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HOW IS SHOEBOX APARTMENT LIVING IN SINGAPORE? (AK's home is a hut in the sky and it makes sense.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Seeing how some people in Hong Kong are living in apartments ranging from 150 square feet to 200 square feet in size makes me feel like I am living in luxury!


I keep telling people that my home is a hut in the sky. 

It is a tongue in cheek way of saying I live in a high floor shoebox apartment. 

Yup, it is one of those apartments smaller than 50 sq m (538 sq ft) in size described by the ex CEO of CapitaLand as "inhuman". 

Of course, he was not the only one who had something negative to say about shoebox apartments.

To be quite honest, I was a sceptic too. 

My old place was almost 1,000 sq ft in size, had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchen, a big living area and a balcony. 

Almost everyone who visited told me then that it was a perfect size bachelor pad.

At the time, I already had friends staying in shoebox apartments and I knew what a 463 sq ft apartment looked like. 

The first word that came to mind when I visited the place was "tiny". 

Space was tight. 

In between furniture and fixtures, there was only enough space for one person to walk around. 

Well, maybe two if the people were smaller in size.


So, it was a leap of faith for me to buy a shoebox apartment more than two years ago and, to be quite honest, I was somewhat worried about the space issue after the whole deal went through. 

I made copies of the floor plan of the apartment and made scaled measurements of furniture, exploring different ways of making everything fit while still having enough room to move around.

Now, having lived in a shoebox apartment for a while, I find that they are, actually, very livable. 

The trick is not to clutter up the apartment with stuff. 

Staying in a shoebox apartment makes people think more carefully about what they buy for their home. 

The question "Is this necessary?" takes on another layer of importance.

Kitchen is in the living room? Yup!

For me, the necessary furniture to buy in a shoebox apartment would be:

1. A bed.
2. A wardrobe.
3. A sofa.
4. A desk and two chairs.
5. A TV console.

Depending on the size and layout of the shoebox apartment, smaller size furniture might have to be considered. 

However, if the apartment is not smaller than, say, 441 sq ft, and the format is not oddly shaped, pretty decent size furniture, including a queen size bed and a two seater sofa should be able to fit quite comfortably.

I have learned to appreciate that living in a shoebox apartment has many advantages and, strangely, although I had much more space in my old place, I do not feel that my current home is less livable. 

Let me see if I can rattle off a list of things.

Tiny apartments are the norm in Japan.

1. The first thing that comes to mind is that there is less underutilised or wasted space. 

I had lots of space in my old place but most of it was underutilised.

I paid for space I was not using.

When I sold my old place after staying there for more than 4 years, I remember that the kitchen was in an almost pristine condition.

2. There is less cleaning to do in a shoebox apartment which saves me a lot of time. 

I remember that a thorough cleaning of my old place, including the underutilised kitchen, took me almost 6 hours! 

The shoebox apartment takes me less than 2 hours to clean.

3. Financially, the shoebox apartment is less burdensome as it was much cheaper to buy and I also pay less in property tax. 

We always hear people saying Singaporeans are asset rich but cash poor. 

Although not always the case, many people "over consume" when it comes to their homes. 

Real estate can be good investments for income but, unless we have and are willing to rent out spare rooms, our homes are consumption items.

Paying less for my home means that I have more money to invest for income.

4. I enjoy equal access to the facilities in the condominium which includes the car park but I pay much lesser in monthly maintenance fee compared to my neighbours who bought the larger units in the condominium. 

Of all the facilities available, why did I mention the car park? 

Isn't that the most boring thing on the list?

Well, I remember telling some friends that considering the fact that a car park lot is about 100 sq ft in area, I got a pretty good deal since bigger units are also entitled to only one car park lot each. 

Proportionally, a 441 sq ft apartment would gain 22.6% more space while a 1,034 sq ft apartment would gain only 9.7% more space, for example. 

Interesting, isn't it?

I thought this was somewhat extreme.

Anyway, although we might feel unhappy with the rising costs of living, as long as Singapore's economy chugs along nicely, things will only become more expensive over time. 

So, apartments will become more expensive too. 

Smaller formats are more affordable, for sure, but beyond affordability, many are concerned about whether they would compromise on the quality of life.

