A lot went down in 2020. I bought and renovated an HDB flat. Became a CIArb fellow and an SMC-accredited mediator. Oh, and I married. A short, personal end-of-year review sorted by topic.
Buying a Flat
Immediately after New Year, HDBae (see also: Wedding and Family Life) and I start looking for an HDB flat to buy. One or the other object comes into question, but there’s a lot of chaff out there, too. We’re looking at flats all over the island before gradually focusing on a particular part of town.
I’d never thought of buying an HDB flat. I always thought, if I were to own property, then why not go the whole hog and go for a condominium? But Nura thinks the first flat in Singapore should be an HDB flat, anything else were foolish, what with all the grants for first-time buyers. There are other grants, too, if one is eligible. She is right, of course.
An HDB Resale Flat
Interesting first experiences with the HDB online portal as we try to register our intent to buy. As required, we enter all our particulars. The output:
You are not eligible.
Wait, what? As far as we understand, we should be eligible. We read everything again and are convinced we do tick all the boxes. But computer says no.
We visit HDB Hub at Toa Payoh, but they won’t talk to us unless we replicate the problem on the spot using one of their public terminals. So we enter everything again, not knowing what we’d say if it were working now. Nothing to worry about, we’re still not eligible. Now they accept we have a problem and ask us to draw a number. After the wait, we may explain everything to a real person. She agrees we are eligible indeed; it must be the system that is not designed for our personal circumstances. We are so unconventional. They’d be happy to investigate, but would we please summarise everything in writing when we get back home?
A few days later, the HDB have reprogrammed their online forms. Now it works. Relief.
A few steps further down the road we are not eligible, again. Again, we go to the HDB and explain ourselves, first verbally, den after dat in writing. They reprogramme something, again, then it works, again, and we can finish filling out our applications. Finally, it’s done, we may officially buy an HDB flat. As it happens, we have found one in the meantime.
We are persistent and sufficiently eloquent people who could explain ourselves to the HDB. This way the problems could be solved. But we ask ourselves: what if we had not succeeded? Are there people who fall through the cracks and give up prematurely?
Everything Also Cannot, or: Renovating an HDB Flat
The place we buy is a run-down accommodation in need of a general overhaul. Exactly what we were looking for, because we have our own ideas. We stage a beauty contest with four interior design firms we found on the internet. We choose one we want to work with, which doesn’t mean there will be no issues. Au contraire, we have to deal with a fair amount of frustration.
In mid-August, the flat is conveyed to us, but we allow the sellers to stay on for another month as their new place isn’t ready yet. Means we can only start renovating in mid-September.
But we can already picture the place and work out a plan with the interior designer. A lot goes into what the new quarters should look like. We buy the first components, the cooker and oven, lest they will be out of stock or anything. We engage a mason and a carpenter. Our ideas are fluid. Slowly, it’s taking shape on paper, but not yet in reality. Walls will have to be knocked down, new ones to be put up. We ask the interior designer to adhere strictly to our budget.
Disillusionment as I learn what’s not doable when renovating an HDB flat, which is a lot. For example, I never imagined it could be mandatory for conduits to be on top of the plaster. The regulations, you know. And how low the ceilings are! But we find solutions to our issues. Where we don’t, we come to terms with the givens.
Then the neighbours below complain about the noise. For a moment this occupies our interior designer, the masonry company, an HDB clerk, and us. As it turns out, our people are abiding by all the rules, especially those on construction noise and quiet hours. It also turns out the neighbours complain about something that can be proven to have happened over a year ago. Ah, this kind of neighbour. Complaint unfounded, case closed.
Later, while holes for the blinds are being drilled, the neighbours above complain about the noise. It’s Tuesday afternoon, the drilling takes no more than half an hour, our people are following the rules, so we ignore the grumbling. We can’t drop everything just because someone’s child is studying for his exams. Tough, I know. Here’s to good neighbourliness.
At some point, there’s a handover. That doesn’t mean the works have finished. A few cock-ups catch our eye. They must wait till after the move. Merging two households into one. New furniture is coming too. We’re wrapping up our old places. It’s all culminating a bit.
We spend money, an incredible amount of money. As the flat is CPF- and loan-financed, one doesn’t feel it in everyday life. The renovation, however, we are paying in cash. Our original budget has not been adhered to strictly, or at all, seemingly. We are unhappy with the interior designer, but also with ourselves because we suspect it may be due to our choices.
In spring, my yoga studio closes, like almost everything else. No yoga for months, at least not under guidance. Eventually they all open again, except my yoga studio. Its social media communication could be better. I don’t hear enough for my liking and decide to change studios, at least temporarily.
When the change is finalised, my old yoga studio reopens. I finish my old package but decide to continue going to the new studio for the time being (see also: Money). But I know I will review my decision.
Mid-year brings the confirmation that I’ve passed the CIArb fellowship exam sometime in 2019. I apply and pay for the peer interview, the only thing left to stand between me and the fellowship. The interview takes place via Zoom, following which I am admitted as a fellow. I’m happy, but it all took too long. I remember when they said the exam results would be available within two to three months.
Anyway. Hello world, now it makes even more sense to appoint me as an arbitrator.
Early this year, I take two courses at the Singapore Mediation Centre, one in January, the other in February. They are intense as well, but less than the route to CIArb fellowship. End of August, there’s an assessment of my skills, including conducting a mediation hearing. I don’t expect to pass, but I pass and am now an SMC-accredited mediator.
Hello world, now you can also hire me as a mediator.
I watch tons of television. Let me deal with this separately.
Wedding and Family Life
When I said personal at the beginning, I didn’t mean private, at least not too much. But I suppose a personal end-of-year review can’t leave out the following.
Our wedding in the time of pandemic, in a ceremony that is as small as it is beautiful. A brilliant idea by Nura to have it at her parents’ house. My loved ones from Germany dial in via Zoom to see me marrying the greatest gift of my life.
And before you know it, you’re the stepfather of two teenagers and move into a freshly renovated family home with kit and caboodle. I admit changing from bachelor to family man – although it’s been in the offing for some time – isn’t always easy. I draw strength from the realisation that my new flatmates have excellent taste in music. Since this is extremely important to me – it epitomises a few other things as well – I am confident about the future.
Right after we move into the new home, they discard thirty of my ties in a Marie Kondo operation. I get to keep twenty-one.