"Welcome to our home!" Izwan Firdaus and Nadirah Baharin cheerfully greet us as we step into their five-room Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in Punggol, which almost feels like entering a modern showroom. With its warm, earthy tones accentuated by ambient lighting, the inviting vibe is exactly the feeling the couple want to give to all who step through their doors.
(First-time homeowners Nadirah and Izwan have been staying in their five-room HDB flat in Punggol since 2021. / Photo by Type A)
The bubbly pair, who have been married for approximately six years, have every reason to be proud of their house. They handled the purchase of their flat and ensuing renovations on their own – all while keeping to the tight budget they had.
On the house tour, they enthusiastically point out features that give their home its unique character. The couple explained that to keep their expenditure low, they found interior design solutions that used affordable materials or recycled items they already had at home. For instance, a synthetic grass-covered feature wall that cleverly conceals the bomb shelter, and a leafy wreath Nadirah fashioned out of Izwan's old bicycle tire.
(Izwan and Nadirah decorating the wall of the bomb shelter with synthetic grass. / Photo by Type A)
Finding a place to live
Izwan and Nadirah’s housing journey started in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was causing major disruptions around the world. As news of Singapore’s border closures began to spread, the couple – living overseas at the time – wanted to make sure they returned home as soon as possible to find a permanent place to live in.
Taking their house search online, the couple set their sights on the very first flat they saw on a property website. Unable to go for proper house viewings due to the COVID-19 restrictions at that time, they could only rely on photographs, along with visiting the surroundings of the apartment block.
As with any young couple starting a new life together, they were naturally worried about the costs involved to be able to own a home. “There were a lot of considerations when it came to purchasing this home,” says Nadirah, a primary school art teacher.
They were delighted to find out that as first-time buyers, they were able to tap on various HDB grants, such as the Family Grant and Enhanced CPF Housing Grant. These grants amounted to around $90,000 which was approximately one quarter of the total cost of the $399,000 flat. Izwan, a drinks stall owner at a secondary school, explains “After doing our calculations, we realised that we could actually afford our own home.”
The entire purchasing process – which they did without an agent – took just a few months, and in November 2020, the pair finally held the keys to their very own flat.
Next: DIY home renovation
After buying their home, the couple were down to $5,000 for their renovations. Along with the COVID-19 restrictions at that time, their options seemed limited. Izwan, however, was unfazed by this road block, and decided to take matters into his own hands. “I love learning new skills; after watching some renovation videos online, I was inspired to do it on my own.”
Though not able to physically step into their new house, the couple painstakingly sketched out their vision for each room, based on what they saw from existing photos and videos.
(Nadirah sketching the design of her flat interior. / Photo by Type A)
After six weeks of hard work – which included nine back-breaking hours of placing vinyl floor panels in the living room – the couple brought their dream home to life. The renovation expenses – a combination of materials, tools and home appliances – amounted to the $5,000 that they had originally budgeted.(Photo by Type A)
They also took to buying items such as shelving, lighting, their TV console and coffee table on online shopping platforms, along with using pre-loved furniture – such as their couch, which was handed down by the previous owner. Coupled with their DIY renovation approach, Izwan and Nadirah were able to save approximately $6,000.
As Nadirah points out, prioritising needs is key in keeping within financial means. “Just because other people are renovating their homes, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do the same as well. And if you have to, it’s also important to stick to the budget.”
Being hands on
Going down the DIY route presented Izwan the opportunity to apply his love for learning new skills in a big way. “I had to learn everything from scratch, like doing up the flooring and wrapping cabinets. I didn’t even know how to paint! It was challenging at times, but I just pressed on.” Izwan also imparted some of his DIY know-how to Nadirah, who also helped with renovations.
Aside from picking up new skills, working on the house together allowed the couple to understand each other better. Nadirah shares that they “learned to communicate better through this process”, and Izwan adds that it is also about being patient with each other.
Wanting to share their journey with other homeowners, the couple started documenting their home renovation projects on TikTok. As Izwan says, “Whatever I learned from doing up my own house, I wanted to show other people that they can do it as well.”
Today, not only does the pair have a sizable social media following, they have also received requests from followers to work on DIY projects for their homes too.
A home to call their own
Ask the couple what buying their first house means to them, and Izwan answers without hesitation. “Buying our first house means everything to us. We worked hard at saving up, and after five years, we could finally afford a home.”
(Photo by Type A)
Accomplishing this massive project together was an important achievement as a couple.
(Photo by Type A)
– Izwan Firdaus (36) and Nadirah Baharin (30), first-time homeowners and DIY renovation enthusiasts