A Millennial Couple Turned $444,000 Singapore Flat Into a Forever Home

Estimated read time 6 min read

It’s been more than a year since Colin Yong, 34, and his wife moved into their house — a cozy, five-room public housing apartment in Hougang, a neighborhood in the northeast region of Singapore.

In Singapore, 80% of the resident population lives in public housing— known as HDB flats — built by the Housing and Development Board.

The 1,302-square-foot apartment is their first home together, but their journey toward homeownership wasn’t the smoothest.

A man standing on a skywalk above a lake.

Colin Yong, who works in the food and beverage industry, lives in a cozy, five-room public housing apartment in Singapore with his wife.

Colin Yong

Like many Singaporean couples, Yong and his wife applied to buy a build-to-order, or BTO, apartment. BTO flats are new apartments sold by the HDB on 99-year leases.

“We applied nine times for BTO and the Sale of Balance flats, but then nobody got back to us, no queue number,” Yong, who works in the food and beverage industry, told BI.

The Sale of Balance Flats exercise is where people can apply for leftover flats from earlier BTO launches.

Couples in Singapore frequently face roadblocks when applying for a BTO apartment. That’s because these apartments have a median waiting time of three-and-a-half years before they’re complete, and demand far outweighs supply.

Those who have been unsuccessful with their bids or who are unwilling to wait so long for a home end up looking for an alternative — either on the resale market or on the private property market — instead. Consider Joy Oh and Eddy Kur, a millennial couple who have been together since 2015: They applied for a BTO apartment three times, only to pivot their plans two years later and buy a $345,200 resale flat instead.

The facade of the couple's apartment block.

The facade of the couple’s apartment block.

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Yong and his wife eventually decided to look for a resale HDB flat on the open market as well, although it took him some time to get her onboard with the idea.

“I’ve always preferred a resale flat because it’s bigger and you can choose the location. But she wasn’t always keen on it because she preferred a new house,” Yong said.

A spacious apartment on a high floor

Luckily, his wife changed her mind after viewing their first resale flat — which was in the same block as their current home.

“We wanted that unit but didn’t get it, so we continued looking in the same area,” Yong said.

They already knew what they wanted: A spacious, north-south-facing apartment on a high floor. Location-wise, it had to be in a quiet neighborhood with amenities nearby.

Another view of the kitchen countertop.

Another view of the kitchen countertop.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

Thankfully, the third time’s the charm: The couple looked at one other unit in the same block before they found their current apartment.

They put in an offer on the very day they viewed the home.

Turning a house into a home

The apartment was listed at 595,000 Singapore dollars, or $444,000. But thanks to some government grants, the couple ended up paying S$545,000, or about $407,000, instead, Yong said.

The apartment complex was completed in 1986, meaning their home was 35 years old when they bought it.

An overview of the living area and the dining space.

An overview of the living area and the dining space.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

Instead of designing their apartment on their own, the couple opted to work with an interior designer.

Aesthetic-wise, they were looking for something cozy and classy, with wabi-sabi influences.

“I just wanted something timeless. I didn’t want any trendy things. I wanted a place where I can return from work and rest,” Yong said. “Practicality, it’s me. But my wife wanted more shelving and everything, so we learned to meet in the middle.”

The dining area.

The dining area.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

For instance, the kitchen island was a non-negotiable for his wife, while he really wanted the custom terrazzo dining table and master bathroom vanity.

The couple also wanted their kitchen to be a key part of their home.

“She used to bake professionally, and I used to cook professionally. That’s how we met, we studied in the same culinary school,” Yong said.

The resulting interior is cozy and comforting, with carefully curated furniture and decor arranged neatly all around the space.

The dry kitchen and island countertop.

The dry kitchen and island counter.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

Warm, dim lights create a soothing atmosphere that puts people at ease. Stepping into their home feels like ducking into a quaint café off a busy street to escape the crowd; a place where all the chaos and noise just melts away.

“We have very different lifestyles in terms of our working hours, and we wanted a place to relax where we could also have friends over,” Yong said.

The couple’s originally budgeted S$80,000 for their renovation but ended up spending almost S$90,000 due to the size of the flat and its age, Yong said.

A close-up of the island countertop.

A close-up of the island countertop.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

That said, they looked for cheaper options wherever they could.

One of the taps they wanted for their sink cost over a thousand dollars from the store in Singapore, but they found the same item for less on Amazon Germany.

“We got it almost half price,” Yong said. “But my wife had to spend three days translating the listing information to make sure that it’s a correct fit and everything.”

Enjoying the process

The master bedroom.

The master bedroom.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

Having an interior designer around really gave them perspective on the things they wanted and the things they needed in the house, Yong said. The couple has since become friends with their interior designer.

Despite that, Yong and his wife still consider their home to be a work-in-progress. Their apartment will continue to change if they have new ideas to decorate the space.

“I think it’s important to enjoy the process, that’s for sure,” Yong added.

Study room.

The study.

Amanda Goh/Business Insider

Not settling for less

The couple has one tip for other first-time homeowners: Don’t settle for less.

When viewing apartments, Yong and his wife already decided that they wanted their house to be a forever home — and not just an investment property.

That determined the way they looked for a home and their approach to design.

“Find the right interior designer that you are really comfortable with, and choose the kind of things you really like,” Yong said. “For this house, I think we traveled the whole of Singapore to find what we wanted.”

“It’s tiring for sure, but it’s worth it at the end of the day, when the results are something that you like,” Yong added.

Have you recently built or renovated your dream home in Asia? If you’ve got a story to share, get in touch with me at agoh@businessinsider.com.