When you are buying a resale property, you have the advantage of viewing the actual unit and making plans. But if you’re buying a new launch property, you usually have to rely on the floor plan; even if there is a showflat, the “staging” of the showflat can be deceiving; and you may not be able to view some particular layouts.

New home buyers are often unaccustomed to studying floor plans, or fail to discern the key elements. Here, I break down some of the key features you can spot while looking at a floor plan:

  • Positioning of the walls, and compartmental versus open layouts
  • Placement of windows and flow of light
  • Dimensions for furniture placement
  • “Useless” spaces and odd angles
  • Good sight lines
  • Sufficient storage space to meet your lifestyle needs

1. Positioning of the walls, and compartmental versus open layouts

Older properties (1990’s and before) tend to be more compartmentalised – that is, they have several rooms that are partitioned off from one another. The kitchen, for example, may be closed off from the dining room.

Newer properties are more open, using fewer walls to divide up the space. Even new HDB flats now use open concept kitchens. Sometimes, small changes in elevation are used to divide spaces instead (e.g. the living room is a step or two above the adjoining dining room).

Neither style is inherently “better”, as it is a matter of personal preference. Some home owners like the open concept style as there is more natural light, and the property feels more spacious. Some others prefer a more compartmentalised approach, as it can feel cozier; and some landlords prefer this if they intend to have multiple unrelated tenants for a greater sense of privacy.

As an aside, note that if you want to use a mix of different interior design styles (e.g. French Cottage for the living room, Minimalist for your home office room), a compartmentalised floor plan is actually better. There will be a messy clash between the different themes, if there’s no wall to divide them.

Whatever your preference, take note which are the walls on the floor plan which can be removed, and which can’t. Walls that are coloured-in or thicker, or sometimes marked with S (for Structural) on the floor plan, are load-bearing and hence, cannot be moved.

Some floor plans have more structural walls than others, and are less easy to customise to your liking.

2. Placement of windows and flow of light

Window placement determines which areas gain the most light. Areas that are totally blocked off from the windows, such as corridors, will always be darker without artificial lighting.

A key consideration here is what sort of screens do you intend to put in the room. It’s usually not a good idea to have a wide-screen TV facing a floor-to-ceiling window. For example – the reflection on the TV screen can be very distracting, and sometimes almost unwatchable when the afternoon sun is streaming in. In some cases, even having the sun come in from large windows to the side of the TV can make watching an unpleasant experience.

For the same reason, it will be a problem to position workstations (e.g. where you intend to sit and use a computer) with the window directly to your back.

If you want to set up a home office, or a study room, ask yourself: what kind of view do you want while working? Whether it’s a pool view or just to face the wall (to minimise distractions), make sure you can find your “sweet spot” for it on the floor plan.

3. Dimensions for furniture placement

If you can, try to scribble where your furniture will fit on the floor plan. This will give you a rough sense of how much space you have to work with. If you need help with this, drop me a note (besides being a realtor, I also have a background in construction and interior works). We can work out whether all your planned appliances, antique furniture, etc. will really fit.

If in doubt, most furniture should be at least one metre away from the walls. Unless it’s a sofa, then you might want to push all the way up against the wall.

For work desks and dining tables, the side you’re going to sit on should be at least 110 to 160 cm from the nearest wall or other obstacles; otherwise it’s going to be very cramped.

4. Useless spaces and odd angles

The best general shape for rooms is rectangular. Look out for odd shaped spaces, as they are hard to work with (e.g. a semi-circular room may look interesting, but it’s actually harder to fit furniture within in an efficient way).

Ask yourself what each space on the floor plan is for. This is usually either functional space (bathrooms, kitchens, the mandatory bomb shelter), or living space (a space where you can work, play, etc.)

Some types of space, such as simple corridors, may not fill any of those requirements well; as such, long corridors tend to be a waste of space.

Another example of wasted space is in features like very large air-con ledges; this is still square footage that you’re paying for, although it does little for you.

5. Good sight lines

The sight line refers to what you can see, from a given point in the room. You can work this out just by placing a ruler against the floor plan, to determine what is visible from the entrance, the bedroom, the living room, etc.

While open concepts allow for more natural light, they can also create undesirable sight lines. For example, do you really want the guest – from their position in the living room to be staring at a toilet? Or do you want the large windows of your ground-floor bedroom to look out directly on the pool area (meaning outsiders can see into your bedroom too)?

Trace a path through the floor plan, and try to work out what you will see at different points through the unit.

6. Sufficient storage space to meet your lifestyle needs

This is the most overlooked factor when examining floor plans.

If you have a hobby that requires a lot of equipment and space – such audio visual equipment, lots of musical instruments, canvases for painting etc., take a moment to visualise where they would go on the floor plan. Remember that you will need a space to store the gear; and some floor plans just don’t have the space to cope.

You also need to consider the impact of storage options like walk-in wardrobes. If the bedroom is already tight, squeezing in a walk-in wardrobe can be a source of regret later (e.g. when you decide you can’t take the cramped room anymore, and have to waste money hacking it away).

So do consider how much storage you need, and where it could fit, while you ponder the floor plan.

For more on finding the right home, visit Ron Chong.net. I’ll keep you up to date on the latest in Singapore’s real estate scene.

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