I spent the last two days looking at apartments…11 apartments to be exact. All were between 4 and 6 thousand SD a month (approx 2,900 US to 4400 US), which is low unless you’re willing to do some combination of REALLY small, REALLY far from public transport, and REALLY un-renovated. All but one were 3 bedroom apartments.
Things I’ve learned that make Singaporean apartments different from US apartments
1. Everything is in a condo complex unless you’re willing to pay upwards of 15k SD (11k USD) a month.
Singapore is a city state about half the size of Los Angeles (or so all the guidebooks tell me) so it makes sense that apartment living is just a better use of space than individual houses.
2. Apartments are rented from Individuals, not Apartment Management Firms and apartments in the same complex do not necessarily resemble any other apartment in the same complex.
For context, we have lived in condo buildings for the last 5 years. But every time we rented an apartment, we picked a community and then looked at a few different apartments. There would be differences in size and room layout, but one apartment in Cronin’s Landing (our most recent complex) was pretty much the same as any other-same cabinets, ovens, light fixtures, etc.
This isn’t true in Singapore. Because apartments are individually owned, two apartments in the same building will look totally different. Owners can do the floors, paint the walls, put in whatever fixtures they want, etc. Owners also choose to renovate or not on their own schedule. As a result, for example, I saw two apartments in the same complex, and they could have been on two different planets.
The “property management” is only responsible for maintaining the grounds, the pool, etc. They handle spraying for pests. They oversee the big common stuff, like elevators, etc.
In several cases, this also meant gorgeous grounds and a run-down apartment (but I didn’t see any of the inverse).
3. Certain things we take for granted aren’t necessarily part of Singaporean apartments normally.
Asians in general, and Singaporeans in particular don’t cook with ovens. It makes sense-it’s an equatorial climate, and while the apartment is air conditioned, the kitchens aren’t. The majority of food is cooked on the stove (stir fry, etc), and stoves are built into the counter tops of all apartments. But we Westerners love our ovens. We tend to want ovens in our apartments. As a result, unless the owner is specifically trying to rent to Western Expats, there usually isn’t an oven. Of the 11 apartments I saw, only 3 or 4 had ovens.
Dryers were pretty common, but a few of the less renovated/more Singaporean apartments only had washing machines. Locals hang their clothes on a pole that they poke out from the window near the kitchen. I’m not nearly acclimated enough to do that (yet). While I’m open to the idea of the pole, I wanted the security of a dryer.
It also isn’t common for there to be hot water in the kitchen. Singaporeans wash their dishes in cold water. This is going to be a hard one for me as I’ve been brainwashed by American Culture that only BOILING HOT WATER will clean dishes properly. It’s rare enough that I’m not remembering any of the apartments having it.
Our non-negotiable points ended up being that we needed to be able to get to a subway (MRT) station within a 15 minute walk that was easily done by a stroller, no more than a 30ish minute commute for Ravi, a pool (at least one is standard for the most part), some kind of playground for E, relatively new appliances (including washer and dryer), a bath tub somewhere in the apartment, and a maid’s room (also standard, for the most part) for our helper to live in.
Of the eleven places I saw, between three and five of them were nixed because of MRT/commute issues. We’re not going to have a car so this was one of the points we couldn’t be flexible on. Our agent, at times, had a far more optimistic notion of what constituted walkability and stroller walkability than I did.
The rest were nixed generally due to the level of renovation, the lack of a bathtub anywhere in the apartment (E is terrified of showers), or rooms that were too small to fit our stuff (for example getting our Queen into a bedroom and having a dresser or table of some kind for the bedroom tv to sit on.
In the end, I picked my top three apartments and Ravi went to see them last night.
