My journey as a single homebuyer in Singapore at 35: How I bought a unit at Selegie House

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

For singles to buy a home in Singapore, it is frankly a bit of an arduous process. As a quick summary, you aren’t able to buy a BTO flat unless it’s a 2-bedder, and in a non-mature location. Even if you choose to buy a resale flat, you’d still need to be at least 35-years old regardless.

Of course, there’s always the option of buying a condo. But unless you are earning big bucks, it’s hard to afford a condo on just a single income.

This week, we spoke to Kristabel (@myselegiehouse), who actually tried to ballot for a 2-room Flexi BTO, but ended up buying a unit at Selegie House instead – all done during the pandemic! Here’s her fascinating story:

  1. When did you decide on buying an HDB flat as your first home?

Being a travelholic singleton, settling down with a house was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t want to be tied down with a mortgage and I knew there will always be a roof over my head at my parent’s place, so there was no need to “rent” government housing.

But I changed my mind when I learned how people use rentals to pay off their mortgages. I started looking around for properties when I turned 34. 

Although when I turned 35, the pandemic drove the prices of the resale flats so high that I dropped the idea. Even though there are flats within my ideal budget, the locations were far from ideal for my plan. 

  1. What were your considerations, did you have any other options like a 2-room Flexi BTO or condo?

My 3 main considerations were:

  1. Price (below $400,000) – does it make financial sense? Can I afford it?
  2. Location (near MRT stations) – can I easily rent out the place? Am I willing to live there if I cannot rent it out?
  3. Time – how fast can I buy and rent out the place?

If money is not an issue, snapping up a nice freehold condo is ideal. But a nice 99-year leasehold studio apartment will likely cost over S$700,000, regardless if it is new or resale. So I ruled out a condo as I deem the rental yield to be lower than an HDB. Also, even if I can afford a condo, the monthly rent may not be able to cover the loan repayment and maintenance fee.

I never thought about getting a 2-room Flexi until the launch of the Koven Wellspring BTO project. I love the location. It is near Kovan Station and is a place close to my heart. Initially, I thought it was within 4 km of my parent’s place, making it eligible for an extra grant, but sadly, the boundary ends at the traffic light across the road. Despite that, I wanted to try my luck and ballot for Kovan Wellspring in August 2021.

Unexpectedly, I optioned for my current place at the end of July 2021! Part of the decision to drop the BTO plan was the odds of successfully balloting for a unit I want! It turns out that there are 17 singleton applicants to every 2-room Flexi unit. The odds are not really in my favour as a first-time applicant.

3. Tell us more about your startup, how did that help your home buying journey?

In 2017, I co-founded a startup, Operty, to help people optimise their property buy based on their financials (including hidden costs like stamp duty) and recent property transactions (instead of the asking price which is always higher).

The company died, but the knowledge stayed with me.

As I was working with a property agent to make his job redundant, I was able to understand the thought process of a property agent. It includes sniffing out fake listings and asking the right questions that may be useful in the decision-making process.

The experience of building the startup also introduced me to different platforms that I used to gather information about the estates I was considering.

4. How was the home search process like? Tell us more about the different units you were deciding on, and how did you narrow down your search?

The home search process was serendipitous. I was not searching for a flat as of July 13, but by July 29, I paid the option fee for the unit I viewed on July 20.

I was initially planning to ballot for Kovan Wellspring in August 2021, but I received a call from my cousin on July 14, 2021. He asked if I’m keen to purchase his client’s flat at Holland Ave and told me there’s a possibility for SERS but told me not to bet on it.

After viewing the flat, I felt it met my 3 criteria. The price is affordable, the location is rentable, and the time to execute is immediate (the house was already empty). I decided to study the URA Masterplan to see if there is SERS potential, and that was when I discovered the cemetery nearby.

As a scaredy-cat who is afraid of ghosts, I decided to bring a friend who is psychic-sensitive to view the flat at midnight. When I asked him how it is, he told me he didn’t sense any ghost, but he definitely sensed the neighbour (who checked us out despite it being past midnight). I was also told off by this friend that I’m making an impulsive purchase without doing my research. 

The truth is, I wanted to buy it because I FOMO-ed. Just weeks before, my secondary school friend shared that she had purchased Bukit Merah flat below valuation, and I wanted to jump on the bandwagon too!

Anyway, this is how my home search process really was.

Back in 2019, I wanted to buy Compassvale Mast. It is near both my parent’s and sister’s place, it is also right next to Seng Kang MRT Station but the price will be crazy when it reaches MOP in 2022.

In 2020, I was exploring Little India because I was working there. Rowell Court seems like a good option. But I was not of age yet, so I had to wait.

When I started my search on July 18, 2021, I searched for units near my new workplace in Chinatown. I found a 3-room top floor unit at Sago Lane asking for $388,000, and another 1,474 sqft 3-room unit asking for $628,000. Despite the location’s history of being a street of death houses where kinless Chinese immigrants awaited death, the units were quickly snapped up. I didn’t even have the chance to view the units. When I eventually manage to get a viewing, I found the layout odd and hard to work with.

I also found 335 Smith Street. It met the criteria of 95 years (my age + remaining lease), but the EIP quota made it impossible. The units within my budget can only be sold to Indians. The 3-room and the 4-room unit I found where Chinese is eligible are asking for S$538,888 and $1,000,000 respectively. This opened my eyes to how the minority are at a disadvantage (as sellers) and advantage (as buyers).

