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Why are Resales Always More Expensive to Renovate?

You might have noticed it when doing your research. Or got a couple of quotes from designers or contractors you have met. No lie – resale apartments can rack up much more compared to new BTOs or condo units when it comes to renovation costs.

How much more expensive?

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View this project by Attic Studio Interiors | Renovation cost: $80,000

We are talking about an average difference of more than 15%! For instance, a 4-room BTO renovation is likely to set you back by approximately $49,500 to $62,800. This amount then goes up to a range of $60,700 to $72,500 for a 4-room resale flat.

The difference becomes even more apparent with condominiums, with average prices for new renovations hovering between $39,800 and $50,600, and resales from $60,000 to $80,000 – that’s a whopping 33% margin!

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View this project by The Orange Cube | Renovation cost: $150,000

But what factors exactly contribute to this increase? What are some ways to keep your budget in check whilst renovating a resale home? We dive into the details:

So, what racks up the costs in resale homes?

1. Dismantling and demolishing works

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Unless you are completely fine with whatever the previous homeowner has left behind, you are probably going to re-do from scratch. That means having to dismantle, hack away or remove any existing built-ins or features.

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View this project by Urban Home Design 二本設計家 | Renovation cost: $64,000

This component alone can rack up thousands, depending on the scale you are looking at. And if you are thinking of removing floors, tiles and wall coverings on top of carpentry pieces, be prepared to spend even more.

2. Repairs or refurbishing work

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Considering someone has lived in the space, day-in-day-out for an extended period of time, wear and tear is inevitable in certain areas. Think clogged pipes, leaking air-con trunking, damaged parquet floors or worse, pest infestations.

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View this project by Tab Gallery | Renovation cost: $52,000

Of course, depending on the age of the flat and the previous homeowner’s maintenance habits, some resales will be less troublesome than others. Nevertheless, repairs can add up a hefty sum in any resale renovation. After all, even though you’re buying an old space, you'll want your home to work like new.

3. Unexpected complications

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Unlike newly-built homes where the house layout and details are clearly known, things aren’t as straightforward with a resale. The previous owner might have done some renovation works on his/her own, based on his/her needs. But that doesn’t mean those changes would benefit you!

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View this project by Chateau Interieur | Renovation cost: $60,000

As such, sometimes complications may crop up, which can add on to your renovation price tag. For instance, the seller might have rewired the electrical cables or changed the placement of electrical outlets in a way that wouldn’t make sense in your new layout. You will have to make changes and tackle these issues along the way.

4. Expertise needed for conserving certain features

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More for older resale properties like walk-up apartments or post-war HDB flats, extra work might be needed for conserving various delicate features. For example, ventilation blocks – which might be unique to the property but can be aged and require restoration work.

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View this project by Free Space Intent | Renovation cost: $130,000

Likewise, older properties such as these might have certain features that are hard to find in today’s market (e.g. traditional 3/4 length shutter windows), which could potentially cost more to procure and install.

5. Resales are (usually) larger than new ones

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And on top of all that, also consider the fact that most resale properties tend to be larger than their brand-new counterparts. An average 4-room HDB flat built in the early 1990s spans about 100 sqm, while a similar BTO today has an area of 90 sqm. The same goes for condominium units, which generally see larger square footage in older properties compared to newly built ones.

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View this project by Artspaze | Renovation cost: $68,000

How does that all pan out for your renovation? More areas to work on equate to more costs incurred as well.

6. And... you’ve still got to build up from scratch

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Think of it as getting one and a half renovations. The first part is simply turning your resale flat into its bare, original skeleton. Next is then actually filling up the space with the design you’ve wanted. Yep, not easy – nor cheap.

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View this project by Fifth Avenue Interior | Renovation cost: $120,000

While it’s hard to scrimp and save on repair and demolition works, what you can control is how you design your space. If you don’t have a lot after spending a chunk on revamping the flat to its original state, here are some tips to help you make the most of things:

Design Tricks to Help You Save on Your Resale Renovation

Have less built-ins

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View this project by Key Concept | Renovation cost: $45,000

We have mentioned it before - carpentry is often one of the costliest components in a renovation. One way of saving on your resale is simply cutting down on the amount of built-ins and opting for simpler finishes and more affordable, loose carpentry which you can switch out over time.

Retain original features (if they aren't too worn out)

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View this project by Design 4 Space | Renovation cost: $70,000

As they say – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. If that parquet flooring or ceramic tiling looks decent and not too worn, keep it. Perhaps spend a little on repairing certain cracks or polishing things up, but you’ll save a lot on having to re-do everything again.

Build features that last

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View this project by Weiken.com | Renovation cost: $55,000

Good design is also about knowing what your priorities are. Are you planning to stay for the long term, or moving out in a couple of years? Based on that, determine the extent of works you require. If this isn’t your forever home just yet, perhaps consider skimping out on that luxurious (but pricey) marbled countertop, or major structural works which could add up to a sum.

*Note: All renovation costs listed do not include furniture and appliances.

This article was originally published on 4 Dec 2018 and last updated on 14 Mar 2023.

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