The HDB story – Many Stories, One Singapore

That’s the tagline for this year’s National Day. And it perhaps does ring true for many Singaporeans, as one could clearly see from the stories, snippets and anecdotes the 10 bloggers participating in iProperty’s blogging contest have to say.

Five-room flats in Bedok's Fengshan GreenVille new BTO flats were oversubscibed by six times.

Five-room flats in Bedok’s Fengshan GreenVille.

Like neat little strips of film negatives, each HDB flat contains stories of childhood, growing up, marriage, birth of a whole new generation and of both good times and bad. Most importantly, every HDB flat, no matter how small or big, tells of the Singapore story. The HDB story.

Some grew up with the HDB scheme, having been born just as Singapore too grew into its own. They shared the kampong spirit which many who lived in the early HDB flats spoke of, and which blogger, Smith, too experienced in his Chai Chee neighbourhood. Playing with the neighbour’s kids was a daily affair and many would have shared the same sort of afternoons which you wished could have lasted longer. Chesabell recalls spending her primary school days in a 3-room HDB flat with her parents, sister, great-grandmother, aunt, uncle and maid. It may be amazing how so many people could have lived in a seemingly small space. But precisely because of space, relationships grew strong and lasted longer.

HDB Flats THinkStockOr maybe like Phan Kiah Gek, who would not have wished to move away from her 4-room HDB flat even if she could, simply because of the memories it held, you may have made friends at block parties and bought ice pops on a sweltering day for just a penny. And as Singapore continues to grow, and as the government promises to provide affordable housing for Singaporeans, young couples are looking forward to spending their future and building a forever home in their new HDB flats.

What dreams do they have? Of meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right perhaps? To blogger, Maybeline Sim, the HDB flat represents a beginning ofr a new life ahead. Of finding the right spot for their first home, HDB flat or not. Of designing and making a cosy nest to call their own just like Mitsueki and Joey Ong. A nest where young uns will one day run free and happy, and like the old days, make friends with neighbours, old and new. Blogger, Andy Lee has already been doing that in Sengkang, with his wife and four children.

The resale market for HDB flats seem to have taken a dive due to the bumper crop of BTO flats. Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board.

Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board.

What of those who choose to live alone then? Now that new 2-room HDB flats are made available to singles above 35-years, some like blogger, Soh Hong Wei, may be looking forward to having his own plants in the corridor and watching them grow. It could very well be a way to carry on the HDB dream, where home ownership for every Singaporean is one of the noble aims of the government. And as Meryl Loh observes, the convenience of traveling around Singapore is made all the easier with covered walkways and bus-stops close by.

And no one can refute the uniqueness of the HDB void deck. It might just be one of the things which foreigners find amazing about Singapore’s public housing design, muses blogger, Sakura of NinjaGirls.com. A common area where weddings, funerals, soccer games, chess games and overnight chat sessions take place. And of course the ubiquitous hanging of the Singapore flag during the National Day period adds a touch of patriotism to the HDB estates.

As new HDB flats come up and old ones are resold, the constant that remains are the stories that each family has to tell. Follow these 10 bloggers as they tell it as it is, as they share their life stories, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Why I Chose HDB Over Private Property

When deciding on a property—one that you and your family will call ‘home’—there are some important factors besides finance that you should keep in mind.

As a foreign-born HDB dweller, my housing decisions have been often inquired upon. With this article, I hope to shed light on why I chose a HDB flat over private property, and why Sengkang West of all the housing estates. I will also offer some friendly guidance to those also looking to make Singapore their home.

Celebrations at Sengkang West. All images courtesy of Peter Breitkreutz.

Celebrations at Sengkang West. All images courtesy of Peter Breitkreutz.

Resale HDB: Are you qualified?

