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Pitfalls of Owning a Boutique Condo: 5 Insider Insights You’ll Wish You Knew Earlier

Posted by Jayson Ang on May 19, 2024
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TLDR

When considering boutique condos, be mindful of potential drawbacks such as dominating families influencing rules, lack of privacy due to close quarters, high maintenance fees from exclusive management, vulnerability to en-bloc sales, and feelings of being cramped. These factors can impact your living experience and financial decisions. Understanding these nuances can help you make informed choices when deciding to buy, sell, or wait in the real estate market.

You know those small, fancy condos often called ’boutique condos’? Usually, they have 50 or less units and offer a good deal of privacy. But, there’s a flip side to them – less land, fewer amenities, and sometimes, management committees that can be a bit exclusive.

So, the question is, do they really justify their extra exclusivity?

We chatted with some boutique condo owners recently about what they don’t really like about these places. Here’s what you should keep in mind:

1. Project Occupied by a Big Family

Lila, who’s from overseas, lived in a District 15 boutique condo for about two years. There, she noticed that one big family owned more than half of the units in the building.

She shared, “This family acted like they owned the whole place. They’d always change the parking rules or tell us how we can use the common spaces.

One time, I had booked a room for a friend’s birthday. But the night before, they cancelled it, saying we were too many. When I asked where that rule came from, nobody could show me. Suddenly, the following week, there was a new rule in our mailboxes.

They also had plants on their balconies, but when others did the same, we were told to remove them because it was ‘unsafe’. So, the rules only seemed to apply to those outside their family.”

Lila rented her unit from a local Singaporean. The owner, who wanted to stay anonymous, told us, “My renters have complained about this, but at meetings, that family would always outvote us. I feel pretty helpless and I’m even thinking about selling. If it weren’t for the high ABSD, I would’ve sold it already.”

 2. Lack of Privacy

Matt has a bone to pick with some of our pieces, particularly the ones where we talk up the privacy of boutique condos. He insists that it’s not been his experience:

“Imagine living in a place with only 40 apartments, but it’s so cramped! Just to paint you a picture, if I stand in my laundry area and my neighbour pops open their window, we could have a full-on conversation. When I lived in an HDB flat, there was more wiggle room between places.”

Then there’s Kim., who went from a spacious condo to a small boutique setup in Siglap. He believes that larger condos offer more privacy:

“The place is tiny and there aren’t many of us, so it doesn’t feel as private as you claim. In fact, I feel like I’m under a microscope. My neighbours are aware of my swimming schedule, gym timings, and even when I fetch groceries. Once, a neighbour asked why I didn’t have any deliveries for the week. They notice everything.

We’re all squished together, there aren’t many of us, so snooping becomes easy. Even if you don’t mean to, you’ll end up knowing about each other. My previous larger condo was more private. It might sound odd, but you’ve got to experience it to get it.”

3. Higher Than Expected Maintenance Fee

Monica, a six-year resident of a swanky condo, firmly believes that the maintenance costs are ridiculously high:

“I’ve been seeing our maintenance charges skyrocket. Just last year, it was around $590 a month. They justify it by saying we only have 18 units. I get it. But, honestly, it’s absurd. The condo isn’t massive; we don’t have many security guards. Plus, there’s no gym or clubhouse. So where’s all this maintenance money going? What exactly are they maintaining?”

Lucy, another boutique condo dweller on Killiney Road, points out the issue of a small number of units and an exclusive management group:

“I’ve stopped attending the meetings. Four guys own more than half the condo, so really, why bother? My gripe is their knack for unnecessary upgrades like faux-marble panels in the elevators, or decking out the lobby entrance with mirrors. It feels like they’re treating this place as their private mansion.

These needless expenses are shouldered by just a few units, making the maintenance charges sky-high. My two cents? Avoid living in a minuscule condo, especially if the spending is controlled by folks wealthier than you.”

Homebuyers often forget to factor in the cost of maintenance. With fewer units, these costs can be hefty, even if the facilities aren’t numerous. Similarly, if there aren’t enough reserve funds for major repairs (which become more likely as the condos age), the extra costs could also be significant.

4. Have to Flow with an En-Bloc Sale 

Leo shared this scary story about a takeover attempt of his condo building some years ago:

He said, “You know, four guys together own more than half of our condo based on its worth. A few years back, there was this move to buy out the whole building – not sure if these guys or some developer started it. But that’s when it hit me that we were totally at their mercy. If they agreed, we’d be forced to find a new home and deal with all the hassles of moving.

To make matters worse, this all happened at the worst possible time. My wife was pregnant with our first baby, and she was often visiting the hospital due to a health concern.

In the end, the takeover didn’t happen, but the experience left us feeling bitter. You know, if our condo was bigger with many more families living here, it wouldn’t be so simple for a few wealthy owners to bring it down.”

5.  Can Feel Abit Crammed

Boutique projects aren’t typically skyscrapers, though there are a few exceptions. Alex, a former resident of a boutique condo, shares his experience about the not-so-great view:

“My condo was just five floors high, and I lived on the fourth one. Even with detached houses around, my view was mostly other people’s rooms. I didn’t like how it felt so cramped, and I didn’t even enjoy spending time on the balcony.”

Another person, Kelvin, has issues with his boutique project nestled between detached homes – a typical setup for such projects in residential areas:

“The idea is to have a sense of privacy, but instead, it feels packed especially in common areas. If I swing open the side gate, it nearly grazes the wall of the neighboring house. The noise levels are high too – the neighbor has three dogs, and I bet everyone living on my side of the condo can tell which dog is barking.”

So, if you’re thinking of investing in a boutique project, consider finding one that isn’t crammed between other properties or houses.

Should You Buy, Sell or Wait?

If you’re reading this, you must be trying to figure out the best course of action right now: is it the right time to buy or sell?

It’s difficult to give an exact answer since everyone’s situation is unique and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you.

I can bring you a wealth of on-the-ground experience and a data-driven approach to provide clarity and direction. From beginners to experienced investors, our top-down, objective approach will help you on your real estate journey.

I can help you by:

  1. Offering Strategic Real Estate Advice – I can help create a comprehensive plan to guide you through your property journey.
  2. Connecting Your Home with the Perfect Buyers – Through stunning visuals, an effective communication strategy, and an in-depth knowledge of the market, we’ll ensure your home is presented in the best possible way to fulfill your goals.

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