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How to Choose The Perfect HDB Resale Flat to Buy (Checklist Included!)

profileKenneth Fong

I recently attended a friend’s housewarming party, which was held in his new HDB Resale flat.

(I know, the irony is not lost on me.)

And he was pretty happy with his flat — save for one small thing.

This is a rough sketch of his HDB flat situation:

Poorly drawn so you can’t identify where he lives… his words, not mine.

Notice that his home is located somewhere in the middle of a loop?

The only way he can get out is to drive out of the loop — which is one-way only.

This becomes a problem in the morning when he has to head to work.

Because that’s when parents are ALSO dropping off their kids at the school that is conveniently located near the mouth of the loop.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants

See the problem now?

If you bought an HDB BTO flat in a non-mature estate, this might not be a problem that you’ll notice immediately.

Since amenities like schools aren’t built yet… you probably wouldn’t notice these potential inconveniences.

Unless you have the foresight to consult the URA Masterplan, that is.

But if you’re buying an HDB Resale flat then you really should pay attention to your surroundings and know what you’re getting yourself into.

Want to avoid getting into the same situation as my friend?

I gotchu fam.

TL;DR: A Checklist of Things to Look Out For When Choosing Your HDB Resale Flat

How To Choose Your HDB Resale Flat

Questions to Ask YourselfPersonal Remarks and Observations
Location and AccessibilityIs it REALLY within walking distance of the nearest shopping mall or MRT station?
Is it near (insert important amenities or facilities eg. kopitiam or shopping centre)?
Where is the nearest bus stop or MRT station?
How is the traffic like around the estate?
How is the flat and estate like during different times of the day?
Is the unit facing the sun?
Liveability and ConditionSize and layout
Lights and electrical sockets
Aircon insulation and pipe replacement
Bathroom condition
Floors and walls
Existing house fixtures
Doors and locks
Fengshui, Vibe Check, and Other Important StuffWhat's the remaining lease?
Does it pass the fengshui or vibe check?
Any bad neighbours?
Any potential loanshark problems?

I also highly recommend bringing these along when viewing the units your shortlisted:

  • measuring tape
  • pen or pencil and a notepad (it’s usually easier to sketch or draw something rather than use your phone)
  • a person whose opinions you care about

Need more help with regard to buying your first home?

Still not sure if you should consider a BTO, Resale, or Executive Condominium?

Why not ask our friendly Seedly Community and get answers! You can even ask anonymously if you’re shy!

Location, Location, Location…

I mean, that’s probably the biggest reason why you chose to go with an HDB Resale flat instead of an HDB BTO, right?

You have the flexibility of choosing where you’d like to stay and not be restricted by where the next BTO launch will be.

And even have the option to live close enough to your parents in order to enjoy the Proximity Housing Grant.

So, take full advantage of this perk and choose the location of your Resale flat wisely.

1) Take a (Physical) Walk Around the Estate

Y’know how condo brochures and Google maps always tell you that a shopping mall or MRT is only a 3-minute or 5-minute walk away?

Source: Uptown@Farrer

Always assume that it’s B.S. because Google’s estimate is usually not based on a leisurely stroll.

Head down to the estate and physically walk the distance to find out if the nearest shopping mall or MRT station is really a 5 minutes’ walk from your future flat.

Trust me, your future self will curse you if you have to walk 15-minutes just to get to the nearest supermarket that’s supposed to be 5 minutes’ walk away.

2) Identify Important Amenities and Facilities

Identify and look out for amenities and facilities which are important to you.

If you have an elderly parent (or grandparent) who needs constant access to medical care, then maybe you’ll want to live near a polyclinic or hospital.

Source: Changi General Hospital | Facebook

If you don’t plan to cook often, what kind of food satisfies and is within your daily budget?

You could be living near many popular cafes, but are you really going to be spending $20 on avocado toast every day?

Or would you prefer to have more kopitiams or even a wet market nearby where you can get cheap and filling cai png (Hokkien: economic rice)?

If you plan to have kids, you might want to consider living near a primary school in order to give them a higher chance of getting in.

Especially if it’s a REALLY popular one that you die die also want your kids to attend.

I could go on, and on…

But you get the idea right?