This should be the first checkpoint for non-Singaporeans deciding between HDBs and private properties. For those considering resale HDBs in particular, there are quite a few eligibility conditions and legalities you should take note of beforehand. For instance, resale HDB buyers have to be Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents, or have at least one such listed occupant. In terms of regulations, there is one rule widely covered in recent news: you must sell off any private property you already own within six months of purchasing a resale flat. More information can be easily found on the HDB InfoWEB.

Unless you meet the stated criteria, your best bet is private property. In case anyone was wondering, PRs are not eligible to purchase new HDBs.

Condominiums: Are you sure?

Why not a condo, you ask? Very good question!

When we first moved to Singapore sans PR status, we did not want to do the stereotypical expat thing and move into predominantly foreign communities. After spending some time searching for the right location, we thought we couldn’t get any more ‘heartlander’ than moving to Woodlands, the northern-most part of the island.

However, we failed to realise that moving into a rental condominium still meant that we ended up surrounding ourselves with a non-local community. Additionally, security guards and boom gates ensured that we were practically locking ourselves out of the community, and the community out of our lives.

Sure, the facilities (pool, gymnasium, function rooms) and privacy that come with condominiums are attractive. But the security measures, in particular, did little to make us feel safer in a country that already boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Neither was it helpful in integrating us into the community we so desperately wanted to belong to. It felt almost like we were on an extended business trip at a resort; definitely not like a place I’d call home.

After a few years there we decided to explore our options, this time deciding not to rent. The dramatically fluctuating rental market then affirmed our decision, but it was not our main motivation. It dawned on us that to really integrate and root ourselves, boots and all, in Singapore for the long term, we needed to stop living the ‘pretend heartlands’ lifestyle. Even now, we still hold the belief that rent money is dead money when it comes to planning for our future in Singapore.

This decision then led us to the resale HDB option.

We soon realised that many five-room HDB flats (or ‘three-bedroom’ in foreigner speak) were larger than modern condominiums, and the newer HDB buildings and estates were styled similar to condominiums. New HDBs were taller, with fewer flats per floor, an elevator at every level and actual hallways within the flats!

Our current apartment has 22 floors with only four ‘point blocks’ on every level. It has a layout and style similar to our former private home, but with more area and a lovely view. Of course, the difference was the lack of private pool and security.

Sengkang West HDB flat.

Sengkang West HDB flat.

HDBs: a golden opportunity for integration

If not for living in an HDB estate, we never would have gotten the chance to serve the community.Joining a local grassroots organization not only satiated my passion for charity work, but also afforded us a key opportunity to know and befriend those in our community. Another step towards integration in our new country!

I am now a grassroots leader and member of the Anchorvale Community Club Management Committee, with a community network that now stretches across Sengkang West. We are proud to be part of a strongly bonded community, where it is very rare to visit neighbourhood shops and eating places without running into people we know. We now treat our neighbours like family, and vice versa!

I think such a deep integration at the grassroots level is not impossible should we have opted for yet another private property, but I am sure it would have been much more difficult.

A family carnival at the HDB heartlands makes a good opportunity to get to know neighbours.

A family carnival at the HDB heartlands makes a good opportunity to get to know neighbours.

Sengkang West: Who are the people in your neighbourhood?
As a young family with two ickle boys, we fit in quite well in Sengkang West, which was then (and is still considered) a relatively new and developing part of Singapore. We have seen so many new buildings sprouting up over the years, and practically grew up with this estate.

Furthermore, as we are still considered a foreign family, joining a blossoming community instead of a mature estate was in hindsight also made it a little easier for us to cultivate a sense of belonging.

Family time at the park.

Family time at the park.

HDB for the long haul

When it comes to deciding between HDBs and private apartments, it’s all about your personal motivations and your desired lifestyle in Singapore.

For us, we wanted our locally born children to be completely immersed in the culture of their birth country. Our elder boy now attends a kindergarten near our home, swimming classes at the public sports complex, and art classes at the local Zone E RC office. His best friends are Singaporeans too. By living in the HDB heartlands, we plan to eventually enroll him and his brother in a local school.

