So you want to buy a house

At some point in your married life, you will want to buy a house. If you have purchased a house early in your working career then lucky for you. Many people however will usually choose to get a car first as their main priority, you know to get around especially with their new family. Houses only come later when they are more stable financially. I was no different than the norm. We got our first car on our second year of marriage and our first home 5 years later. Back then we didn’t earn much so owning a house although important, was not really a priority until the later years when we have improved ourselves financially. Even then getting the 5% deposit for our RM115,000 home was a real chore. We had to some of it from my Dad and then get the rest from our EPF savings. After much difficulties and multiple appointments with real estate agents and lawyers we finally got our quaint little home in Taman Puncak Jalil. It was only a small 3 bedroom apartment but it was a home to call our own.

Fast forward 7 years later. We were happily settled in our small apartment. 2 of my kids are enrolled at a primary school nearby while the other one started her first year at kindergarten. If we were to spend our lives there for the next 2 decades or so it would be fine by me. The location is strategic, tucked in the middle of Taman Puncak Jalil. Very near to my wife’s workplace and only 30 minutes ride to mine. We had a good neighbourhood, crime and break-ins were once a problem in the early days but almost completely gone by now thanks to improved security measures. And for as long as I can remember we haven’t had a single water cut ever since we lived there. Not even during the severe drought a few years back where there were water rationing in a few districts around Klang Valley.

My wife however had a different idea of an ideal home. It should be a landed property in a nice neighbourhood. I was not totally opposed to the idea, I mean who doesn’t like living in a nice terrace house with lawns or at least a front porch to park your car and bike right? However have you looked at the price of landed properties recently? They usually start from 500K onwards and even if you’re lucky enough to get that price, the property would be in some far away secluded area, far from your workplace or civilization. Ideally you will want a new home not too far away from work with good amenities from a trusted developer. In reality, those homes do exist but they will cost you a lot. Like triple my current house price a lot.

I managed to convince my wife otherwise a few times every time she brought up the idea but there’s only so much excuse one can give. Especially when you realize that house prices will continue their upward trend for the foreseeable future despite the occasional talk of property bubble bursting (they will never, people will buy houses all the time). Therefore if we don’t start looking for our dream home now, we might not be able to afford them in the future when they start going above the 1 million ringgit threshold. I kid you not, many new and even old houses are going at that price rate already at the moment. So you see our choice and time are pretty limited. Buy our new home now at a slightly high price or content to live in our current place forever because we can’t possibly afford them in the future. So we did the former and started to seriously look for our new home.

Since we are currently living in Seri Kembangan, some 20 kilometers south of KL, it is only naturally that we went looking southward for our next property. Our main recommendation come from the numerous billboards lining the north-south highway that we regularly take. We took note of the name of the housing project and did a research on each and every one of them. We had a few criterias to look for our new home; it has to be accessible with easy access from any of the main highways, has a nice design from a trustworthy developer, located not too far away from Seri Kembangan (40 KM max) and most importantly not too expensive (550K was our initial target). We found a few houses in Kajang and Semenyih. Many were way above our budget. Some were not really accessible, tucked too far away from the main road. But as we were about to go home from a house-finding mission one weekend, we stumbled upon this billboard promoting Serene Heights in Semenyih. It was from UEM Sunrise, a well-established developer alright. Since the project site is not so far away from where we were, we decided to have a look.

About 15 minutes drive away from Semenyih town we arrived at Serene Height at Jalan Bangi Lama. There’s another exit to the Lekas highway about 5 kilometers away so that’s a tick on accessibility. We met the salesperson/marketing people at the show gallery. Khairul Nizam was very warm and friendly and after the initial introduction about the project, he took us to see the show house next door. As you can see from the pictures below, it is a really nice house in a green township surrounded by parks, ponds, gardens, playgrounds and other amenities. Sure they furnished the house well and the show house is in fact a corner lot but I’m sure if our future home will look just as nice if we bought it of course. It has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms which is more than enough space for all of us plus guests which was one of the main drawback of our current small home. My wife and kids were obviously excited and keen to live there. The project is expected to finish in 3 years time and in the meantime we can save some money for the furniture, kitchen and minor renovation works. Did I tell you how much the house costs? Oh only RM641,800, after bumiputra discount. Yes it was somewhat above our budget but my wife was already sold with the idea of living in it. And you know how my wife is, once she sets her mind on something, she would do everything in her power to get it.

