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City views from the "spa deck" at our building.

NB: So um, I started this post about three months ago. It’s perhaps slightly less relevant now, but I found other bloggers’ apartment-search posts to be incredibly useful before moving here so figured it was worth putting my two cents in as well.

I’m a bit concerned about jinxing myself, but I have to say, in the last five years I’ve had some pretty amazing luck with housing. In Berkeley I lucked my way into a renovated villa overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, then found a great house with a big backyard in Rockridge when the first place got sold at the last minute. In NYC we had a couple hiccups with a shadesheister at Citihabitats, but ended up in a great building right on Riverside Park. In Sydney, despite repeated horror stories from expats and locals alike, we were approved for the first place we applied for and ended up in [what I consider to be] one of the city’s best spots, along the border of Darlinghurst and Paddington.

I’ve decided I’m still working off the good housing karma I earned sophomore year of college when a shower pipe exploded and the ceiling collapsed onto my bed in a deluge of dirty water. I’m pretty nervous this luck is going to run out (perhaps in the back of my mind that’s why we put off going back to New York, because no one’s lucky there unless you have a million dollars to play with), but it seems to have held with our first go-round in Singapore.

Once again, in combing lots of expat blogs and the SingaporeExpats forum I came across all sorts of horror stories about mega-shady agents, misleading photos, hot water- and oven-less kitchens, and nightmarish application processes. Somehow I managed to avoid most of that (though I do hate that online listings only show generic photos). I think part of it is that I’m just incredibly anal and spent hours combing sites like Property Guru and iProperty.com, cross-referencing apartments with google maps and reviews in the expat forums. But mostly it’s because of Grace.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I feel so fortunate to have received such a warm welcome from friends and acquaintances here, who were happy to direct me to salons, brunch places, furniture stores and more. A friend of friends from college sent me the most invaluable emails before arriving, with information on everything from neighborhoods to the eternal Starhub vs. Singtel debate. Best of all, though, she put me in touch with her real estate agent, Grace. If you are moving to Singapore and looking for a real estate agent, let me know and I’ll send you her email address. Seriously, this was the best real estate experience of my life.

A few months before we arrived I emailed Grace to introduce myself and give her an overview of what we were looking for – a 2BR close to the CBD, new building with good amenities, easy access to restaurants and a grocery store – pretty generic stuff. She wrote back with a detailed questionnaire, and shortly thereafter followed up with a list of building ideas. The hubs and I read them over, cross-referenced them with what we’d turned up in our research, and continued to collaborate on a list of properties and areas to investigate.

The day I arrived in Singapore, Grace picked me up at my hotel 90 minutes after I landed (God bless Changi’s ultra-efficient immigration lines and baggage claims). That first day we visited five apartments, the next day we saw 10. The hubs entrusted me to handle the search, but I felt compelled to take lots and lots of photos along the way, much to the chagrin of some of the agents we met!

Every apartment I saw matched our basic budget and location requirements, but Grace went to great lengths to show what we could get for our money in different areas. Everything had a unique set of pros and cons:

  • The Sail and Marina Bay Residences in the CBD.
    PROS: Virtually brand new, with gorgeous open-plan kitchens, nice gyms, and doorman/concierge service on par with what we were used to in NYC. Not to mention walking distance to both our offices and great views of Singapore’s gorgeous Marina Bay waterfront.

    Open-plan living at The Sail

    CONS: These buildings offer less of a neighborhood feel; tons of construction going on all over (though not right by the units we looked at).

  • Mount Sophia near Dhoby Ghaut.
    PROS: Spacious, fairly modern apartments with great access to the MRT, shopping on Orchard, and the massive Carrefour supermarket at Plaza Singapura.
    CONS: Omnipresent construction (like, bulldozer in your front yard); ground floor units don’t get much light; lots of foot traffic given proximity to PS.

    Front yard view from Mt Sophia. No thank you!