We would not dream of giving up our HDB lifestyle in a million years.

Meeting Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Meeting Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

So if you’re looking to truly make Singapore your home, I think the answer is a no-brainer: move out of the expat comfort zones and into the HDB heartlands. It’s a decision that has fulfilled my life; I am certain yours will be too.

Guide to Insuring your Home

When it comes to ensuring that the value of your home and its contents are rightly accounted for when unfortunate circumstances hit, no effort should be spared in unearthing the best available insurance plans to suit your needs.

Don’t get burnt by sudden disasters; get the right policy for your needs. Image courtesy of Thinkstock.

Don’t get burnt by sudden disasters; get the right policy for your needs. Image courtesy of Thinkstock.

Assessing your needs

The first step to take in insuring your home is figuring out what you really need, as this will give you an idea of how much coverage to get. Reflect on how much you are financially invested in your piece of property, and how much more you are willing to fork out to protect its value.

  • Do you have many valuable possessions?

Take into account your state-of-the-art computer, expensive jewellery, artwork, or designer furniture. You may also wish to insure items of sentimental value, but don’t get carried away. What is important to you may not be of monetary value.

DirectAsia.com covers loss or damage to your home contents, which they define as “anything inside your house and garden that you would take with you when you move”.

  • Is your location prone to damages?

Singapore’s location on the globe may keep us safe from hurricanes or volcanic activity, but some homes remain at risk to the occasional flash-floods and earthquake tremors. If your home is perched on ground level or located on the lower floors of the building, at a low-lying area like Bukit Timah Road or Stevens Road, you might want to choose a policy that covers your belongings and renovations in the event of a flood.

DBS’s HomeShield plan insures against floods with damages up to an excess of $100. DirectAsia.com insures against floods and earthquakes, but covers only homes that have not previously suffered damage from floods and other listed disasters.

  • Did you splurge on your home?

If you purchased your home for an extravagant price and lavished it with renovation projects, you might want to spend a bit more to insure your investments in the home. However, stick within your budget and go for the best option you can afford.

Aviva’s Home plan covers fixtures like built-in wardrobes for a maximum sum insured of $100,000.

Basic coverage

Some houses come with their own insurance policies.

When you buy a new Housing Development Board (HDB) flat, you may be required to apply for two kinds of insurance: the HDB Fire Insurance Policy, and the Home Protection Scheme. The former is meant for those taking a HDB loan. The latter is for those who have arranged for monthly housing repayments via their Central Provident Fund accounts.

The Home Protection Scheme, in particular, is a mortgage-reducing insurance scheme. It ensures that your home will not be lost should you not be able to complete your housing loan payments.

Similarly, private homeowners taking out a bank mortgage have to first take out a fire insurance policy. Some banks, like Standard Chartered, offer free home-insurance for the first year when you take up a housing loan with them.

However, these policies usually have very basic coverage. In a typical fire insurance policy, only the walls and ceilings of your home are covered in the event of a fire. This means you cannot claim for the loss of your flat-screen television. Neither can you claim for items stolen or damaged by other means.

Choosing the right policy

If your basic home policy is insufficient, you should search for better solutions in the market.

Take note of these key points when deciding on a suitable plan:

  • Items covered

Check if the policy covers renovation costs and the value of contents of your house. Some policies even cover personal accidents and liability, loss or damage to valuables outside your home.

  • Definition of terms

Insurers do not all have the same definition of risks. Pay attention to these definitions as they can make a difference to what belongings you can seek damage against, and ultimately the amount you can claim.

  • Excess clause

This is the minimum amount you have to bear for all losses except those resulting from fires. Find out exactly how much you have to foot per item. For example, DBS’s HomeShield plan has an excess clause of $100 for water damages.