Apartment #1-The Compromise
Apartment #1 was the lowest rent and the closest to an MRT stop. It had the middle amount of square feet (1600) The biggest issues with it were that the rooms were on the small side (not unreasonably so, but they’d be cramped), and the owner (who had just moved out) wanted to keep a ton of furniture in the apartment that we didn’t want (including 3 beds, a giant dresser type thing that if it stayed in the master bedroom would mean we’d have less than a foot between our bed and the dresser (making the drawers unusable). Her agent seemed to think that he could convince her to get rid of it, but they were custom done and had decorative elements that matched elements (tile mosaics) in the rest of the apartment. I met the owner and in talking to her, I was pretty sure her agent was smoking something that’s way illegal here.
BUT–it was the cheapest apartment by $600 a month (SD), it had a HUGE walk-in closet in the Master Suite, and the MRT was almost precisely across the street. It would be easy to get into the city. While the mosaics throughout the apartment (roosters, ducks, and other birds) were completely NOT to my taste, it was a nice apartment overall. It was about a 30 min commute for Ravi to work which made him happy.
In short, it was the compromise. We’d be okay there, but not in love with the place…when the lease was up in 2 years and we are in a different place financially, we’d be moving on, no question.
Apartment #2-The Reach
Apartment #2 was the highest rent (just $200 short of our absolute max, no we can’t live if we pay more rent). It was also the biggest apartment at 1800 square feet. There were two balconies (one off the living room and one off the master suite). It was a 5 minute walk to an MRT stop on the same line as Ravi’s work, making it (according to google maps) a 20 minute commute. #2 was also the only one one of the three apartments to have an oven built into the kitchen. It had just been renovated, and the owner obviously cared about it.
The drawbacks were that the “playground” were one crappy looking slide and two swings (one of which was in disrepair), and the walk to the MRT was doable, but challenging with a stroller.
It was gorgeous, and we would probably be happy there while in Sing, but at a price that was equivalent to what Ravi’s bosses (who make more than he does) pay for their apartments.
I will admit that #3 was my choice from the start. It had 3 bedrooms, the maid’s room, PLUS a small storage room. It is a 1km walk from Orchard Road (which is the heart of the shopping district and where the Borders and Elanor’s Gymnastics school are along with the MRT), and there are 7 buses right outside the door of the complex; 2 of which take Ravi straight to work if he doesn’t want to walk to the MRT in 20 min or so (maybe 30 with morning traffic).
It was priced down because there is a building going up next door, which was no barrier to us. Firstly, the moment you were in the apartment, you didn’t hear anything (I went in the day and then we saw it again at night) and secondly, it only affects the view from one room (ours) and we’re not view people anyways. Normally it would be the same cost as our reach apartment, so it was a bargain at a thousand a month less than the reach apartment and 600 more than the compromise (and we all know how I love a bargain).
It has a small (for Singapore) pool that’s more than big enough for what we’ll use it for, and a small play structure that E was mad we wouldn’t let her play on last night (it had JUST downpoured and everything was soaking wet).
This apartment, like #2 is also in a much more urban location. There are stores/restaurants across the street and a big mall with a grocery store about a 7 minute walk away (the grocery store on Orchard would be a 20 min walk and would require a cab home).
The drawbacks are that it doesn’t have an oven (so I’ll have to buy my own…we’ll save that for another post), and at 1500 square feet, it was also the smallest apartment (but still bigger than our last apartment in the US so don’t cry for us, Argentina). Our things will fit, but our bedroom will be a little cramped thanks to our giant American bed.
In short, it was the apartment that felt like the best compromise of amenities, price and space.
Where we are now
Last night we made our choice for #3 and texted our realtor. She texted the agent (who texted the owner) and got a verbal agreement on the rent. She wrote our letter of intent and emailed it to us some time last night. Today Ravi has to sign it and give it, plus a one month rent deposit to our realtor. She and the owner’s agent will hammer out the terms of the lease, and then when we sign that, we’ll pay a 2 month’s rent security deposit.
Until the lease is signed, we only have a 90% guarantee that everything will go through. Someone else who saw the place could start a bidding war (we’d go up 200 but after that would take our reach apartment instead or start looking again) or just totally price us out in which case we’ll get our deposit back. This happens, but not frequently.
But until I hear otherwise, we haz apartment and today I am resting by the pool with Elanor.