What should you look for when inspecting a landed property?

Landed property sales have surged since the pandemic, and for good reason: in a volatile economy, landed homes are deemed as a safe haven asset. This is simply due to the scarcity of landed properties, which helps them to maintain their value. However, this does not mean that all landed properties are an equally good deal.

In my earlier article, I explained how to compare between landed homes. As with any other segment of the property market, some landed homes may represent better value, or have better prospects for appreciation. In this article, I’ll cover some of the specific details of what to check, when viewing a particular landed property.

What are the key things to know when viewing a landed property?

  • Basement restrictions
  • Drainage reserve
  • Height restrictions
  • Pest infestations
  • Road reserve line
  • Roofing
  • Shape of the land plot
  • Soil conditions

1. Basement restrictions

One of the key advantages of landed housing is that you can build a basement. However, the restrictions on building basements vary for different properties.

First, when examining an existing property, you need to be sure you’re looking at a basement and not another floor in the eyes of Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Under URA guidelines, a basement cannot protrude more than one metre above the ground level.

Basements can protrude up to the road buffer, of the road reserve line (see below). A sunken basement (one level below the basement) can protrude all the way to the boundaries of your land plot. on some conditions:

  • Sewage is not affected
  • The properties next to you are not affected
  • The sunken basement cannot open into any adjoining sites
  • Any part of the sunken basement under a designated tree planting strip must be at least two metres below the ground

By knowing the limitations of the basement, you will have a better sense of what can be done with the space. For example, you may be able to build a toilet in the basement, if you want to convert it to a cosy workspace / entertainment den. You may also be able to build a basement parking space.

Some properties will be much more limited than others in this regard (e.g. inability to do much with the basement because there are sewage pipes running too close).

2. Drainage reserve

A drainage reserve refers to any piece of land set aside for drainage purposes, such as canals. These are important for the sewage of other homes in the area, so authorities impose a setback – or a minimum mandated distance – from the landed property to such areas.

You may find, for example, that all parts of the landed property (including the basement) must have a setback of 1.75 metres from the drainage reserve. This can impact the overall layout of your property, and place restrictions on any Additions & Alterations (A&A).

3. Height restrictions

Unlike non-landed homes, landed properties do not have a Gross Plot Ratio (GPA) defining how many storeys they can build. Instead, the maximum number of floors depends on the area the property is in (check this with the seller if you’re not sure). This is often either two floors plus an attic, or three floors plus an attic.

In addition, there are some height limitations – a two-storey landed home cannot exceed 12 metres, while a three-storey landed home cannot exceed 15.5 metres. However, you are generally free to configure the internal space however you please. You might, for example, include mezzanine sub-floors.

Besides affecting how you can alter or rebuild the property, height restrictions do affect the price. So if you see a single-storey landed home that seems to be selling for higher than usual, it could be because you’re allowed to build higher on that plot.

4. Pest infestations

In older landed homes, the extent of damage from certain pests – such as termites – may not be obvious from the start. There could, for instance, be significant damage to wooden structures that are concealed behind partitions.

In some cases, the pest infestations are not the fault of the immediate owner – they may be coming from adjacent properties. This is actually worse, as you can keep your house clean but you can’t keep your neighbour’s house clean.

This is one reason some buyers are wary of properties with Food & Beverage businesses in close proximity (e.g. certain shophouses).

Look for telltale signs like animal droppings, wood that’s been eaten away in corners, or torn / chewed up indoor plants.

5. Road line reserve

This is similar to the concept of the drainage reserve (see above), except in this case it defines how far back your property must be from the road.

The distance requirement is based on the category of the road. A category 1 road, for instance, requires a setback of 15 metres, while a category 2 road requires a 7.5 metre distance. The smaller category 3, 4, and 5 roads require as little as three metres distance.

(This is, at any rate, a good thing since you don’t want to be too close to the noise of larger roads).

As such, the adjoining roads can affect how much liveable space you’re ultimately getting for your home. You should check this when buying, to make sure your future home-building plans are viable.

6. Roofing

Leaks are probably the most common issue with roofing. However, if you’re retaining the current property, do check for other issues such as loose shingles, or areas where water is pooling (the authorities like to check for these, and you’ll get fined if they’re breeding mosquitoes).

One thing to watch for is that small leaks can, over time, become much bigger. However, a small leak is quite tough to spot at first. As such, it’s best to have a professional look over the structure. I have worked in construction and interiors before joining the real estate industry, so I can help you in this regard; just drop me a quick message on Facebook.

7. Shape of the land plot

A good architect make the best of even odd-shaped land plots. In general however, buyers will seek a rectangular shaped plot, without any unusual corners (such as L-shaped protrusions). A rectangular plot gives the most overall flexibility in layout, and minimises complexities in construction or A&A.

As an aside, I don’t know if you believe in Feng Shui – but suffice it to say that even if you don’t, future buyers or tenants might! Believers often consider triangular shaped plots to carry negative connotations.

8. Soil conditions

If your intent is to build a new property on the land, the soil conditions can affect your construction costs. For example, landed properties that are close to bodies of water (e.g. coastal areas along Sentosa) may be mostly shale or clay; this requires a different kind of foundation, which will account for soil movement.

Construction is generally- but not always – cheaper on firmer ground.

You can’t usually tell the soil conditions without a soil test; so do ask the seller, as this isn’t something you can inspect with your bare eyes. As an alternative, you may want to ask the neighbours (they may have built in the area previously).

Finally, be wary of any illegal renovations or alterations on the existing property

There are cases where the previous seller managed to get away with something illegal, such as “under the table” renovation work from unlicensed contractors. Remember that once you take over the property, all of these consequences are yours to bear; and you will have to pay to tear these down and replace them.

It can be hard for the layperson to identify what is or isn’t a legal modification, so I suggest you have an expert with you to explore the property. If you need help in this regard, do drop me a notice; a few minutes viewing it together might save you months of trouble later.

You can find out more about landed homes as well as the Singapore private property market, by following me on RonChongProperty.sg. Stick with us as I delve further into useful considerations for home buyers and investors alike.

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