SINGAPORE: No one told me that finding the perfect house would invite more judgement than finding the perfect spouse.
Over the last few months, I’ve ramped up my search for the former. I started following a few property accounts on Instagram, created a folder with interior design inspiration for my future home, gotten my brain acquainted with property jargon like “refinancing” and “repricing", and, yes, begun the actual process of house-hunting.
But this is not a commentary about the painful nitty-gritty of acquiring my bachelorette’s pad, like getting trauma-inducing bank loans or using “psf” so often that my phone stops correcting it to “pdf”.
Neither do I know the best advice on how to pick the best property for investment, where to find the most efficient renovation firm or what floor tiles work best for the bathroom.
This is, rather, about my fascination with the unbridled judgement that we have for others’ living spaces and their decisions in building that space, and the tangible ways we ascribe value to a home, from location to floor plan to cost per square feet.
Talk about buying or renovating a home, and suddenly everyone and their mothers are architects, interior designers, property agents and feng shui masters all at once.
HOME IS WHERE THE JUDGEMENT ABOUNDS
I am guilty of the same judgemental behaviour.
Take CNA Lifestyle’s recent series on homes with quirky renovation designs.
One week, there was a home in Bukit Batok inspired by Balinese resorts. Another time, there was a home decked with nautical decor.
Then there was the Japanese inspired home with furniture sourced from Taobao, even though the owner didn’t speak Mandarin.
The online comments were filled with enough sour grapes to make wine. Some commenters remarked that the stones in the toilet of the Balinese-inspired home would cause mould to fester, while others said its ceiling beams would get dusty easily.
Many bashed the owners for being impractical. A few reminded these commenters that they weren’t the ones living in the house, so they should mind their own business.
Objectively speaking, I can see where all of these comments are coming from. I’d judged these homes from the perspective of a house-hunter, never mind that these owners weren’t selling me theirs. To me, the interior design was crucial if the buyer couldn’t afford to spend tens of thousands to renovate.
These exchanges definitely provided a reality check for any proud home-owner: If you want to share your home (or potential home) with the world, you have to be ready for a slew of comments.
Criticism often stem from widely-held beliefs related to monetary value, like the importance of looking at a home’s resale value before purchase or the common understanding that freehold is better than leasehold.
But I suspect the sentiments underpinning these words go deeper. These homeowners, with their antique paraphernalia or cumbersome blinds, have gone against our national supreme value: Practicality.
YOUR HOME IS AN EXTENSION OF YOU
It always amuses me how deeply impracticality rankles Singaporeans, probably because it doesn’t align with the virtues of Singaporean society. We extol convenience, efficiency, frugality and practicality, and we abhor indulgent and frivolous lifestyles. When others don’t spend their money the way we think we would, we shame them.
Yet, given an infinite sum of money, many of us would indeed jump at the chance to build our dream home and pimp it out, criticism be damned.
After all, our home isn’t just a part of us. We believe it’s also a reflection of who we are and who we want to be.
Every step of the house-hunting and settling-in process is deeply personal.
Incredibly personal considerations pepper the start of our house-hunting journey, that begins with deciding where to stay. We might be willing to forgo convenience for being in a far-flung neighbourhood with our parents, despite investment advisors saying otherwise.
Or we choose to live at Holland Village over Sembawang because we aspire towards a daily routine punctuated with latte fixes in the afternoon at the nearest cafe — a lifestyle that signifies we’ve got our life together.
These also spill into how we want our new nests to look. We might ground our renovation and interior design decisions in intangible measures of happiness and aspiration, beyond dollars and sensibilities.
We want our forest-green wallpaper to symbolise our love for nature, but also our reliability and steadfastness.
Our Muji-inspired living room might be trendy, but the minimalism also represents our priority for inner peace in our lives.
You get the picture.
When we judge someone’s home or property decisions, we’re essentially judging who they are.
READ: Commentary: Why Singapore's private residential market will remain attractive in the long term
WHAT MAKES A HOME
It's not all bad. Sharing your unconventional home online might earn you a fair share of haters, but the people who love your style will be just as unabashed in their admiration.
I recall one commenter praising the owner of the Japanese-inspired home for his ardent love for Japan, while another said the home that was packed with antiques was a house "full of feelings and passion".
It brought to mind a uniquely pandemic observation: Working from home has made it possible to peer into the homes of my colleagues and bosses over Zoom. I appreciate seeing them have the same standing fan as me, knowing that their bookcase isn’t entirely filled, or realising that they like kitsch curtains.
In a time when it’s easy to feel disconnected from the people we work with daily, these details make them a little more human, just like how someone chooses to renovate their home speaks to their personality.
Your home is, ultimately, a mental sanctuary.
After a long day at work, do you want to relax in a space that you built for yourself, or one that you constructed because it was the latest fad? And is it so bad if you want your home to remind you of a fancy hotel?
What is a cosy, welcoming abode to one might feel like a bizarre choice of renovation to another. And sometimes that includes a flat looking like a yacht.
But the best thing about owning your own place is there is no wrong answer.
Of course, it’s crucial to do thorough research before setting aside an arm and leg for a hefty commitment, and not simply fork out a small fortune to renovate your place because you like it.
But once you have a space of your own, it shouldn't matter that your quirky aesthetics don't appeal to everyone.
Contrary to the notion that Singaporeans are straight-laced and want cookie-cutter homes, these designs make for a diverse and rich housing tapestry that shows Singaporeans have exciting, varied tastes in interior design and imagination.
I’d like to think there is a lesson in observing the online comments, both good and bad, about other people’s homes, though it’s not one that property blogs will teach you: What a house costs is different from what a home is worth.
Grace Yeoh is a senior journalist at CNA Insider.