To be honest, it didn’t much to convince us to fill up the application form and sign our names on the dotted line. The house is indeed going to be in a nice neighbourhood, another box ticked and Semenyih is only 28 kilometers away (or 28 minutes drive in clear traffic) from my wife’s workplace. Plus the salesperson did a really good job in convincing us to buy the house. So in like an hour later we signed up to buy the house there and then. That escalated quickly. Now looking at houses and filling up the application form are the easy part. The hard part is to look for the money to pay the 10 percent deposit from the 642K price. Last time we had to borrow money from family members and took out a personal loan to pay for the deposit. This time around however, my wife had already saved enough to pay around 5,000 ringgit and the remaining will come from my EPF account 2 savings. Unlike 7 years ago, I actually have some money to spare in my EPF account so that’s the deposit settled.

As for the housing loan, we are lucky that my wife worked at a bank and her company provides housing loan packages for staffs at a generously low interest rate. In hindsight we were lucky she didn’t apply for a staff loan for our first home because else we couldn’t take another for this new home. Still we had to anxiously wait a few weeks before our housing loan is finally approved and I had to visit the bank’s HQ a few times to submit documents and stuff. Even better, this time all the legal fees are including in the loan so we didn’t have to pay a penny for those sleazy lawyers. We don’t think we’d be so lucky with conventional loans at other banks since our monthly commitment were rather high at the moment. So about a month later when all the S&P agreement are signed and loan approved, we are now a proud owner of a terrace unit in Serene Heights.

There’s a huge difference between buying our first home and this second one. Back then we had to wait way longer and fork out about 13,000 ringgit of our own money for the deposit, legal fees and what not. This time we were ready with our savings in cash and EPF money and our lawyers and bank are far more efficient than last time. Are we excited to finally be able to live in a landed house in a nice neighbourhood? You bet! That said, we are still slightly worried on the amount of installment we have to pay every month which is roughly RM2,700, six times our current monthly installment. Sure we can sell our current house which could easily fetch RM300K and more since our unit is partially furnished with complete kitchen cabinets and all. Or we can rent it out for the going rate of 1,000 a month which should cover part of the new monthly installment. Either way we are not rushed to make a decision since 3 years is still a long way to go and we need time to think it through. Hopefully by then both of us have achieved considerable increase in our salaries to cope with the high installment.

So you see buying a house in Malaysia is not that hard to be honest. You just need to be prepared with money, lots of them. For me my dream home need to be accessible, has to has a nice design, build by trustworthy developer and has a strategic location from our workplaces. I’m sure different people will have different criterias for their ideal home but whatever it is, make sure you think things through before making such an important decision. It is a big commitment that could potentially span your entire working career and even way into your retirement.

Finding your dream home and finding the one you can actually afford is a delicate thing to achieve. The key is to find the right balance between those two and making concessions. I want to advise you to find a home as soon as you start working but I know that not everybody can afford to do that. Just make it your priority target because those houses are not going to get any cheaper in the future and without some drastic intervention from the government, the property developers are just going to get their way and make houses in accessible for the common people.

The Great Leap Forward

It’s that time of year again, Raya season hooray!

For us modern humans we are lucky. We know what to expect and have been planning forward, saving a few extra ringgits, fasting (for the faithful), making preparations, buying new clothes and much more. After all we know the routine every Hari Raya: the same thing happens every year at around this time. But to our ancestors, just because an event happened again and again in the past, it didn’t mean that it was going to happen again in the future. Although homo sapiens has been around in its current physical form since a hundred thousand years ago, our minds are much-much newer.

A hundred thousand years ago, we made no art, we didn’t decorate or paint our bodies, we had no belief in an afterlife and we didn’t project from the past into the future. Things stayed that way for a thousand years and then suddenly, 40,000 years ago something happened. Anthropologists (people who studies humans past and present) call it “the Great Leap Forward” and it was a turning point in human history. Neil Armstrong's giant step for mankind would pale in comparison. When the Great Leap Forward occurred, we suddenly started painting cave wells which is still evident in many places around the world today. That was our first art form and expression. Then we began adorning our bodies with jewelry - the first indication that we had any idea of of ourselves as individuals. And perhaps, most significantly, we started to believe in god and the afterlife.

