“I Waited 7 Years For My HDB Maisonette” 5 Homeowners Share Their Regrets
- Ryan J
- September 11, 2023
- 6 min read
HDB Maisonettes are relics of a different era: a time when HDB flats were truly spacious, when many upgraders were happy to upgrade to a bigger flat (not even a condo), and when our ageing problem didn’t yet preclude stairs. But not everyone bought in the early days, and some buyers have bought resale maisonettes as recently as this year. We spoke to some of them about the parts they regret:
1. Shouldn’t have waited seven(!) years for the flat
People complain about the four to five-year wait time today; but back during the late 80s to 90s, it was sometimes worse. We don’t see many references to it these days, but here’s one (look on page 31):
“At the height of the property boom in the mid-90s, there were as many as 150,000 buyers in the queue, and the wait for a flat was as long as seven years.”
This was the case for ML, who waited seven years for a Maisonette in the Bedok area back then. She says that:
“For the first two years we stayed with our in-laws, but my brother-in-law came back from studying overseas and needed his room back. It was too crowded so we rented instead, for five years. After those five years, I spent around another $70,000 to renovate the maisonette.
The worst part was that, shortly after that, there was a big oversupply of flats – so the value of the maisonette didn’t move. If you also factor in the years I spent renting, and the renovation cost, I think it was a big loss.”
ML is referring to the oversupply situation in the 1990s, which led to the Built To Order (BTO) system we have today. In essence, a shortage led to drastic overbuilding, which then led to oversupply. Fortunately, HDB has had time to better calibrate construction over the years.
ML says that: “I ended up staying in the maisonette for a very short time, barely six years, before we sold it. In hindsight, we made a lot of bad decisions. We should have just gone straight for a private property.”
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2. Renovation costs that were over $130,000
Keong bought his maisonette while right-sizing, in the early 2000s. He says he was shocked at the renovation costs:
“At the time, my wife had passed away, and I was living alone. I was asked by my relatives if I could take in my brother, who has special needs, and I agreed.
I sold my matrimonial home, which was a landed house in Changi, because it’s too impractical to maintain alone. And I bought over the maisonette from the same relative who had been looking after my brother. We felt this was better because my brother had grown familiar with the area.
But the maisonette was very old, and I was warned the cost of reno would be high. I tried to be conservative, and in the end, I accepted a contractor who quoted me $80,000. But after the hacking and everything, the costs kept going up and up; and by the time it was finished I had paid over $130,000.
I was quite shocked because $130,000 in my era could buy a whole flat. But after I checked with my neighbour, they also confirmed that they spent around $100,000+. Because a maisonette is two floors, and you have a lot more work required, so I would like to warn your readers it’s not like buying a normal resale flat. If it was so expensive 20 years ago, I am scared to think how much it will cost now.”
3. The stairs can be a safety issue
JM, who has lived in a maisonette since 2015, says he realised how dangerous the stairs were after his son turned three.
“About two years back, my mum-in-law was going up to my son’s room when she slipped. Luckily she slipped in a way where she fell toward the stairs, and not off the stairs. But she still hit her face on the stairs, and she was hospitalised because there was a crack in her cheekbone.
Even I have fallen down the stairs before – I was rushing down because I was late for work, and I fell and landed on my right hand. I fractured my wrist and broke my ring finger and little finger.
Now my son is three years old, and he is starting to get curious and explore, so I have put in a removable gate at the top and bottom of the stairs. But I wish those stairs weren’t there at all.”
JM says he will probably move out, once age catches up and the stairs become an issue.
4. The lease decay is an ongoing worry
BL is worried about his legacy planning, as his 40-year-old maisonette is coming along in years:
“I sold my 4-room in Pasir Ris after staying for just eight years, and I bought this maisonette. This was to be closer to my wife’s workplace; her hours are very long, so we want to minimise her travel time. It also made sense as our daughter was moving back from Malaysia with her husband, and they would need a place to stay for a few years; my previous flat was too small.
But this was 10 years ago, and my daughter has already moved out. My wife is also probably going to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Now I feel the age of the flat is a problem; if it goes to 50 years or more, does anyone still want to buy? Beyond a certain point, they cannot even use their CPF to buy.”
Available CPF usage is based on the age of the youngest owner, and the remaining lease of the flat. It’s not possible to use CPF for flats with 20 years or less on the lease. To date, this scenario has never actually happened yet, but it is likely to occur in the next few decades.
BL says that in hindsight: “Although it’s nice to have more space, these types of flats are quite old, so you have to be more aware of the 99-year time bomb. If I could go back, I would buy a newer flat – maybe not so big as this one, maybe just a 5-room flat; but I wouldn’t buy one that’s so old.”
5. Regrets over not getting an EC instead
JJ says he ignored good advice from his wife, who initially pressed him to buy a resale EC unit at Twin Waterfalls. He says that at the time, he declined because he thought ECs were overpriced:
“I was against the idea because I felt the maintenance fees were not justified, and because ECs were not here, not there: more expensive than a flat but not as good as a condo. So I insisted that this maisonette was more prudent, and we paid just over $1 million; close to what Waterfalls would have cost, to be honest.”
JJ started to regret his decision after just two years:
“Should have listened to the wife. I saw my friend’s house at Twin Waterfalls, I feel he has the better deal. The stairs take up a lot of room in the maisonette, and going up and down at night – especially for snackers like me who like to raid the fridge at 2 am – is more inconvenient. Also I can’t hide it from my wife, when I am supposed to be on diet.
I also feel that, for the price I paid, it really would be nice to have a pool. Especially for my kids, who like swimming, and my son who is serious about taking it up as a sport. We’re already making plans to get a condo, but for now, we’re stuck with this place. What to do – should have just bought the EC.”
JJ does say there’s a side benefit though:
“You’ll lose weight, because laziness will discourage you from going down to the kitchen and then back up. And if you raid the fridge, you’ll burn some of the calories coming back up.”
For more homeowner experiences and stories, follow us on Stacked. We’ll keep you up to date on the news and trends in the Singapore property market. Also comment below if you do own a maisonette, and your regrets (or non-regrets) on buying it.