If you’re looking for a home and not an investment asset (and have a strict budget) the property hunt can be a looooong and slow process. I know, because my search is edging on 2 years now! In fact, I remember some readers commenting about how picky I am and how the PSF of OCR condos would hit $2,000 psf before I purchase anything. (Judging from the direction property prices are going, they’re right!)
However, when I look back at some of my “near-misses” over the last 2 years, I don’t have any property regrets. In fact, I think the properties I passed on were more close shaves that I’m glad I didn’t purchase. And so looking back at my 2-year journey, here are my top tips on how to avoid buyer’s remorse when purchasing a property.
1. Always speak to the management if they’re on-site
After living with 3 basketball-playing boys on the floor above me for 3 years, a top-floor unit with no upstairs neighbours sounds like heaven. One of the properties that I was very keen on was a top-floor unit which had a terrific unblocked view, benefited from being the only floor on the level and had a fantastic location. Unfortunately, like many other top-floor units, it almost had more outside space than inside.
Whilst I do love outdoor space and want a balcony in my next home, I do need a minimum amount of internal liveable area as well! The property agent assured me that I could build an extension over the balcony to cover it up, and thus expand the living space, which would make it sufficient for my needs. He even provided photographic evidence of neighbours who had done so to prove that I would have no issues doing so!
However, when I went to see the unit, I spoke to the managing agent (without the property agent present) who informed me that actually, such an extension is very likely not possible, as the building’s GFA was most likely at its maximum. In fact, the previously interested buyer had walked away from the sale because of this!
In addition, by speaking to the agent, I also found out that:
The lift had already started to break down but the condo’s accounts didn’t have enough funds to replace them yet (in fact, it had broken down the night before I visited the property- and climbing 19 floors every day, whilst great for one’s health would get old very fast.)
2. The building was suffering from a bad mosquito problem thanks to the construction next door
3. There had already been 3 en-bloc attempts to date despite the condo being only about 10 years old! (The en-bloc attempts are relevant due to the stamp duty one must pay if one sells a property within 3 years of purchasing it, even if it’s an en-bloc sale.)
Needless to say, I decided to skip that flat.
2. Google the address/neighbourhood
Another of the units I was first interested in was in the Holland area. While it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t as expensive as other properties in the area (at least as of 2 years ago). After googling the address, I realised that a dead body had been found on-site during construction, which definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the unit.
If you’re someone who’s not keen on purchasing a property which has had someone pass away in it previously (whether naturally or by violent means), do be aware that estate agents are not legally obligated to divulge this information to you, so you’ll want to check that out yourself. (Similarly, agents won’t tell you if the sellers of a property, or their neighbours, are having loanshark issues). You can ask the agent, but my experience with property agents is that the information received from them is often misleading so I highly recommend verifying any claims they make.
Note: When a murder has occurred at a property, the news reports sometimes anonymise the address, which brings me to my 3rd point: talk to the neighbours!
3. Make friends with your potential neighbours
In my article on HDB terraces, I shared how befriending someone who lived in the neighbourhood helped me decide that an HDB terrace was not for me, as much as I love how quaint and unique it is. This kind lady warned me that the house I was considering was so haunted, that an exorcist had been engaged several times. Moreover, I could see from her Instagram feed that some of the terrace houses have pest and ponding issues when it rains (i.e. where water would actually seep out of the drainage holes instead of flowing down them!)
Googling the neighbourhood also revealed that a few years ago, the area had suffered from flooding issues that were so bad, that some houses were using sandbags to protect their property. And given how often it rains in Singapore, these are issues I don’t want to have to contend with on a regular basis, so I sadly decided to cross these houses off my property hunt list. For those who want something more official, PUB does keep a relatively updated list of flood-prone areas, which you can check out here.
If you’re wondering how to get hold of neighbours to speak to, Instagram, Facebook and sometimes just a walk around the area is very helpful.
4. Visit a property several times
Buying a property is likely going to be the biggest purchase of your life so do visit several times before committing yourself. One thing I’ve discovered on my leasehold landed tours is that an area can feel very different on weekends vs weekdays, during school holidays vs during “normal” times of the year, during office hours vs after-office hours etc.
This is especially true if you’re looking to buy a smaller landed property as there are often parking constraints. An area that could feel very spacious on a weekday (when everyone is at work) could feel totally different on the weekend (when everyone and all their cars are back home.) For example, the first few times I visited Hillview for my landed tour article (on a weekday), parking was no issue but when I later visited a friend on a weekend, it was so crowded that I couldn’t even reverse into the property as there were cars right in front of the gate! Whilst you could argue that parking issues are unavoidable for smaller landed houses, it’s nonetheless good to be aware of them before forking out a few million bucks.
