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Things I wish I knew before buying my first property

buying my first property

first property purchase

Things I Wish I Knew Before Buying My First Property

You may be wondering whether you should bite the bullet and get a home you’ve been considering for a long time? If this is going to be your first property, I hope this article will be of some help in shedding light on this decision.

Regardless of the reason, and for many, this decision is also one of life’s biggest milestones. It also leads to the next question – if yes, would a HDB flat (BTO/resale) or condominium be better suited for you? 

TL;DR. Head on to our comparison table should you want to skip all the reading

Leveraging on properties to secure your financial future

Let’s assume that, you’re part of this growing group in Singapore, you’re single and in your 30s, having spent the previous years furiously building up your career and climbing up the corporate ladder.

You have amassed a small fortune and it is sitting idling in your bank account. Like any sensible individual, you realise that you really need to start planning on your retirement because you don’t want to rely on others in your old age – whether by choice or not. 

first property
Photo credits: Bongkarn Thanyakij

Stories about the “sandwich generation” show that you should avoid depending on your children, if any, in order to lessen their financial burden. 

Starting on your retirement plans later also possibly means that you need to do more to catch up to your peers who started early, so it doesn’t seem wise to put it off any longer. 

You think that property investment is a good way to start your portfolio and build your retirement nest egg; plus, your friends and family keep encouraging you to do so. 

At this age, it also seems like you should be fully independent by moving out of your parents’ home instead of relying on them. Or it could be that you want to live with your parents, to take care of them, then why should you be buying a property?

singles buying a home
Photo credits: Ketut Subiyanto

Moreover, your busy work schedule leaves no time to monitor whatever investment you decide on. 

As a novice, venturing into stock market investing entails a high level of risk. This is especially concerning as an asset’s price these days may not be an accurate reflection of a firm’s true financial status – it might be inflated due to various reasons like a central bank’s money-printing activity. What you derive from their financial metrics may paint a completely different picture from their prices. 

Therefore, property investing may look more appealing in terms of risk and volatility.

So, HDB or condo? 

Well, that assuming acquiring a property is the correct choice for you, then the next question will be: should you start off with a HDB or a condo?

When it comes to deciding on the property type, many questions come to mind, especially if you intend to purchase one as part of your investment strategy. 

They include:

If I take the HDB route, should I get a BTO or resale flat? When should I get it? 

Now that you’re in your early 30s, you have the option of buying a BTO flat once you hit 35 years of age. Should you wait it out and buy one once you do, or choose a resale flat right now?

How much more will renovations cost? (HDB/BTO)

A resale flat typically commands higher renovation costs as compared to a BTO. This is because you need to account for various expenses incurred from dismantling and demolishing existing fittings and features, like hacking and tearing down walls to floors to carpentry and more, if the original design does not agree with you.

Repair costs and unforeseen complications may also add to these costs – sunk costs that you need to spend on.

Older resale units may require more maintenance and upkeep, and since they’re mostly bigger than BTO flats, you need to renovate a greater area.

It is only after splashing a sum on these extra expenses to tear down the original fittings, that you can finally start properly renovating it to your preferences.

On the other hand, buying a BTO is like starting on a clean new slate. You can decide what you want from the get-go without spending time and money getting rid of old furnishings.

Where and how big? (HDB/BTO)

If small homes make you claustrophobic, you might want to opt for a resale flat that gives you greater options bigger than a 2-room shoebox.

Location is also often a big decision-making factor for many homeowners.

BTO flats for singles are usually located at inconvenient and far-flung areas, which means that if you value staying close to your workplace in the CBD district or close to public transport, it’s going to be a huge deterrent.

Plus, if you have elderly parents, you’ll naturally be worried about their health and how they’ll cope if you stay far away from them. There’s always a sense of uneasiness leaving them alone, especially if there isn’t anyone else to look after them.

