Me & My Property

Dream home has just the right feel

HDB executive apartment offers couple both investment value and a serene retreat

Imagine waking up to the sight of lush forests and the sound of birds chirping gently - that gives you some idea of what greets education sector worker Lawrence Che in the mornings at his cosy home in Bukit Batok.

Mr Che, 40, recalls the moment he first walked into the Housing Board executive apartment with his wife Audrey, 33, a human resources executive.

"The spacious living room welcomed us, and we were mesmerised by the serene and tranquil view of Bukit Batok and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from the balcony.

"The expanse of greenery was awesome and breathtaking. There is also a beautiful church with a lovely courtyard at the foot of the hill."

Looking beyond criteria such as location and investment return, Mr Che wanted the right "feeling".

Mr Che at his HDB executive apartment in Bukit Batok. The first time he stepped into the living room, he was taken by its spaciousness. Spanning 1,600 sq ft, the apartment has four bedrooms. Tucked away amid an expanse of greenery, it is, nevertheless, conveniently located with a market and coffee shops just behind the block. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

"It's the final factor. I've bought three properties over the past 10 years, and each gave off a vibe that just told me it was home. A home is an extension of our personality so we must find a place that makes us feel at peace."

Q What's your property like?

A Audrey and I were looking to buy an HDB flat on a high floor or a condominium unit with an unblocked view last year. We were looking at the Bukit Batok area as it's near our parents' places.

When my agent Shao Guo Yong shortlisted this property for us, it was love at first sight.

My wife and I believe $720,000 was a worthwhile investment in this resale HDB executive apartment, which spans 1,600 sq ft and has four bedrooms, two toilets and a balcony. We felt it was a good buy as the neighbourhood market and coffee shops are located just behind our block.

We invested about $80,000 in making the renovations. We furnished our huge master bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall built-in wardrobe. We also have a customised TV console joined to a simple dressing table. A large mirror was mounted on the wall beside the TV in the room.

Our balcony was designed with three rustic walls, and we have a street lamp by the side for an outdoor feel.

The balcony with the street lamp by the side offers an outdoor feel and a panoramic view of Bukit Batok and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Q Tell us about your property portfolio.

A I invested in my first private property at the age of 29 in 2006. I was excited when I saw the unique walk-up apartment nestled among landed properties along Chu Lin Road. There were eight residential units above eight commercial shops. The community there had a kampung feel to it.

I bought a corner unit with three bedrooms and a balcony facing Bukit Gombak hill, with landed houses just outside my place. I saw potential as the property had a 999-year lease. Even though it was not that accessible, I liked the quiet and exclusive environment.

The seller wanted $376,000, even though, as I found out, the bank valuation was only $350,000. I enjoyed four years there. Later on, after weighing various options, my wife and I decided to move to an HDB flat. It was also an opportune time to sell the house, as the property market was near the peak then.

I was fortunate that I could sell the place for $790,000. With the profit, I was able to settle the outstanding mortgage in full. This private walk-up apartment has been my best property investment so far.

We previously lived in a 1,600 sq ft executive maisonette, but decided to move because of the staircase.

Mr Che’s first private property was a walk-up apartment in Chu Lin Road. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAWRENCE CHE

Q Describe your property investing strategy and market view.

A Property agents will tell you: "location, location, location". Even so, I consider lifestyle to be an essential factor.

Buying a house is a matter of functionality and priority. People should consider their life goals in the upcoming five to 10 years when investing in a property.

Singles might want a place near their friends, for instance, while a family might prefer to be near parents, schools and marketplaces. If the family does not have a car, being near MRT stations and bus terminals would be an advantage.

I also weigh the investment returns. A property that will always appeal to the majority has more potential buyers, which means a potentially higher selling price.

For rental income, accessibility to towns and city centres is key. For long-term investors, I feel it is wiser to go for a 999-year lease or a freehold property.

It is still a buyers' market now. I believe that prices have stabilised somewhat. I'm exploring investing in private property after the HDB minimum occupation period.

We're looking at private properties along the new Thomson MRT line. The new development in the area will improve accessibility to the central business district through the north-south corridor.

Q What's your financing strategy?

A We took up a fixed-rate mortgage with United Overseas Bank knowing there was a possibility of a rate hike. The sale proceeds from our previous property were channelled back to our Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, instead of being used to buy our new house.

We chose to take a larger loan from the bank as the fixed interest rate was low. The funds in the CPF accounts generate higher interest for us, so keeping them there makes more financial sense. I also purchased home content insurance for protection against perils like fire and burglary.

Q What's your overall investing strategy?

A Most of my savings are now with the CPF. In the light of current global economic uncertainties, it's not easy to find many investment assets that offer more stability than the CPF guaranteed rate.

Q My dream home is...

A More than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in HDB units. We are blessed and grateful to own one. Many Singaporeans get caught up in the pursuit of their dream house, but we believe that a home is where our families and friends are and they are our greatest wealth.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Dream home has just the right feel'. Print Edition | Subscribe