Shophouses may seem like a relic from the past, but there is a charm to them that has remained timeless despite the years.
No matter how old you are, setting your eyes upon a shophouse takes you back to a time of yellowing photographs, grainy television, and kicking a ball around the neighbourhood. A faint kind of romance exists in Singapore’s shophouses, one that you’d be hard-pressed to find in this modern era.
But when it comes down to it, is living in a shophouse worth the nostalgia? After all, a shophouse has probably been around for decades, and the upkeep might not be cheap.
What is a shophouse?
A shophouse is a building that serves two purposes: as a place of residence, and as a shop. Typically, the bottom floor is where business activities take place, while the upper floors consists of bedrooms. In recent years, many shophouses have begun to double up as alternative office spaces.
Shophouses in Singapore can be found in older locations such as Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown, Telok Ayer, and Amoy Street.
How much does a shophouse cost?
Shophouses aren’t cheap, and often cost as much as landed property.
Most shophouses have a multi-million dollar price tag on them – partly because they are located in central areas, and partly due to their conservation status. Having a conservation status assigned means that shophouses do not face the possibility of going through the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).
In 2014, the median shophouse price peaked at $3,824 per square foot (psf). To put things into perspective, that’s more expensive than the psf cost of an average penthouse in Singapore. For instance, this shophouse located in Emerald Hill, near the heart of the country, has a price tag of $7.5 million.
Currently, there are about 6,500 to 7,000 shophouses in Singapore. In contrast, there are about 1 million HDB flats in Singapore. Shophouse owners are very scarce in Singapore since new ones aren’t being built anymore. They also rarely go on sale due to their owners being generally reluctant to sell them.
Due to their high cost, shophouses are sometimes also seen as a mark of prestige for the wealthy.
What are the reasons to buy a shophouse?
Considering the price of a shophouse, it might be difficult to understand why people would want to buy one just to live in it. From a residential point of view, it might not seem to make much sense. However, shophouses have features that set them apart from normal residential developments.
Shophouses are rather spacious, having multiple storeys as well as higher ceilings. For instance, this shophouse at Siglap is 1590 square feet (sqft) large, which is slightly larger than a five-room flat. For shophouses, that’s considered to be on the smaller side – larger units can have an area of up to 2,000 sqft and above.
Shophouses in Singapore are generally located in areas such as Siglap, Chinatown, and Telok Ayer, all of which are attractive areas due to their central location. As such, shophouses are also often surrounded by many amenities, further fuelling the demand for these shophouses.
The romantic appearance of shophouses lies in their architecture. Shophouses are often built in accordance to specific guidelines, which have barely changed over the years. They also employ a mix of Chinese, Malay, and Caucasian elements in their design, which gives them a rather vintage appearance that has endured through the ages.
While some shophouses have been renovated to look more modern, one primary aesthetic feature of a shophouse lies in its immediate vicinity. You will not find a shophouse next to a multi-story skyscraper, or a shophouse with a steel-and-glass finish.
Why are shophouses protected?
According to the Urban Redevelopment Act, shophouses are protected due to their heritage and historical value. As such, homeowners who have purchased a shophouse face certain restrictions when it comes to renovation works. The original elements of a shophouse have to be conserved. This includes:
- Party Walls
- These are the walls that separate a shophouse from the next shophouse.
- Timber Structural Members
- This consists of the main and secondary timber beams that support each floor.
- This also includes the timber floorboards, as well as the rafters that hold up the roof.
- This refers to the exposed courtyard that provides natural ventilation and lighting to the interior of the shophouse.
- Rear Court
- This is the open courtyard located behind the shophouse, traditionally used for functional purposes such as the kitchen and toilet.
- Timber Windows
- For shophouses designed in the French or Casement style, windows will consist of heavy timber frames.
- These windows, as well as their infill panels, timber shutters, or jalousies, cannot be altered.
- Timber Staircase
- A timber staircase can usually be found within a shophouse. Engravings or designs on them have to be conserved.
- Front Facade
- This refers to the front of the house that faces the street, usually fitting a common aesthetic with the other neighbouring shophouses. Facades from different architectural eras have vastly different designs.
- The Upper Floor
- This projects over the five-footway and creates a covered corridor for pedestrians.
- The Columns
- Columns support the upper floors and are located at the front of the building.
- The Five-Footway
- This is the five-feet wide sheltered pathway that protects pedestrians from sun and rain. This feature was set in place since the first ever Town Plan for Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles.
- The Roof
- The roof forms part of the exterior architecture of the shophouse, and cannot be changed.
- Those who wish to install an air conditioning unit will have to seek clearance from the government before and activities can be carried out.
Is it legal to stay in a shophouse?
Some shophouses are solely for residential use, while others have been converted into office spaces.
If you are intending to purchase a shophouse and plan to use it for accommodation, you’ll need to use URA’s Allowable Use For Shophouses map to check if that is permissible.
To get more guides like this, check out PropertyGuru.