Sunday, March 21, 2010

A roof over my bloated head

I dread this time of the year. It’s nearing April, the month when the lease on my current rental apartment will expire.

Since the option of a year-long extension in my existing contract has been exhausted, the nerve-racking and tedious ritual of hunting for a decent new roof over my head has begun.

And I have slipped into anxiety mode.

The fear of not finding a suitable replacement in time has forced me into action at least two months in advance. Besides, my long list of demands in a rental home makes my search even more difficult.

For the last 21/2 years that I have been in Singapore, I have shared living space with a flatmate in two separate, as near-perfect HDB flats as any expat could wish for. I have also been fortunate enough to find a quiet, friendly and safe neighbourhood and two accommodating and understanding landladies.

Now I insist that the next apartment be as good as the last two, if not better. But the actual process of finding something suitable gives me the jitters.

The search is a long, rough one which involves daily scans of the classifieds, incessant and sometimes untimely phone calls by poacher agents offering their services, sweaty walks to prospective locations and sleepless nights worrying about an uncertain tomorrow.

It drives me to the edge, like a student who is taking the O-level exams after not having studied at all for the whole year.

The initial worry is finding a good agent, someone whose accent I can decipher and who, in turn, can decipher mine. Then comes the most difficult part of explaining to him my exact requirements.

After two years of living in apartments enviably close to an MRT station and just a 20-minute ride away from the office, I am averse to spending an additional second travelling to work.

Besides a good location, I want the flat to be on a high floor with plenty of sunshine, and have good ventilation and big bathrooms with clean toilets (seats not squats). Budget, of course, is a big consideration and so is the cleanliness and safety barometer of the neighbourhood. Proximity to foodcourts, supermarkets, golf clubs and so on are an added advantage. (What can I say, I am high-maintenance.)

The length of my list makes most agents slump with exasperation, while the tolerant few try to talk me into striking out at least one demand. I end up striking out, you guessed it, the agent.

In my defence, my work hours compel me to seek such comforts. But, some of the roadblocks are not of my making. For instance, if the flat meets my expectations, chances are the owners insist on letting it out only to families or to non-Indians.

At other times, they have a list of demands, like no cooking (a hobby of mine), no parties (they don’t know that I’d rather go to Clarke Quay) and no boyfriends (I am single leh! Don’t they read my columns?).

Last year’s recession has added to my woes, as I try to tighten my belt without trying to compromise on my needs. The process is upsetting, making an eternally optimistic and adventure-loving person like me want to run home to Mummy in Mumbai.

But, then I comfort myself with positive thoughts.

Singapore’s Housing Board has an excellent record of building affordable apartments for nearly 85 per cent of its people. So I tell myself that even though I may run out of energy, it is highly unlikely that I will run out of choices.

Besides, despite all the hurdles in finding a flat, some of them of my own creation, I am confident that for every failed viewing, I will have 100 more choices every day. For every exasperated agent, I will have 10 other tolerant types who will be ready to assist me.

Having jumped into the fray early, I still have the luxury of time to choose according to my whims.

And I am sure that the keys to the new rental flat will be handed to me before it is time to move out of the old one.

The writer is an assistant to the foreign editor in The Straits Times and has lived in Singapore for 21/2 years.

Source: Sunday Times, 21 Mar 2010

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