Even for condos, visiting at different times of the day and week can help you get a better sense of living there. For example, if you visit a unit during working hours, you could find the unit quiet but realise after moving in that the peace is only because the neighbours are not home! Viewing the place at various times can also help you gauge whether the facilities are sufficient for the number of units, whether the condo/estate entrance has been well-planned (i.e. whether there’ll be a traffic jam entering/exiting the estate, something that can happen when there is only one entrance shared between many properties) etc.
One of my favourite properties was a condo which had marvellous unblocked views that encompassed the Singapore Flyer. The views and the breeze were 2 of the key reasons I was considering the unit as the agent told me that the view was protected because the buildings in front were conserved. I would even be able to celebrate New Year on my balcony and watch the fireworks! However, it sounded too good to be true as there was a large open-air car park around the building and, from what I’ve observed of our land usage in Singapore, those don’t tend to last long as they’re not “efficient” uses of space.
Lo and behold, when I checked the URA Masterplan, the neighbouring plot had a plot ratio of 2.8 (i.e. it can be developed into a 36-story building) which doesn’t augur well for the conservation story? Hence, I decided to email SLA and it turned out that not only was the land not conserved, but its lease was also expiring within a few months! From my understanding of the situation, the agent wasn’t exactly lying as there is one building on the plot which is conserved but the rest of the land is not. However, he was misrepresenting things as the conserved building could be preserved whilst developing a new 36-story high-rise building in front of the condo, which would definitely impact the view from the unit!
Similarly, I was very keen on another property that had a lot of negatives: it was a 99-year leasehold, a cluster house (typically not super popular in Singapore), not cheap and had very high maintenance fees. 4 factors that make it very hard to re-sell a property in Singapore. However, because the property had the most amazing views of greenery (it faced a forest) I was willing to put up with the disadvantages. (Buying a home, not an investment asset, remember?)
The property agent declared confidently that the forest was protected and thus I would have an unblocked view forever. He even showed me a notice from National Parks which sort of indicated the forest was part of a Nature Reserve. To assure me that monkeys would not be an issue, he showed me the triple fence system around the estate.
Nonetheless, since I always like to verify things on my own end, I checked with the neighbours, the URA Master Plan and emailed SLA. Verdict: the monkeys had thrown the neighbours welcome parties (they, the neighbours, not the monkeys, had just moved in recently), the forest in front of the house is zoned residential AND it would be developed within the next 5 years!
Other useful information that I’ve found out thanks to the URA Masterplan:
Changing plot ratios: One old condo I was looking at and is consistently on the “most likely to en-bloc” lists— Pepys Hill, is currently 12 stories but zoned as 5 which would impact its en-bloc value
Different land uses: another property that I was looking at is currently next to a (very quiet) theological institution. However, when you look at the Master Plan, the land has actually been zoned Educational as part of a Boy’s School. Now I’m not sure about you but having hundreds of boys running around next to my home doesn’t sound very peaceful or tranquil!
6. Check the ratio of owner-occupiers to rented-out units
If you’re looking for affordable freehold condos in central Singapore, Balestier is a region with several options. Hence, I did several recces to the area and found a condo that I was quite keen on. However, a contractor who had renovated a unit in the building informed me that because many of the units are rented out, the owners aren’t willing to invest in maintaining the building. The situation is so bad that even the intercom to buzz visitors up doesn’t work and, at the time of speaking to the contractor, there were no plans to repair it in the foreseeable future.
Disputes over condo maintenance fees are not uncommon in Singapore and, obviously, owner-occupiers and investor-landlords have different priorities so it’d be wise to get a sense of the ownership breakdown in the property before committing yourself to a purchase. Whilst things like a broken intercom or limited parking spaces may sound trivial, they’re factors that you would need to live with on a daily basis and it’s often the small things that make a place a great vs not-so-great place to live.
We’ve come to the list of my top tips to avoid buyer’s remorse when purchasing your next home and I’d love to hear some of your home buying advice too. Let us know in the comments!
TJ’s interest in property was sparked after returning from the UK- where balconies are not counted in one’s square footage!- and finding that the Singapore property had totally changed in the 7 years she was away. When not reading and watching articles & videos about property, she is busy cooking and baking for friends, family & her blog Greedygirlgourmet