Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maisonettes, Stairway to (housing) heaven

In land-scarce Singapore, a staircase in the home has become somewhat of a status symbol.

Usually equated with landed properties or penthouses, a home with one is not often within the reach of most. However, a rare breed of HDB flats can meet both the budgets and aspirations of the average homeowner - the two-storey HDB executive maisonette.

A variation of executive apartments - three-bedroom flats with an additional study - they were first built by the HDB in 1980. They can be found in various mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Panjang, Clementi, Hougang, Queenstown and Sembawang. As HDB stopped constructing new executive flats after the introduction of the Executive Condominium Housing Scheme in 1995, maisonettes are now in limited supply.

Increasing Popularity

The shrinking sizes of new apartments have made executive maisonettes seem all the more attractive. Typical units have floor areas from 1,527sqf to 1,560sqf. As such, they are popular among couples and families who like more room.

Kevin Chin, 28, a freelance journalist who bought an executive maisonette in Jurong West in 2008 as his marital home, says: "I used to live in a terrace house with my parents, so I really like the space and the landed-property feel that it offers. It is not so cramped and claustrophobic, unlike some newer flats and modern condominiums."

Newlywed Catherine Goh, a 29-year-old event planner, cites privacy as a factor that spurred her to purchase her maisonette at Bukit Panjang in January this year.

"The bedrooms are upstairs, so guests can hang out downstairs in the living and dining areas without going near the private areas. Plus, there is no way for anyone to peek into the bedrooms from the corridor!" she says

Investment Value

"HDB executive maisonettes do tend to fetch higher market prices than executive apartments - generally about $10,000 more," says Propnex's chief executive officer Mohamed Ismail.

He cites their limited supply and two floors as factors for the premium they command.

"Typically, only landed properties have two storeys, so executive maisonettes may appear to be more upmarket," he adds.

As for whether maisonettes make for good investments, Ismail says: "Executive maisonettes would make a better investment in terms of capital appreciation, compared to other types of HDB flats, given that they are the largest in this category. But their rental yield would not be as good as a smaller apartment."

However, Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Chesterton Suntec International, takes the view that there is little difference price-wise between maisonettes and executive apartments.

"Because there are limited numbers of maisonettes, demand can sometimes be greater than supply. This is when prices may edge up a little more than executive apartments, but generally, the price difference is not significant."

The bullish property market does bear good news for maisonette owners. "All executive flat types are in greater demand now as HDB does not build them any more. The rising private property market also means more homeowners are downgrading from private apartments, and they prefer executive flats, which are much bigger," adds Colin.

Recent transactions by Propnex in the fourth quarter of 2009 indicate that a maisonette in the Clementi and West Coast area was sold at a high of $667,000.

The Renovation Factor

One major drawback of HDB maisonettes is their age.

As they are at least 15 years old, buying one usually involves extensive renovations. Interior designers say most of the maisonettes they have worked on required a complete overhaul, involving work such as rewiring, replastering walls and putting in new bathroom fittings.

"In a way, it's a good thing that maisonettes are old, because it's easier to do a total overhaul than try to retain certain elements of the flat," says Peter Ng, design consultant of Three-D Conceptwerke.

Frankie Te, design manager of Nexz Concept, estimates that it would cost $60,000 to $80,000 to renovate a maisonette.

"They are quite big, as they usually have one more toilet than typical HDB flats, plus a study on the first storey, so renovation costs will increase as well," he explains.

Designer Arjan Nijen Twilhaar of Aiden T. adds that doing up a maisonette will typically cost $5,000 to $8,000 more than a five-room flat as they are approximately 300sqf bigger.

Design Possibilities

Otherwise, a maisonette's spaciousness means there is more flexibility when giving it a makeover. Common renovations include opening up the space by removing the kitchen wall and creating an outdoor balcony space.

Arjan even carved out a "granny flat" in a Pasir Ris maisonette for the owner's mother by roofing the balcony and extending the common bathroom so it becomes an ensuite toilet to the space.

But instead of covering up the balcony with a roof, Peter advocates leaving it as an open space.

"The double-volume balcony is one of the unique features of a maisonette. Make it an attractive space by adding plants that can creep from the first to the second level," he suggests.

Frankie likewise sees much potential in it: "Create a nice landscaped space that merges into the living area, with an open-concept kitchen as well." The three spaces are usually adjacent to one another.

Kevin spent over $60,000 to transform his 20-year-old maisonette into a chic modern abode, but thinks the results are worth every penny.

"Aftr the renovation, you can't tell it's a HDB flat," he says of his home, which has an open-concept kitchen and hotel-style bathrooms.

Catherine, who is giving her own maisonette an overhaul, doesn't think the renovation cost is much of a deterrent when it comes to deciding whether to buy one.

"I would probably have spent more or less the same amount on renovation even if I had bought another resale flat," she explains.

For those who want to buy a maisonette but baulk at the cost of doing up an old flat, HDB recently launched Skyterrace @ Dawson, which offers two-storey loft units with a double-volume living and dining space.

"These can be sold individually or paired with a studio apartment. Extended families can apply for a four-or five-room loft unit paired with a studio flat under the pilot Multi-Generation Living Scheme. Interconnecting doors will be provided when sold as paired units," says a HDB spokesperson.

A HDB maisonette might just be a renovation away from becoming your dream home. If you're looking for an apartment, consider its spacious dimensions at an affordable price, design potential, and of course, that prestige that comes with living in a two-storey home.

As posted in Home & Decor by Melissa Lee

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