Before we delve into Pt.2 of our property hunt, just a reminder that if you wish to be subjected to this dross I call a blog on a regular basis, please click the subscribe button and, with just an email address, you’ll be mailed updates as and when I think of something vaguely witty to say.
Anyway, as you may recall, I didn’t have a great deal of success in trying to shortlist some properties whilst based in the UK. I learned a reasonable amount about how the market operated and what the current costs were but I figured that not a lot was going to happen whilst I was based in another country.
The plan was quite straightforward, we landed and had a hire car for 10 days. In those 10 days, whilst Emily leapt straight into her new role, I would get out and about and see as many properties as possible. When I found one that fulfilled most of our criteria and I thought was suitable, I’d then arrange a follow up viewing with wifey. Essentially, I was screening for Emily which saved her wasted time.
In an ideal world, we would have a landed house with 5 beds (we have been promised a reasonable influx of visitors!) with a secure fenced off swimming pool. That was our perfection that we already knew was probably out of reach so everything below we just looked at where the compromise lay. We hadn’t discounted anything and were prepared to go in with eyes wide open, receptive to ideas and see what choices we had. If, for example, a condo came up that was on the ground floor, had an amazing park in the complex, lots of space and was 10 minutes from wifey’s work then this could work just as much as a landed property further out. Being an engineer, yes, I had an excel chart with pro’s/con’s mapped out and weightings assigned to each criteria to score each property.
For those who don’t know how it works, an agent represents the property for rent. Typically, they will be on a commission of 2 weeks rent for each year of lease so, with a typical rental agreement being 2 years, the agent will get something like 1 month rent in commission. This can be negotiated up and down depending on various factors but, in general, this is the deal. Consequently, most agents are very keen to close a deal and within this market there are plenty of tactics used to get hold of that juicy commission.
Day 1 and it’s Saturday so Emily was available for viewing and we had our first property to see. As we trundled down the street i noted Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche etc…clearly an affluent area. The house and agent were lovely but the ‘garden’ was about 3m wide at back of house. Ok, so there was a park behind it for the kids but, basically, if we’re going to live in a country that has a climate that allows outdoor eating all year round, we’re going to want to make the most of it!
Day 2 and I’m seeing a nice town house. When you walk into a place and the first thing you see through the far window is an excavator…it’s not a good start. Downstairs to the kitchen and literally 3m behind the kitchen door was a large construction fence that segregates the massive building site, just in progress of erecting a few cheeky tower blocks.
‘Not a problem, pilings now in…it’s just building the blocks now…very little noise’, said the cheery agent. I actually just laughed at that point and he just carried on smiling. We were living next to a construction site for 3 weeks where the pilings were done and I can confirm that once the pilings are in….there is still plenty of noise involved in building a tower block!
Next property and it’s a ‘cluster house’, something I haven’t seen before. Kinda like a posh mid-terrace. This one was very tall and very narrow 4 floors and a roof garden which was lovely but it didn’t really suit our idea of family living as everyone would be on a different floor. Also, the kitchen was on a different floor to living room/dining room and then the roof garden was 2 floors above the kitchen..a pain in the arse if having a party with the constant up and downstairs between kitchen and roof. On the basement floor there was a very nice room with en-suite that was perfect for a helper but the agent then suggested we could save that room and use the ‘bomb-shelter’ for the maid. The bomb-shelter is a relatively modern phenomenon in Singapore where (I think) any new property built after 1998 has to have a strengthened room to use in case of national disaster. In this place it was a 3mx3mx3m cube with no window, a small vent hole and an imposing steel door. I’d possibly let a dog sleep in it if is do desired but the suggestion that it could be a bedroom for a human being was not something that sat comfortably with me.
Day 3 and another couple of properties. At the first I was greeted by a particularly slick operator…gold Rolex pride of place on wrist. Upon being shown round the property I got ‘yes, we can fix that’, ‘yup, that’s going to be done’ and ‘not a problem, we can sort that’ at every turn. The obvious tactic here is just leave the property as is and see how fussy the potential client is. Anything less than the full makeover this place needed is just a bonus of reduced outlay for the landlord I guess.
There was a nice outside area mind you but I fear our neighbors behind would soon get fed up of their freshly washed clothes smelling of BBQ lamb chops and sausages.
