Design Challenge or Headache?

Excellent co-location with Little India MRT Station and Tek Kha market

I had sold my private apartment in Aug 2007, and was required to give vacant possession to the buyer on 10-Feb-08. Although I had 6 months, I spent much time hunting for a replacement property. It was exceedingly difficult to hunt for a private property at a reasonable price at that time due to the feverish property market. Finally, an agent contacted me as she knew I was interested in properties near to good amenities such as MRT, shopping malls, and wet markets. Well, she had a HDB 4R available, and would I mind downgrading to a HDB flat??

"Downgrading.. ?!" What downgrading? Our lifestyle? Or comfort? Perhaps social status? I mused.

I had never regarded moving into a HDB flat from a private property as "downgrading", particularly if the property is located near excellent amenities. I never cared for spurious comments or superficial folks and the only reason I bought private properties was for investment - higher and faster price appreciation compared to public properties over the same period of time. Which was borne out when I sold my private property. For me living in a HDB flat was as good as living in any other private property. And so if one was available at Buffalo Rd I would grab it!

The property market was very hot then. Obviously in any investment one should always buy low and sell high. If you sell high and wish to buy a comparable replacement property at the same time following your private property sale, you are likely to pay high prices too, since all comparable properties move at the same pace, more or less.

So it was a no-brainer for me to buy the HDB flat. Its location at Buffalo Road turned out to be excellent - MRT station practically at the doorstep, Tek Kha wet market is your next door 'neighbor', and taxi-stand just 'downstairs'. With MRT and bus-stops providing connections to the entire island, there was no need to expense on a car. Not to mention the location at Tek Kha is right in town, with Orchard Rd, Raffles Place, Suntec, etc all nearby. The Buffalo Rd HDB flat turned out to be what I was looking for!

Sure, the Buffalo Rd resale flat had downsides: the flat was old, did not have an attached toilet, no store room (what??!! my wife screamed), no balcony or ledge to place the air con compressor, a shower cubicle too small to build a vanity top and basin. And inadequate power supply from the national grid. Which meant I would have issues installing aircons, as not all brands have the capacity I want to adequately cool the flat.

Moreover, the unit was on a low floor, which meant lots of ants and cockroaches (urrgh!), possibly stench from the rubbish dump on the ground floor, and noise from vehicles and people downstairs.

We visited the flat. It had obviously seen better days. We saw spalling concrete in the kitchen ceiling, broken window panes, loose window hinges, broken toilet bowl, and exposed concrete in the kitchen window ledge. Security would be a problem for a flat on the low floor.

We were ready to pass over the flat as the downsides would compromise our comfort. Except the 85-year old seller pleaded with me. Finally, we decided to give it a shot; the asking price was reasonable for the location (despite a $49k cash-over-valuation) and I did not bargain. We thought with some hard thinking we could probably solve some of the inherent defects in the flat.

No store room, no balcony, no outside ledge for aircon, no attached toilet
(picture coming.. )

The uncle seller in the background

Flat built in 1982, when masonry work was slipshod and unregulated because HDB was in its infancy.

Note the unsightly iron pipe carrying the central TV cable and the uneven wall masonry

... in the bedroom
(picture coming.. )

..including the window wall
(picture coming.. )

The ID told me not only were the walls uneven but the kitchen wall also had a slight slant, necessitating further preparatory work before the tiler could commence tiling.

Spalling concrete in kitchen ceiling

Broken concrete at kitchen window ledge

The spalling and broken concrete were not serious problems because I was prepared to change and replace all the iron windows to aluminum ones. I also agreed to pay the ID for the repair and touch-up work needed for the spalling concrete.

Spalling concrete repaired

Broken Squat WC
Replacing the squat WC to a sitting pedestal WC meant the toilet door would be hindered by the WC and could not open fully inwards. As I dislike sliding or folding door this meant the door had to open outwards instead of inwards. This was a design compromise I had to accept if I wish to install a solid wooden door for the toilet.

Shower enclosure with huge gap above door
Both the toilet and shower had big gaps above the door. This would not do especially in a kitchen; sigh... how would you like if someone did their business in the toilet while you were cooking or having meals or snacks in the kitchen?

The ID agreed to install new door frames for the shower and toilet and close up the gap. There was also a louvre gap (for ventilation) above a bedroom door that had to be sealed before air-con installation:

eek ! My wife spied a cockroach!

The cement structure for the kitchen sink had to be hacked to free up space for the kitchen cabinet:

The messy and unsightly piping arrangement in the bathroom. The ID agreed to box up the area to conceal the ugly pipes:

But that would pose another problem -- the bathroom window.

The new "wall" erected to hide the ugly pipes would cut across the bathroom window, hence the window would have to be re-sized to fit with the new wall:

Would we be able to obtain HDB approval for the alteration? we pondered *sigh*


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