In exactly 1,008 hours, or one month and 10 days, my tenancy agreement will expire.
In view of this deadline, my husband and I recently decided that after eight years in this country, perhaps it was time for us to own a piece of Singapore.
Thus we embarked on the Great Singapore House Hunt.
First, we crunched our numbers and arrived at a budget that would not turn us into indentured servants.
Then, we jotted down all the things we were looking for in a house.
We have two pre-schoolers and a maid, so that means we will need an apartment with enough space for the kids to move about without breaking the furniture – or a limb – and for our helper to have a bit of privacy that won’t have to be in the washroom.
Location, location, location. For us, that means our home must be near work, school and play. Otherwise, the only person who will enjoy living in it will be our maid.
To help us further in our quest, we kept in mind a recent article by this newspaper’s Money Editor who wrote about tips his parents had given him for buying a house. Paramount is the $1,000 per sq ft rule – do not buy an apartment priced above this amount.
With these criteria in mind, we set out on our quest.
We started out gung-ho. We had accumulated a tidy amount in Central Provident Fund money and had some cash stashed away.
We figured that as the world, including Singapore, is still in recession, we should be able to find some bargains. After all, property prices had fallen from the stratospheric highs of early last year.
Instead, what we found were property agents smiling politely at our naivete.
As we are non-citizens, some properties are off limits to us. We are not eligible to buy new flats directly from the Housing Board or to avail ourselves of HDB’s concessionary rate housing loan.
This meant we were at the mercy of market forces. Fair enough. After all, many countries in Asia do not allow foreigners to buy land or government-subsidised houses, so Singapore is not alone in imposing this rule.
That left us with resale HDB flats and private condominiums.
As we don’t belong to the ranks of the mega-rich, luxury developments such as the St Regis and Sentosa Cove, as well as any developments in the prime district of Orchard Road, were no-go zones.
We would have to look at the city fringes and beyond.
A quick scan of the classified section revealed that the Newton, Novena and Bukit Timah areas were all priced above $1,000 psf. So they had to be scratched off the list.
Then we swiftly realised that most freehold condominiums of the size we needed were also beyond our reach, leaving 99-year leasehold condos and HDB resale flats in the heartland as our only options.
That thought required a paradigm shift on our part.
My husband and I both come from countries where property is owned in perpetuity, short of an act of God or government. Leaseholds of 99 years are almost unheard of in our home countries of Greece and the Philippines. So accepting the fact that we would have to spend most of our savings and then some for a home that we would not own forever needed a mental adjustment.
Anyway, we looked further, only to find to our horror that the nothing-above-$1,000-psf rule was already obsolete for most of the new launches. New developments considered deep in the heartland were selling above $1,000 psf.
So we shifted our search to older developments and realised that units conforming to our requirements were easily in the $1 million range. A million Singapore dollars!
With that amount, one could buy a five-bedroom bungalow with a garden in most upscale US suburbs, or a farmhouse in Perth, or a mansion in a posh gated community in Manila, or a villa on any Greek island. I could go on, but that would be an exercise in futility.
‘We have to face the fact that one day, we may not be able to afford to live in Singapore,’ said my husband.
The thought that I would have to one day leave this country that I have called home for many years saw me sink into a deep, blue funk for days.
At the end of our hunt, we found ourselves back at square one – at the dining table with our amiable landlord with whom we signed a new lease for our current apartment.
That, at least, is one thing we can still afford.
The writer is an executive sub-editor with The Straits Times. She is a Filipino national who has lived here for eight years and still believes she will find her dream home in Singapore some day.
Source: Sunday Times, 20 Sep 2009