Tips:

  1. Most insurers offer more than one housing plan. Some, like Aviva, offer you the flexibility to add only the benefits you need, so you won’t have to pay more for a comprehensive plan you won’t fully utilise.
  2. Over-insure rather than under-insure, as it is common to accumulate new items in your home over time. The less you insure, the less you can claim. However unlike many insurers, Great Eastern’s HomeSupreme plan has a ‘First Loss Policy’ that does not penalise you for under-insuring.
  3. If you are a pet owner, look out for a plan that includes coverage for your beloved animal. Great Eastern provides coverage for the accidental death of pedigree dogs, but there are plans that cover cats and dogs for a handful of unfortunate situations.

 

Hotel or Serviced Apartment? Why A Serviced Apartment may be your Preferred Choice for an Extended Stay

When planning a last-minute business trip or much-deserved vacation, international tourists and travelers alike may often think of a hotel as their first choice of temporary accommodation. However, long periods of time away from home often give travelers a homesick feeling – a natural result of the unfamiliar surroundings and the lack of the familiar trappings of home. This is where the serviced apartment comes in: A serviced apartment’s larger living spaces, home comforts, as well as its comparable affordability can make it an attractive alternative to the more traditional hotel room for those planning a stay of 7 nights and more.

8 on Claymore: The Latest Addition to the Serviced Apartment Line-Up

Poolside at 8 on Claymore

Poolside at 8 on Claymore

The official launch of one such serviced apartment, 8 on Claymore was widely anticipated by industry watchers, with its 85 units increasing the accommodation choices available in Singapore’s prime Orchard district. 8 on Claymore, with its enviable location on the idyllic Claymore Hill area, stands out from the rest with its close proximity to popular facilities such as the American Club and Orchard MRT station, yet far away from the heavy traffic and large crowds on the main Orchard Road stretch.

Hotel-Standard Guest Services

In line with the emphasis on high service standards, 8 on Claymore also provides a personalized orientation tour, so guests staying at the serviced apartment for the first time have the feeling of being “shown around”, and treated as honored house guests with a welcome from the perfect hostess.

Managed by Royal Plaza on Scotts, guests with demanding standards can rest assured that every convenience is available, with services offered ranging from housekeeping services every weekday, to a 24-hour in-room dining service, a service much appreciated particularly after 9.30pm, a time when many restaurants have taken their last orders for the night. Should guests ever get tired of eating take-out, all suites at 8 on Claymore include a kitchen with full appliances and crockery, providing guests with the flexibility of fixing their own meals. A 24-hour supermarket is also conveniently located a short 3-minute hop away.

Generous Inclusives

Visitors to Singapore would also be hard pressed to find a hotel that offers as many free services which are included in the room rate at 8 on Claymore. Complimentary parking, high-speed internet, 70 cable channels, a DVD player and iPod docking station, daily breakfast, and even unlimited coffee made from a Nespresso in-room coffee machine are all included with the basic room rate.

Daily Buffet Breakfast Area at 8 on Claymore

Daily Buffet Breakfast Area at 8 on Claymore

8 on Claymore is also family-friendly, offering babysitting services, laundry and dry cleaning, as well as a children’s playground and pool, facilities that may not always be present even in Singapore’s luxury hotels.

With the high level of privacy, larger spaces and quality of services provided, today’s high-end serviced residences give traditional hotels a run for their money. While the trend of choosing to stay in serviced accommodation instead of a hotel among expats is still rather new in Singapore, the demand for a flexible, value for money alternative to the 4- or 5-star hotel room is very likely to grow over time.

7 “Uniquely Singapore” Acronyms Every Property Investor Should Know

Singapore has been called the “Land of Acronyms”, and with good reason – abbreviations are used widely by locals to refer to highways and buildings, government agencies, financial institutions, political parties … and more.  It should come as no surprise that the local property industry also has its fair share. Here are some of the most commonly used real estate acronyms and abbreviations in Singapore:

1) HDB (Housing Development Board)

While many countries in the world have some form of public housing, Singapore is unique in that about 80% of Singaporeans stay in an HDB flat, giving it the distinction of having one of the highest percentages (if not the highest) of residents in public housing in the world. With the rapidly rising population and land scarcity, the time when an HDB flat hits the S$1 million mark may not be very far away.

