Purchasing a pre-owned flat is a major financial commitment. Check for these 7 things to ensure you're getting the home you're paying for.
Many Singaporeans prefer a resale flat to a new one, as there’s no waiting time involved. Besides being able to move in right away, resale flats are also often in mature districts; all the convenience stores and hawker centres are already nearby.
Remember though, a resale flat has been lived in before – and there are some key things to do before you sign on the dotted line:
1. Take a walkabout
It’s common to be told the flat is “just three minutes” from the MRT station, or the nearest mall. But remember that such estimates are often exaggerated, and you shouldn't take them at face value.
Distance and speed vary based on who’s walking; it may be a three-minute brisk walk for a 25-year-old athlete, but not for your 60-year-old parent who’s staying with you.
It’s best to test these things out for yourself, by taking a walk to the amenities.
2. Bring a compass (or use a compass app)
Check that the unit (the main windows) isn’t facing directly east or west. If it does, know that your unit will be hotter than others. The sun will shine directly in from around 12 p.m. onward, and you’ll be spending more on fans or air-conditioning.
Some sellers will fudge the truth, such as by telling you the unit is facing “north-west”, when in reality it’s just plain old westward facing.
3. Check water heater(s)
If the unit you are interested in has a storage water heater (the type that uses a tank), you’ll want to pay particular attention that it's working properly.
Let the tap run for a while, with the water heater on. Is the heater working at all, or working poorly (e.g. after three minutes there’s nothing more than slight warmth)? If the water heater isn’t working well, note that it will be expensive to replace, and/or discard (you’ll need to hire a professional).
Another way to check – if you don’t want to run the water – is touch the wall in front of the heater. If it’s working, the area should warm up after you leave it on for a while.
4. Check for loanshark graffiti
One warning sign you definitely want to check for is the presence of graffiti left by loansharks.
If the flat has been targeted by loansharks, the seller would have cleaned off the marks before viewing. However, you can often see loanshark graffiti in the stairwell and common corridor as well, especially on other levels.
(Check the paint closely; you can still sometimes see the graffiti under a thin coat).
Remember that even if your unit is not the specific one targeted by loansharks, you will still be affected. For example, if a neighbouring unit has loanshark troubles, it may spill over and affect you.
Also note if private CCTV cameras have been set up, to point at the common corridor. This may be nothing (the previous owner may just like the added security); but it may also be a sign of loanshark trouble.
5. Swing by the flat a different time
Sellers will choose the optimum time for you to view the flat. But bear in mind that certain hours, such as between 2 p.m. to 4.30 p.m., are not reflective of “real” conditions.
Most people are at work during those hours so naturally the flat will be quiet. But you need to drop by the area at, say, 7 p.m., to get a sense of how noisy the place really is. Once everyone is back from work, the entire floor might sound like a packed pasar malam.
You also need to consider noise pollution from traffic or MRT lines. Some flats are located near major roads. While that makes access easy, noise pollution can be higher at peak hours, or even late into the night.
6. Check for relevant amenities
Check if the main amenities in the area are relevant to you and your family.
The presence of a neighbourhood mall will jack up the price of your flat, but how likely are you to frequent the retail outlets and eateries in that mall?
If you’ll rarely go there, then the mall access may not be worth paying for (in fact, it could just be noise pollution on the weekends). Likewise, there’s no point having a lot of eateries nearby, if they all sell food that doesn’t agree with your budget or diet.
As a further step, visit the advertised park spaces, nature walk, bus interchanges and decide if they really make improvements to your lifestyle.
7. Check for sagging doors
A common problem with older flats is sagging doors. This is when the hinges loosen with time, making the doors difficult to close or open. It’s expensive to replace doors, so this should be factored into your cost decisions.
Many new buyers forget to fully open and close each door to ensure they don’t sag, and also to check if the locking mechanism on all of them work.
Don't be afraid of appearing nitpicky. Make sure to fully open and close all doors in the flat you are intending to buy (and don't forget the cupboards and cabinets, if you plan to keep them!)
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men's Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.