2019 marks the 10th year since my first property purchase – a resale HDB in 2009 (image above of my vacant HDB before I sold it). Back then, the supply was extremely short, and after several failed BTO attempts and skyrocketing prices month after month, we bought a resale flat in Bukit Panjang from the open market.

“I thought that would be my first and last property.”

I thought that would be my first and last property. I dreamed my home as a place for me to unwind from the hustle and bustle; a place where I could sit in a corner and read a book, or listen to music, or tinker with my hobbies, or write code. Never did I know I would eventually spend 6 years living in agony with a noisy neighbour upstairs, and later on also another one next door – yes TWO noisy neighbours, what luck?

As a musician, I am extremely sensitive to sounds. It seemed almost impossible for people to understand how much sound noise would affect me. I was frustrated and stressed because the noises from the neighbour upstairs would persist late into the night (3am~4am). I had interrupted sleep several times a week, which then affected my health and work. My blood pressure regularly rose above 140/100. At a certain point I was even depressed. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to retaliate, because the police, MP, etc. were of no real help – retaliating was the only way I could get peace for a short while before the noises returned. But retaliating took effort, energy, anger, time – which was supposed to be when I should be relaxing, recuperating, meditating, sleeping. I was at such wits’ end that I even started a Facebook page “Singapore Noisy Neighbours” which got 100+ members sharing similar issues, but even with so many of us, none of us had a solution because there are no real laws on our side.

I was thankful, though, that during this period the people who could help did come forward to offer their help. However all the help eventually still led to the police, MP, HDB and mediation – which were mostly useless.

“Why do I have move, to suffer the consequences twice as a victim?”

I was told to sell my HDB, to move away from this madness. I couldn’t believe it: why do I have move, to suffer the consequences twice as a victim? The HDB resale market had already started to dip in 2013 thanks to the cooling measures. I already spent my life savings (at that point) buying the house and renovating it. I may not recover the costs of my renovation, which was modest by modern standards ($40K).

But I couldn’t take it anymore – in 2013, the 4th year of my ownership, before the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of my HDB – I wrote in to HDB to request for a waiver of my MOP so I could sell. HDB approved my request, but with many preconditions, such that I could not choose anything other than another HDB within Bukit Panjang. Part of the reason was because I had obtained several grants, including one for living near parents.

I had almost given up, until one day I saw a Facebook advertisement for learning how to “invest in properties”, how to “buy 2 condos with no cash”, how to “earn passive income”, how to “retire early” – it sounds like a total scam, but I was already hopeless, tired and vulnerable. I went for the free “preview”, and then later paid $3,000 for the “course”.

I always believed I had to be debt-free, cash-rich and would pay of my HDB and then accumulate cash to retire…

Turns out this “scam” was the best $3,000 spent, because I saw through some of the scammy bits of it, and took in the other non-scammy bits. The “course” mainly taught how to manage credit-worthiness and how to properly apply financial leverage – which are key to property purchases. I always believed I had to be debt-free and cash-rich; to pay of my HDB and then accumulate cash savings – but I wanted to move so badly that I convinced myself to buy a condo, and because I now believe strongly in the potential demographics of my neighbours, I picked a prime area. My parents thought I was crazy to pay $1,500psf for a tiny unit. Coming from Malaysia where they grew up in landed houses, they were in disbelief that I would pay such hefty prices to squeeze my family in a tiny space.

After settling down from my first child in 2015, I started planning and sold my HDB plus many of my large furnitures in 2016. I rented an apartment from a friend for a year while I searched for a new home. It took me almost 3 years of planning, relocating twice before settling down in my current condo in 2017. I never looked back; apart from finally having my deserved peace, the location is fantastic, and the vicinity around the property is beautiful. There are also dozens of childcare centers with vacancies around my area.

All I need now is a house full of people, not a house full of things. There’s a world out there. The Singapore life is all about a city life.

I then realised that I don’t need to be at home to do the things I want to do, and I really don’t need a big house: when I was young, a huge part of my room was occupied up by bookshelves and computers. Now that almost everything is digital and computers are tiny, we start to fill these spaces up with modern day consumerism – branded goods, useless gadgets, etc. All I need now is a house full of people, not a house full of things. There’s a world out there. The Singapore life is all about a city life.

I’ve started recycling my daily waste too, cleaning and sorting them into paper, plastic, metal and glass – because the limited space I have forces me to get rid of packaging material, boxes, containers, etc. that I might otherwise keep. Doing so also makes me more conscious of the amount of waste we are generating.

I’ve also spent a lot of effort on decluttering – way before Marie Kondo.

So what have I learnt in 10 years? Less is more.

P.S. This story also explains why I hate open concept offices – noises affect me a lot.