2) TOP (Temporary Occupation Permit)

In layman terms, TOP refers to the time when construction is completed and a property is ready to be occupied. The Building Authority would also have issued a Certificate of Statutory Completion (CSC) at this time.

3) COV (Cash Over Valuation)

Most commonly used since the rapid increase of HDB prices since 2007, COV refers to the sum above and beyond what the flat is valued at. COVs have been known to reach highs of more than S$50,000 in recent years. Read the amount in COV that most Singaporeans are willing to pay up to here.

4) LTV (Loan to Value)

LTV refers to the maximum amount a bank will lend for the financing of a property purchase. Hence, for a S$1 million property, a LTV of 80% means that the bank will lend a maximum of S$800,000. More recently, a series of cooling measures introduced by the local authorities to discourage speculation have included the lowering of LTV for second mortgages to 60% from 70% previously.

5) SSD (Standard Stamp Duty)

SSD is imposed by IRAS (Internal Revenue Authority Singapore) on both buyers and sellers of property, and is calculated according to the amount of the property purchase value. For buyers, SSD is calculated according to a “tier” system, with 1% imposed on the first S$180,000, 2% on the next S$180,000, and 3% thereafter. The recent cooling measures have also included new SSD rates ranging from 4% to 6% for residential properties disposed of within 4 years of acquisition.

6) VTO (View To Offer)

VTO is commonly used in open listings, and can sometimes mean that the owner is “testing the waters” by not indicating an asking price in order to see what offers his property can attract. In some instances, a VTO listing may mean that the flat may not have had its valuation exercise completed.

7) Co-Broke

As both the buyer and seller may have agents on each end, a co-broke refers to the agreement where agents on both side agree to share exclusive listings with one another, with a 50-50 split of commission. However, the co-broke system is sometimes abused, in cases where agents may not reveal higher offers or encourage a client to buy a more expensive flat in order to maximize his commission.

Decorating – It’s All About the Timing

Cash over valuation (COV) can be a controversial variable in the Singapore HDB resale market.

By all accounts, COV can be determined by many factors such as proximity to shops, food-courts, public transport or other amenities. As I’ve learnt from our apartment search a couple of years ago, another oft-forgotten determining factor is whether or not a flat is in good condition, well-maintained and recently renovated.

We looked at a number of different apartments before settling on our current block in Sengkang West. I must say that I was both amazed and disappointed that so many potential sellers put very little effort into the presentation of their interior prior to a viewing. It was an immediate turn-off to walk in and see an apartment in disrepair or simply unclean. And to add fuel to the flame, the sellers often asked for cash well above valuation – which would potentially eat into any budget set aside for renovation.

Walking in to the first viewing of what is now our apartment was a different story. The first thing that hit us was that the entire place was immaculately clean. What’s more, the renovations were already completed, and gave us an insight into something that we hadn’t seen in any other flat we had viewed. Its layout was completely unique and I can guarantee that there is no other apartment with the same fantastic features – although every 5-room flat in our block was identical at ‘birth’.

Along with the gorgeous browns, tans and light décor, one of the knock-out features of the open plan living areas is the built-in bar. Although we don’t entertain as much as we would like to given our busy lifestyle, the bar perfectly complements the rest of the decoration style.

The built-in bar. All images courtesy of Peter Breitkreutz (aussiepete.com).

The built-in bar. All images courtesy of Peter Breitkreutz (aussiepete.com).

We had no previous experience with decorating a property in Singapore, nor did we have any benchmark on how to go about it. We just researched extensively and went it alone – as a result, I’m guessing that although we were more than happy with the end result, we may have paid much more than we should have.
Here’s my key advice: be sure to plan your settlement and handover date in relation to required renovations, decorations and relocation very meticulously. Do not under any circumstances think that if you only have a small amount of work to be done – bathrooms or painting, for instance – that you will be able to co-locate in your new home while the work is underway.