Straight on to the next place and I’m being met by Alice, who as you can see is a bit of a looker. Yeah, ok….I’m sure there any many women reading this giving it the ‘she’s not that pretty’. No, trust me, she was an absolutely stunner. And she knew it. (and before you ask why I have a holiday snap of her, this was her whatsapp (which 90% of agents use) profile pic)
If anyone needs to learns how to pout, just give this lady a call..she has mastered it and probably many a client has succumbed to her charms. The property, however, was a write off for me the moment i walked in. Its massive selling point was it was at the bottom of a tower block but had this large veranda garden across the whole frontage. The rest of the property though, didn’t work for me. Clearly trying to push it up the market, they had to hastily put in a helper room….in the middle of the living room. Literally, a square at the back of the living area had been walled off a bit like a bomb shelter. A small vent was the only gap to the rest of the house and there was no attached bathroom…basically, no privacy for any helper. Good maybe for storing suitcases, not so good for someone living in it.
The kids were having a full on melt down which made viewing somewhat difficult but it didn’t really matter as i knew it wasn’t going to be. This is when Alice turned the charm on. With a flutter of the eyes she told me it has just been taken this morning (oh no!!). But, as the landlord was onsite, if I were to confirm right now at the asking price, he’d be able to do a deal and make sure it was mine. Really? It’s just been taken this morning….darn…that’s too bad. I told Alice that I couldn’t possibly make a decision without my wife seeing it so would have to wait. I was then told that I would probably lose if I left it overnight. Upon telling her with a wink that I would take my chances on it still being available tomorrow she just beamed at me completely impervious to the fact that ‘obvious trick No.1’ hadn’t washed.
If trick number one is the ‘best be quick, it’s nearly sold’ then trick number 2 is the classic ‘bait and switch’. Very simply, advertise a property at an amazing price and then take client to a similar address, apologise that property 1 isn’t available and try and sell property 2 at a much higher price.
I realised we were being subjected to this when the swimming pool at back of garden had moved by 40m. The advert showed the swimming pool right outside but the property we were viewing was some distance away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s another first world problem…the place was amazing as you can see and had a real ‘holiday’ feel to it. As it was, the house was actually too big…it was crazy although the kids enjoyed the idea of a 800 sq ft basement playroom. Also, the garden at the front was 60m behind the west coast highway and neither of us clicked with the arrangement.
When I raised the question about the property we were meant to be viewing (number 113) I was told that ‘oh no la, that’s now long gone…one off special price’. But guess what? Whilst this property (number 123) was a LOT more expensive we could talk and maybe do a deal? .
Sorry, I’m being very cynical here…maybe they genuinely did get it wrong and it was all a mistake *cough*. Then, literally 2 days later, I noticed that the same ‘sold a few weeks ago’ No.113 property was suddenly relisted by the agent. Being helpful I thought I’d let the agent know and, yup, it was just a mistake! Instead of delisting the property they had accidentally relisted it. I went to bed that night happy that I had let the agent know and he could put actions in place to ensure he didn’t accidentally relist any more properties that weren’t actually available 🙂
And then I visited where we now live. Ironically, I had spotted this place 3 months earlier in the UK. It was still on my ‘favourites’ but being it had a nice garden, was 3 floors, plenty of bedrooms and 4000sq ft i was a bit cynical as sounded too good to be true…especially as it had been on the market for 3 months and the photos on the advert just showed the garden and one 2 poor pictures from the inside. I had visions of it being very rundown.
It’s the old cliche that you know within 20s or something like that when you walk in the front door. I walked in and the kids immediately started playing in the garden. Then the agent cooed over the kids and offered to entertain them whilst I just had a look round the place on my own, no pressure. Wow…the inside was also lovely so I was bemused as to why the agent hadn’t put up a comprehensive set of photos to show it off. I had already sussed out that the mezzanine floor was going to make a perfect place to mount my projector and turn into a cinema room, so it was basically sold as far as I was concerned.
It pretty much ticked all the boxes apart from location. However, with virtually no negotiation, it was $1300/month less than we expected to pay for this type of place. In Singapore…$1300 buys a LOT of taxis so being slightly further out from Emily’s office suddenly wasn’t so much a problem. Also, a new MRT 15 minute walk away was being opened in 2 weeks time. Another massive plus point was there was a kids park literally opposite the house, what more could you want!
After I had send all the pictures to Emily, she went round for a 2nd viewing that evening and, basically, that was it. Of course, there was the usual faffage and paperwork and negotiations on what we wanted changing/fixing but once we had both seen it, we knew this was the place we wanted to call home. It was just a case of how quickly the good lady could fill the entire place with furniture and lovely things (not long…trust me)
By this point I had accrued a lot of agents as contacts who were barraging me daily with txt’s to advertise new listings. The good news for me though was, as this was a temporary SIM/number, when the number expired a week later and we switched to a contract SIM, I ceased to exist as a contact to every agent I had ever dealt with, apart from the one representing our new place. Peace restored….