Monday, October 29, 2012

Seeking Renovation Ideas

Things have been moving quite smoothly after my last blog post on our journey to a new home. We have already met our appointed lawyer to accept the option to purchase and had put in our application for a bank loan with approval in principle. We are currently estimating to complete all transactions and for the current owners to hand over the keys to us by mid-Dec (total of 8 weeks).

The next thing we will be dwelling into will be the home renovations. My wife and I quite like the current layout done by the owner, especially the European feel which is quite different from common modern contemporary feel of most houses today. However, some renovations needs to be done to the kitchen and bathroom, which were left the way they were since it was first built.

Original Kitchen

Original Guest Toilet
Our main theme of the renovation will be based on a modern Greek-styled theme - by this we mean using a very bold (aka unconventional) colour combination of light blue and white. Our intention is to paint the top half of the living room walls and the master bed room walls, as well as all bedroom doors and window grilles in a light blue color. For the renovation, I will be getting one of my friend of over 20 years, Keith Wu, who is an architect to do the design and renovation for us. Keith just came back to Singapore after spending quite a number of years in Netherlands, Hong Kong and Beijing. He now co-owns a local architect / designer firm called Materium. The firm had recently came in third for the Bukit Panjang Hawker Center Architectural Competition.

While we fully trust Keith and his team to design and construct the perfect dream home for us, we thought that it will also be a good idea if we could get some renovation ideas from our friends, especially those who have also gone through their own house renovations. We are not only looking at ideas on how to renovate the house based on our desired theme, but also looking at small nuggets like innovative ways to hide cables, wiring and piping, selection of shower heads, taps, selection of air-conitioner brands, lighting, etc. Basically any tips that you guys / gals can share from the experience with your home renovation. Some of the ideas we have so far are below.

Living Room

Living Room

For the living room, the top half of the wall, currently in light orange, will be painted light blue, like the roofs you find in houses in Greece. The brick walls will be painted white and the internal side of the window grilles will be painted blue as well. The center light fitting will most probably be removed and replaced with a ceiling fan to allow for air circulation.


We really like the fireplace that the previous owner has built, however, we also wished to have a television placed in the living room. Thus we are looking at reducing the height of the fireplace, removing the current mounted art piece and replacing it with a LCD TV. The background color will like be painted blue to match with the overall theme of the house. 


For the master bed room, we will remove the bathtub (not much use for a bathtub in Singapore anyway) and replaced with an enclosed shower with a rain-shower head. The overall layout we are looking is similarly to what is below, but maybe with a color combination that matches more with our theme


We are looking at hacking down the wall between the kitchen and the small storeroom next to it to create a bigger space and create an open kitchen concept. The wall tiles and kitchen cabinets we looking at is something like below.

These are the  main ideas we have so far, if you have any ideas that you would like to contribute, do drop me a mail or leave a comment below.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Buying a New Property - Tips For Buyers

This article is an Annex to this the post - The Journey to New Home. Just sharing some tips I learnt from my house hunting experience.

1. When buying the 2nd property, you can only borrow up to 60% bank loan if you are currently paying the loan for your 1st property. If the 1st property is fully paid, you can borrow up to 80% bank loan. Thus, if you have capacity, will suggest you pay off the loan of the 1st property before getting the 2nd.

2. To use the CPF money to pay off the downpayment for 2nd property, as well as future loans. You must set aside 1/2 of the minimum sum in the CPF based on the current rate. The rate for 2012 is 1/2 of $139k (i.e. $69.5k) and this amount it set to increase every year. This minimum sum you have is first calculated from your retirement account + investments made your your retirement account, before the rest needs to be topped up by your ordinary account. Any money beyond this in your ordinary account can be used towards your home payment.