If we believe that a HDB 4 room flat, 970 sq ft in size and has 3 bedrooms, is about right for a family of 4 or 5, then, each person in the family would have 242.5 or 194 sq ft of space, proportionally. 

A shoebox apartment that is 441 sq ft in size would, therefore, provide plenty of room for a single person or even a couple. 

It is all relative, isn't it?

Finally, I have been watching a program called "Tiny House Nation" recently. 

This is a movement in the USA and we all know how the Americans love their big houses. 

I remember a friend from the USA told me that a 1,300 sq ft apartment was tiny for a family of 5 when I was staying with my parents in an apartment which was about that size.

Anyway, I really enjoy watching "Tiny House Nation" and to learn that more Americans are downsizing, being less wasteful and more environmentally conscious.

Images from "Tiny House Nation."
"In “Tiny House Nation,” renovation experts and hosts, John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin, travel across America to show off ingenious small spaces and the inventive people who live in them, as well as help new families design and construct their own mini-dream home in a space no larger than 500 square feet."

If you want to find out more about "Tiny House Nation", here is the link:

Shoebox apartments might not be right for everyone but they could be right for some. 

Definitely, we could live large in a tiny home.

Related posts:
1. Housing and the CPF.
2. Slaving to stay in a condominium.
3. Affordability of housing in Singapore.
4. How big is a 452 sq feet apartment?
5. Smaller apartments' prices more resilient.


The Sun said...

Hi AK,

In fact, not only condo units like yours are below 500 sq ft, modern 2 room HDB flats (which come in sizes of 45sq ft or 35 sq ft) are like that as well.

AK71 said...

Hi Sun,

Yes, singles who are 35 years or older and making no more than $5,000 a month are allowed to buy these BTO 2 room flats. Unfortunately, I do not qualify because of my income.

At S$100,000 or so a unit and with a 99 years lease, I think they are pretty good value for money. :)

pf said...

This won't allow me to have friends sleeping over. Lol...

AK71 said...

Hi pf,

Actually, you could still do that. Get a very comfortable couch and one that converts into a bed when required. ;)

In fact, my sofa is more comfortable to sleep in than the bed in my old place. The cushions are made of memory foam. Before my bed arrived in my new place, I slept in it for a few nights. It is a 1.9m long 2 seater. Long enough. :)

Don_Jerome said...


Might I ask roughly how much difference in cost is your shoebox as opposed to say a 1000 sq ft sized apartment like ur old home? at the point of purchase in ur current home.

Wondering how much that extra bedroom/kitchen cost. haha.

AK71 said...

Hi Jeremy,

A 1,000 sq ft or so unit in the same condominium would have have cost about 10% less on a per square foot basis. But its absolute dollar price tag would have been more than double that of my shoebox unit's.

I kind of rationalised back then that it would make more sense to buy 2 shoebox units, rent one out for income than to buy a bigger unit and rent out a room. I would also have the flexibility of selling one unit in future, retaining one for my own stay. As much as I loved my old home, I couldn't keep half of it and sell the other half. ;p

I value privacy a lot and don't like to share living space with a stranger although I was lucky enough to rent out my spare room in my old place to a friend before. :)

So, based on my calculations, there really is not much of a price difference between shoebox units and larger units in my condominium on the same floor although on the face of it, on a psf basis, there is a 9% to 10% difference. This might not be the case, however, with some other condominiums which could see a price difference of 20% or more in some cases.

Thinking of buying a shoebox apartment too? ;p

Don_Jerome said...

haha... yeah man..I was thinking of the exact same thing, buying two apartments and renting one but buying two two bedroom apartments was prolly too expensive.

when you mention "not much of a price difference between shoebox units and larger units" you mean on a per sq ft basis rite? since you mentioned that the absolute cost would be double?

AK71 said...

Hi Jeremy,

Yes, I was referring to a per square foot basis. :)

You might also be interested to know that the rental yield for shoebox apartments is still higher than that of larger apartments in the same condominium. So, you will get more bang for your buck.

You should also bargain for a lower price if you were to buy 2 units instead of one. If the developer is desperate enough, you will probably get a discount. ;)

Don_Jerome said...

Cool... good to know. Thanks!

best regards

qook said...