Until about 40,000 years ago, homo sapiens did not bother to bury the dead. To keep the awful stench from attracting scavengers and predators, they just shove the bodies into holes in the ground. However starting from the Great Leap Forward, we began adding stuff into the holes, things what archeologists call “grave goods” such as food supplies, clothes, spears that could only mean to be used in the afterlife. It was as if a switch had been turned on in our brains, turning on our consciousness - letting us remember the past and wonder about the future.
Homo neanderthalensis, our long lost cousin
Interestingly though, the turning on of consciousness only happened to us - the homo sapiens not to any other human species. You see, we were not the only kind of humans that existed back then. We had our burly cousins the Neanderthals who lived together with us across Europe to Asia. The Neanderthals just went along without ever taking the great leap. They had no art, no religion and as far as we can tell, no true consciousness. And that means that even if something happened every year in the past like rainy seasons or Hari Raya or the balik kampung rush, the Neanderthals would not assume that it was going to happen again this year. How do we know that? Salmon migration. Every year at exactly the same time, salmon fishes swim upstream to lay eggs. Ever since the Great Leap Forward, homo sapiens have always been waiting for them, reading to catch the fishes as they go by. But the Neanderthals never noticed the pattern. We can tell by the distribution of fish skeletons they left in their caves. They were caught unaware it seemed by the returning salmons every year. It just did not occur to our cousins that what had happened each spring in the past was likely to happen again next spring. Is it any wonder why homo sapiens thrived but homo neanderthalensis perished? All because a switch for consciousness was turned on and we learned to adapt with the environment better.
A typical homo neanderthal family
But for us, ever since the Great Leap Forward 40,000 years ago, planning ahead has come naturally. We plan for animal migrations, harvests, rainy seasons and floods and according to star constellations. And since our switch for consciousness was turned on, we started to think more of ourselves, be more artistically expressive (paintings, drawings which lead to language and technology), wonder about the future and the afterlife which eventually lead to the creation of religion. And the rest as everyone knows it, is history.

Modified from Robert J. Sawyer’s The Great Leap Forward

Half year update

My youngest child, Hana Alisha started kindergarten this year at 5 years old. When I was her age, I’m still running around playing in our backyard. Today, kid’s education start early. Some folks even send their kids to preschool at 4. It's a pity because they should be enjoying their childhood more at that tender age. Anyway after much deliberation we decided to enroll Hana to Children Islamic School (CIC) a franchise which has a branch nearby. Having been away at a nursery for as long as she could remember, Hana had no problem assimilating into kindergarten. On her first day we just leave her at the doorstep (sidewalk to be exact) and off she went. Sure sometimes she doesn’t feel like going to school but that’s only when her elder brother or sister skipped school as well. Maybe she’s jealous why they didn’t have to go to school when she has to. I think CIC is worth the (slightly higher) fee that we paid them. They teach a lot of English stuff and they make the kids count in English from 1 to a hundred. I know because Hana would come home almost every day and started counting from 1 to a hundred, whether the order is correct or they understand what they are is another matter.

After work I usually make the effort to pick her up from the transit early. I can’t bear the thought of leaving her another minute longer. I have never experienced living with another person let alone a nursery during my childhood so I thought it must be hard for my children to not be with her family for hours on end every week day. If we can afford to let your mother be a full time housewife we would. But living in the big city is expensive and dual income parent is best for everybody.

Hana Alisha at 5 years old is a sweet and adorable girl. Not a day goes by without us being entertained by her antics. Sure she could throw a tantrum once in a while, crying and screaming at the top of her lungs when she didn’t get a toy or snack that she craves. Occasionally she would fight with her sister or brother (usually her sister) but ultimately won since she’s still small and everyone just had to give in to her. Being the youngest and the cutest in the family also has its advantages. Hana is also fully weaned off her diapers by now. We would get her to pee first before bed and a few times she would wake us up to go to the bathroom. Not once has she wet her bed since. I wish she would stop sucking her thumb though.

Our second child Mia Ariana started standard 2 at school this year. By now she has got used to primary school life. While not as excellent in academics as her brother, she takes her education seriously. Always doing her homework early and makes an effort to learn from her mistakes. I don’t know whether it’s the middle child syndrome but Mia sometimes feel neglected by her parent who either show more love to their youngest Hana or give extra attention to their eldest Adam. The truth is we love all our children equally and while you might not always see it, trust us we do. Some day you will understand why we had to give in to your younger sister a bit more or why your elder brother gets more attention from us (clue: he’s sitting for a very important exam this year).

At 7 years old, Mia is a responsible and caring little sister. Occasionally she would help with the house chores, clean up her sister’s mess and sweep the floor sometimes without being asked to. Although they fight and squabble like all the time (who doesn't?), deep down inside I know they love each other very much. After all they’ve got nobody else but themselves. Mia started to learn to fast as well this year. She would get up without much fuss when we wake her up every morning, fasted the whole day and haven’t missed a single day yet so far this year. She did came close to giving up yesterday though although we managed to encourage her to hang on until sunset which she did. If she does miss her fasting one day in the future we’d completely understand. She’s still so young anyway. That’s why she still habitually suck her fingers from time to time.

