A First-Timer Condo Owner's Guide on How To Pick the Best Condo Unit
Can’t wait that long for an HDB BTO flat?
Can’t seem to find a suitable HDB Resale flat that’s near the primary school of your choice?
Or perhaps you’ve busted the income ceilings for CPF Housing Grants and HDB housing loans?
Well… then you’re most likely considering a condominium.
Wondering how to pick the best condo unit?
Let’s find out!
TL;DR: How To Pick the Best Condo Unit
When it comes to picking out the best condo unit.
It’s easier to do so with an existing development (aka resale condo) because you can physically visit the development and inspect the unit which you’re interested in.
With a new launch, you’re pretty much going in blind because you won’t know how the actual development will turn out.
So you’re gonna need to rely on your imagination and need to ask the developer the correct questions.
Either way, here are some considerations to think about when picking out the best condo unit:
- Consider where the unit is facing (direction of sun)
- Consider what the unit is facing (views)
- Which floor is the unit on?
- Check how many units are there per floor
- Proximity to condo facilities
- What’s the layout like?
- Are there any unique selling points?
- What kind of fittings comes with the unit?
1. Where Is The Unit Facing?
When it comes to property (regardless of whether it’s an HDB flat or a condo), a lot of owners are very concerned about the direction which their unit is facing.
Especially since it affects how much sun you get directly on your home.
The most ideal units are those in a North-South orientation as the sun’s path is from the East (where it rises) to the West (where it sets).
This way, your home won’t get hit by direct sunlight so it stays cooler throughout the day.
If those units aren’t available, your next best bet would be those in a South-East orientation.
The only trade-off is that you’ll probably get a little more sun in the morning.
But at least you don’t have to deal with the sun in the late afternoon to the evening when you’re more likely to be at home.
With that being said, if you do find an East or West facing unit, don’t shun it completely.
Because they might be priced a little cheaper than other units.
Besides, you can always install window films and reflective shades or blinds to keep the sun out.
2. What Is The Unit Facing?
For large projects with multiple blocks and facings, the biggest (read: most expensive) units are typically those with premium facings.
Take a look at the site plan for this condo:
notice how all the 4-Bedroom (in brown) and 5-Bedroom units (marked in purple) are facing inwards?
This way, you can enjoy the lush landscape and pool views that you’re going to be paying a premium for.
If you don’t need that inward view of the pool or of the facilities in the condo, you might want to consider the units with an outward view.
That’s not to say that these units will be any cheaper because some of them might accord more privacy due to the layout of the units in the block and where it is located in the development.
So that comes at a premium too.
Another smarter way of deciding between an inward or outward view is to also check the URA Master Plan to figure out what are the growth plans of the area surrounding the condo site over the next 10 to 15 years.
This way, if you’re deciding between an outward-facing unit with an unobstructed view vs. another one which is already blocked by say… a nearby HDB estate.
You might not want to pay a premium for the one with an unobstructed view if you know that there’s going to be another development coming up which might block your view in the future.
3. Which Floor is The Unit On?
For condos, you’ll notice that most buyers usually go for the units on the high floors or on the ground floor.
And that’s because there’s not much diff for anything else in between.
Let me explain why.
Why Choose Condo Units on the Ground Floor (or Lower Levels)?
Ground floor units have better accessibility because you don’t have to wait for the lift.
You might not think that this is an issue but wait till you forget your wallet (or mask) in the morning and have to head back up to the 47th floor.
(Aside: don’t even get me started on Chinese New Year visits and Christmas parties)
While waiting for the bloody lift that seems to stop on every single level because everyone is on their way to school or work.
If you have or are planning to have pets, some people might be uncomfortable taking the same lift as you and your dog.
So instead of having to wait for the next lift, you could just take the stairs if you’re on the lower levels.
Or just walk out of your door if you’re living in a ground floor unit.
If you happen to own bulky furniture or stuff like… I dunno… a 3m tall oil painting of yourself that obviously isn’t going to fit in the lifts.
You’ll have an easier time if you live on the ground floor.
Ground floor units to lower levels (around level 5 or 7, depending on high the blocks are) are what I would call true pool view units.
Because if you were to buy a middle to high floor pool view unit.
You might find yourself looking into your next block neighbour’s home more than at the pool because you’re just way too high up.
And this is even if you have a balcony, which is supposed to allow you to enjoy the pool view.
So do yourself a favour and check what’s the distance between neighbouring blocks before deciding on a pool view unit.
One BIG advantage of going with a ground floor unit is that you might find yourself right next to the swimming pool.
So it’s as though you’ve got direct access to a pool in your backyard.
Private Enclosed Space and (Potential) Extra Space
Depending on the development, some ground floor units might come with a Private Enclosed Space (PES).
Instead of getting a narrow balcony on the higher floors, which you can’t do much with except put out some clothes on a drying rack.
