Good interior design and renovation need not be expensive

5 Lessons Learnt from the Singapore Property Battlefield

We killed our first big beast before end of the year. Whether it’s by a stroke of luck or just plain grabbing the bulls by its horns, we “wished” our way into buying our property finally, after a long and frustrating wait. Here’s what we learnt in the battlefield.

1. It pays to be patient.

When we returned to Singapore after spending close to a decade working in China, we woke up to a rude shock. Singapore runaway property prices has shot up way beyond our reach. We had a public housing flat we owned before we left for China but we sold that apartment when resale flat prices soared in 2010. We sold it, not thinking that we will ever return to Singapore again. BIG MISTAKE…. Then the rude shock in 2012 when we DID return. We decided to wait it out. Sure enough, the series of rules passed to subdue property prices took effect, and by end 2013, after having spent the last one year living in make-shift conditions, we plunged our feet into much cooler waters.

2. Meet your banker before you begin shopping for apartments.

Unless you’re a first time applicant for public housing, in which case you are almost guaranteed of reasonably-priced apartments. Otherwise, the rest of us hustlers just have to do our homework more vigilantly. We first identified our banker who advised us how much loan we can take up based on the new IRAS rules, our monthly household income and existing loans. This helps you draw the affordability line, and you can begin shortlisting the types of housing you can afford. Once the line is drawn, never, ever step over it.

3. Spend within your means. 

Even though our banker gave us quite a healthy endorsement to our financials, we knew we do not want to become what the Chinese say, 房奴 (slave to your housing mortgage). We took our banker’s line of credit, cut it down 2/3 and gave ourselves a budget that’s 1/3 of what our bankers approved. Life in Singapore is pressurizing enough, we do not need additional pressures and a nagging feeling  of a hefty bank loan into our sunset years. It may sound stupid to some, with mortgage rates at an all-time low, and not making use of this ideal situation to “invest” in a higher class properties. But no, we want our financial freedom, and we do not want to dig for ourselves a lifestyle that we cannot afford later on. Besides, I always think Singapore’s current property market is a bubble just waiting to burst (and it will at some point).

4. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

It’s an old tale told too often, but just how much can you negotiate when it’s still a seller’s market? You may be surprised. We managed to negotiate ours significantly less than the calling price. There are some techniques we used to negotiate it down (more on this later). In our last 10 years living like nomads in China, we moved eight times in 10 years. Each time we moved, we had to negotiate with the Chinese landlord to get our deposit back (some interesting stories to come), and negotiate our next apartment rental rates. Those years of negotiating skills honed from doing business with Chinese landlords – who are best described as mafia-like – yeah man… they are worth something now in Singapore. But one thing we learnt is to start with the end in mind, and stick to your guns. There was some amount of luck that we met our seller who is a decisive business man, but most importantly, knowing our “line” pushed the process along faster and achieved a win-win-win for all. The rest, as they say, is history. (We digress here, but here’s something I chanced upon and really felt it describing what we went through when negotiating for this buy.)

5. Avoid the agent.

Yes, we spotted, visited, and transacted our apartment all WITHOUT an agent representing us. The seller had an agent, whom we only spoke to during the initial visit, but most other times, we spoke to the seller directly, especially the critical bits like negotiating. There’s nothing wrong working with agents, but our past experience have taught us that agents can inevitably up property prices by not bargaining as much as they should. Plus it always benefit them (and the seller) if the buyer can be cajoled to pay more. So we didn’t work with any agents this time round. It helped us tremendously. The entire process from first viewing to final price option exercise at the lawyer’s, was closed within 3 weeks. We have never done a deal that fast in that kind of timeframe with that kind of results, even in our professional lives. So we can attest that it is possible to purchase your property without engaging an agent.

And so, we thought of starting this blog to share our experiences in our endeavour into the muddy waters of Singapore real estate. While we wait for the legal paperwork to be completed at the seller’s end, my focus is now on renovating our humble abode within a very modest budget. And we really mean MODEST here.  I am a novice, having never renovated an apartment before, and having almost no knowledge of market practices. Our aim is to stick to our modest budget but still try to get the hell lot of work done…. we have some interesting days ahead.

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .


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