Finding a permanent home in Singapore has proven to be much more of a challenge than we thought. Here a two year lease is expected, and protections that are in place in the U.S. to prevent discrimination and fraud seem to be either missing entirely or blatantly ignored. In some ways it reminds me of the brutal housing market in New York City.
For example, there are no agents working for you. They appear to be, but the conflict of interest that even the company provided agent has, in our case, also making commission depending on the property, makes having someone truly on your side impossible. The agents will flat out lie to you and misrepresent who they work for, such as saying they are the landlord’s agent when they are not. They are just milking other people’s listings. The other problem is the prices are all “negotiable” to an extent. This entices the agents to list a property at one price, then when you go to view it, claim the landlord will only accept offers of $500 more or even up to $2000 more. To top it off, there is a massive property bubble here that is beginning to soften, but not all landlords recognize that this is happening. Rents have doubled here in the last five years, from New York City prices to twice New York City prices.
The agents also have the false impression that just because you are an expat and relocating through your company that your budget might not be firm. I’ve heard many suggestions to stretch just $2000 to $3000 more to get the kind of place we want. Seriously, who can stretch their housing budget that much more?
Other issues we’ve encountered include landlords who do not want to rent to families with children, high rises with no locks on the windows for children and landlords who refuse to provide them, lack of glass windows in the air shaft in the utility area (just an open air shaft 20 stories high so either the children or cats can leap to their deaths), maids rooms that are so tiny you can only fit a twin mattress wall to wall, and maids rooms in the bomb shelters with no ventilation. Just for the record, most private condos have maids rooms and a lot of families have a live in “helper” here. However, I strongly believe the maid, if you have one, should get a humane sized room with proper ventiation and natural light. Landlords also feel free to reject a tenant on all sorts of grounds that would not fly at home, such as your race, nationality and family status. I don’t know if they are legally allowed to discriminate based on these issues, but they do.
Funny things about Singapore properties include some strange definitions. Partially furnished means it comes with what they call “white goods,” or what we would call the major appliances such as a refrigerator, oven, washer dryer, etc. It does not refer to having a few pieces of furniture for the tenant’s use. Serviced apartments are what we would call a corporate apartment, and they come fully furnished for you to use until your things arrive. Apartments may or may not come with light fixtures and blinds. They are big into custom drapes, which are these giant beastly day and night curtains that will likely not go with your decor. There are clauses in the leases that say you have to make the first $250 or so of any repair to the property, so if your fridge goes out, it will be on you to find a repair person and get it fixed. We have also seen some mold issues in some places, which leads me to believe the humidity here can be detrimental to your belongings. An apartment with mold already growing is not going to be a healthy place to live, and it hints at even larger issues with the ventilation in the apartment.
Things I love about Singapore properties include resort style pools, playgrounds at the apartments, barbecue pits, marble floors, built in shoe closets at the door, rubbish chutes in or close by the apartments, large windows, and a lot of indoor outdoor living space like balconies and patios.
Suffice it to say we are still looking. We have narrowed it down to some good choices, three properties that we would be happy to rent. Now it is just a matter of finding a unit at these properties that will meet our budget and space needs, and negotiating for a price we can comfortably pay, without “stretching” too much. The good news is our things have arrived from the U.S., only 30 days to get them. Now if we can just find a home in which to put them!