You basically get a patio or a backyard of your own — and it typically comes with a gate which you can lock.
And since you’re on the ground level, any space around your unit that is not typically used by anyone could be extra space which you could potentially install a shoe rack or keep a couple of pots of plants — as long as you’re not obstructing the way or inconveniencing anyone.
Safer For Families and To Clean Exterior Surfaces
If you’re planning to have kids or pets, a ground floor unit is arguably a safer choice.
Especially if your young ones turn out to be avid climbers.
Or maybe your cats enjoy hanging out on the window ledges.
Also, if you’re a stickler for cleanliness, a ground floor unit means that exterior surfaces like windows and ledges can be cleaned easily.
Why Choose Condo Units on the Higher Floors
Better Ventilation, Better View, and Brighter Environment
With high floor units, you’ll get more access to the sun and are less likely to be blocked by their surroundings.
Not to mention access to a better view and better ventilation (read: can save electricity as you don’t need to switch on the fan or air-con).
Just look at this view from The Panorama at Ang Mo Kio in District 20:
For units on the ground floor or lower units, your access to sunlight might be blocked by other neighbouring buildings or facilities like the clubhouse.
So you might need to get a dryer instead for your laundry.
If you’re wondering if a higher floor unit would have lesser noise…
I would say that it really depends.
I’ve lived in an HDB flat that was right next to the MRT tracks, and I could still hear the trains rumble past even though I was on the 17th floor.
But trust me.
Over time, you’ll be desensitised to the sound and block it out.
If you’re living next to an expressway though… a high floor also doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be shielded from the ambient noise of peak hour traffic in the mornings and evenings.
As a general rule of thumb, top floor units usually have a much higher floor to ceiling height.
Penthouses aside of course (that’s a given).
However, higher ceilings aren’t always only limited to higher floor units.
If you picked a development like Up @ Robertson Quay in District 9, the units feature ceilings of 3m to 4.2m.
And some, even up to 7.2m.
Privacy and Security
If you value privacy, a ground floor unit is not going to be your first choice because there’s a lot of foot traffic outside your unit.
Which means that you might find kaypoh neighbours peering into your home from time to time.
If you live on a high floor, it’s unlikely that anyone else has any business loitering around your corridor or floor.
You also don’t have to worry too much about housebreaking and theft-related crimes because you’d need a keycard to access the lobby AND to unlock your floor in the lift.
Access to a ground floor unit is much easier as anyone can tailgate a resident at an access gate, and enter the premises of the condo.
Since you’re all the way up, fewer neighbours will be able to look into your unit and you might be able to enjoy greater privacy even without having to draw your curtains all the time.
The only exception is if your condo has rooftop gardens, BBQ pits or swimming pools.
Then you might want to think carefully if the premium you’re paying for a higher level is worth it.
How to Choose Condo Units on the Middle Floors
I’d say that the mid-floor units don’t differ that much.
You usually have to pay a premium for:
- extra space ala the PES
With the mid-floor units, there’s not going to be that much difference living on the 10th floor as compared to the 11th floor.
So you might want to think about whether paying extra for a higher mid-floor unit is worth it.
4. How Many Units Are There on Each Floor?
Take a closer look at the condominium site plan and take note of how many units are there per floor.
Especially in the blocks which you’re interested in.
With fewer units per floor, you can expect lesser foot traffic which means more privacy.
You’ll also want to know what kind of units are on the same floor as the one which you’re looking at.
If most of the units are 1 to 2 Bedroom condo units, you can probably expect your neighbours to change more frequently.
As these types of units are more likely to be rented out or flipped in the market.
5. Proximity to Condo Facilities
Access Gates and Resident’s Side Gate
You know how condos are usually advertised as being a 5 or 10-minutes walk from the nearest MRT station?
This is only true if you pick a block that is near an access gate or resident’s side gate which leads to the MRT station.
If you pick one that is on the far end of the development, you might find yourself having to walk 5 to 10 minutes just to get to the gate.
And then another 5 or 10 minutes to the nearest bus stop or MRT station.
Long story short?
Pay attention to where the access gates and resident’s side gates are.
Likewise, if you don’t fancy walking through a quiet car park in the middle of the night.
Or endless corridors just to get to your block… especially when you’re carrying heavy bags of groceries.
You’ll want to pick a block that is located near the car park.
Conversely, if you’re not planning to own a car, then you might want to skip paying for this premium and choose another block that’s closer to public transportation instead.
Gym, Swimming Pool, Tennis Court, and Other Condo Facilities
If you see yourself working out often, picking a block near the gym isn’t a bad idea.
Especially if your development is a sprawling estate.
