Renovating our "dream" apartment for under $50k

In one post, I talked about how we went about searching for our "dream" apartment.  Well, the next big expense was of course the renovations.  I very often hear people say that since one has already spent so much buying a property, it only makes sense to renovate it to its fullest.  Besides, it's a hassle to add in new items later.

I used to think like that. But not anymore.

Much of the change in attitude has to do with our "nomadic" lifestyle.  You see, we have been moving house so much for the past few years as expats in China and staying in a range of apartments to houses that we have a very simple philosophy for renovations,"Keep it affordable, portable and sustainable."  In fact, we realize, much of the costs are saved even before you buy your unit.

We spent a total of less than $50,000 on renovating and furnishing our over 1,400 square feet apartment because we retained much of its original flooring, window grilles, bedroom doors, sliding doors, air-conditioner and even recycled the oven and taps.  This was not purely by luck because we checked on their condition before we bought the unit. Some polishing and cleaning up was all that was needed.  The majority of the renovations was on refitting the kitchen which was already very old-looking, as well as the common toilet.  We also had a new coat of paint, lights and fans.  Where we felt the original stuff works, we retained.

Another rule we stuck to was to have minimal hacking. So choose a unit layout where you don't have to hack walls down.  Hacking takes up money and time, and may involve processing of permits as well.  Not forgetting, you have one room less when you wish to rent out the apartment.  My HDB flat was like that.

We also avoided custom-made fixtures, except for the kitchen.  In the common bath, we had to change the tiles as well as knock down a shelving. When the interior designer suggested we build a custom-made cabinet where the old one used to be, we declined.  Instead, we went and bought Ikea cubby holes and asked the contractor to install it for us, which he did free of charge.  Frankly, it didn't really matter once you filled it up with nice towels and toiletries.

We refrained from choosing furnishings which were difficult to maintain or which were too trendy, even if our hearts may want it now.  Remember, a look that's ultra modern now will look really passé in a few years' time.  So, we bought classic and clean-looking furniture, which are highly portable, and went for a very simple look.  For two reasons mainly.  Firstly, we never know when we may be moving house again and secondly, being able to move your furniture means it's easier to rent the unit out later.  I know, because we were tenants for close to 6 years and that's what I look for in a rental apartment - the ability to play around with the furniture to suit our lifestyle and needs.

While house sourcing in China, I have seen apartments which had pretty good layouts but the heavy (expensive!) rosewood furniture put me off.  Even in Singapore, some owners had done up their houses with modern gadgets and custom-made bar tops or display cabinets that would probably be of little use to potential house-hunters like me.  As they say, one's man's treasure is another man's trash, so we became very mindful of that. I suppose, from our past experience, we know that there is always a possibility that we may not be staying in the same place for the rest of our lives. Or when the children are all grown up, lifestyle changes may force a re-evaluation of how we use our apartment.  So, we avoided installing things which were fixed to the wall as much as possible.

Shopping at Ikea and online for the smaller items, e.g. wall pictures, placements, helped saved us a bundle.  As someone who likes gardening, just a few plants here and there really added to the feel of home.

Not a palace, but cosy enough for a family of four.  All at a pretty affordable price of less than $50,000.



  1. I tend to find that Ikea stuff don't last long though.

    You have a big house.

    I do find that custom built furniture can be helpful for smaller homes. A good ID can come up with pretty good ideas to optimise the limited spaces. My experience has been positive.

  2. Hello there. My ikea stuff lasts 5 years or so and we feel it's kinda ok cos we can then buy new ones for a change of look! Yes, with the smaller layouts nowadays especially with huge (unusable) balconies, ID is great to make use of what remaining space there is.


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