Rebuild to order

PHOTO: Rebuild to order

Can I have a bathtub in the balcony?

This is one of the crazy requests that designer Colin Phua from Renozone Interior House received from a HDB home owner. HDB rules wouldn't have allowed it, he said.

Bathtub idea aside, many flat owners are willing to fork out hefty amounts to spruce up their flats, interior designers told The New Paper.

And the spending has not been dampened by the hazy outlook for resale HDB flats in recent months.

So why are flat owners still willing to splurge on renovation?

Interior designers said that it would cost at least $30,000 to renovate a new place and about three in 10 home owners will take a renovation loan.

These loans usually come with an interest rate that is much higher than their housing loans.

Home owner Satya Saya, 31, an assistant brand manager, who is married with no children, spent about $90,000 on renovation, furniture and appliances for his Balinese-themed four-room flat in Punggol.

Although he spent two years to clear the renovation loan, he considers it an investment.

"I have been told that people might be willing to pay a lot more for my home in future."

He added: "My home is my own getaway. I come back to a lovely place at the end of every day."

Mr Ken Lee of Space Matters thinks the new generation of house-proud owners value design.

He said: "Their basic needs are now fulfilled. Public housing is also evolving and people have higher expectations."

Mr Lee handles 12 to 15 cases a year.

Interior designers said that a complete makeover would typically cost more for an HDB flat than for a private condominium unit, which usually comes with ready fixtures and fittings.

And hectic lifestyles means that owners want their homes to be "maintenance- free".

"In the past, people would ask for marble flooring if they could afford it.

But now, they don't have much time for house chores and want their furniture to be easy and fast to clean," said Renozone's Mr Phua.

But property experts said that it is difficult to recoup the expenses spent on renovation when the flat is put on the resale market.

While the decor of a place may attract a buyer, it is difficult to put a price to it, explained Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director, Research & Consultancy Department, SLP International Property Consultants.


He said: "For renovation, you can get three quotes from three contractors. It is not like the price of gold, it is not exact.

"It's also about taste. Some people will buy a place and rip out the entire decor," said Mr Mak.

Instead, Mr Mak thinks that the economy and property sentiment plays a larger role in how much people spend on renovation.

"People will spend more when they feel richer. It's about keeping up with the Joneses," he said.

For some people, their home is a reflection of who they are, said National University of Singapore urban sociologist Ho Kong Chong.

"Just like a car or clothes, your house is a reflection of status and class," said Associate Professor Ho.

"People will spend energy, time and money to transform their house into their idea of a home, or personal space," he said.

Valuing a lovely home can have a wider impact.

Prof Ho said that the comforts of home - from air-conditioning to expensive stereo systems - might mean that people prefer to stay behind closed doors.

The challenge is getting people out of their front door, he said.

House-proud home owners can also affect the neighbourhood.

He said: "People who are happy with their neighbours and their surroundings will stay on in a place. Their neighbourhood is their home too," he said.

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