Not finding anything in Chinatown, I expanded my search to properties near my preferred MRT stations. It turns out that the units within my budget and near MRT stations are quite old. I started pulling information from data.gov.sg and URA Masterplan to assess the risk of buying older flats. With the insights I gathered, I felt that buying an older flat in the areas I’ve chosen is within my risk appetite. 

My search was limited by the units available at that point in time. There were units I’m interested in but they were optioned before I enquired. Of the units I was able to view, I decided to focus on Selegie House.

5. Why did you decide on the Selegie area in the end?

I discovered that Selegie House is the only HDB in entire Singapore with 7 MRT stations within 10 minute’s walk. I have access to all the existing MRT lines with 3 MRT interchanges nearby. I am also near Queen Street Bus Terminal if I want to go to Malaysia.

There are all kinds of good food at all kinds of budgets nearby. I can watch movies at the Cathay or play board games at Prinsep Street till late without worrying about cab fare. The other night I cycled to Marina Barrage and fell asleep while star gazing, and I cycled home safely alone past midnight. It is the kind of lifestyle I enjoy.

I chose Selegie House also because of the people here! It is a weird thing to say when neighbours rarely interact with each other anymore.

During the viewing, my parents and I made friends with the neighbours. The Kampong Spirit here is strong. The neighbours not only shared food with me, but they also shared the history of this building.

This turns out to be the place where PAP had their meetings pre-independence day, and it is Lee Kuan Yew who did the grand opening back in 1963! Neighbours who lived here since the beginning bought it at only $10,500 per unit! One neighbour sold his 3-room unit and bought his neighbour’s 4-room unit when his family got bigger. That simply tells you how much they love the location. Things like these are priceless.

The place’s history beckons the patriotic Singaporean in me. It also gives me a magical vibe that makes me feel this picture of Lee Kuan Yew at the opening ceremony.

I also discovered the rooftop housed HDB’s Recreation Club! I secretly wish I can work with HDB and Jalan Besar GRC to reinstate the rooftop into a Selegie Recreation Club where the neighbours can hang out together. I envisioned a co-living space concept like a little Kampong Selegie! 

Selegie was probably named after a Bugis pirate by the name of Orang Selegie. Being someone from the innovation and entrepreneurship scene, I’m drawn by the pirate spirit. With art schools like LASELLE, NAFA and SOTA nearby, I feel rebellious and creative when I am here.

I also like the flexibility of the unit’s floor plan.

Having seen several units in Selegie House, I found several interesting layouts that are completely different from the original. Some are very creative, and I look forward to seeing one of the new neighbour’s units after it is renovated! And what I love most is that the interior designs are done by the owners themselves, and not interior designers!

At the end of the day, I chose Selegie House 10per cent with logic, and 90per cent with the gut.

6. What was the viewing process like, do you have any tips for buyers during the viewing stage?

The viewing process was fuss-free despite it happening during the KTV Covid-19 cluster period.

I would recommend buyers to comb the project. This will allow you to schedule viewing for all available units in the same block back-to-back. I will suggest buyers view all available units because it will help them gain design inspiration, learn more about the area, and also get a vibe of the potential neighbours.

7. How did you select between 8, 9, and 10 Selegie Road?

Block 9 is the tallest of the three blocks in Selegie House. The unblocked city view here is amazing. As all the blocks are generally North-South facing, being on the high floor gets really good wind. 

I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed the house has the Taj Mahal optical illusion.

8. What did you learn from the experience, and what is the mistake (if any) that you won’t be repeating again?

I don’t know if it was a mistake. I was very eager when I saw the unit I purchased. I told the seller before I entered the unit that I love it and am very interested. On the bright side, I managed to get a $28,000 discount, but I wasn’t able to lower the price to my intended price. It turns out that the price I had in mind is the valuation that HDB gave. 

The sellers (brother and sister) and I became friends and now I look forward to showing them the house when the renovation completes! Their mother never want the house renovated and so the unit I purchased was in its original state.

Buying a unit in its original state can be exciting and problematic. During the renovation process, I faced several problems because of inconsistencies in dimensions. It looks rectangular but it is more of a trapezium. For people with OCD, it can be frustrating to live with the misalignments.

Recently my friend bought a unit at Telok Blangah Heights. The 5-year-old unit is well renovated and she moved in without having to deal with any of the renovation nightmares.

I guess the main mistake I made was grossly underestimating the renovation cost and not factoring it into the price negotiation when I was purchasing the unit.

If I wasn’t so charmed by the unit I purchased, I might regret making the purchase within 10 days of my search. In late October 2021, there was a listing for a similar but renovated unit. It is on the highest floor and the unit was sold for only $10,000 more than mine. Should I have waited? I’m not sure.

9. Any other advice for singles looking to buy their first home?

If you are looking for a house, use your head.

If you are looking for a home, use your heart. 

At the end of the day, be at ease with your decisions.

I find that it is important to know why you want to buy a place, what kind of place you are looking for, and how you intend to utilise the space. That affects where you buy, the layout you choose, and the cost you eventually put in for the renovation. 

Having clarity can make the process faster. And of course, at the end of the day, it is based on fate too! Be glad when the units you want didn’t work out, maybe it comes with problems you don’t know exist, like a free crazy neighbour or something.

Thanks once again to Kristabel for taking the time to answer and share her journey!

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.