Currently, US Citizens have the advantage of being treated the same same as Singaporean citizens in only paying 3% stamp duty when purchasing a property. I hold a broker licence in California and I’ve lived in various types of properties (and floor levels) so I thought I’d know enough about real estate, but the climate and culture is much different here. After much research and talking to people in the know, we’ve come up with the following criteria in looking for the right home in Singapore. This list is not scientific but reflects the actual living experience:
Due to Singapore’s hot and humid tropical rainforest climate, infestation of bugs and pests can get out of hand unless it is regularly tended. Landed homes and lower floor units require frequent pest servicing & cleaning to keep out pests such as mosquitoes, ants, cockroaches, termites, spiders, snakes and rats, that reproduce quickly and are many times the size of ones seen in western countries.
For bug haters like me:
-Avoid landed homes, and floors 1~10. Molds can also blow in from trees outside.
-10~20 floors: You’ll still have bugs flying in here and there when windows are opened. Ants/cockroaches were still seen.
-20+: You rarely find bugs and can leave the window open at night.
I’ve learned that Singapore is NOT like California and thus is not an ideal place to own a landed home.
Fact: 1) Sound travels upwards, only because there are generally more obstructions horizontally, such as trees, buildings, vehicles, etc.
2) Sound reduces through distance; however, sound takes longer vertical distances to dissipate than horizontal due to less obstructions.
If you want quiet living in a city like Singapore:
-Avoid 3~8 floors. Noise level at its peak as sound travels upwards.
-1~2 floors: Regular ground noise. Depends on the neighborhood.
-10~20 floors: Noise is somewhat reduced
-20+: all noise is greatly reduced and everything becomes a gentle hum, though you can never get rid of the general noise of a city. If you close your windows, you generally can’t hear much this high up. If you want perfect peace with windows opened, move out of the city area.
3. Cool Breeze and Less Mold
Higher floors, more breeze. More breeze, better ventilation. Better ventilation, less mold. If you’re the type that likes being out in the balcony or keeping your windows wide open, avoid lower units.
I currently live on the 36th floor and my unit is never humid. I don’t have to turn on A/C as often and I can actually enjoy my balcony. I’ve realized breeze and cool air is very important in Singapore. Singapore is HOT all year round and not only does cool breeze cool your apt, it also keeps it from becoming humid and forming mold. (To give one an idea of Singapore’s climate: in certain apts, the floors become wet due to humidity. Designer bag left unused for few weeks grew mold)
4. Chinese Superstition: Avoid units with the number ’4′
It’s the same as in Korea, where they either skip the fourth floor altogether and name it fifth, or write ‘F’ for four in the elevator. They hate seeing the number. You’ll not have as many buyers if you own a unit with number 4 in Asia. I thought it was just the fourth floor, but it’s actually any floor unit that has the number 4: 4, 14, 24, 34, 44, etc. Because we bought directly from the developer, we had many options and thus avoiding ’4′ unit wasn’t a problem.
5. Look for North facing units
In hot and humid countries without winters, it is best to get a unit that gets just the right amount of sun. North is the easiest to shade from unwanted sun. During summers when the sun is high, north-facing rooms will be kept cool, while in winter when the sun is lower, right amount of sunlight will come through.
South is the next option. Then East. Avoid west-facing at all costs.
6. Live next to an MRT station
Singapore’s car prices are the highest in the world and thus many people decide to live without one. This means transportation network is extremely important in Singapore and the demand for housing near MRT will always be high. Unless you plan to invest in a property $8 million and up where it starts to be more about privacy and exclusivity rather than connectivity, it’d be best to live near an MRT.
7. Avoid Far East Organization properties
Not sure if this holds true, but I’ve been consulting with several interior designers over the last few weeks and they’ve all discouraged buying properties made by Far East (and smaller companies) because their build quality is cheap. Majority recommended to go with Capitaland and City Developments Limited properties. It is important to know your developers and their reputation because it affects build quality.
8. Condo Living in general
Living in a condo means you have less maintenance and less maintenance costs. It also has a beautiful city view. It has facilities only an elevator ride away (such as gym, pool, tennis court, basketball court) and usually have better accessibility of amenities such as markets, banks, malls, hospitals, and transportation.
I’ve come across some expats who’ve stated they expect the exact same lifestyle as they did in America or Europe and thus are only looking for landed homes. I, too, grew up in a landed home in California and I love the space, the backyard, and the privacy that my private property provides. However, one should keep in mind that what works in other countries may not work here. Landed property owners in Singapore spend thousands of dollars per year upkeeping their home and suffer from humidity and heat. They live in landed homes because they CAN (they can afford such upkeeping and secluded lifestyle with many cars) but it may not always be ideal in the climate and land conditions they live in.
9. HDB.. ?
HDB, the public housing of Singapore, can only be purchased by citizens and PRs. The prices of HDB are extremely low in comparison to the condos, and we thought we’d wait until we became PRs to buy one…. until we saw what they were like. The older ones look like low-income public housing in America. Few of the newer developments seem decent, but I couldn’t find many that had spacious living area as the older HDBs. Further, there always seems to be noise nuisance from the surrounding units, because the walls and ceilings are so thin and the units are so close together. Because there are more neighbors who are loud and open (they at times leave their windows and doors wide open for breeze), privacy is a constant problem. The laundry is hung everywhere outside the building and it’s an eyesore. This may all be an everyday life occurrence of a Singaporean who grew up in one, but for expats it may be difficult to live in such conditions. We feel it’s similar to education: some decide to send their kids to private schools not only for the quality education alone, but also for the quality friends they’d meet. So keep in mind that if you buy HDB, you get HDB type of neighbors. Few Singaporeans we’ve met told us most try to ‘upgrade’ their lifestyle to condos once they have enough saved up.
10. Check Air Conditioner Space and Balcony Size
Developers in Singapore count balcony size and air conditioner placer outside the condo into the square footage, which results in buyers having to pay for them. So make sure you check your floor plan to see if it’s set to your liking. We liked big balconies where we can eat and lounge outdoors, so our balcony size is whopping 200 sq ft.
So based from our research: perfect home in Singapore (for those scared of bugs/pests, with a budget of ~$5mil) is 20+ floor up, north facing, near MRT, reliable developer made condo unit that does not have the number ’4′ in the unit number. There are many other additional things to consider: good district (9, 10, 11), proximity to good schools and markets, and work, but these are the basic things one would have to start their search with. Again, people have different preferences as some may not mind frequent pest servicing for ground living with a spacious lawn, so this is just my two cents on Singapore real estate. We needed a condo that brings in cool breeze and air, and where bugs flying in isn’t an everyday occurrence.