Make a list of what’s important to you and see if your potential flat or estate meets your requirements.

3) Locate the Nearest Bus Stop or MRT Station

This one’s pretty obvious.

If your main mode of transportation is via bus or train, then you’ll definitely want to be near a bus stop or MRT station.

Or at least within walking distance of one.

Want to take it a step further?

Find out if the nearest transport node is a major interchange.

For example, have you ever been to Serangoon MRT station during rush hour?

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants

Yep. I kid you not.

Another thing to consider, if you have an MRT station nearby or live right next to a main road, is the noise.

My wife used to live on the 17th floor when she was living with her mom, and you could still hear the trains since the MRT tracks are right next to the HDB block.

4) Observe the Traffic Around the Estate

This applies to human and road traffic — the latter especially if you drive.

Remember my friend’s story earlier?

If your HDB block is near a major intersection, a facility, a place of interest, or a religious site (like a Chinese temple or church).

Chances are, the roads will be congested during events, public holidays or major festivities.

Even if you don’t drive, consider what the human traffic is like around your block.

For example, if your unit is directly above a kopitiam.

Can you live with the potential noise and smells that might stretch late into the night?

5) Check Out the Unit and the Estate at Different Times of the Day

The current homeowner (or property agent) who is selling you the flat will always want you to visit the unit at the ‘best time’.

That’s probably when everyone is out at work and school, so naturally, the neighbourhood will be pretty quiet.

But apart from that, visit the flat and the estate at different times of the day too.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants | Giphy

A visit during the morning rush hour will tell what your morning commute situation will be like.

A visit in the evenings will also tell you if your estate is really as quiet as you think it is — since that’s when everyone is home.

6) Find Out If the Unit Is Facing the Sun

Okay, this isn’t so much about fengshui as it is for practical reasons.

Think about it.

The main windows and front door of your unit are usually connected to your living room.

So if that is facing West, you’ll have to put up with the harsh afternoon to evening sun (usually between 3 to 6pm) which could make your entire unit really warm.

If your bedroom is facing West, the sun will also heat up the bedroom in the evenings and it’ll stay warm until late at night.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants

The best way to figure this out?

Take out a compass and check which direction your unit is REALLY facing.

Don’t take your agent or the homeowner’s claims of “Oh, it’s facing northwest-ish” as gospel.

If you can, try touching the west-facing walls to see if they’re warm (see why it’s important to visit at different times?)

Liveability and Condition of the HDB Resale Flat

Buying a home is a big-ticket expense.

So you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting what you paid for.

And don’t have to spend too much fixing the place just to make it liveable.

This is why it’s important to check the condition of the flat, and get a better understanding of how much your potential renovations costs are going to be.

Here’s a general list of things to look out for:

1) Size and Layout

A unit’s floor plan can only tell you so much.

When you visit the actual space, you might find that certain corners of the unit where you initially thought was possible to fit a cupboard…

Might not fit it after all since it’s blocked by a water pipe.

You’ll also want to think about what you will need for your current AND future living arrangements.

If you’ve furniture which you would like to bring over, you’ll also want to take measurements to make sure that it’ll fit in your new place.

P.S. this is also where the measuring tape will come in handy

2) Lights and Electrical Sockets

During a property viewing, homeowners will usually switch on all of the lights to show you how ‘bright and airy’ the unit is.

If you’re visiting during the day, switch off the lights to get a sense of how brightly lit the rooms are, naturally.

And if you’re visiting at night, check that all of the lights work — especially if you’re not planning to change them when you move in.

For older flats that aren’t as properly maintained…

You’ll want to get an electrician to check the cables, electrical sockets and outlets, and maybe even carry out electrical re-wiring due to wear and tear.

Add this to the changing of lights (because you want LED lightbulbs instead to save costs) and this could be a pretty costly exercise which you’ll have to factor into your renovation cost.

3) Aircon Insulation and Pipe Replacement

With the airconditioning units, you’ll want to check that they’re functioning and have been maintained regularly.

If you find that the insulation material is worn out, or pipes need to get replaced.

Weigh the cost of replacing the entire airconditioning system vs. small fixes to keep the system running.

It might be cheaper to just get a brand new system.