  • An oldish (1998) apartment by UE Square near Roberston Quay.
    PROS: Older apartments here are a lot more spacious, and this one had generous proportions and a smart layout (i.e. a guest bedroom on the other side of the unit from the Master). There are also tons of restaurants and shops nearby. And the complex has a squash court.
    CONS: The kitchen and bathrooms were a bit on the old side, as were the washer and dryer. And there’s no train station immediately nearby (this was a dealbreaker for the hubs).
  • A massive (1300 square feet) 2-bedder just off Orchard Road.
    PROS: Incredible amounts of space; awesome location for shopaholics like myself.
    CONS: The building was constructed in 1990 so the finish was a bit dated (i.e. green marble bathrooms, closed-off kitchen, and a dinky swimming pool that, according to the hubs, “looks like it belongs in a trailer park.”

    The aforementioned, rather sad pool area.

  • Two very new units near Novena, one on a high floor with a semi-private terrace and fountain, the other with the master bedroom hidden behind a nifty secret door.

    A semi-private garden terrace at Newton Suites near Novena.

    PROS: Both buildings featured great pools and seemed built to a good standard. One offered easy access to Novena station and the supermarkets and the mall at Novena Square.
    CONS: Although I loved one of the units we saw (at Newton Suites), the room proportions were a bit too square and, as the hubs forced me to admit, probably wouldn’t have been able to fit our furniture. The other building was about a 10-minutes walk past the train station in an area that was a bit too quiet.

    The master bedroom was actually behind that wall behind the TV!

  • Icon and Lumiere on the outskirts of the CBD.
    PROS: Icon is right across from the MRT and super-close to a number of hawker centres and the restaurants on Duxton Hill. It also had the best pool setup of any building I looked at. Lumiere’s units were super-modern and bright with nice fixtures.

    Part of the impressive pool complex at Icon.

    CONS: Lumiere is surrounded by office buildings and I just didn’t like the vibe. While I loved Icon in general, the unit we saw featured a loft bedroom and a closed-off kitchen without an oven; both were dealbreakers since we didn’t love living in a loft in Sydney, and I occasionally like to bake.

After some intense discussion with the hubs, I gave Grace a shortlist of preferred properties, and asked if we could see a couple more units to get an idea of what else was available. Within two days she showed me three more units at Mt. Sophia, and two more at Marina Bay Residences. Once we decided to go for MBR, she deftly negotiated a lease with the landlords’ agent, guided us through the letter of intent and stamp duty processes, and signed us up for utilities with SP Services. She also put me in touch with her contact at Starhub, who within a day arranged to get our Internet and cable TV up and running. It was the polar opposite of our wretched experiences with Foxtel and Telstra.

Grace has continued to advocate for us when a few minor building issues occurred (i.e. they came in to do construction repairs during the day and never bothered to clean up, on another occasion a water pipe burst in my bathroom). She was yet another reason that I found the transition to Singapore easy and smooth; she did a great job orienting me to various neighborhoods (and gossip) while she drove me from one apartment to another, and also introduced me to some of the best Hawker Centre food that I’ve had in Singapore (the best: carrot cake and fried kway teow at Zion River Food Centre).

As for MBR, I continue to love our views of the Straits, the easy walk to Lau Pa Sat Market and the shops at Marina Bay Sands (after two years of Sephora deprivation, it’s amazing living five minutes away from one now). There’s also an underground mall next door with a Starbucks, a Coffee Bean, a Cedele, a Red Mango frozen yogurt (unforch they often run out of yogurt) and, best of all, Din Tai Fung. The swimming pool, while more boring than the grotto-and-bridge wonderland of Icon, offers spectacular views of Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum, the Esplanade and the Merlion. I’ll often swim laps at night and see the sky flash pink and blue and green with the casino’s nightly laser show.

I don’t love walking through a construction site (they’re building an office tower next door) when I come back from the bus at night, and I wish we lived closer to a Cold Storage. I also wish we could have a bit more of a neighborhood feel, but unless we move to a house or something I don’t think it would much matter where lived, as a high rise is a high rise. Our building doesn’t use keys, but instead an electronic fob that gets you into the elevator, the gym, and your unit. At times it’s mildly annoying, but I also sometimes chuckle at the hyper-moderness of it all.

Bottom line, the apartment-hunting scene here was an exciting one, filled with viable options that would suit a wide range of tastes. It was less stressful than I expected, thanks mostly to Grace. Unpacking the 86 boxes that came from Australia? That was a different story. And one that I prefer to forget, rather than recount in blog form.