3. Home loans usually have a lock in rate of 3 to 5 years for most banks, subsequently, you are free to get refinance with another bank, or renegotiate with your banker for better rates. Its quite hard to work out exactly how much you need to pay in total, as the interest rates fluctuates based on market conditions, as well as if there was any bank loan promotions the bank is offering at that very time. The interest rates can be either on a fixed interest rate, or a variable interest rate based on SIBOR. I would suggest you ask around all the banks for both their fixed and interest rates and do a comparison. While the variable interest rates looks more attractive, when you really do the maths, you will find that the fixed rate actually differs within the first 3 years by about a few thousands only. I would thus suggest that to take the fixed rate loans rather than the variable rates loan so that you have a more confirmed total sum you need to pay for 3 years. Variable rates, though stagnant based on past trends in SIBOR, is more likely to go up rather than down. A good loan calculator is available as an downloadable excel sheet here

4. When calculating your sums / cashflow available, you must always take into consideration this component call the Stamp Duty. The stamp duty is based on the value of your property or the selling price, whichever is higher and is charged at $1.00 per $100 for the first $180k, $2 per $100 for the next $180k and $3 per $100 for the remainder (Quick formula is property times 3% then minus of $5400). As such, you can see that it will eventually work out to be quite a substantial sum as the price you pay goes higher. There are also additional stamp duties if you happen to be a non Singapore Citizen, or you are purchasing your 3rd property. Because of the way the stamp duty deadline is structure, you will end up in a situation that the stamp duty can only be paid in cash first. There is no installment payment for it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Journey to a New Home

Ever since the birth of Harrod, our first kid, my wife and I started to have the intention to move to a bigger unit. The reason was that we felt that we needed a bigger place to house our growing family, and we wanted kiddo (and ourselves) to have enjoy some condo facilities like the pool. Furthermore, when we bought the current flat, there was already then a plan to look for a place after five years.

While the intention was there, we didn't really go about hunting for a new place until a few months ago, when my wife suddenly reminded me of our intention. We then realised that kiddo has grown up quite a fair bit and it was really time to think about getting a new place, especially since it was also our intention is to have another kid soon so that the age gap between the two were not too great.

The Initial Stage

Our first property was bought over from my in-laws so it was quite a non-event and not much research needs to be done then -  I only remember getting someone to valuate the house, then go HDB listen to the property officer explain the terms and conditions, which till now I have no clue what he was saying, then sign the documents, pay the fire insurance and then next thing I know, we own the place leow. So this time round, you can say that we are sort of virgin buyers. Over the next few weeks, we started to engage a few agents to help us look for a place. Our initial criteria were as such

- 4 Bedrooms.
- High Floor
- Non facing west for Living and Master Bedroom
- Quiet Block (meaning away from main roads, mrt tracks etc)
- East
- New or upcoming development
- Free Hold
- Not too ulu

After viewing the first few units, Bedok Residences, Flamingo Valley, Vacenza and the Water Front series at Bedok Reservoir, of which all of them were show flats and under construction. We realized that the last 2 criteria are quite mutually exclusive - if you want a free hold, it will most likely be at a ulu location, and if you want a place there is not too ulu, it will likely not be freehold. We also realized that a new or upcoming development is not suitable for us as most of them will TOP in 2014-2015, which will be too late for us. Thus we took off the free hold and upcoming development out of our criteria. We also realized that to get the maximum bank loan, we have to pay off our existing HDB loan first (which was I how I discovered about the Valuation Limit thingy on my very first post). So we quickly went to settle that part and redid out maths again.

Becoming More Seasoned House Hunters

As we started to view more properties, we got a better clarity of what type of property we were looking for, and our quality of questions when viewing the houses improved. From initial questions like "where is this house facing", "what is the view like", etc.. we started to ask more cheem questions like "what angle will the sun come in and which parts will it hit", "is your flooring teak?". Even as we "level up", I will still always ask one question - "Is your unit Fibre (Opennet) Ready?" - One of the agents must have got so used to this question that subsequently, when we went to view any property with him, and when he spots that familiar rectangular Opennet box, he will point at it and tell me that the house is Fibre ready.

The Fate (or Lack of Fate) of Owning A Place

Of the properties we seen so far, three of it caught my eye. The first was a four room apartment at Baywater. The property was owned by a Malay family and they had made a great effort to renovate the place. The place had a European wooden theme, with a false ceiling where they place spotlights to brighten up the place. The kitchen was also nicely done up. What was most impressive about this development (for a techy like me) was that not only was the house Fibre ready, the place was fully wired up as part of the development - meaning there is a data patch panel located at the comms riser and each room has a data port. I don't think a lot of people see the value in this, but to me, it was a great feature as this means you don't need to run ugly looking LAN cables all over the shop. (Wireless speeds cannot be compared to LAN speeds). Alas, the DTL construction was just behind the development, and we didn't want Kiddo and ourselves to be woken up every morning by the sound of construction works. If the construction of the DTL were a little bit further away, or completed, we would like have gotten this place.