Especially if the existing aircon compressors and units are really old (read: not as energy efficient anymore).

4) Bathroom Condition

You’ll want to check the water pressure by turning on taps and flushing the toilets.

If it’s weak, you might need to refit water plumbing fittings or even get new fixtures to replace old ones.

Look up and watch out for watermarks as they’re telltale signs of a leak — or a bigger problem.

Also, check that the water heater is working too, especially for units with a storage water tank.

Get a sense of how long it takes for the water to get hot.

And while you’re in there, check that the bottom of the bathroom doors isn’t waterlogged.

Or sagging because the hinges have become loose over time.

5) Floors and Walls

Check that the walls are crack-free and do not have any signs of physical damage.

If you can still smell fresh paint when viewing the property…

Chances are the paint job could be a way to cover up mould or a water leak.

When it comes to the floors, it’ll probably take up the bulk of any renovation cost.

If you don’t plan on replacing the existing floors, check that the floors are maintained well.

Look out for any loose pieces, wear and tear, chipped, discoloured, or (gasp) missing tiles.

Even if you change your mind later, a cheaper option would be to overlay tiles instead of hacking everything up.

6) Existing House Fixtures

Look out for stuff like:

  • arched hallways
  • built-in wardrobes, cabinets, and settees
  • ceiling cornices
  • cove or track lighting
  • false ceilings
  • ornate gates

Which will be included in the price of the Resale flat.

Some of these house fixtures might be in fashion when the current owner first renovated the flat 20 years ago.

So if they’re not your style, you’ll want to bring this up for discussion to avoid paying for something you don’t want.

7) Doors and Locks

It’s always a good idea to change the locks of the main door and main gate because you never know if someone out there has a copy of the keys.

If the door has an electric lock that is still working, you could reset the password and continue using it.

But if the lock is faulty and has to be replaced, you’re gonna need to find a new lock that can fill the hole where the old lock used to be.

Or you might even need to buy a brand new door which could be pretty costly because your main door has to meet certain HDB regulations.

Fengshui, Vibe Check, and Other Important Sh*t

Besides the physical stuff, here are some other equally important things which you might want to look out for, too.

1) Check The Unit’s Remaining Lease

In case you didn’t know, all HDB flats have a 99-year lease.

If you’re getting a brand new HDB BTO, you won’t have to worry about this because you’re the unit’s first owner.

But if you’re buying an HDB Resale flat from someone, you’ll want to pay attention to the unit’s remaining lease.

Because as the lease runs out, there are CPF and housing loan restrictions to consider.

Want to find out what the remaining lease is like?

Just use this HDB resource and key in the unit’s postal code to find out.

2) Fengshui and Vibes

If you’re a strong believer in fengshui, you’ll want to bring along a trusted fengshui master to assess the unit.

You really don’t want to wait until you’ve paid the downpayment to invite him.

Only to learn that living 2 floors higher will increase your wealth by 5 times.

Even if you don’t believe in fengshui, it’s always good to bring someone, whose opinions you care about, for property viewings.

You might like a particular unit, but if your partner or your parents feel that there’s some kinda weird energy or vibe with the place…

You’re not going to be able to enjoy it fully when they move in with you.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants | Giphy

3) Bad Neighbours

Ask the current homeowner about the neighbours to find out if any of them practices the bagpipes at 2am in the morning.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants | Giphy

(Although it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be privy to that information.)

And take the time to talk to the neighbours too.

If any of them appears dodgy or don’t have anything nice to say about the unit’s owner.

You’ll want to pay attention to why… which brings me neatly to my next point.

4) Potential Loanshark Problems

If the current homeowner has installed a private CCTV camera outside the unit, this should raise a red flag.

Look around the doors and external walls of the unit for fresh coats of paint — which could be used to cover O$P$ graffiti or splashes of red paint.

Source: SpongeBob SquarePants | Giphy

If you don’t see any obvious telltale signs directly outside the unit, look at the stairwells, common corridor, and lift landing.

And even if the attacks aren’t targetted at the unit which you’re viewing…

You can’t guarantee that they’ll leave you and your family alone right?

Hard pass.

About Kenneth Fong
I threw all of my money into the longkang once... because I wanted to see my cash flow.
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