For other common condo facilities like:
- swimming pool
- tennis court
- BBQ pits
- function rooms
you want to weigh the convenience of being right next to these facilties, with the fact that you have to deal with:
- kids screaming and running around the swimming pool
- people playing tennis late at night or early on weekend mornings (worse if they’re grunting like Maria Sharapova)
- the smells and loud conversations from the BBQ pits during parties and family gatherings
- events like birthday celebrations, baby showers, and etc. which see a lot of people walk in and out of the functions rooms
So… you’ve picked a development based on which primary schools are within a 1km radius.
Before you choose a block in the development that is closest to where the school is.
You need to think long term as well.
If your unit is directly facing the school, you’ll have to contend with the noise coming from the school nearby.
Think parents in SUVs dropping off their kids, morning assemblies, kids running around during recess, and CCAs.
Your kid is only going to primary school for 6 years, but you’re probably planning to live in that unit for way longer.
Bin Centres, Substations, Transformer Rooms, and Car Park Ventilation Ducts
If you’re looking for the cheapest units in the development, they’re usually the ones which are facing the
- bin centre
- transformer rooms, or
- car park ventilation ducts
Here’s the site plan for Piermont Grand Executive Condominium located in Punggol (District 19):
The bin centre, substation, transformer room, and car park ventilation ducts are marked out in red.
See how they’re all grouped together in a remote corner of the development?
The biggest problem that you’ll face with units that face these installations is the potential for the smell, pests, and sounds (think humming of the generator and ventilation ducts) to affect your quality of living in your brand new condo.
Unfortunately, these are critical installations which are required to ensure that you constantly have proper waste disposal, electricity, and to make sure that your car park isn’t a sauna.
The views of units facing these facilities also tend to not be the best in the entire development.
So if you’re planning of selling your condo unit in the future, your unit might be a little harder sell.
6. What’s The Layout of the Condo Unit Like?
Developers will usually try to optimise the number of units as well as access to the best views as much as possible.
And sometimes, this creates layouts which aren’t very space-efficient.
Here’re some of the 1 bedroom unit layouts for The Sail @ Marine Bay, a 99-year leasehold in District 1.
Notice how after you walk down the corridor from the entrance, it immediately leads to the master bedroom?
If you’d like to keep that space private, it might be a little difficult as visitors will pass the entrance of the master bedroom en route to the living area.
Also, there aren’t any windows in the master bedroom, which can be a plus or a negative depending on whether you’d like to allow more light into the space.
For this layout, the long corridor leading to the living area is a significant amount of unusable space.
I mean, besides putting a shoe rack, it’s not like you can park a workstation in that corridor.
This also means that you’re actually paying a higher per square foot cost overall.
However, I prefer this unit’s layout as the entrance of the condo opens up into the living and dining area — very similar to how most HDB flats are built.
You also get to enjoy the same views in the living area as well as in the master bedroom.
7. Are There Any Unique Selling Points?
If you’re planning to sell or rent out your condo unit in the future.
You’ll want to choose a unit which has some kind of unique selling point (wherever possible, of course).
As I mentioned earlier, a ground floor unit might come with a PES or patio which gives you more value per square feet
Better still if the swimming pool is just right outside your gate.
And there are usually only a few of these units in a development.
Or it could be a unit with direct access to the sky terrace with dining pavilions and jacuzzis.
Take The Interlace, for example.
It’s a 99-year leasehold development located at Depot Road in District 3, which was awarded the World Building of the Year title at the 2015 World Architecture Festival.
Some of the larger units in this particular development come with their very own private rooftop garden.
8. What Kind of Fittings Comes With The Unit?
Besides external factors, you should also look at what comes with the unit.
I’m talking about the flooring and appliances included with the unit.
For living, dining, and bathrooms, you’ll usually find marble and ceramic or homogeneous tiles.
Bedrooms will usually feature laminates, hardwood (eg. parquet), or vinyl.
So if you’re getting marble for your living, dining, and bathrooms in one development vs. ceramic tiles for another at a similar price point.
It’s pretty straightforward which one’s better value for money.
“How to tell what kind of fittings I’ll get,” you ask?
The next time you visit a showroom, ask for a copy of the brochure and pay attention to the specifications at the end.
That’s where they’ll list what kind of materials they’re using to build your condo unit.
Speaking of showrooms, sometimes, they’ll engage an interior designer to zhng the show flat in order to make it more appealing than what you’ll actually get for your condo.
The same thing applies to the appliances that typically come with your condo unit (FYI: for newer launches):
- induction stove
- oven or microwave oven
- washing machine
Note: the brand of the appliances or bathroom fittings (eg. Hans Grohe or Grohe) provided with the condo unit isn’t necessarily a good benchmark of the overall quality of the fittings they’ll choose and use for the construct of the unit.
Because they can just include appliances and fittings from high-end brands to give you the impression that the condo is more premium than it really is.
But you want to at least know that they’re giving you your money’s worth.