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Tuesday, August 13

The Real House Hunters International

With every move comes the obvious house search.  But when you are operating in a foreign country, how that search is going to go has everything to do with how flexible you can be.  That flexibility is just about the house either!  It’s the whole process. 

I greatly under-researched this process AND the houses prior to setting foot on Singaporean ground, but that isn’t entirely my fault.  The original plan was to skip the house hunt this time around and just take a place on base.  I chose this route for various reasons… the knowledge that we can only have one car that we would share to get one to work, two to school and me to wherever the hell I was driving everyone.  There was also the knowledge that when you are living out of the country on government orders, the rent and bill paying can give you one very big headache and your bank account a bigger stretch than anyone would choose to do.  While I love the idea of living in the real world wherever I am, I didn’t relish the work involved for me if we lived out in town.  Here’s the glitch… there is no ‘base’ in Singapore.  They call it a ‘place’.  And the rules to get a house are unlike any I have ever encountered.  I’m not getting into the politics of it, but we decided that we best thing for our family was just to get out there and check out the rental market or go back to looking for a large enough cardboard box for us all to live in… and it just rains too much here for cardboard. 

Not really sure where to start, we randomly called a realtor to show us a place we had found online.  He said he would pick us up the next day.  We only found out after meeting him that when you start with a realtor, you stick with a realtor.  You don’t use multiples like in Japan.  Thank goodness the guy wasn’t an idiot, because he is ours for the duration of our time here in Singapore.  Actually, I quite like him and his very Singaporean ways of describing everything with a twinge of negativity.  It amuses me that what he sees is the exact opposite of what I see.  Spending time with him allows me to see the flip side of the coin.  And he really is a good guy… a family man who drives his wife to and from work every day so she doesn’t have to take a train, he also even delivered a cake to our hotel the night he found out it was my birthday, and when I rescheduled an appointment to view houses because the kids were sick, he offered to drive us all to whatever doctors we might need.  And most importantly, he has an easy first name which, thank God, because I have no idea how to say his last one.

To date, we have seen nine houses and what we have learned is this: most Singaporeans live in HDB housing, which is basically like a highrise condo; there are also cluster houses that are like townhouses but with WAY more stairs; and there are a very few semi-detached homes available that are like one big house but split in two.  The last category is where we have decided to focus our efforts.  The first two categories are more likely to have pools and other recreational facilities.  A semi-detached will likely not have that access and most Singaporeans would not choose to live in these. 

As for the homes themselves, they are much more modern than I would ever choose.  Basically, none of our traditional or antique styled furniture will make sense in any of them.  The builders like marble on the first floor, wood for the stairs and upper floors (and there are MANY upper floors in most of these homes), closets are built into all bedrooms, each bedroom has an attached bathroom, and that bathroom has a glass shower room, no tub and likely some fancy sink in it.  To me, that all just means a hell of a lot more cleaning for me to do.  And no, I have pretty much made the decision that I will not be getting an amah or helper (in other words, live-in maid) like everyone else here to do these jobs for me.  I just can’t do the whole stranger in my house thing.  Sorry.  I have also learned that many homes have a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen.  This is because Chinese cooking is stinky.  They cook it outside in the wet kitchen and the dry kitchen is for simple, more Western cooking.  The homes I have seen do have an oven.  I can’t bake a full size cake in it, but I can make bread.  When it comes to Thanksgiving this year, I think I will just roast a stuffed chicken and call it a day.  Many homes also have a granny room.  I have found out that this is indeed a room for granny.  Because she is old and feeble and can’t walk up all the crazy ass flights of stairs in the house.  So yes, Mom’s, this room is indeed for you.  Plus, it puts you next to the kitchen.  So see?  My maid is taken care of.  (Just kidding!  Or am I? Come visit and find out!)

So far, Kimono Hubby and I are not settled on any of them.  There is a gorgeous front runner, but we are negotiating prices.  There is so much negotiating here with landlords.  I am really not into that.  Tell me a price.  I pay.  (Even if I gag a little when I hand over all. that. money.  And if you know anything about real estate, think beyond New York City prices.) Anyway, I pay.  End of discussion.  But remember how I mentioned flexibility?  Even though the system drives me crazy, I am doing it all the Singaporean way and negotiating my terms. 

Without being able to share a home that we have chosen yet, I will instead leave you with shots of the ones we have seen.  But you know how they show you three tidy little homes on the show and the happy househunters pick one and sign a sheet of paper and it is theirs?  Yep.  It ain’t nothing like that.
Oldest kitchen we saw in the most traditional semi-detached house we saw (shown below).  And Indian family lives there right now.  It smells strongly of curry and incense.  And I emphasize strongly. BUT... it had a 12 x 12 square of grass that serves the purpose of a yard.  That's rare.

 This is a kitchen in a brand spanking new cluster house we saw.  Yes, those are glass walls and a glass door will shut the poor fool in the kitchen with no air conditioning.
Notice the all glass walls of the same cluster home above, where the neighbors can stare in all night long.  But the cool feature is straight ahead.  You open those doors and you step directly into the pool that goes all around the complex.  Like in Venice where you use a boat to get to and from your neighbors home, here you use a pool noodle.  Awesome if it were just the husband and myself, but one kid slips out the door without us knowing it, and I die of heart break.  Pass.
 It's hard to see in this picture above, but right in front of my husband is two marble steps down.  To the left, just a big old cliff of marble.  Apparently, this is a popular Chinese feature.  All I see are broken bones as the kids forget it is there and go flying off the wrong side. 
 In the foreground, the dry kitchen and where the man is standing outside, the wet kitchen. 
 Looky!  We found a yard! 
 Prime example of a bathroom, but this one does surprisingly have the bathtub.  I was told that tubs are dangerous, so they shower their children.  How the hell do you shower a baby?
 This house was truly beautiful.  But it was approximately 4,000 square feet.  When we saw the two bedrooms on the mid floor, I laughed because we all could live in one.  Then we go upstairs for two more and I realized that if we chose this house, we would have a whole extra floor that was completely unnecessary. 
 This is the dry kitchen, with two burners.  Really?  Two burners.  To the right of the stove is a little hallway that takes you back to the wet kitchen where there are more, but I still find this odd.  Oh.  And that is a microwave and an oven.  A little oven. 
 Kimono Sweet Pea is standing in the shower with a look on his face that says, "really mom?  I refuse your stinking shower."
 Looky!  Another yard!  With our very own palm tree!
 The houses are deceiving.  We only looked at the right half.  This is a semi-detached.  It looks small, but this house was over 3,000 square feet.
 This home was a bit of a dream.  I love it and would move in in a heart beat.  I pictured myself with those windowed walls completely open and enjoying the breeze with a drink in my hand every day of my Singaporean time. There is even a triangular shaped pool to the left that you can't see.  But sadly, the price could not be negotiated to where we could do it. 
 Bye bye dream house.  Hope someone treats you real good.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Karen, beautiful homes! I love the open spaces... Just think how much fun your boys will have playing hockey on those gorgeous floors. :) Good luck on the house hunt!