The second property was a 4 storey (Basement + 3 Storeys) cluster-house in Springfield, near Simpang Bedok. We had no plans initially to look at cluster houses as we felt that it would be way out of our league, and that multi-storey houses may not be suitable for young kids. Subsequently, we found out that the estimated price of these houses were within our budget and so we decided to take a look. An arrangement was made to view 4 units that day, from what we thought was the most ideal in terms of location to the least. After viewing the first three, we were almost about to give up as we felt that the houses are generally quite old and run down but decided to go for the 4th one instead, which is the least desired as it was directly facing the pool. But when we stepped into the unit, we were immediately wowed by it. The owner had spent quite a huge sum (I understand it to be around 80k) to do a major overhaul of the unit, making the entire place look modern and chic, including the kitchen and respective rooms. Furthermore, the renovation was done about a year ago, but the owner had to move out as they had old folks who had difficulties climbing the stairs. We were immediately impressed by the place. Our agent could sense our excitement and immediately asked the seller's agent the lowest price the seller was willing to sell the place. The seller's agent didn't give a definitely answer, but told us the price of the rejected offer. On the way back, me and my wife, after agreeing to the range we were willing to pay, decided to make an offer via our agent. The agent told us he will check all the paperwork and then contact the seller's agent. Unfortunately, by evening time, our agent told us the place was sold.

While we didn't manage to get the place, the experience opened up another option for us to look at multi-storey units. At the same time, my wife's colleague introduce her to this property called Villa Marina at Siglap. This property was something we came across before (I later learnt) but we never paid attention to it initially.  My wife went to look at it one day over lunch with her colleagues and was impressed by the overall design of the area. Who wouldn't when you are presented with this view.

View of the Large Pool

We made an arrangement to view 2 of the units on offer at the condo. We were quite unimpressed with the first one as it was bare bones and was facing the main road (Marine Parade Road), thus it was quite noisy. The 2nd one got us hooked - the place was renovated when the owners first move in (about 12 to 13 years ago) but the place was very well kept. It had a very European feel, the living room had a fireplace, with a unblocked view out the windows at the living room. Imaging spending a lazy Sat afternoon at the living room, sitting by the window and sipping tea. The bedrooms were nicely done up as well and my wife loved one of the bedrooms which was converted into a study room. This time round, we knew that we will have to strike fast, we did a quick calculation on the maximum we want to offer and told our agent that amount. Our agent called the seller's agent but was told that the owner can only make a decision tonight on the offer. That very night, we met up with the owner - the first round of discussion didn't went through well as both of us and the sellers could not agree on a price. The owner then invited us to look around the house one more time, where he described in greater detail the different parts of the house and the renovations he done. We were impressed by his attention to details with regards to the renovation, and felt that he was very proud of this house. More importantly, the tour made us confirm that this is the house we want. When we sat down for the 2nd time, both the seller and us came to a common price that both parties could agree on very quickly. Perhaps its because we were convince by him that the property is worth the price in his mind, and they were convinced by us that we will help them take care of this house they have painstakingly maintained these past years. 

So here we are, proud owners of a 2 Storey Top Floor Penthouse in Villa Marina. A bit pricier then what we had very initially budgeted for, but definitely someplace we will not regret buying. Through the whole experience, we had believe by faith that God will open doors for us if its the right property, and close it if its not the correct one. This is a true testament to that believe, we had two chances before which we felt was the right one, but God choose to close these doors, including one at the last minute. Subsequently we were brought to a condo that was not part of our shopping list, and God choose to open this door for us. By the same faith, even though we know that the price was a bit pricier, and we have to factor in some renovation costs inside (+ misc costs), we believe that Jesus has already paid in full the amount for us as he had shown us this unit for us and kiddo to spend a good part of our life in.

I shall leave you with a few shots of the property. 
Living Room

Living Room view from 2nd Floor

Study Room

Master Bed Room