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Been there, done that: Pro-tips on rebuilding a landed home in Singapore

In Singapore, homeowners are embracing the daring act of rebuilding their landed homes instead of scooting off in search of another property. Who needs to venture outside when they already have the perfect canvas for their forever home right beneath their feet?

In 2021, I traded my previous abode in for a larger plot of land. I figured I was going to rebuild my home from scratch, and have been documenting this adventure on my social media platforms since. If you're contemplating a similar leap, but are daunted by the lack of information available, fear not. While my own project is still a work in progress, I'll happily share some pro-tips to shed light on the often perplexing pre-rebuilding phase.

But first, let’s get some FAQs out of the way.

How long does the process take?

Brace yourself for a submission period of approximately 3 months: If you happen to own additional properties, you can have a chat with your existing tenants and see if their moving-out dates have a bit of flexibility. What are the costs of doing so? Beyond the obvious expenses that come with any grand undertaking, there are a few additional financial burdens to bear. These include BCA submission fees, which can range anywhere from S$30 to 40k; architect fees, usually calculated as a percentage of your project fees; as well as engineer and quantity surveyor fees. What’s the time commitment on my end? Thisl boils down to the individual and their unique circumstances. We have our team meetings every month, where we sit down together and discuss progress. Apart from that, I pop by the site once a week. It’s a fairly infrequent affair because I trust the team I’ve assembled, but we’ll come to that later. which is a fairly infrequent affair.

Most of the time, your visits to the site will be more of a casual "look-see" nature. Occasionally, your input will be required before irreversible steps are taken. Take my kitchen island in the making, for example. Inside that island, there are countless wires and pipes that demand careful consideration. So, I had to be physically present to confirm its components. Will it have an induction stove and a sink? Where exactly will they be placed?

Visiting the site in person also opens up new possibilities you may not have clocked using 2D images, and allows for last-minute tweaks and improvements.

1. First and foremost, do a soil test.

Foundation is a critical factor in rebuilding and soft soil can throw a real wrench into the works. It's crucial to delve into the depths of your land with a soil test. The condition of the soil can make a world of difference when it comes to the cost of construction. It's like the hidden variable that can turn your budget upside down. But just how significant is it? Say, you find yourself in an area like the East Coast, where the soil tends to be softer. You might need to resort to micro piling, which is a relatively expensive technology. The cost of your foundation will be determined by the number of piles and how deep they go, so it can vary quite significantly. What costs 50k for one homeowner could easily skyrocket to a whopping 200k for another. It's like a soil-based lottery, if you will.

(Some homeowners, upon discovering that their soil is too soft for rebuilding, opt for the alternative option of A&A to their existing structure. Sure, it means they can't fully maximise the plot, but sometimes practicality wins over ambition.) The suitability of your soil remains a question mark that you won’t know until you run a soil test, which costs around S$1,000 to S$2,000. If the soil turns out to be good, you can even consider venturing into the depths and construct a basement for a relatively low cost.

2. Assemble your avengers.

Aspiring rebuilders will need a crew of seasoned professionals who have danced the construction tango together before. Experience is key, but that isn’t it. Preferably, they should’ve worked with one another before.

Take my team for example. The architect and builder have collaborated previously; the engineer has worked with both of them separately; and the quantity surveyor has crossed paths with all three parties before. Why is this synergy so important? You want a team that can operate like a well-oiled clock, ticking away even when you’re not there.

What are their roles?

For those without a Rolodex of contacts, start by finding an architect. Once you have your architect in place, the engineer will naturally enter the scene, ready to bring their technical expertise to the table. But here's a little tip: Not all engineers are created equal. Seek out those who have a wealth of experience and can suggest construction methods that will save you money. And don't forget the referee of the team—the quantitative surveyor. They'll be the one ensuring the quality of the work on your behalf, putting their reputation on the line.

What about an interior designer?

Let's not overlook the importance of involving the interior designer early on in the process. This is where the magic of aesthetics and functionality intertwine. Many wiring decisions and concealed toilet systems are made during the construction phase, so having your interior designer present to provide input is crucial. Bringing them in at the eleventh hour could result in undoing the hard work of your builder and incurring unnecessary costs.

Look for an interior designer with technical knowledge, someone who's architect-trained or well-versed in structural work. Beware of those insta-famous designers with portfolios full of glossy renderings but lacking in practical know-how.

I’m grateful for this dream team and when consulting with clients about their own rebuilding endeavours, I can't help but recommend them.

3. Invest in features that enhance your home’s value

On top of maximising space, we want to create special elements that will elevate the future value of your home. It's all about striking the right balance between uniqueness and universal appeal. With some strategic moves, I transformed my own project from a corner terrace to one that appears “detached”. At the same time, the gap allows more natural light into my home and creates an inviting ambience. In addition, I erected a 7.2 metre tall screen to counter its east-facing direction, and went with a ribbon staircase in the most inefficient corner of my home so all other rooms can be regular-shaped.

Now, let's address some modern demands, starting with lifts. They are becoming increasingly sought after, especially for those living with elderly family members. And for those who have valuable helpers in their lives, consider incorporating a helper's room downstairs. Let's not forget about the need for extra parking space, not just for two cars but especially for multigenerational families who could be getting around in an alphard.

4. Be wary of over-personalising your home

While it's tempting to let your personal style run wild, keep in mind that not everyone will share your taste. If you design your home to be overly personalised, potential buyers may be less inclined to pay a premium for it.

Instead, aim for a more generic yet appealing palette — one that encompasses the desires of the masses. These universally desired features will justify a higher price tag and attract a broader pool of potential buyers. Now, I'm not saying you can't add a touch of personality. Just be mindful of going overboard. That extravagant bar in the living room or the room transformed into a wine cellar or gymnasium may be a tad too specific for some tastes.

And here's a controversial one — the pool. While some people dream of diving into the refreshing waters of their private oasis, others view it as a safety concern or simply prefer to allocate their budget elsewhere. Think about it this way: if a buyer had to choose between a home with a pool or one with a lift, it’s a no brainer for them.

Killing two birds with one stone

Rebuilding your home presents a world of opportunities to maximise its value and create a space that suits your lifestyle. By being informed of your constraints, assembling a dream team, and making strategic design choices, you can not only meet your needs but appeal to a wider audience in the market. As always, I’m happy to share more of what I know about all things relating to the landed homes segment. Reach out to me (Harvey Chia) via Whatsapp at +65 9199 9141.


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