After apartment hunting at several points during my time as an expat in Singapore (although, ironically we’ve ended up staying put in our first apartment), I think I have some tips to help you in your search.
- Get a good agent———-ask friends/twitter/fb/bloggers for recommendations. Don’t be afraid to interview multiple agents, or to switch agents if the person isn’t working out. Look out for those agents who stick to the high end/go over your budget, don’t respond to your guidelines (we only want to see condos near MRT stations etc), or who don’t communicate well.
- Figure out a general idea of where you want to live———You may or may not know much about Singapore and where anything is, but you can find your place of employment and the nearest MRT station on google maps. You can go on property guru and use the search function to look for apartments within a specific radius of an MRT station, a school, or in relation to a specific address. That can give you an idea of the market.
- Think about budget———Know your tax situation (US residents pay SG and US taxes, which tends to be a higher output), ask around what people pay for utilities (water and electricity), and groceries. Things like location and condo amenities will drive the price higher.
- Know your properties———Ask your agent to give you a list of condos you’re going to look at in advance. Check out their condo page to get a feel for what the property looks like and what amenities to expect. A tip-while property guru will tell you where it is in relation to an MRT stop, the distance is as the bird flies. Google map directions to that MRT station, and to your work via walking/public transit/driving (depending on how you’re getting to work). Look at all similar apartments at the property to get an idea of what the market value of that sort of apartment is there.
- When examining the listing, if it doesn’t say which complex the apartment is in and claims it’s “steps to the MRT,” it’s probably lying about the location.
- Dimensions———We now have a US King bed, which meant several apartments I looked at in the last two months were disqualified because either our bed wouldn’t fit in the master bedroom, or was roughly the only thing that would fit in the master bedroom. Other apartments were disqualified because the girls want to share a room and the rooms were too cramped for them to do so. What do you need in terms of kitchen? Do you need a tub or just a stand up shower?
- Open the trash chute——–I’m not kidding. I saw what I thought was a great apartment in a gorgeous condo complex back in March (right around when I blew out my back last time)—-and then I opened the trash chute and a ton of roaches flew out at me, giving me nightmares for MONTHS. Not only was that an issue, but the way the landlord’s agent saw the horrible thing that shouldn’t have happened was that I opened the trashchute, not that it was crawling with roaches. Nor was he interested in offering to have the chute/area fumigated or any other issue. Worth noting—the lower your floor, the higher number of roaches you’ll see. The condition of the chute matters. Location matters–ours is in the hallway outside our apartment and I love love love love that.
- Even if you don’t have a car, know what the parking situation is—-When we moved here, I didn’t expect to have a car. Some condos we looked at had a giant flight of stairs between parking and the elevator, which is a dealbreaker with a bad back and a baby/groceries etc.
- Look for “wildlife”——-When looking over the past two times (both this year) I have encountered ants (they’re often small–keep an eye out), roaches (shudder), and I was warned that snakes sometimes come on in for a visit in landed houses. Keep your eyes open and know what you’re likely going to need to deal with. Regardless, I recommend having a contract with a service like Aardwolf for pest control.
- Communicate what is and isn’t working————–If you want a good relationship with your agent, you need to be honest about what is and isn’t working. We saw an apartment that looked great on paper, and then we found out that the master bedroom was on the second floor while the other bedrooms were on the first. This was an issue for us with the young kids. Our agent started calling and asking about that to avoid wasting time at units that wouldn’t work. We thought we might be okay without a pool, but after looking at several places that didn’t have them, we realized we did want one at our condo.
- Think about the future——-When we first moved to SG, Elanor was 17 months old and school wasn’t on our radar. When looking this year, I had to think about which schools are within a 1 and 2 km distance as we’ve got P1 registration to deal with next summer. If you’re thinking about going local, you can see which schools are near you if you use onemap (use services, school query–you can then check out the schools’ websites and call them to ask about acceptance rates for citizens/PR’s/expats). If you don’t have a maid, what if you do hire one? Where will she live?
Offer, Negotiations, and Tenancy Agreement
- What do you want?——-You can ask for almost anything when you make your offer. What price are you willing to pay and what do you want. Do you want a new fridge? Someone I know scored hot water in their kitchen. We had our living room aircon units replaced this past month, rather than repaired yet again.
- Is your agent going to bat for you?—–We’ve had two agents. The first caved like wet cardboard at the first sign of resistance. The second pushed back and negotiated on our behalf.
- Diplomatic Clause—–Usually in a 2 year TA as an expat, the first year doesn’t allow for breaking the lease (you’ll have to pay the balance of the lease if you leave) but usually starting in the second year you can leave and only pay two months of rent to break your lease as long as you leave the country. Renewing after that two years, we’ve negotiated for an immediate diplomatic clause as we’ve already done that first year.
- Read it thoroughly—-What happens if the apartment is sold? (typically the TA transfer to the new owner with the terms intact). Do you have permission to drill holes to do things like babyproofing? Argue anything you think needs clarifying. What are they agreeing to provide before move in?
- Know your obligations———Do you need to show your aircon cleaning contract? What kind of notice is needed to renew your TA?
- Do a thorough listing of faults on the inventory list———-I’ve heard plenty of complaints that landlords are awful about the security deposit returns, so you need to have documented faults in exhaustive detail. List all the items and TAKE PHOTOS. Scratched floors, paint stains, etc.
Usually when you move in, you have one month to report any faults. After that, any issues require that you pay for the first 150 SGD or x dollars of a repair/replacement. Make sure all appliances are working well. Check for mold after showering. Make sure the aircons get cold enough. Do the hot water heaters work? All the electrical outlets? Make sure you report it before you have to help pay to fix it.
What tips have I missed? What questions do you want answered? I can always do a follow up post if you’d like.