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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

The Trials of Getting Yourself a Home

Opting out of the debt-ridden house-buying tradition, and building one from scratch instead.

Small house by the lake

The thing about getting older is that you start getting all adult-ish and buying adult things that cost a ton of money. The older we get, the bigger the money pool that we play around with.

In my teens, I was spending only up to two digits (mostly on school lunches and comic books); in college, I upped it to three digits (on books and gadgets); and in my early working days, it went up an extra one or two digit (on travel and more gadgets).

But now... now it’s time for the big leagues: we’re talking 6-7 digits, and for what?

A place to hang our hat. Or in my case, my headscarf.


The urge to own a home is normal. Partly it’s for security – to always have a secure place to sleep and poop in at the end of a long day without anyone kicking you out. It’s also partly for showing off – a beautiful large home is one of the best status symbols, after all - a sign to society and nosy relatives that you have “made it”.

For me, it’s mostly a sign of independence, a guarantee of self-sufficiency, and a way to make one little, tiny corner of the world a paradise of my own.

So, how does one go about achieving this security, this status symbol, this sign of independence and self-sufficiency?

This is what I have observed: Typically, you either buy a subsale home (fancy term for a secondhand house), or you purchase a new, ready-made or about-to-be-made house offered by the numerous developers. To afford this, you take on loans to meet the asking price, effectively marrying yourself to the bank, and you settle down to work off that debt for the next 30+ years, unless you die first. The end.

Let's bask in the glory of buying our first home...

Problem is, I don’t like anything about that arrangement. First, I am not a fan of owning cookie-cutter houses or condominiums that look exactly like the one next to it, and the one next to that, and the one on the other side of the road – basically, the entire neighbourhood looks identical. Second, I am also most definitely not keen on committing myself to a long-term relationship with anyone, much less a financial one with a faceless bank.

I needed some freedom, some flexibility, something a lot easier on my wallet and that won’t require me to keep paying for the mortgage, parking privileges and maintenance fees for the rest of my life. I wanted something that suited my needs, not the needs of the developers or the city planners.


I am a frequent victim of wishful thinking, and this particular train of thought seemed even more far-fetched than usual. Want a custom house that is environmentally friendly and resource-efficient in a neighbourhood with bike lanes, a park, composting and recycling facilities and not too many neighbours, all without paying hundreds of thousands to low millions? Pffftt…

Discouraged, I concluded that sometimes in life, you just gotta settle for less. What choice did I have? Everybody else was taking on mortgages and buying up houses, apartments, SoHo, SoFo, SoSo...

Yummy Soto dish

...SoTo? Yummm! More affordable too. Source: 3 Hungry Tummies

Anyway, why should I be any different?

And so I found myself on the verge of buying a SoHo, despite my father’s incredulous commentary ringing at the back of my head: “You want to pay half a million for a shoebox??! Back in my day, that kind of money blah blah blah...”

But before I could finalise the paperwork and transaction, I was interrupted by a short overseas assignment that turned into a very long overseas assignment. I never got around to sealing the deal, and the shoebox got away.


A few months down the road, thousands of miles away from home, I was still thinking about having a place to call my own. While absently doodling all over my notebook during one of many long meetings, I idly wondered what my ideal home would look like, in a world where I was Overlord King, architect, interior designer and construction worker all rolled into one.

I began sketching, at first for fun, but then getting more and more serious as time went on. By the end of the day (which was exactly how long that meeting lasted, by the way), I had a complete (albeit very rough) sketch of my dream home compound.

Rough sketch of dream house

The first very unprofessional draft. A friend actually laughed in my face when she saw this pitiful attempt.

With it came an increasingly insistent notion brewing at the back of my head.

What if…

What if I build my own home?

Like, by myself (and all of the people unfortunate enough to be my family and friends), from scratch?

I mean, how hard can it be?


Have I ever built anything in my life?

No, not unless you counted the wooden music box that every secondary-school-going kid, including me, had to make for Home Economics class at age 15.

But no big deal – as far as I’m concerned, not having done something is the perfect reason to do it! After all, building things is basically a skill, and skills can be learned. And I am an excellent learner (ahem, if I may say so myself).

The decision was made. Now it was time to figure out how to make it happen. Luckily for me, making things happen is my day job.

But first, I needed a place to park the yet-to-be-built house.

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