The Great HDB Resale Flat Hunt – Part 3: Quirks of HDB Living

Messy Home

“You can’t see the decor but I assure you it’s worth the 100k COV!”

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 3: Quirks of HDB Living

The exterior designs of HDB apartment blocks may look somewhat dull and homogeneous but step into individual units and you will find no single pulse the same. To me, every flat takes on a unique personality depending on the occupants and how they do up and use the place.  Months of shopping for a HDB resale flat is like an espionage saga in the Singapore heartlands, giving us the privilege of amassing a rich list of quirky observations:

Kampong style renting

For all our complaints of foreign workers flooding Singapore, many are actually profiteering from renting their flats out to them. Filipinos and Chinese nationals form the bulk of the tenants. In one of the 4-room flats we viewed, a room was fitted with 2 double decker beds and a cooking corner for 4 tenants. We understood from our agent that a 4-room HDB flat can accommodate up to a maximum of 9 persons and it is not uncommon for flat owners to max out this number of tenants.

Living in a bomb shelter

In another flat, a bomb shelter (smaller than 5 sqm) was fitted with a bed. When I was a child I used to share a bedroom in a 3-room flat with 3 other family members so it is not like I do not understand space constraints. However a bomb shelter has no proper windows, relying only on a couple of air vents near the top for ventilation. I did not ascertain who actually sleeps in it but I have known of families putting up live-in domestic helpers in these shelters.

Mega walk-in closets and see-through bathroom walls!

In one of the estates where the population is generally made up of young professionals, we learnt about indulgence and kinky tastes. More than once, we saw entire bedrooms converted into a walk-in closets for the female occupant. It feels like stepping into the changing room at the Vogue offices. At another unit, there was a see-through bathroom with glass walls. No private poopie moment allowed!

No storm cooking here

In almost all the units I viewed, nobody seems to bother with the Kitchen. It is like an ugly corner owners are happy to tuck away and keep hidden from view. Most young couple owners do not even have standard cooking utensils or cooking appliances such as an oven. Occupants seems almost proud to tell you that they don’t ever cook at all (thus Kitchen is in a perfect state). Have we become a nation of eating out and da-baoing?

Post apocalyptic living

I kid you not. Some flats look like a scene out of a war movie — the part where the city has just been nuked. In one of the flats, where there were 6 occupants still living in it, it was so cluttered we literally could not see any furniture for there were all buried under. Cereal boxes lie alongside textbooks and an electric blender on what I presume would have been the sofa. A dress dangles over a pile of boxes stacked halfway to the ceiling. In another one put up for sale by a rather friendly Chinese national family (PRs), the walls were scribbled all over by their kid. Not a bad thing really, for the sake of promoting creativity but Singaporean parents will get a heart attack seeing their pristine design walls vandalised!

Expensive interior designs

For those who hankers after condominium living as an affirmative sign of prosperity, think again. Some HDB flat owners eschew the high private property prices and choose to spend a fortune to do up a humble public flat and  transform it into one which would put a new district 9 condo apartment to shame. We viewed a couple of such units and had to balk at the high asking COV, which the seller justified with the superior renovation and building materials. How does it make sense to spend up to 100K on interior design only to sell the flat off in 5 years? Something to think about for new HDB flat owners.


That’s all my friends. I hope I have not bore you or sent you into fits of laughter with my sometimes self-important two cents worth of opinion. Do share with us if you have other advice which might benefit less experienced flat buyers. After all, unlike private property buyers, ours is a commitment for 5 years and who can blame us for being extra careful?