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5 red flags in landed property viewings that spell high reno costs

uying a landed property in Singapore without plans for a complete rebuild? You join the ranks of approximately 80% to 90% of prospective buyers we encounter as realtors. Rather than starting from scratch, your focus is on renovating the existing structure.

Jackie, my colleague from SRI, has encountered numerous buyers who approach their purchase with utmost transparency. They openly discuss their CPF balance, available cash reserves, and loan amounts, pulling out all the stops to secure a piece of Singapore's limited supply of landed properties.

Consequently, their budget for renovation is often low, and their margin for error in making good the property becomes all the more narrow. How, then, can they view a landed property critically and avoid costly oversights down the line?

Questions to ask yourself

One fundamental question to consider is your intended use of the property. Will you personally reside in the house, or do you plan to lease it out? If the latter is the case, and the property is in reasonable condition, you might only require minor touch-ups before renting it out. However, if you’re the resident and the property's current state is an eyesore that will affect your daily living experience, significant renovations might be in order.

Given the constraints of time during property viewings, you’d want to look out for the following red flags.

What to probe during a landed property viewing

1. Leakage

First things first, let it be known that leakage problems in a landed property go beyond modest sums, as Jackie rightly pointed out. What might initially seem like an expense in the range of S$10,000 to S$20,000 can swiftly escalate into a financial commitment that catches you off guard.

But here’s the good news: Whether the property has been grappling with leaks for years or weeks, there are indicators you can watch for. Water stain marks, for starters, will come to the forefront. A fresh layer of paint on the interior – especially on the ceiling – of a landed property that looks run-down from the outside could be an ominous sign.

Notably, some owners of older properties may have taken proactive measures, such as roof replacement and waterproofing. To assess this, a keen eye directed towards the roof and its condition can reveal telltale signs. As you walk the exterior premises, pay close attention to variations between neighbouring houses, which can offer insights into maintenance disparities.

When seeking clarification, it's wise to engage with the agent adeptly. Instead of straightforwardly asking, "Is there a leak?", Rama recommends asking about the common challenges among landed property owners in that specific estate. By taking a more nuanced approach, the owner and agent may be encouraged to be more forthcoming.

2. Parking

Parking is of paramount importance for those eyeing a landed property, given that owners tend to own multiple cars and host gatherings regularly. Now, the average inter-terrace may accommodate up to three cars, with the fourth or fifth vehicle necessitating off-site parking arrangements. No wonder properties with ample parking space become prized assets, often leaving less room for price negotiation.

Furthermore, the type of gate installed on the property can significantly impact parking convenience. Opting for a sliding gate when accommodating two cars offers distinct advantages in terms of space optimisation and ease of access.

(Whether representing buyers or sellers, agents like Rama take proactive steps to address parking-related concerns during viewings, such as informing agents in the estate to free up the space so it appears less cluttered.)

3. Electrical and plumbing

Among the less conspicuous yet crucial aspects of a landed property in Singapore are its electrical and plumbing systems, which can potentially incur costs in the five-figure range. To navigate these elements effectively, you need to pose the right questions during your evaluation.

In one notable transaction of mine, even though the house exhibited signs of ageing, a keen eye directed towards the TV area revealed that the electrical system had been diligently upgraded. This translated into substantial cost savings for prospective buyers. When you're contemplating making an offer on a property, such hidden upgrades should not be overlooked, as they can significantly enhance the overall value proposition.

4. Carpentry

In some cases, sellers may have undertaken carpentry work that doesn't align with the taste or needs of the next buyer. However, termites pose a more insidious challenge.

In certain neighbourhoods, especially those undergoing redevelopment or where vacant plots have been dormant for extended periods, the sudden disruption caused by construction activities can compel existing termite populations to seek new habitats, potentially encroaching upon your property. While inquiring about termite issues is essential, there are telltale signs you can look for. Hollow door frames, for one, can be an indicator of termite infestations.

Speaking of carpentry, buyers should also pay attention to extensive built-in fixtures as what lies beneath remains a mystery. There have been instances where homeowners dismantle a false ceiling down the line, only to uncover unexpected issues such as concealed piping that dates back to a previous renovation. In many cases, these hidden elements were merely covered up for the sake of convenience.

5. Illegal renovation

Jackie shared a cautionary tale from District 19 involving a house that had lingered on the market, gradually reducing its asking price to entice buyers. The buyer, who had been vigilantly monitoring property prices, saw this as a golden opportunity. The property appeared well-maintained except for one glaring issue—the wet kitchen, which looked as if it had been renovated within the last five years, stuck out like a sore thumb in the 30-year-old property.

Initially, it might have seemed like a simple upgrade, but Jackie dug deeper using the SRI app to assess the plot size. What he uncovered was alarming—the entire wet kitchen had been constructed on state land, effectively encroaching onto government property.

In the context of HDB properties, a technical officer conducts inspections before completion to identify and rectify any illegal modifications. However, this particular case involved private property, and the responsibility to spot these discrepancies typically falls upon the buyer. It's crucial to understand that when you purchase a property, you inherit its structure, including any illegal alterations. Rectifying such issues can lead to substantial financial burdens.

In this instance, rather than accepting the risk and the associated financial implications, Jackie wisely advised the prospective buyer to walk away from the deal.

The difference a seasoned realtor makes

While it's common to gather renovation tips from various sources, including online videos like ours, it’s important to recognize that landed properties in Singapore represent a particularly diverse segment. No two houses are the same, and there isn’t a universal playbook to evaluate them.

As seasoned professionals with nearly two decades of experience in the field, we are trained to identify potential blind spots and flag issues that could lead to unexpected expenses down the line. If you'd like assistance in navigating the complex journey of buying a landed property in Singapore, feel free to reach out to me, Harvey Chia, for a non-obligatory chat at 9199 9141.


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