Buying “I Found Termites After Moving In” 8 Potential Red Flags You Should Watch Out For Before Buying A Home
- November 8, 2022
- 13 min read
I recently read about a homeowner who bought a resale HDB only to realise there were 14 holes in the ceiling.
While this was an issue that was harder to spot (it was covered by the false ceiling), this oversight would become a costly problem as the unit was bought on a caveat emptor basis.
Perhaps it’s a consequence of Singapore’s generally safe environment, that many homeowners can get overly relaxed when looking for their home.
It may also be down to the current hot property market. If you are competing with many other buyers for a popular property, it’s just natural to rush into a decision and overlook the details of the home.
After all, if you are fussy about it, there will always be someone else who isn’t – and willing to take the place given the demand for homes.
But remember, buying a home is unlike buying a phone or a television set.
Some problems are rectifiable, but some will be difficult to sort out or can be potential dealbreakers for you.
Trying to sell a home will incur significant costs in Singapore (Seller’s Stamp Duty and the like), and you can’t just return it if you find issues with it after moving in.
To guide you in your next home purchase, here are 10 red flags I’ve shortlisted that you should always keep a look out for.
Table Of Contents
- 1. General maintenance of the project
- 2. Included appliances (especially custom-fit designs!)
- 3. Poor drainage, plumbing and low water pressure
- 4. Illegal modifications to the unit
- 5. Bad neighbours
- 6. Complex ownership history
- 7. State of built-in carpentry (especially wood!)
- 8. Agent not wanting to do viewings during certain times of the week
1. General maintenance of the project
While it is important to ensure that the condition of your unit is satisfactory, the general maintenance of the common facilities within the project is equally important too. After all, these common spaces are part of your experience living in the project or neighbourhood.
This is particularly crucial for older developments that have been through inevitable wear and tear (though newer launches are not exempted either). Call me an extremist, but I generally start assessing the project the moment I arrive at the entrance.
Possible red flags that interested buyers should typically keep a look out for include the condition of the general amenities, such as the state of the lifts, drop-off points, flooring, upkeep of the common pathways and other typical facilities that you might see yourself using every day.
Eventually, the general outlook of your property might potentially affect the resale value of your unit when you’re ready to exit in the future too.
I have a friend who bought a resale condominium only to realise that the lifts were constantly breaking down on a weekly basis. The bad news was that she stayed on the 9th floor, the good news was that at least she didn’t buy a higher floor. Lugging up heavy groceries with her husband after a long day of work was definitely not how she expected to end her day, but it was a price she paid since it wasn’t something she was aware of during their viewing.
While most agents are unlikely to reveal such information, one way to go about this is to Google the condo in question. These days, you can get some telltale information from the reviews, from disgruntled tenants who have moved out, to delivery riders who’ve had to climb up floors because of lifts that are frequently breaking down. As with most things online, do take some of these with a grain of salt too as Google reviews aren’t verified – anyone can write them.
2. Included appliances (especially custom-fit designs!)
While we might cheer at the fact that “free” appliances are thrown in to sweeten the sale, it’s important to make sure that they are actually working in the first place. Some sellers might do their future buyers disfavour by leaving wonky appliances like fridges, air conditioners or washing machines in their homes. And disposal costs can amount to quite a fair bit when you need professional help to throw the appliances away.
A bigger possible point to note (especially for older units) is if the seller has “custom-fit carpentry” installed to fit their existing appliances.
I do know of a buyer who bought a home with all the white goods left behind only for the fridge to break down within a month of moving in. As the fridge was nearly 12 years old at that point, they didn’t produce the parts anymore to repair the fridge.
But the bigger problem was that because it was in-built, he had to hack off the custom-fit cabinets to install a new fridge as there was no fridge on the market of similar measurements. And because the new cabinetry couldn’t exactly fit the old ones, he ended up having to redo the whole kitchen – which incurred significant costs that he didn’t account for when buying the home.
3. Poor drainage, plumbing and low water pressure
Especially for older unit projects (though not limited to), old pipes and a poor drainage system can be a big nuisance in the long run. We’ve seen enough real-life cases of the damage that water leaks can cause to give us a lifetime’s worth of nightmares.
One simple solution to save any potential heart and headaches is to hire an expert to assess the condition of the unit’s plumbing system.
However, here are some red flags that you can keep a look out for during your next unit viewing to know if there are any serious plumbing issues in that unit.
- Slow drainage: Test the water drainage during your site visit at key water points. Slow drains might mean that there are clogs within the pipes.
- Low water pressure: Test the water flow by turning on the tap and the shower so you can see if the pressure is acceptable or weak.
- Poor Flush: Toilets that are unable to flush properly would mean that there are potential clogs in the plumbing system.
- Leaks: Keep a look out (or listen) to spot any leaks at faucets or crevices, as it could lead to costly repairs.
- Sewer Odour: Bad sewer odour is a strong indicator that the plumbing system could be clogged.
- Bubbles or moisture-stained walls and ceilings: These are signs that there’s moisture damage from a bad plumbing system or even a damaged roof. An easy way to hide this is a quick paint job, so if you do notice an area of the ceiling that has been repainted recently, ask about it.
4. Illegal modifications to the unit
While this may sound like a super obvious red flag, the issue is really when some of these are not disclosed to you before you purchase the home.
