Monday, September 22, 2008


I find it rather ludicrous that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) needs to give warranties on the public apartments it builds. In this case, they are giving warranties on apartments (flats) built not too long ago. Most Singaporeans know that the HDB has been in this building public housing business for more than 30 years - and are proud of this fact. It has, over the years housed a great many Singaporean families, upward of 80% if I am not wrong.

Yet in all these 30 years, it has not learned to build apartments where the walls and ceilings do not leak water. I remember the first apartment that my parents moved into in the late 1970s. There was spalling concrete at the toilet ceiling. We wondered if we would not be dumped with various types of 'soil' as we squated while doing our business. Those whose apartment were located at the end of a block also suffered from leaking walls, when it rained, ruining the paintwork and raising worries about how secure their homes were. I remember the senior engineer trooping into our apartment with a bunch of trainees in tow, pointing out the spalling concrete problem. I assume the purpose of that was to train them not to do build houses with this problem in future.

That was more than 30 years ago. Yet many public apartments still report spalling concrete problems as late as a few years ago. And my private apartment wall was leaking water during a heavy downpour earlier this year. Was nothing learnt by civil engineers all these many years?

Incredibly, in today's ultra-modern HDB apartments in Punggol, the HDB found it fit to issue warranties against spalling concrete and leaking walls - but only for 5 years for external wall leakages and ceiling leakages in the toilets and kitchen. It would appear that they are not all that confident to extend that warranty period to 10 years, which, admittedly, they have done for spalling concrete. My point is, when you build a house that costs upward of $200,000 (which is heavily subsidised, we are told), a 5 or even 10-year warranty seem to say very little about the confidence that they have in what they have built. Though they lease the entire apartment to its customers for 99 years, the longest warranties they are confident in extending is only a tenth of the lease period. That's really incredibly uninspiring show of confidence. I can understand if a TV set breaks down, or a washing mahine in 5 years, but have you heard of a house falling apart except in a category 3 - 5 storm or earthquake - the former of which is unheard of in Singapore?

Frankly, I would hesitate to hang up such warranties (which were given to the house owner all framed up) for fear that visitors to the house might take their leave earlier than expected after they learn that it has been occupied for ten years. Well, ok, its just the ceiling in the kitchen and toilet and the external walls. Nobody said that the whole apartment would collapse. But in kiasu Singapore, it wouldn't be surprising that people would behave that way.

What is the lesson in all this? When you own a house in Singapore, you need to buy insurance for it. But then nowdays insurance companies themselves are known to collapse too....sigh. Are there no certainties in this world anymore, except death and taxes?

Image source: Author: Kenn W. Kiser

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