, such as to existing doors and flooring. This includes replacing the DB box door (in white) with a fluted wooden cabinet to stay on theme. For their dining furniture, they went with an extendable table that extends to 170cm in length - perfect for small, cosy gatherings. PHOTO: @hometogoh

“Given our decision to minimize built-ins, we were lacking a statement piece in our living room. One week before the handover from our contractor, we chanced upon a specialist painter that does painting commissions to mimic natural stone using lime plasters and micro cement paints.

"We decided to wing it, met up with him, and eventually had him design our TV wall. After completion, we felt it was what our home needed.”

Fortunate enough to not have any renovation nightmares , Jeremy and Samantha felt that their contractor did a tremendous job in a relatively quick time.

“Vibing with the designer or contractor is paramount for us. We feel that if you are going to hand over tens of thousands of dollars to this person, you should be able to trust him enough to help bring your vision to reality.

"It is also important to avoid micromanaging and know when to step in as you will need to rely on some element of goodwill to bring your renovation to completion.”

Before and After - Yard Area
Noting that the back kitchen/service yard is often the most forgettable space in a flat, Jeremy and Samantha spared no expense in overhauling it as well. They removed the existing bi-fold doors, hacked some walls, before installing the grills, carpentry and repainted the walls. PHOTO: @hometogoh

Advice for new homeowners

When asked if they have any tips or advice for would-be homeowners like themselves, Jeremy and Samantha shared four useful tips they’ve learned throughout their home-buying and renovation journey.

Have a budget in mind

  • Knowing how much you are willing to spend can narrow your search parameters and make searching for a home more enjoyable.
  • You can have better visibility to your ideal budget by knowing your affordability. The easiest way is to use a home loan calculator which can be found online. For more specialized help, you can also engage a mortgage specialist to better advise you on your affordability, if you are looking at a bank loan.

Differentiate what you need and what you want

  • You will never find the perfect property. Knowing what you need can help point you in the right direction as you sieve through multitudes of property postings.
  • You must also be willing to compromise and know what you can give up, as this can make house hunting more enjoyable, and also reduce home search fatigue and disputes with your house buying partner.
TV console
Even after securing your home, it's important to know what you need and what you want when it comes to home renovations. PHOTO: @hometogoh

Be decisive

  • Having an IPA ( in-principal approval ) from a bank can give you the confidence to make an offer when you find your desired unit.
  • This gives you the ability to be decisive, which gives you (hopefully) a first-mover advantage. Do bear in mind that a diamond in the rough can also be uncovered by someone else, so the last thing you want to happen is to lose your desired unit to indecisiveness, especially after you’ve invested so much time into finding a unit that works for you.

Do your research

  • Remember to do your research and equip yourself with knowledge. There are many great articles online and HDB resources that give you insights into the latest transacted prices of your desired area.
  • Walk around the estate to know where key amenities are and don’t be afraid to speak with your prospective neighbours to better understand your surroundings.

Getting married while searching, buying and renovating a resale home during a pandemic may be daunting to many young couples.

For Jeremy and Samantha, the journey itself has given them the opportunity to mature as a loving couple and taught them much about what it takes to house-hunt and renovate.

“Someday, we hope to move to a larger space where we can have more flexibility in our design and living preferences. Ideally, we’d also like to continue being close to the city. Such luxuries come at a cost, but it really remains to be seen!”

ALSO READ: 5 renovation tips and trends that can destroy your property's resale value

ALSO READ: HDB loft flat at Dawson snapped up for $1.32m, breaks Queenstown resale flat record

This article was first published in 99.co.