Monday, 21 November 2011

Apartment Considerations

As I spend more time here and having visited countless properties since April I have started to come up with a mental list of considerations with regard to purchasing or renting somewhere to live. Some are more important than others and, depending on your own view, these issues may or may not be important to you. The list is not exhaustive and I'll likely add to them as times goes on. The list is largely not in any order of importance:

Building and Design:
  • Renovation Noise: This will most likely be an issue if you buy, or are considering renting in, a newly completed block. Condos etc are sold basically as concrete shells and once people start to fit them out, the drilling and hammering starts. The density of units in the block and the prolific use of air-wells will greatly multiply the problem. Believe me, it is hard to describe how immensely irritating the sound of high-impact drilling is from 9am - 5pm day in, day out, for weeks on end, maybe months. I doubt very much that I would rent in a brand new build again because of this. If it's a property you've bought you'll likely put up with it more but for rental I prefer to get the living experience (including peace and quiet) that the finished article would bring.
  • Environmental Noise: Either from motor cycles (actually glorified hair dryers on two wheels but damn noisy) at all hours in some of the low cost housing areas, building site and traffic noise etc. All more of an issue if you prefer to sleep without air con (AC) and with windows open. An odd one is also frogs. Yes, frogs!!! dependant on how close you are to greenery and water you will often get a chorus of frogs croaking all night which, while interesting at first, I suspect would become quite an irritant if you are a light sleeper. All these things are worth checking out by visiting the area at various times of day and night and at the weekend. If buying near a mosque you may also want to visit at prayer times to check on noise levels.
  • Orientation: An important one. Facing east and you'll get the morning sun beating down, facing west, the afternoon sun. This can create some significant cooling problems for you if you will be in during the day and will likely add to the bills for use of AC.
  • Leasehold or Freehold? Freehold is generally considered better for re-sale.
  • Design and layout: Some are MUCH better than others and for me a building that uses less, preferably no, air-wells is better. Air-wells conduct noise very well and are great for gathering rubbish. If a building uses air-wells to provide light to some rooms you need to be very high up, otherwise the light you get will be minimal. I have seen some units at 1,100 sf that are much better designed, and make much better use of space than some at 1200 or 1300 sf. The space needs to be usable too. No great tracts of floor area that you can do nothing with or endless 'dead end' off-shoots from rooms.
  • End of block: or corner facing units are often preferable to internal units both because of the views and increased privacy (no-one walking past you door and one less immediate neighbour).
  • Natural light: How much do you get? Some units are terrible. Some also have windows of bedrooms facing on to common landings (where the lifts are) which thus get no view or natural light and little privacy.
  • Drying area: Some units have good utility areas and some don't. Drying your washing and such like can then be difficult if you have no space for the rather large drying racks here. Electric tumble dryers are an option but possibly not desirable for permanent use. Drying washing on balconies is discouraged.
  • Density: Buildings with high numbers of units per floor will likely suffer from increased noise, less privacy and an increased risk of dodgy neighbours (simply more chance at 12 units per floor than 4).
  • Security: How effective is it?? Many places have guard houses and guards but some are much more effective than others. In some cases just pipping the car horn will get the barrier raised and let you access the car park. If on foot you can often just walk in unchallenged. Try that at Miami Green and see how far you get. Not all security is equal.
  • Security: How easy is it to secure your unit completely if you are away.
  • Servicing: Some blocks are better cared for, maintained and cleaned than others. Worth checking a few times to check the state of common areas etc.
  • Car parking: how much do you need. Many units have just one slot and purchasing extra can be pricey (RM 25,000 per slot).

Fixtures and Fittings:
  • Hot Water: Not something that is the norm here, either in bathrooms or kitchens. Some look to add water heaters in kitchens etc. for washing up. If buying new, it's something you may wish to discuss with developers as an optional extra.
  • Power-points: How many and where. Some places are very poorly designed in this respect and have a dearth of power-points and often have power-points in less than useful places. In one apartment the bed in the master bedroom would be 'forced' against a certain wall because of layout. But, no power-points for bedside lamps or clocks etc??? Also long stretches of wall without power-points can be a problem if looking to place illuminated display cabinets etc. In some cases the points in kitchens are placed stupidly high, just below the bottom of cupboards rather than just above the work-surfaces (trailing and unsightly cables when plugging in appliances).
  • Shaver points: Only seen these in very few bathrooms. Something to consider.
  • Double Glazing: Rare. Great for keeping out noise and insulating from heat but I've not seen it in use here. Some people look to fit secondary double glazing and the design of your unit may make this more or less practicable.
  • Baths: Very few places have baths fitted in bathrooms, most are shower only. Some that do have baths only fit the very small ones. Larger units (2,000 sf) may have at least one bath fitted as standard (BUT, see hot water above).
  • Glazing film: Similar to what is used in cars, some look to apply this to certain windows to reduce the heat, UV and glare from the sun. I'm exploring the use of different types here and will post again with what I consider to be the best option.
  • Air-Con: Buying a new unit you may also be able to discuss fitting AC with the developer. This is generally going to be better than the hack and slash that's required for a post-fit. Not all units are equal either. Panasonic is considered to be quite a good brand. Daikin is however considered one of the best because it is almost silent. Hand held remotes a great advantage too, better than wall mounted controls.
  • Ceiling fans: I use these a lot. I never use AC. Some are better quality than others and some also come with combined light units. Better units also come with a remote control so you can vary the speed of the fan and even set a pre-designated cut-off time.
  • TV Point(s): How many and where placed. If a new or recently built unit you may wish to check that it's wired for Astro TV HD (requires two feeds per box) if that is important to you. Oddly, even some brand new units don't have HD enabled with claims that "It's coming soon". The placing of these points, along with phone points and associated power-points often leaves a lot to be desired!!
  • Drinking Water: Two options really. You can either get a free-standing or work-top water fountain and use the large 5 gallon bottles (about RM 50 for five) or fit a filter unit to your supply. These are not the cheap RM 150 particle filters but cost somewhere around RM 4,000 and you then switch between drinking and general use water. I plan to use the latter once I move somewhere permanently. You will need to replace the filters in these about once a year at a cost of about RM 300.
  • Storage: Often a problem. How much do you need and how much is there? Storing all manner of things can become quickly problematic once your seemingly spacious apartment is fitted with furniture and such like.
  • Gas: Is bottled here if you intend to use it and you will need enough space for the bottle installation (which will eat up some of your kitchen storage).
That's all for now. Not exhaustive like I say, just some issues you may overlook, when considering where to rent / buy. Some of these things can also be rectified after purchase but obviously there more there is to do, the more mess and the greater the cost.


