06 April 2011


House hunting in Singapore (pronounced Seen-gah-poh by the locals) is just as frustrating as it is in the U.S. Except in Singapore, there are no apartment communities with a single landlord over the whole building where one can just walk in, ask to see an apartment and sign a lease. In Singapore, one needs to have a real estate agent or five (literally) contacting the individual apartment owners' agent to set up viewings. And Paul and I found out yesterday that even if we find a nice place online, it doesn't necessarily mean there are units available. According to our agent, tenant representatives will often post a vacancy to a website just to see who will call them. When a person calls, the tenant rep advises that there is no vacancy in that particular apartment; however, he or she would be happy to show the caller a number of similar properties. 

Real estate searches, like everything else in Singapore, are very slow. When we started our search Monday, I was not confident that we would be able to find an apartment suitable to our American needs by the 15th when our temporary housing contract expires. All of my previous apartment searches consisted of me looking online and driving around the city looking for some decent prospects. I remember when I moved to Jersey I saw 25 apartments in a single day. Here in Singapore, we found out that it is common to have multiple real estate agents assist a person in the hunt for good housing, so we enlisted two agents and decided that we would see which we liked better after the first meeting. We saw one place with the first guy the first day and two places with the second guy. Yesterday, we narrowed our two agents down to one and saw two places, and we have two additional viewings this evening. I suppose we need to get used to this slower environment.  

I will admit that I have been spoiled when it comes to housing. I have been fortunate enough to find really nice homes in really nice places, some gated communities and one with a 42-square-foot closet. I could have fit a bed in that closet. In Singapore, there are lots of high-rise buildings but to find any place with more than 1,200 square feet, you will likely need to be able to afford rent at least S$7,000 per month. Let's just say that we can't. 

Most of the places we saw had spacious living and dining areas, small kitchens with easy-bake ovens, and tiny, tiny, bedrooms. The first few communities were older and not well kept; the outsides of the buildings were dirty and one unit smelled musty. The homes here have hard floors - some marble, some marble-looking tile. There are no closets, but most places come with some clothing storage units in each room. I am confident that if I give some clothes away, I can make it all fit. Bathrooms are typically very small. There are no linen closets and very little storage for girl products. I have 15 to 20 hair care and facial products that I need to make me feel pretty, and I am going to need to put them somewhere. I suppose that's why someone invented Ikea. 

Washing clothes will be an adventure in itself. When I said that I would have to learn how to be a housewife and do laundry, I didn't really expect to be learning on these funky washing machines that speak to me in code and hanging my clothes out to dry inside my apartment. This is not what I signed up for. Back to our search...

We convinced our agent that we needed newer and cleaner and that no space was too big (yes, he actually asked if one place was too big). I am pleased to say that we did find one place yesterday that met our standards in a lot of ways. The building only has 16 units on nine floors so we won't feel like we're in an amusement park with the 2 million people who also live in the typical Singaporean high rise. And the condo has a built-in bomb shelter off the kitchen so we and our guests will feel safe. Although it is the top of our list, we still have one more neighborhood to explore before we make our two-year commitment, though we cannot make that commitment quite yet.

In Singapore, if you do not have a visa, there isn't a whole lot that you can do other than sit back, relax and continue your vacation. We are currently unable to open a bank account, sign a leasing Letter of Intent or an actual lease or obtain a cell phone or mobile service contract. That's right, I am doing the impossible. I have survived without a cell phone since March 30 because our visas are still in process. So, I suppose I will just continue to sit outside by the pool, waiting for our visas in this paradise that I will soon call home. Because we all know there's no place like home...

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