The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt – Part 1: The Search Begins

Not part of the HDB resale flat hunt

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: What’s the COV for this?

Lorong Cat - Singapore's Literate FelineBy Lorong Cat

The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt is a 3-part blog post tracking the trials and tribulations of a first time flat buyer in her search for an affordable abode in Singapore. Part 1 stitches together the journey, sometimes bewildering and exhausting, of the search process. In part 2,  the author shares her two cents worth of advice and lessons learned to anyone who might fancy it. In part 3, she spills the beans on some quirks of HDB living.

Part 1: The Search Begins

Shakespeare said “the course of searching for the true HDB resale flat never did run smooth”.

These words did not come from The Bard, of course. Having been to his residence in Stratford-upon-Avon in which he lived to write some of our sixteen year olds’ greatest literary nightmares, it did not seem likely that he would bother searching for an alternative abode, with his lover Anne Hathaway’s (may I say, very pretty) cottage just 15 minutes’ walk away. Location! Location! Location! That  much is true even in Elizabethan England.

Round about late last year the Mister and I decided it’s time to get a place of our own back home in Singapore. It seems to be ill timing for I need not expound on how much housing prices have escalated in Singapore since we left for London a few years ago. Nevertheless, we decided to plough ahead with The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt come what may.

Like many other “sandwiched class” Singaporeans, we evaluated all options and concluded that a resale HDB flat is the most viable choice.  It is interesting to note that my fellow Singaporean friends and relatives were not bashful in pointedly questioning our choice of going with second hand public housing instead of the more prestigious private condominiums or brand new public flats under the HDB Built to Order (BTO) scheme. Throw in the possibility of the HDB Sale of Balance exercise, short term renting and the non-stigma of living with parents in Singapore into the mix, we discovered that we had to prepare a mental FAQ list to answer potentially awkward questions surrounding our lifestyle preferences and income situation. We were also semi-chided by some who thought we ought to have entered the property snakes and ladders game before the prices went up, but alas we were not blessed with the great hindsight they evidently have.

All these did not make it easy for newbies like us. I, for one, was never really in tune with the housing and property situation in Singapore. Whilst I know housing prices have been sky-rocketing, I bore the same indifference as that towards news of “record COE prices” and “overcrowded MRT trains”, you know, all part of the big bag of problems caused by the evil PAP (kidding!). I would zone out at social gatherings whenever someone talks about “XX dollars per square feet”. Heck I don’t even know how big is 100 sqm. I had also no inkling what it takes to buy a HDB resale flat. What forms are there to fill in? Surely the government must have it all thought out, just like everything else!

Soon I was overcome by an avalanche of public housing terminology and acronyms. It was a steep learning curve. HLE, COV, TOP, MOP and OTP. Believe me when I say that I knew none of these terms prior to The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt.

Buying a resale HDB flat is also complicated by the fact that in terms of location, the sky’s the limit. Some buyers might consider a location within 2km of their parents’ place of residence and this qualifies them to receive a subsidy from HDB. If that’s not important, it may prove quite a task to decide on the exact estate to focus your search on.

Flats in mature estates such as Queenstown, Toa Payoh and Bukit Merah command a premium in exchange for the proximity to town. On the other hand, new towns such as Punggol offer a real exciting prospect of “waterfront” living. I visited the Punggol Waterway and was truly bought over by the beautiful park and landscape designs. The population at these new towns in Punggol and Sengkang is also younger and with constant news of the launching of yet another new public development project, one cannot help but feel positive vibes exuding from up north.  Some may also choose flats in towns further away from the city and get a car instead to commute to work. Options are plenty. This is perhaps why I read in the papers yesterday that a family viewed more than 100 flats before making their purchase!

And so it was that after hours of surfing PropertyGuru, speaking with friends and our agent (yes we worked with one, more on that in Part 2), we created a shortlist of potential flats and started the arduous process of flat viewing. It was exhausting. After viewing 10 flats in a day, I became confused over the block numbers, unit numbers and COV (cash over valuation) attached to each! We started christening units to better identify them for post-mortem pow-wow sessions. The unit with a decorative Parisian street sign became “the Parisian flat”, the one with decorative Gargoyles mounted on the bedroom walls became “the Gothic unit” and the one with the glass toilet bowl … (er-hem I rather not say or you will think me mean).

The process of choosing The Flat took a few months. Geography was against us. We were in London most of the time and had to enlist our agent and relatives’ help to view the flats and rely on their opinions and photos. It was exhausting but at the same time, it brought me closer to my loved ones involved in The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt, especially with the Mister. All the hours of debating feng shui, direction of the western sun and the southerly winds look on hindsight to be quite enlightening. Hence I decided to pass on my knowledge – good or bad – to you readers out there and also for my own keepsake. All these and more in Part 2: The Noobs Guide 2013.