  1. Very informative post. My complex is 4 years old and people are still renovating. Don't plan on taking a nap during the day or staying home ill. Also with the poor construction standards here whenever there are renovations don't be surprised if pipes burst.

  2. Thanks. Probably not complete by some margin yet but at least I got it started. Yeah, reno noise is a pain. For me it goes from being irritating to absolutely infuriating depending on the level, my mood and tolerance levels. In the latter case. meeting me with a drill in hand would be a risky situation ;-)

  3. This is a great article - thanks for posting. Annie

  4. Hi
    Enjoy both this and the Boston fellow's blogs - It is extremely interesting to read about both of your moves!
    I'm an Aussie whose wife is from Penang (Indian/Malay Muslim) so a slightly different perspective to MM2H citizens. We live in Melbourne, but over the last 7 years I have stayed approx 1 year in total at several places around the island.

    I would add the additional observations from my own list when we move to Penang in the distant future:
    * Apartment Layout - Some areas seem to have much better evening breezes so cross ventilation through the flat is important with minimal obstruction on the corridor side.
    * Airconditioning - I would definitely pay for a top Japanese brand like Daikin with inverter technology, as this enables a variable speed of compressor saving running costs. Also this will most likely have a dehumidify function which is more important for comfort, and low humidity is excellent for drying clothes. (we lived in HK in the 80s my parents had a small dehumidifier that made their room a lot more comfortable.)
    * Internet - There is fibre optic Internet including Astro being rolled out in Penang, if buying a new development check about this they can probably install a spare conduit for future proofing.
    * Parking - Some apartments have particularly bad parking, e.g. at one apartment it took us many minutes to drive from the street level up all the ramps to the parking spot on the 8th floor! And another apartment built on a hill had no lift to the garage very tedious lugging shopping up a few flights of stairs.
    * Development risks - It seems like development can happen anywhere at any time in Penang. In 7 years I have seen many changes with apartment blocks popping up on almost any hillside/vacant land/occupied land. The PORR (Penang Outer Ring Road) will eventually get built along reclaimed coast and/or an internal route coming to meet the coast road at the Gurney roundabout. i.e. buyer beware and don't expect to keep any views!
    * Location - While most Westerners like the northern beaches area I would also suggest Bukit Dumbar, I have stayed here at Bukit Dumbar Permai apartments for 3 months and other shorter times. There is a large park at the top of the hill behind Jalan Thomas with walking paths, some views across to Penang Bridge, Tesco and E-Gate is only 500m away. This is centrally located and will be near the monorail.
    As an alternative to a highrise apartment also consider gated lowrise developments, e.g. Medan Lumba Kuda Apartment, my sister in law lives here it is acceptable standard and fairly cheap. See Youtube for a video.
    Also, if looking at a house try botanica.ct in balik pulau or a nice little enclave of houses and apartments at the coast facing butterworth at the end of Lebuh Sungai Pinang. (just off Jelutong hwy behind the shell approx 2km to komtar)
    There are other areas I would consider living as well but my situation is different having family in Penang.
    * Other Reading - there are a couple of Malaysian investment property books worth reading to get a feeling for the local property mindset (I got a couple from MPH at Gurney, The Milan Doshi one seemed to be the best single book). is a good blog about planning and development in Penang.

    Thanks and look forward to reading more in your blog.

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  6. Hi. Thanks for the comments and the useful additions!! This post is pretty much a work in progress and will be updated when i get time rather than a new post each time. It's certainly not complete and some of the issues to be added to the list include some of those you mention above, including the breeze / airflow. The parking can be a pain. Fibre Optic is not currently even being contemplated by even current developers, except one or two over by Batu Uban. I find many of the developments seem to be 'here and now' in there design (and in some cases, cheap, quick and not so cheerful).


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