What about the lease decay issue associated with older resale flats? (HDB/BTO)

All HDB flats come with a timeline of 99 years or less leasehold. The shorter the remaining lease, the more likely the reduction in value especially after a certain mark.

This is particularly of greater concern for older resale flats that have little leasehold left, and hence may not be ideal for investment purposes.

If you’re gunning for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) for its rehousing benefits, it calls for a lot of luck as only 4% of HDB flats have been chosen for the SERS since the scheme was initiated in 1995.

Would you take the risk?

Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) (HDB/BTO)

The EIP applies to the sale and purchase of all new and resale HDB flats for all ethnic groups.

Under this scheme, limits are placed on the total percentage of a block or neighbourhood that can be occupied by a particular ethnicity.

Once these limits are hit, no further sale of flats to the affected group is allowed unless the seller and buyer belong to the same ethnic group.

This restricted availability can affect the purchase or sale price of a HDB, restricting your pool of potential sellers.

What if I choose a condo instead? What are its investment benefits?

The investment advantages of a condo can differ depending on whether you buy a resale or brand new unit.

Take this: if you buy a resale condo, you can rent it out immediately to get rental income, but you need to wait it out for a few years for a new property while it is being constructed.

If you aren’t a seasoned investor, you can also rely on past transactional prices for your condo or condos in the area to estimate your capital appreciation and rental yield.

However, potential tenants may be attracted to the newer and better features of a new condo as compared to the older and less modern ones of older condos.

Some developers may also offer attractive discounts for buyers at new launches, whether it means a direct price discount or by absorbing a certain amount of stamp duty.

Can I afford a condo?

As the 3rd most expensive property market worldwide, it’s no secret that buying a home in Singapore is extremely pricey.

Some HDB units in mature estates, whether new or resale, already cost a hefty amount, much less for a private property like a condo.

You need to map out your long-term finances carefully to determine whether you have the ability to afford one and keep up with your mortgage repayments. This is especially so if you’re paying it off yourself without any help from a partner.

The downpayment for private property is greater than for an HDB, which means that you need to prepare more cash on hand and ensure sufficient funds in your CPF if you choose to pay with it. You also need to consider the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) which states you can only pay back up to 60% of your gross total income.

These costs do not include the renovation expenses that you need to set aside additionally for.

What if I lose my job or fall sick after buying my condo?

COVID-19 has further reiterated that job loss can happen to anyone, anytime, and that possibility can be very real, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears you have put in for your company.

In the unfortunate event that you lose your job after purchasing a property, your income will be affected, but you still have to pay off your home loan, and that can be a stressful situation for anyone. 

Of course, a tenant could be paying a part or the whole of the monthly mortgage through rent, but that is assuming the loss of jobs isn’t due to an economic crisis, otherwise, it would likely also affect the tenant. 

The same may happen if you fall ill and are unable to work to finance your property.

If you decide to buy a condo, the costs will likely be far steeper than that of a HDB BTO or resale flat. You wouldn’t want to borrow from your family or friends or wring your savings dry while you scuttle to find a new job. It is important to avoid being asset rich and cash poor.

Knowing that you aren’t familiar with property investment territory, would you choose to be risk-averse and buy an HDB, or jump into a riskier purchase with a condo?

Let’s discuss (insert contact link) in detail to see what you will be sacrificing or benefiting from either route!

Renovation costs for a condo

Like the HDB route, you may also incur more renovation costs for a resale condo. For a resale condo, the extra cash you need to fork out is typically more than that for a resale HDB flat.

An option is to look out for newly-renovated units, though it might cost more than others that aren’t recently renovated.

If a lot of work is needed to be done, it means that you may need to prepare a substantial amount of cash to complete your renovations.

Similarly, you may also spend more on maintenance for older units, whether within your unit or in communal areas.

Location

Condos that are located in prime areas, like nearby the CBD, public transport or amenities like schools often cost more than those that are situated further away.

Is it worth it to pay a premium to stay near them, and does this necessarily translate to better investment opportunities in the future?

