When Rochelle and Geert Hulst and their two children, Eloise (six) and Alex (five), decided to stay in Singapore for the long term and find their own home, they faced a tricky decision: buy a three-bedroom 1,200-sqft apartment at Reflections, with its buzzing location near HarbourFront, or buy a 17,000-sqft piece of land in tranquil Malaysia and build the house of their dreams for a quarter of the price.
Keen to know more about buying property and living in Nusajaya, I visited their beautiful, five-bedroom home to speak to Rochelle about their experiences.
What brought you to Singapore?
We moved here from Perth in 2006 when Geert was offered a new job opportunity. We first stayed at the Caribbean at Keppel Bay which was a great way to make friends and get to know Singapore, but we had moved from a house with an acre of land on the fringes of national forest in the hills of Perth and within a year we started feeling choked by the lack of space and greenery.
How did you end up building your own home in Nusajaya?
In our second year, Geert’s contract was extended and we decided to look for a home with more space. We considered renting but it was too expensive for what we wanted. Then we looked at buying in Singapore, but the prices were crazy. For example, we looked at a tiny three-bedroom, ground-floor apartment at Reflections for $3.2 million.
Some friends had business dealings with a new property development project near Johor Bahru so one day we came to look at Ledang Heights, a gated housing development in Nusajaya. We loved the space and value for money and realised we could build our dream home for a fraction of the price that we’d pay in Singapore.
Were you worried about the commute?
Initially yes, but we were used to a 45-minute commute in Perth so it was going to be similar. Since the new MACS automated clearance system was implemented, the border crossing is much easier and it takes 35 to 40 minutes via the Tuas Second Link to get the kids to the Canadian School along Bukit Timah in the morning. When the new campus is built in Jurong, the commute will be even faster.
How did the idea of living in Nusajaya become a reality?
We bought a 17,000sqft piece of land on the estate and it was a pretty straightforward process to get permission and go through the paperwork. We chose a local firm, Razin Architect, to design the house after viewing some of their properties and we incorporated some of our own Western ideas into a contemporary Malay style. Geert is a project manager, working out near Changi and I’m a civil and rail design draughtsman by trade so we project-managed the build; I did all the lighting, cabinetry, electrical and landscaping design work.
How long did it take?
Together with the architect, we took three months to design the house exactly the way Geert and I wanted it, and then construction took 11 months. It was a huge learning experience and the result is something we are very proud of.
Where do all your furnishings come from?
We decided to build-in most of the furniture as the import restrictions in Australia would prevent us from taking a lot of it back with us if we moved back to Perth. We were recommended some furniture companies in Lombok, so I planned the furniture layout and took my designs to Lombok with the exact dimensions of everything I wanted made. We ordered custom-made furniture for Eloise’s bedroom, the patio, master bedroom, living and dining rooms and offices. We also found some fabulous pottery.
We sourced the curtains, lighting, tiles, white goods and bathroom supplies from local companies in nearby Taman Molek and Taman Nusa Bestari that have loads of furniture, electrical, curtaining and bathroom stores. Prices tend to be significantly less than those in Singapore for the same quality so, if we ever build a house back in Australia, I would buy everything here and ship it over.
How has your lifestyle changed since moving here?
We love to entertain and that was something we really missed being able to do when we lived in the small apartment in Singapore. We’re now fully equipped to receive and accommodate guests and many of our friends based in Singapore come to us to escape the island for a day or a weekend; we’ve jokingly nicknamed our home “The Hulst Hilton”.
Outdoors, the children have a huge garden to play in, a swimming pool, trampoline and cubby house, and indoors they have their own playroom, so they’re growing up the way we wanted, with plenty of space to play and exercise and have fun with their friends.
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