Condos are like the endgame plan for many in Singapore. No surprise there, seeing that it’s one of the 5Cs of the Singaporean dream. But with condos getting more expensive – and smaller in size – as the years go by, resale HDB flats are getting more covetable.
Extra points if one can stumble upon a “rare” HDB type of unit such as a loft or, for the sake of today’s story, a maisonette. Here’s why and how I ended up going for a maisonette in Pasir Ris, as someone who lived in a condo for almost 3 years.
Living in a condo for almost 3 years
The condo swimming pool which we only used once a month or so.
Before officially becoming a homeowner, my partner and I were renting a 2-bed, 2-bath condo for about 3 years. For its location in the East just next to the MRT station, we snagged a pretty good deal with rental going at $2,400/month, pre-Covid times.
The condo was 720sqft in size and was valued at around $1.3-$1.5 million during that time. Pretty standard for a 99-year leasehold that was just completed about 2 years prior.
Not gonna lie, condo life was comfy albeit on the cosy side. Coming home each day to a well-kept compound with manicured gardens and aesthetic swimming pools felt good. And as we started searching for a “forever” home to purchase, condos were obviously at the top of our list. We even considered making an offer to buy our unit over.
My rental condo. Kitchen, dining, and living room all in one.
The only thing is, with plans to eventually expand our family, we knew we needed much more space – at least a 3-bedder. Naturally, that would pile on an extra $200,000 or so to our budget, so we decided to continue renting while saving up our reserves for that big down payment.
Stumbling upon our maisonette
Although we aspired to own a condo, we weren’t impractical about it. Getting a resale was an alternative we also considered, but we never actively searched for a unit.
Needless to say, finding our maisonette was completely unplanned. My husband was down his usual rabbit hole of browsing listings and stumbled upon a maisonette in Pasir Ris. It was a 4-bedder near the MRT station, food outlets, and a park, and the next evening we set out for the far East to take a look.
The living room in its OG state.
Now this is going to sound extremely cliche, but it was love at first sight. The unit in no way looked new – it still had its original tiled flooring, an aluminium staircase bannister, and built-in kitchen cabinets from nearly 30 years ago.
It clearly needed an overhaul, but what struck us was how massive the 1,600sqft unit was compared to our condo. It also had 2 bedrooms with 3m-high ceilings that made the space feel airy. That, plus how quiet and calm the neighbourhood was when we visited around 8pm.
Unsurprisingly, the agent told us he already had a couple of people interested, with one planning to make an offer. We knew we had to move fast, so long story short, 2 days later we ended up making an offer of $710,000 and registering our Intent To Buy.
Weighing the pros & cons of condos vs maisonettes
Although we made a hasty decision, we did weigh the pros and cons before going all in. For one, we would’ve had to wait a few more years to save up for a condo – something that was slow-moving since we had already been bleeding $2,400/month on rent.
The price of our maisonette, plus reno, would also cost half of what a condo would. Since we saved on the price of the unit, we had the extra budget for a complete overhaul of the place. Whereas if we bought a condo, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to renovate at all.
Letting go of direct access to fancy condo facilities left a dull ache in our hearts, but in reality, we had only used things like the pool and gym sporadically.
My condo master bedroom had barely enough space for us to walk.
And then of course there was the biggest factor: the space. Our condo was small, even for 2 people. Our master bedroom only had space for 1 queen size bed and 1 side table. Our living room, kitchenette, and dining area were all in one.
In this maisonette, however, our living room would be as big as the condo’s living and dining areas combined. We’d have a separate kitchen, dining room, and yard, plus 3 spacious bedrooms upstairs which could each fit queen-size beds plus a desk and cabinets.
The location near the MRT was, of course, a major game-changer. Condos near public transport naturally cost even more, and our budget didn’t allow for anything more than a 2-bedder. Even if we did settle for that, it didn’t seem worth it to pay double the price for a unit that measured half the size of this maisonette.
Creating our dream home
With our budget now halved, we set out to create our “dream home”.
View of the living room and kitchen from the foyer.
Not gonna lie, renovating a maisonette is pricey if you want to do it right. For one, we had to do a complete overhaul since the unit had been untouched for some 30 years. At that time, a reno of minimum $60,000 was expected for a maisonette – but that was for the bare minimum of flooring, bathroom remodelling, and breaking some walls here and there.
We ended up spending about $100,000 in total, inclusive of fixtures such as lighting, carpentry, and plumbing. And we did a lot.
We broke down as many walls as structurally possible to create an open concept on the lower level, where the kitchen, dining, and foyer areas kind of gelled into one. For our living room, we created a cosy enclave with a privacy door to shut off noise from the rest of the house.
Living room, before (left) and after (right).
For the upstairs, we maximised the space by creating a small corridor with a flushed feature wall. This meant that one of the bedrooms and the common bathroom’s floor space would also be a little larger.
Second level landing, before (left) and after (right).
My only regret is that I wish I had been able to invest more funds in the reno to create more usable space on the lower level. For example, had we adjusted the position of the staircase, we could’ve created a space that could be later converted into a spare room.
Common bath, before (left) and after (right).
The yard – which holds the aircon compressors and extends all the way to the second level – was also tricky to deal with. We had to think of how to child- and cat-proof the yard while keeping it ventilated but also protected from the rain. We ended up installing a zip track and mesh that kind of obstructs the view, but we figured safety was our top priority.
Dining and kitchen area, before (left) and after (right).
The last con would really just be maintenance that’s a little more laborious. Our top floor ceilings are 3m high, and we cannot reach our curtain tracks and ceiling fans. So confession time: those haven’t been thoroughly cleaned since we moved in.
The 3m high ceilings in the master bedroom.
Living in a maisonette vs a condo
Every decision has its pros and cons, but living in this maisonette with 2 cats and a toddler for over 2 years has been blissful. The space and location have been more than enough for our growing family, and I doubt we will ever be able to find anything close within a reasonable budget.
Spending less to gain more has softened any harsh financial blow my partner and I would’ve had to face if we bought a condo. Extra perks that we locked everything down before Covid hit and before the prices of resales and reno skyrocketed. Units in my neighbourhood have already breached the $900,000 mark, so who knows? My unit may someday be a million-dollar one.
Read other home & living articles here:
- HDB vs Condo: Which to choose if you’re the sandwich class?
- Condos that will transport you to another country
- New condos & ECs in 2022
Article contributed by Amara Tan, originally published on 2nd November 2022 and updated on 20th January 2024.
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