When looking at any renovations in a HDB, the first thing to do is understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. In the case of our bathrooms, my wife had some very specific requirements in terms of placement of sinks, showers, toilets and the new bathtub. I had my own expectations about hot water systems, space utilisation and ambiance.

A computer-designed 3D visual of the common bathroom.

A computer-designed 3D visual of the common bathroom.

Once we had decided on a framework of what we wanted, we then went online and found contact details for a number of different renovation companies. We also visited a few companies we’d seen over the previous couple of years.

After talking with a number of these companies and looking at some of their previous work and testimonials, we eventually settled on a couple to give us quotations on our requirements. This involved selecting the tile patterns and designs that we wanted – the fixtures and fittings – toilets, bathtubs, shower heads, taps etc. After much searching we found a successful interior decorating firm that looked after our permits, provided labour, drew final designs and worked with us closely through all stages.

Not wanting to complicate things, and with the need to move into our flat as soon as possible, we also had the design company take care of securing professional painters to give the entire apartment the once-over.

The newly painted lounge room.

The newly painted lounge room.

The entire process of renovation was actually quite quick – maybe 3 to 4 weeks if I recall correctly – from the moment they entered the premises to the time they gave us the key back and we started moving furniture.

Although the exercise was relatively expensive, we were ecstatic that we were able to move into our very own resale flat that was unique to us in every way we wished it to be.

Are Serviced Apartments Really Any Different To Hotels?

Luxurious and plush but often characterless. Hotel rooms never quite manage to capture that homely feel that can make a stay so much more relaxing and that’s why I decided to test out serviced apartments when I recently relocated to Singapore. Surely they must offer something different?

Orchard Parksuites Singapore www.wotif.com

Orchard Parksuites Singapore www.wotif.com

Basing myself at the Orchard Park Suites serviced apartments while looking for a more permanent residence, I was pleasantly surprised. That cosy, welcoming feeling of a home greeted me when I first looked around. It was hard to pin-point but perhaps the open space as well as distinct rooms and a fully equipped kitchen made it feel like somewhere liveable. Whatever it was, it was significantly different to the predictable shells known as hotel rooms.

Located near Orchard Road, I was close by to all the essentials including shopping, restaurants and the MRT. I soon got to grips with the area and realised that Ngee Ann City shopping centre was for the echelons of high society while Lucky Plaza was where the bargains could be had. Lucky indeed, if your bartering skills were intact. Almost every shop you could ever imagine was in the area from gigantic bookstores to English supermarkets. After trouncing around Orchard Road, coming back to my Singapore serviced apartments was noticeably better than arriving back to a hotel room. It felt comfortable, and with the kitchen facilities I could actually buy food from outside and bring it back with me like I would at home.

Orchard Road Singapore  www.wotif.com

Orchard Road Singapore www.wotif.com

As an unexpected bonus the apartment came with complimentary broadband and after looking up the history of Orchard Road I discovered it was named that way because the road was lined with nutmeg orchards back in the 1830s. Peeking out my window revealed that wasn’t the case anymore but for a bit of nature I wasn’t too far from the parks and golf courses via the efficient MRT. I had booked the apartment at Orchard Park Suites through Wotif.com and after a brief chat to the customer service team they kindly offered me a discount because of my lengthy stay.

After staying for almost two months I eventually found my own place but the interim time wasn’t an ordeal, in fact I was fond of the apartment. Serviced Apartments are definitely also good options if you are relocating to Singapore while looking to rent, or if you’re looking for the next property, as they offer short term stays.  If I were to do the whole thing again I’d sidestep Singapore hotels for a prolonged stay like this although I would consider Singapore boutique hotels because these have character in abundance… just perhaps not the sort of character I would like to live in for a while.