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How investors should analyse floor plans

Most property buyers know the basics of choosing a property: checking the distance to the MRT, comparing price histories, looking at developer track records, and so on. But as I often remind buyers, these are elements of the overall project in question.

When looking for an investment asset, it is not just the project that has to stand out: the specific unit must be ideal and attractive to tenants. Some units have floor plans that are simply more appealing or flexible; and this is how to spot them:

1. Check the usable amount of space in the unit

A unit that is 1,100 sq. ft. does not mean you will have 1,100 sq. ft. of usable space. Some of the space will be taken up for other uses, such as corridor space (not really useful for anything except connecting rooms), air-con ledges, or partition walls.

A particularly notorious offender here are extra-large air-con ledges; you are still charged for the space they take up, even though the extra space is useless. Bay windows, which have large protrusions that take up space, are also a common issue.

You should also be aware of void spaces, which may apply if the ceiling is especially high. In properties where the ceiling is three or four metres, for example, you may be charged for the vertical space between the floor and ceiling.

High ceilings are impressive, but you might be paying for the “empty air” between the floor and roof

This is not always a bad thing, as some buyers enjoy the sense of spaciousness that comes from a high ceiling; but as an investor, you should ponder if a tenant is willing to pay more rent for such features. (In terms of resale, however, a high ceiling may be impressive to future buyers).

Another point of contention is the use of planter boxes, which are meant to allow for gardening in condos or other high-rise apartments. These planter boxes take up space and tenants don’t always appreciate them: between a room where planter boxes take up 50 sq. ft., and a room where this space is given over to storage, tenants often prefer the latter.

Notice how much space a planter box can take up.

If your unit includes Private Enclosed Spaces (PES), or balconies, note that these may count toward your square footage. Some buyers may not appreciate these, as they do not consider such areas particularly useful (e.g., some people do not want an extended patio on the ground floor, as they find it hard to keep clean and will rarely use it).

In general, landlords should always aim for the maximum amount of liveable space, whilst owner-investors might pay for features that are purely ornamental (as it improves the appearance and saleability of the unit for future buyers).

2. Check the facing of the unit

Singapore is a hot and tropical country, so most of us don’t want the full power of the sun blasting into our living room (although some foreigners may be the exception – those from colder climates may actually enjoy the Singapore sun).

As general advice, I suggest investors aim for units that are described as North-South facing, or South-East facing. These are units that tend to have less exposure to the sun, throughout different times of the year. Units that have an East-West facing tend to have the most exposure to the sun.

Consider what your unit overlooks, and whether the scenery may change over time

If you ever notice that units in a certain block tend to be cheaper, look out: it may be due to a near East-West facing, which means the unit is hotter.

If you must have a unit with such a facing, it may be worth considering a lower rather than higher floor. While higher floors tend to see more demand, units on lower floors sometimes have barriers in the form of planted trees, other blocks, and so on – this can lower the amount of direct exposure to the sun.

Landed properties have an advantage when it comes to facing: because owners can control the façade of the house (including full control of window designs), they can easily instruct builders to minimise the impact of sun exposure. But condo buyers need to check facing details with care before buying.

Besides sun exposure, do consider what the unit overlooks as well. It will be tougher to resell a unit if it overlooks an unsightly canal, for instance, or if it faces a car park or substation. Try to find units with at least a pool view if it’s on the ground floor; otherwise, units that face a waterfront or green spaces are reliable favourites.

3. Check how flexible or versatile the floor plan is

Some floor plans are designed to be more versatile, such as “2+1” style configurations. These layouts give you the option to add a room, or to leave the unit as a two-bedder. If you’re intending to rent out the unit, going for more rooms is often, but not always, the best choice (as you potentially have one more room to let out to a third tenant).

Besides this, you need to check which walls in the unit are movable (i.e., non-load bearing), and which walls can be freely removed. Some layouts – especially among older condos – are quite rigid. The walls are all fixed in place, so the unit cannot be easily “opened up.” or adapted to newer styles like Scandinavian designs or Japanese minimalism.

