Most Singaporeans are pretty happy with their HDB flats and condominiums. But not David, a 99.co reader who bought a 1255 sq ft apartment in Lavender – which until a few years ago was a backpacker’s hostel.
SO WHY A WALK-UP?
First of all, for the uniqueness. I believe that for a purchase that will take up a huge portion of my monthly income, it has to have plenty of personal touches. This meant that the restrictive nature of condominiums, which require a uniform facade, became out of the question.
I don’t like the idea of having to apply for approval to renovate essentially the entire place. I was playing around with the idea of doing some of the designs myself – this meant shopping at lighting stores, tile shops, curtains, talking to others who were starting their renovation. Walk up apartments generally have a very relaxed vibe.
Secondly, for the space. To do more, you need space! Space is not cheap – at least not in our fair city. As landed properties were out of budget, this left me with older condominiums and some walk up apartments. I’m neither married nor above 35, which also limits government housing choices. I was after something about S$1000 per sq ft, and around about 1255 sq ft in size.
Thirdly, for the location I work in the city, next to Lau Pa Sat. So I appreciate the value of convenience probably more than most. I used 99.co’s search-by-travel-time function to determine my choices. Those within a strict 30-minute travel time (by public transport) ended up being Mountbatten, Farrer Park, Queenstown, and Sentosa.
Queenstown had prices of S$1,500 to 1,700 per sq ft. Telok Blangah was cheaper but rather inaccessible. Tiong Bahru was nice, but the prices were not in my range. Hence, Farrer Park or Mountbatten and its surrounding properties were the only viable options.
Lastly, it was all about price. My budget was about S$1 million, and I also didn’t fancy the idea of paying for the maintenance fees required of condominiums. The smaller condominiums were asking for exorbitant fees, considering they only have a tiny gym and pool which I did not fancy.
In general maintenance fees lie between S$400 to S$700 per month. At current interest rates (1.8%) and taking S$540 as your monthly maintenance, it translates to S$194,237.19 over 30 years, or the equivalent of taking a $150,000 loan today. In my opinion, there is more value in a monthly trip to Bali for S$540.
WAS IT HARD FINDING THIS PROPERTY? WHAT OTHER PROPERTIES DID YOU CONSIDER BEFORE THIS?
It was not difficult. My specificity in requirements meant that most places were filtered out. The ones that were left were either in areas which I did not see myself living in, or on the third floor and above which would make it harder to rent out. And even harder to sell in the future.
IN ITS PREVIOUS LIFE, WHAT WAS THE APARTMENT LIKE?
The place used to be a super, super, super budget backpackers hostel. I say super budget because there were 10 rooms, and the occupants shared just two tiny, unpleasant toilets.
It was dirty and full of scum. Cigarette butts were littered all over the place and it looked closer to a place suitable for rodents and insects. Its true value was really just the space. The walls were solid, and the ceilings were high. That was all I needed!
HOW MUCH RENOVATION WAS NEEDED?
I budgeted S$60,000 for the renovation but ended up spending close to S$100,000 instead. I had to change my plans twice due to a few design errors from a first-time designer. However, this was still lower than what was quoted from other interior design firms. It included the hacking and erecting of walls and floors, material cost such as tiles as well as air-conditioners.
I learned so much in the process. And now, I have a home I find significant sentimental meaning in. It is something I dreamed into existence with my curiosity, patience, and hard-earned money.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE PROPERTY?
There are four 24-hour supermarkets and separate MRT lines within a 10-minute walk. The public swimming pool and gym are really close by – I honestly haven’t found a good reason to complain about this place.
I have happily lived in it for the past year-and-a-half. Although I’ve recently moved out to enjoy co-living with some friends, I will definitely consider moving back.
The place is currently being rented out for about S$4,500 per month. I also built a separate studio for a customised “dual-key experience”, giving me some cash every month to offset the mortgage. After taking into account renovations, that is about a 4.9% rental yield.
Either way, I would have essentially put down a deposit and got a “free” house in 30 years from the rental return. We’ll see if Lavender continues its trajectory of modernizing itself.
This story first appeared in 99.co.