Type of condo lease

Should you go for a 99-year lease or a freehold condo? A freehold condo can be held indefinitely, while the leasehold expires after 99 years like an HDB flat.

Certainly, the price of freehold is higher than that of a leasehold condo, but you need to determine if that affects its value significantly or not.

For example, if you intend to rent the unit out, whether your condo is a leasehold or freehold will not mean that you can command higher rental prices. In fact, you will be paying more for the cost of your unit while the rental price remains unaffected, therefore lowering your rental yield.

Who to ask, who to trust?

Is this a good time to rely on opinions from friends and family, knowing that they will probably differ?

Discussing this with a friend might lead to a nondescript reply like “aiya, just buy what I buy lah, guaranteed good one“.

On the other hand, bringing it up to your parents might go something like this:

Ma, pa, i’m thinking of buying a house liao, where do you think I should stay?
Har, of course the nearer to us the better lah!

*Now, wait a minute – does a location near your parents’ mean that it has growth potential? Read this to find out!

You may receive the wrong advice if your circle of friends and family are either too conservative or aggressive.

For example, what happens when your friends have no idea of your financial situation and urge you to take on more risk than you can handle? What about your traditional parents who caution you against risk, and end up costing you your retirement nest egg? Any of these options may backfire on you eventually.

Who can you trust for the right advice?

When you consult someone with a proven track record and in-depth industry knowledge, it may help you make better decisions based on an expert’s experienced advice! 

Plus, any changes in your marital status in the future can affect your situation as well: you don’t want to be forced to sell your property! Therefore, it’s important to consult with a reliable figure and future-proof your property acquisition.

Comparison Table

Let’s do a quick comparison between the 4 property choices we’ve mentioned above:

Resale HDB BTO Resale Condo New launch Condo
Price $ $ $ $
Maintenance Cost $20-$90 $20-$90 $200-$500 $200-$500
Waiting Time Immediate Up to 3-4 years Immediate Average of 2 years
Price Appreciation (over the last 15 years) 87.2%# 117.2%##
Size No restrictions, can choose from 2-room to bigger ones like maisonettes Limited to 2-room units (35sqm to 45sqm) No restrictions No restrictions
Location No restrictions, can choose where you want Limited to far-flung places, non-mature estates No restrictions No restrictions
Grants Up to $80,000 (first-timer singles) Up to $40,000 (EHG) (Singles) No grants No grants
Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lease Shorter lease period remaining Full 99-year lease Either freehold or remaining leasehold Either freehold or full 99-year leasehold
Minimum Occupancy Period (MOP) None 5 years None None

# Sales transactions trend for all types of resale HDB from 2005 to 2020. Source: URA, Realis and 99.co

## Sales transactions trend for all private condominiums and apartments from 2005 to 2020. Source URA, Realis and 99.co

Of course, the table above does not reflect every aspect that you should factor in! Allow me to explain more to you in person.

A possible solution?

Okay, all these considerations make it even harder for me to choose!

At this point, do you feel more undecided than ever? Don’t worry – it’s completely understandable since we’re talking about a big-ticket purchase here.

As a seasoned property agent who has helped many individuals like you achieve their property wealth planning goals, let me guide you in making an informed decision that is best suited to your needs!

Here are some satisfied clients who have managed to achieve their desired results with me:



farrand ashlyn

About The Author

Farrand blogs to share his experience gathered over the last decade of serving homeowners and investors. (but he prefers to meet face to face and talk)

He is passionate about helping the younger generation plan for their future and to grow their wealth.  

His clients and colleagues alike frequently sought him out for his unbiased and honest views. 

When he is not busy with work or writing, he loves to cook and watch reruns of Top Gear.

Making it a point to stay healthy, he struggles to wake up earlier to fit in some cardio. Although he finds it hard to resist the lure of tasty food.

Recently married, he is still basking in marital bliss. That’s a photo of him the day after proposing to his wife (doing what else, but eating).

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