Look over the floor plans with your realtor or a contractor, so you can understand what can be moved, and what is permanent

Rigid designs may also mean you cannot add features like a service yard, or a room for domestic helpers, which can affect desirability among tenants or future buyers. This is often true for condos built using Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC). These are also referred to as “prefabs” for short.

Prefab units have the most restrictive renovation options – they are built according to fixed parameters, and the walls usually cannot be hacked away. What you see is what you’re stuck with for good.

If you can get a copy of the floor plans, you can bring it to your interior designer to get an opinion before buying.

4. Avoid units with odd corners or long corridors

Units with odd corners tend to be harder to furnish – most furniture is meant to be aligned along straight walls. You may find it difficult to get a desk, cupboard, or other piece of furnishing to fit nicely into an odd corner.

Some properties built during the ‘80s, which was a highly experimental period, feature rounded corners. The Clover @ Kebun Baru is an HDB project that’s famous for this; but you will also find this in some older landed properties from the era. Some landed homes, for instance, have rounded balconies. While these certainly look unique, it may require a different theme or custom furniture from your interior designer as again, most furnishings are designed to fit squarish or rectangular rooms.

From a strict investment perspective, I would prefer squarish or rectangular rooms over more novelty-based designs. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the uniqueness, but simply that future buyers may prefer a more conventional (and hence versatile) lay out.

This type of corridor space is not very efficient, as it’s usually too narrow to be used for anything else.

One other element to look for are long corridor spaces. Investors should generally prefer layouts that don’t have long corridors – this is partly because long corridors tend to result in more dark spots, and partly because corridors waste space (most people don’t sit in the corridors to do things).

In condos built during or after the 2010’s, corridor spaces are less common. These newer units tend to use a “dumbbell” layout, in which the living room is an interconnecting space between bedrooms. This removes the need for a corridor.

On the downside, dumbbell layouts sometimes mean the main door opens directly into the living room; some home owners may feel this lacks privacy. You can get a contractor to build a small partition in such cases.

5. More utilities are better for multiple unrelated tenants, fewer utilities are better for tenant families

An example of this would be a sub-divided unit, like a dual-key unit. Such units tend to sacrifice living space for utility space. As the units have been sub-divided, for example, there may have to be two kitchens, or extra toilets for the other sub-unit. This almost always means smaller living rooms or bedrooms.

Nonetheless, dual key units do provide versatility. They may be preferred in multi-generational family set-ups, as they allow the parents or grandparents to have their own private sub-unit. They are also preferred for rental, as the landlord can reside in one sub-unit, while the tenant has full privacy in another.

I have also handled an Executive Condo dual-key unit, in which the owner can rent out to two separate tenants as the units are sub-divided.

For a single family, just one lavish bathroom may be enough. But for multiple unrelated tenants, having more smaller bathrooms is preferable.

For investors who intend to rent to multiple tenants (e.g., your unit will be rented by four or five unrelated people), having more utility space is better. For example: five different tenants, all of whom need to go to their different jobs, will probably be unhappy to share and wait for one toilet in the morning.

(Ps. With regard to the bathroom try to find one with a ventilation window. Bathrooms without windows are unpleasant for multiple people to share in a short time, as it tends to be hot and damp for the next person who steps in. Odours also take longer to dissipate!)

Conversely, if you intend to rent to a single family, they would usually prefer more living space. They don’t have any need for two separate small kitchens, for example.

The complexities of a unit’s layout can be tough to grasp, as there are so many small yet vital details. At Max Properties, we take the time to consult with you on your needs, and identify the unit layouts that are better for your specific purpose; so do reach out to us for help.

Also, it may just be more practical, since we have plenty of floor plans and can help you browse through them all at once. Spare yourself the hours of hunting down the plans for each project!


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