What’s a Safe Space Worth?

Meet Lisa, the single who bought a resale HDB flat at age 24 to provide a safe home for her family.

CPF nomination is rarely discussed in the context of buying a home, but its importance is a lesson homeowner Lisa had to learn the hard way.

When Lisa was 12 years old, her family of four began staying in her aunt’s three- room flat, entwined in a joint tenancy with her father. But little did they know that this arrangement would shape their destiny when tragedy struck 12 years later.

In 2019, Lisa’s father passed away, leaving them grappling not just with grief but also with the grim reality of having no property in their name. To add insult to injury, her family’s relationship with their aunt had also gone south, putting them at risk of being ousted altogether. Lisa knew what she had to do—secure a safe space for her family, and fast.

“I only did that because I had no other choice that was acceptable to me. I refused to let my family continue to stay with my aunt,” confesses Lisa in one of her YouTube videos. Her family’s touching story resonated with over 175,000 viewers, who follow her journey and pick up nuggets of wisdom from her channel, Lisa’s Adulting in Singapore.

However, the odds were stacked heavily against her. Lisa discovered that her father had not made a CPF nomination, resulting in funds being tied up and effectively barring them from financial resources.

She was left with little choice and, as a mere undergrad student, bit the bullet and took on a daunting mortgage of nearly $200,000 to purchase a two-room resale flat under the Non-Citizen Family (NCF) scheme.

“It was so lonely,” she recalls. “I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because they weren’t at the stage of buying houses yet. I had a friend who got a BTO flat, but having to buy resale is a whole different ball game.”

Prioritising well-being

Is the price of personal space worth the investment in one’s mental well-being? Lisa candidly acknowledges that buying a home might not have been the wisest financial choice, but ensuring her family had a secure sanctuary took precedence over monetary considerations.

“My considerations were not financial. They were emotional and I’m very aware of that,” she says, explaining the sacrifices she had to make consequently.

Starting with a monthly income of $3,000, Lisa had to brave a 25-year mortgage without any housing grants, simply because her appeal to qualify for the Built-to-Order (BTO) scheme was rejected due to her mother’s non-Singaporean citizenship.

“Choosing resale was an expensive decision. It really wasn’t my first choice. What was hardest for me to accept were the feelings of resentment. It wasn’t a very productive emotion.”

Though Lisa’s circumstances were unique, she’s not alone in feeling excluded by Singapore’s housing policies. For many others, accepting the steep cost of a resale HDB flat or a private condominium is no easy feat.

Image courtesy of MILIN JOHN, UNSPLASH

However, looking back, she believes she wouldn’t have chosen a different path— having agency over her life is something she wouldn’t trade for anything. “It’s empowering to be able to make decisions about my home’s layout, what I want to put in it, and how often I clean it. I don’t think I would be the person I am now if I’d continued to stay with my aunt.”

Words of wisdom

When asked if she would encourage other young adults stuck in undesirable living situations to take bold steps like renting an apartment or purchasing a private property, Lisa hesitates to give absolute answers.

“It will depend from person to person. How much money do you have? How many resources do you have? Sometimes, you may have to spend a few thousand dollars to really take yourself out of an unhealthy situation for a while.”

One decision she stands by is hiring a property agent to navigate the daunting process of home ownership, despite scepticism from others. “If you’re doing it with your partner, you can support each other. It might even be fun. For me, engaging a property agent took a huge burden off my shoulders,” she shares.

Similarly, she chose to hire an interior designer, despite being warned about potential mark-ups. Lisa found that leveraging an interior designer’s expertise, contacts and time was worth it, considering she lacked those resources herself.

Even after settling into her new home, financial insecurities lingered due to her father’s passing. Lisa found herself worrying about job security and managing bills and mortgage payments. To tackle these anxieties, she channelled those feelings into planning for the worst-case scenario.

“I think now, after over a year of being very strict with myself, I’m finally able to relax a bit and spend more on myself. But you need that period of hypervigilance at the beginning to lay the foundation so that you can enjoy things later on.”

Two years on, Lisa continues to share her personal finance journey on her YouTube channel, emphasising that it’s not just about accumulating money but being strategic about how each dollar is invested, whether in a future home or a retirement plan.

But, beyond the facts and figures, what resonates with Lisa’s audience most profoundly is her tenacity. In land-scarce Singapore, where the journey to secure a safe space is often riddled with obstacles, her story stands as a reminder to aspiring homeowners that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Maybe you’ll get to a point where you’re able to stop being resentful. Because where you end up is worth more than what you gave up along the way.”