Beyond asking the usual questions, one way to filter out these homes is to look at the listings online before you even go down to the home to view them.
These days with the proliferation of camera phones (and very good ones at that), it’s almost criminal to not have photos of the actual unit on the listing online.
Think of it this way. As a seller, you’d want to draw the biggest awareness of your property and studies have shown that having good original photos will definitely attract more clicks. Following this logic, listings that lack clear interior photos and detailed descriptions might be red flags that you want to avoid.
This might mean that either the condition within the unit is in very bad shape or there are perhaps illegal modifications that they aren’t able to take clear shots for the listing. The worst would be unknowingly buying a unit that has unapproved alterations and having to take responsibility for it as the new owners.
So if you do see listings as such (that are not landed homes, these often don’t come with photos and details anyway as agents are fearful of other agents trying to steal the listing), go for the viewing with your eyes wide open.
5. Bad neighbours
Your neighbours are, after all, a core aspect of your living environment. It’s one of the things that’s unfortunately the hardest to control, and could change in the future as well (when new neighbours move in).
These are generally hard to unveil, but one way to do so is to try and speak to those living in the development.
One similar recount that my uncle shared with me was when he was looking to buy a holiday home in Malaysia. He told me that speaking to a neighbour saved him a lot of trouble and eventually dissuaded him to buy the unit in the end.
During one of his site visits to the development and unit, he bumped into a resident of the condo and she was thankfully quite happy to share her woes about living in the development. Thanks to that chat, she revealed that she really liked staying there, apart from the fact that the neighbourhood was a hotspot for amateur bikers to bike around every Thursday to Sunday night. These bike sessions could last from 10 pm all the way to 4 am, and the noise was unbearable. Being a noise-sensitive person, it immediately dissuaded him from purchasing a unit there.
6. Complex ownership history
Frequent ownership change is one of the most telling ways to spot a problematic unit – and this can be found by paying a small fee on INLIS.
Some reasons why a unit will undergo a regular change in hands could be because of bigger underlying issues that previous homeowners only discovered when living there, such as the noise level, limits of transportation, neighbours or some sort of inconvenience.
Many years ago, I had a good friend of mine that complained to me about the troubles that she and her family had to go through which forced them to sell their home in less than a year. The reason? It was because of something supernatural.
Their landed unit was situated right behind a temple and shortly after moving in, they felt uneasy in their new home and her dad’s business begin to decline. It wasn’t long before they decided to move out and only then did they find out that the previous home has changed hands seven times in the last 10 years.
While paranormal and supernatural activities sound quite far-fetched (not everyone believes in this), a complex ownership history can tell a very poignant story regardless. Be sure to understand the main reasons why previous owners decided to sell the property before you jump the gun!
7. State of built-in carpentry (especially wood!)
Especially for resale units, one thing to keep an eye out for is the condition of built-in fixtures like your cabinets, wardrobes and shelves. Replacing this built-in carpentry could be really problematic as they usually require hacking from professionals.
Especially when dealing with furniture made of wood, be sure to check for any pest infestations, like termites or bugs. Don’t be shy to get proactive by opening the cabinets to spot any wear and tear, pests or even mould.
A good friend of mine shared with me his experience of renting an apartment with his wife that caused him a lot of problems (even though he was just a renter). Their apartment was mainly fitted with wooden cabinets, wardrobes and shelves – something they did not think much of when doing their unit viewings.
Upon moving in, they found out that the majority of these fixtures were infested with termites and the kitchen cabinets were affected with mould from water damage. With most of their belongings already in the unit, they could not unpack or settle in. The landlord subsequently had to replace the carpentry and push back their move-in date by a month. Although most of the damage was shouldered by the landlord, he said it was a really valuable lesson to him, especially for when it’s time to buy his first home in the future.
8. Agent not wanting to do viewings during certain times of the week
Unfortunately, buying a resale condo or HDB means that you typically can only view a home according to the schedule of the selling agent, or the homeowner/tenant.
Most of the time, a seller agent that is keen to sell would be accommodating to your time, but there are cases where you may find that the viewing times are limited to after working hours or just the weekends.
This makes it hard to gauge if the environment is always this busy/noisy, or if is it really always that peaceful.
I had a friend who bought a home in Orchard many years back. It was only after he moved in that he realised why the selling agent only wanted to conduct viewings on Sundays and no other days of the week.
Because his unit was located at the back of a shopping centre, the deliveries that were conducted during the week made the traffic there constantly congested. It was a busy area, and it made it not the most conducive living environment.
But on Sundays, because there were no deliveries, the difference was like night and day. It became a much more quiet and more peaceful environment, and it was hard to imagine how it can be so different.
So it’s vital to always visit a home more than once, and try going at different times of the day, before and after work, weekdays and weekends.
Of course, this can be a time-consuming affair, so we’d limit it to those that you’re close to purchasing.
Finally, do note to check your Option to Purchase (OTP) before you buy a home for the clause:
This “as is where is” clause or the term “caveat emptor” is a Latin term which means, let the buyer beware. In other words, this means that the property is sold at its current condition, and as the buyer, you are buying the property in full knowledge of its condition (even if you don’t necessarily know the full condition of it during the purchase).
This clause is typically included in the OTP, but this may be negotiated depending on your bargaining power when it comes to purchasing the home. That said, most sellers are unlikely to accede to such a request as this may make the purchase a complicated one and put the liability on them instead.