PSA: How to buy property in Singapore on a tight budget


About a year ago, Bridget and I got into a situation where we were forced to move out of the house we were living in. We had been living there for a number of years, and as with all good things, it had to come to an end.

Things seemed pretty dire then; we have a mongrel dog, so we couldn’t move into a HDB flat, and we couldn’t actually afford to rent a private house/apartment, plus pay the rent for our Bussorah Street store.

Because Singapore is a bizarre little island, the solution to our problem was ridiculous but obvious: we had to buy a house, since our monthly mortgage payment would be less than what we would pay if we had to rent.

Running our business means that we are perpetually low on cash, so we needed some help from my brother. While he definitely had more cash than we did, he isn’t rich either. So there we were facing property prices at their peak, about to be homeless with our dog and cat, and with a very modest budget to buy a private apartment.

I’m going to share with you some tips on how we managed to find our ideal apartment within a very short time frame.

1. There is no such thing as a good or bad time to buy property.

If you gotta buy a house, you gotta buy a house. You just have to spot good/reasonable deals and make fast decisions. If you see something you like and fits your budget, make an offer immediately. Good deals go fast. Do not waste time thinking that there will be something better.

2. A modest budget is an asset.

Our budget automatically narrowed our choices, so we didn’t waste our time looking at apartment after apartment. There were only two apartments on our list and we ended up viewing only one.




3. Do not buy new developments.

Developers buy land at property bubble prices, so you will pay property bubble prices. For developers to turn profits at levels that they are used to, these apartments will necessarily have to be smaller.

In order to conceal the scantiness of these apartments, developers throw all kinds of fancy shwarma at you. Bald (famous) architects. Designer interiors (I once asked if it’s possible to get a blank apartment. They said no. You have to get interior A or interior B). Roof top swimming pools. Hanging gardens. All that rubbish just to convince people to pay more for a smaller house.

Some people say that old apartments will have plumbing and leakage problems. That could possibly be true, but there are very few things a good contractor can’t solve. And from what I hear, some new apartments leak after two years because of shoddy workmanship.

Also it doesn’t matter how good a development looks on the outside. I’ve walked past so many expensive houses that you can see is just a shell; usually there’s a red or blue plastic pail in plain sight.

I guess you could buy a new development if you’re a money launderer. Or if you want money launderers as your neighbours. Make some connections you know.

4. Ignore the way the interior of an apartment looks.

Sometimes, old apartments look bad. They are configured weirdly and they have ugly tiled bathtubs that no one ever uses to take an actual bath because the bathtub is so unpleasant.

Try to ignore this. You will be able to reconfigure the space into something satisfactory with some renovation.

If you are someone who just wants to move into a space without doing anything, this doesn’t apply to you. But then again you would probably not have a modest budget.

5. Buy a tenanted apartment if possible.

If you’re not in a hurry to move in, collect some rent money first to defray renovation costs. Our apartment was tenanted for 6 months before we moved in; that paid for splitting the horrendous 80s bathroom into two, and building San Lang’s toilet that he never used (we store our vacuum cleaner there now).

6. Get a good agent.

Everybody knows that I think property agents are the scum of the earth. But that’s not true. I just think that most property agents are the scum of the earth.

If you’re lucky enough to get a good one, they make things much easier. Agent talk for when you’re shit at negotiating.

Do you have more tips to add to my list? Leave a comment or email me.

Are you a scum of the earth property agent/developer/money launderer? Email me. I do not want my blog post to be ruinous to your business.



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