Nice post. Thanks for the reminder that property that you are staying in is really a consumption item and not am investment. It is my goal to minimize consumption of housing too. I think it would be a good exercise to declutter my life too and live a minimalist lifestyle. Hopefully I can own my own shoebox soon :)

AK71 said...

Hi qook,

If you are looking for one in the CCR or RCR, I think the prices will retreat some 15% over the next two years from where they are now and this is really because of the impact of falling rentals and heavier financing burden from rising interest rates.

I feel that the shoeboxes that will be impacted the most will be the ones priced at the higher end of the spectrum which, to me, are those which cost around $2,000 psf or more. The reason is because of the total quantum.

Most people buy shoebox apartments as investments and if the purchase price was lower, the probability of these buyers being able to continue servicing their loan is higher even if rentals were to fall or, worse, if the apartments should be vacant for a few months in a row.

Of course, I am ignoring the holding power of these landlords which is a variable component in the whole equation. Some might have deeper pockets. Ignoring this possibility, however, I think my expectation is reasonable.

Shoebox apartments which are below $1,500 psf in price will probably be more resilient, bearing in mind that rentals in RCR have been more resilient compared to CCR, but I am sure there will be some distressed sellers as well in the next couple of years.

I feel that a shoebox apartment of around 441 sq ft is livable for a single of a couple. I don't know what a shoebox apartment in the 200+ or 300+ sq ft is like. So, I really cannot comment.

If there should be an offer of $1,200 to $1,300 psf for a 441 sq ft unit, that would mean a price tag of $529,200 to $573,300 which I feel is affordable for most PMETs in their early or mid 30s. At below, $1,200 psf, I think there will be a ready market of buyers.

However, you want to keep an eye on value for money as, more often than not, it is quite relative.

For some ideas, see:
Affordability and value for money.

Time to start scouting for properties you like and to keep an eye on them. ;)

qook said...

Wow, thanks so much for the comprehensive reply! Really grateful for all the nuggets of wisdom there. Yes, I think around 450-600 sqft would be a nice size for a couple to live in. Will try to be more patient and bide my time for prices to fall, and meanwhile start scouting around. Thanks AK for being so generous with your time and knowledge :)

AK71 said...

I like most of the stuff you blog about but encouraging people to go tiny is not something I agree with. It might be OK for you because you are single but, hey, don't you have friends or family who visit? Are you really happy living in a tiny apartment? Have you ever thought that you made a mistake? I am really curious.

I don't usually entertain. I don't like cleaning up after a party. I am lazy. That is also a reason why I love my little hut in the sky. Less square footage, less cleaning. It has been more than 2 years and I still love the place. No, I don't feel like I have made a mistake. Not the size. Not the price. Not the location. Not anything. I think my little hut is perfect. :)

Cindy said...

Hi AK,

I totally agree with you. I also prefer a smaller condo.

The smallest one that I've lived in is about 50 sqm (the others are from 70sqm to 400sqm), and I like it the most.

I'm kinda interested in buying a property in SG for investment purpose (I'm not Singaporean and I don't plan to move to SG).

Do you think it's a good idea to buy a small condo in SG right now?

Any thoughts/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

AK71 said...

Hi Cindy,

Er, maybe, this blog would useful to you:

Parents nudging 32 year old to buy...

Don't ask me lah. I don't know. ;p

AK71 said...

millenialsg said...
what do you think of the recent change in URA guidelines on increasing the average size of units in a development from 70 sqm to 85 sqm?

this will impact the supply of shoebox condos and shoebox condos may become obsolete in future... will you upgrade to a bigger unit in the future?

AK said...
With the new rule, far from becoming obsolete, the relative scarcity of shoebox units in future might drive prices up on a PSF basis as the absolute quantum still remains more affordable compared to larger units, all else being equal.

Unless there is a very good reason to upgrade my home, I won't. :)

AK71 said...

In response to a video I produced in my YouTube channel:

49 minutes ago
The other benefits of tiny home movement. We are careful in what we buy given the space constraints. Everything from bicycles to office wear to shoes, we either rent or just buy what we need. Our utilities bill is affordable since Air Con unit doesn't have to work so hard for small space, and with a higher U-Save rebates from government, since we just poor people staying in 3-room flat. With our mortgage long paid off donkey years ago, we don't need to play office politics, can just focus on our work and hanging out with people we get along with.


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