Young & Savvy

The travails of looking for a first home

Beau yet to propose but house-hunting has given us the chance to think about our futures

Over the past few months, I have found myself living out the ultimate unromantic Singaporean cliche.

My boyfriend has not yet made any plans to propose - as far as I know - but we have already started looking for our first home.

In the process, I've discovered why romance is a luxury.

The mind-boggling array of factors to consider in selecting a property are enough to pour cold water on any warm fluttery feelings.

Naively, we started our search envisioning an airy, five-room apartment minutes from the MRT in a central location.

Given that both of us have only been working for a few years, and neither of us has recently come into a huge inheritance, we decided that applying for an HDB flat would be the best way of obtaining this ideal home.

Most new HDB Build-to-Order projects take an average of three to five years to complete, but as we do not have immediate plans to get hitched, we agreed this was no big hurdle.

What has turned out to be a stumbling block, however, is the fact that we currently live at opposite ends of the island.

We want our home to be easily accessible for both sets of parents, preferably via public transport, and this rules out "non-mature" estates in areas such as Punggol and Sengkang.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that mature estates in each HDB sales launch - which also tend to have better transport infrastructure - are usually extremely popular.

Since units are allocated by way of a balloting system, this means our odds of obtaining one in a preferred location are low.

We have submitted applications for three HDB sales exercises but all were unsuccessful, although it is worth noting that in only the latest did we even get a queue number.

Our latest letter from the HDB even urged us to consider non-mature estates - a subtle reminder not to be so picky.

The process has forced us to acknowledge that we might eventually need to compromise on location, or pay slightly more for a resale unit and not have our choices curtailed by the projects available in HDB sales launches.

Over the past year, this has become an increasingly viable option, even for cash-strapped younger couples like us.

Property market cooling measures have brought prices down significantly and narrowed the gap between new, subsidised HDB flats and resale flats. High "cash over valuations" and seller expectations no longer dictate the rules of the game.

Even as we wade into the resale market, however, we also have to think about financing our home purchase.

We have enough stashed away to handle upfront payments like deposits. But we will have to make a whole range of decisions related to the mortgage, with the prospect of having these choices impact our finances for many years to come.

As if all of that were not daunting enough, the expenditures will not end with purchasing the house.

Once we have the keys, we will also have to consider the cost of renovation, interior design and furnishings.

There is a chance that by the time we get around to actually planning a wedding, the money will have run out and we will be forced to ask friends and family to take along their own refreshments.

That is still some time away, so we will cross that bridge when we come to it (though everyone who expects to attend our wedding should consider themselves duly warned).

But this process has convinced me that the Singaporean method of planning for a home before the proposal or wedding - unromantic as it might be - actually has its perks.

It has forced us to have in-depth discussions about our finances and our priorities, way ahead of making any formal commitments.

While romantic gestures like surprise proposals are certainly nice, it can be much tougher to cultivate honesty and openness in a relationship, especially on touchy issues like money.

House-hunting has also given us the chance to think about our futures, both as individuals and together. For instance, will both of us have to keep working to pay the mortgage, even after we have kids (a prospect even further off and vastly more terrifying than mortgages or wedding planning)?

Our home will be the first major investment we make together, but thrashing out these issues early on will hopefully put us in good stead to take on even more in future.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline The travails of looking for a first home. Subscribe