Adam Farihin sits for his UPSR this year so understandably we make him focus on his studies extra hard. Adam is naturally a brilliant and gifted student, constantly getting good grades in his studies if he puts the extra effort into it. Sometimes though we could be alarmed at seeing him watching a bit too much YouTube or playing a lot of games on his computer. I had to regularly remind him to do less of those and study more at home. That said, he did join several study groups with his friends whether beside the pool downstairs, at an eatery in Bandar Putra Permai or even in library in Shah Alam. Sometimes he would surprise me by burning the midnight oil and study in the living room. Just yesterday we looked up his mid term exam result and surprise-surprise he got 5th place in his class and entire year 6. So he’s like officially the 5th smartest kid in the entire school. Of course there’s always room for improvement for Adam. He did got a B in Science and C in Information Technology, something ironic because he spent so much time in front of the computer.

At 12 years old, Adam seems to eat a lot. Understandable for a growing pre-adolescent kid. However I worry if he doesn’t control it he might get fat and chubby like me when I was his age. I have a good mind to take him running, to the gym and even hiking after he’s done with his UPSR. Right now I don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on him.

Hmm what do I say about my wife? March is usually a joyful month for us because it is usually the time when my wife gets her bonus. Not so much joy this year though because guess what? She didn’t get any. Totally unacceptable. It’s not like she didn’t meet her KPI or anything. Somehow her boss or somebody upstairs didn’t find it fit to reward her and most of her colleagues this year with any bonus. Although she’s allowed to appeal, she didn’t for fear of upsetting her boss. How screwed up is that? That’s why from then on, anytime Linda appear to be working extra time at the office (without extra pay of course) I would gently remind her not to. It’s not like there’s any guarantee she’ll be getting her bonus next year.

Without that extra cash, there’s no nice vacation at a faraway resort for us this year. Although I did pay for a brief stay at the Morib Gold Coast Resort in Sepang recently. In spite of that, Linda did save enough to do her lasik eye surgery this year. It cost over 7,000 ringgit at the Tun Hussein Onn Eye hospital to correct her vision. I know it’s almost absurd to pay so much money for that but now she could see clearly without her glasses and for her that’s a huge boost for her confidence. Now don’t forget to watch your diet and exercise regularly like you promised okay baby?

And finally some me update. Career wise, I’ve been doing pretty good at work. I’ve been doing the usual support thing at the school and also actively involved with the school’s Google website project. I was made to understand that I might be doing the website thingy full time 3 months into the job but now 5 months later no signs of that happening. It’s not like I don’t like working at the primary campus but you have to understand the secondary campus is only 8 minutes away from my home so a huge improvement for my travel time daily. Plus after over 3 years of doing pretty much the same thing at work, a new change is more than welcomed for me. Either way it’s fine by me. Working at Equine Park would be awesome for me but if I were to get stuck at Jalan Bellamy for the rest of my working days that’s fine as well. To tell you the truth, the Google website project has become increasingly numerous and more complex recently and although I get to spend one whole day every week at the secondary campus with my mentor it’s definitely not enough. That said I’m taking it one thing at a time. No need to pressure myself for something I have little control of. My main job description is as a technical assistant at the primary campus so that’s my priority over any other side projects. If the two clashes, you know very well which one I should put more emphasis on. My appraisal will be based on my works at Jalan Bellamy after all. Either get me full time on the project or you’ll have to be content with the current speed of the work. We’ll see how this goes next term.

Life wise I’ve made good progress of conquering 7 of the highest and toughest mountains in the country. The country as in the peninsular only. Only last month I’ve completed the challenging Chamah - Ulu Sepat trip. You can read all about my hardship in the previous post. After that I only have 2 more G7 mountains to conquer, namely Korbu and Gayong which is conveniently located next to each other at only 300 meters apart. So basically I’ll finish all 7 highest mountains in one single trip next time. Having said that, I am in no hurry whatsoever to do Korga. The horrors of CUS is still fresh in my memory and I won’t be doing any hardcore hiking until next year the earliest. Physically I have definitely gained weight :(, been slacking on my running and going to the gym. I have a perfectly good excuse because I injured my foot right after CUS but a month later I don’t think that’s valid anymore. It takes a whole lot of motivation to get me going on a fitness streak and not a lot to mess it up. I am stronger than this, I can do this. That’s all folks.

~ End of report ~