Sunday, February 21, 2010

A home closer to work

As last year drew to an end, so, finally, did my patience with my 786 sq ft ‘dollhouse’ apartment.

The single bathroom was just too small, the pretty-but-useless balcony too big, and the desire to move too overwhelming to ignore any longer.

And so began the arduous search for a new ‘Goldilocks’ house that was just right.

It didn’t take long for it to, ahem, hit home that that was a fairy tale. At least, for those of us who don’t rule a kingdom full of geese that lay golden eggs.

While a peasant like me can’t be much of a chooser, it soon became evident that there were still dozens of choices to be made in finding a new home.

That may sound like it’s stating the obvious, but it wasn’t all that apparent to my husband and me when we bought our first home two years ago, as a starry-eyed, idealistic young couple.

We simply set a budget, found a location we liked, and happily mapped out our future life based on a floor plan.

Now we knew better. We had Preferences. Priorities. Prejudices.

And every single one of them, as it turned out, was a reflection on the kind of adults we were becoming.

As a home-buyer, your self-definition process starts from the very minute you choose a category to peruse in the classified ads.

Young couples who buy Housing Board flats, for instance, are on the guaranteed track to riches and wealth one day.

Not just because these are the cheapest accommodations available, allowing them to invest the rest of their money elsewhere, but also because Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has publicly decreed that flat prices will keep rising as long as the economy grows.

Those who buy HDB flats and then rent them out and continue living at home with their parents will be even richer – because they clearly know their way around the rules.

As for first-time home-seekers who manage to afford private property in Singapore, a few conclusions can be drawn about them too.

They can safely be assumed to already own a kingdom, be on the way to inheriting one, or be working feverishly to usurp the nearest viable throne – or their boss’ seat.

Then there’s the tenure test.

Young buyers who insist on freehold condos and refuse to consider anything else tend to turn into adults who always take the safe, conservative path in life.

They will minimise risk, equate price with quality, and pat themselves on the back for their ‘good investments’.

Those who opt for leasehold homes tell themselves they won’t be around for another 99 years anyway. They will forever live in the moment, on the edge, and under constant stress from the big ticking time bomb they imagine is built into their leasehold walls.

And the select few who snap up really old apartments with less than 30 years left on the lease are the true daredevils of our society. They are likely to be firemen, deep-sea divers and opposition politicians.

As we discovered with our first home, size is also, well, a huge factor in house hunting.

Anyone who thinks he can live comfortably in a few hundred square feet usually grew up with even less space – or just simply does not have any imagination.

At the other extreme, young adults who buy generously sized first homes are probably not very well-acquainted with the concept of housework.

Of course, there is a whole variety of other housing judgments to be made, in more than one sense of the word.

People who buy flats on high floors believe in obtaining only the best in life; those who stay on the second floor are the epitome of cost-conscious pragmatism.

But as every Singaporean knows, the most important part of choosing a home is deciding on its location.

This is not just a matter of rental profitability or resale value. It’s also a question of your fundamental, lifelong happiness.

According to Cornell economist Robert Frank, while people adjust quickly to a big house and start taking the space for granted, they never get used to a long and tedious commute to work.

The heavy traffic – whether vehicle or human – that they suffer through every day takes the same toll on their mood by the time they reach their destination, no matter how many times they have done it before. In fact, their irritation only gets worse with time.

And so the happiest people are not necessarily those who stay in the biggest houses, but those who live closest to where they work.

With that in mind, my husband and I set a budget, found a location we liked, made sure it was big enough for all our junk, and are currently happily mapping out our renovation plans.

Home may be where the heart is but, at least, now we have plenty of space for all our other organs as well.

Source: Sunday Times, 21 Feb 2010

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