The champagne’s been popped, resolutions made (and maybe already broken) and the happy haze has cleared… somewhat. Now it’s time to get back to that necessary evil known as ‘apartment hunting’. Finding an apartment can be daunting task. So here’s a few tips to get you started. Besides, it’s that time of the year for lists!
- Decide what you want.
You know that thing you do just before you’re considering dating someone where you take out a yellow legal pad and make a list of her pros and cons? Well, it’s something like that here. Like most Singaporeans, I used to stay overseas for a few years and that meant searching for a place to rent. One of the things I did before I went out hunting for girls apartments was to draw three columns on a piece of paper with the headings ‘Things I Need’, ‘Things I Want’ and ‘Deal-Breakers’.
The first two are self-explanatory. Deal-breakers are those things that you absolutely cannot live with – for example a chick who hates ‘Shawshank Redemption’. You know how some apartments have their rubbish chutes underneath their sinks? Yeah, I can never live with that. My place becomes a war zone the moment a roach enters. I am transformed from the mild-mannered neighbour you see before you to a veritable Rambo of pest control. I’ll be squealing like a marine, letting loose book-missiles and engaging in some fairly advanced acrobatics until it’s ghosted. Overkill? I think not!
You could also look for a friend who’s in the same income level and have a look at her place (if she’s renting) to get an idea of what you can expect.
- Do your research before viewing.
Do you really want to take a hike in the midday sun looking at one apartment after another that you absolutely hate? Now that you have your list handy, ask your agent whether the apartment he/she’s suggesting has what you need without any of the deal-breakers we’ve talked about.
Normally, agents won’t give you the full address of the place before you view it with them but they’re usually cool with releasing the block / flat number. With Streetdirectory.com and Google Street View, you can actually have a good look of the area without leaving the air-conditioned comfort of your room.
- Bring a friend with you.
Try to bring a friend with you when you’re viewing an apartment. A second opinion and an extra pair of eyes would come in useful. While you’re busy wondering if you could live with that pink wardrobe, your friend would be on the lookout for the really fatal flaws in the apartment, such as exposed wiring, damp ceilings or chalked body outlines in the corner.
- Check the condition of the apartment.
Don’t let anyone rush you through a viewing. Run all the water taps, switch on the lights and power mains and take a good look at every piece of furniture that comes with the apartment. Are there enough power sockets for your needs? Do they look old and the wires frayed? Does the furniture look like it’s going to fall apart? If it is, ask for a replacement or write down the extent of the damage in the inventory list. You do not want to be paying for someone else’s carelessness.
If you do spot any problems with the apartment, now is the best time to bring them up with the landlord. Ensure that she promises to fix the problem before you actually move in – and of course double-check during the handing over.
- Conduct an inventory check.
Sometimes, what you see is not what you get. Check with the landlord if you’ll be renting the apartment as it is or will she be removing some items. Ask the agent to conduct an inventory check (they’ll usually carry the list around with them) and get the landlord to sign it to clear any confusion afterwards. Double check that your requirements (new washing machine etc) are listed in the Letter of Intent (LOI) clearly. The landlord is bound once he signs it.
- Take a walk around the neighbourhood.
One of the first things I do when I’m in a strange place is to head down to a bar to talk to the bartender. They’re pretty chatty and you’ll quickly discover more than a few interesting tidbits not found in the brochure. In this situation, take a walk to get a vibe of the local neighbourhood. Talk to the shop owners, they’re usually quite helpful. Try telling them that you’re considering moving to their neighbourhood and ask them how much they enjoy staying in that area and if there’re any issues that you should be aware of. Your agents or landlords are not the ones who’re going to tell you about the friendly local flasher.
How far do you have to walk to the nearest bus stop? Are there any buses to your workplace? How far is it to the nearest MRT station? How long is the journey to your workplace? If you’re driving, remember to find out where you can park your car and how much it’ll cost every month.
I’m one of those who enjoy keeping late nights and tend to get the munchies after 2am. Trust me, you so do not want to walk 500 meters along a stretch of a dark, deserted road known for muggings to get that coveted pack of cigarettes. Lesson learned – find out where the nearest 24-hour convenience store is located.
- Safety first.
Does the apartment look secure from the outside? Ask yourself how you would get in if you had left your keys inside. If a window is relatively easy for you to open from the outside, then it’ll be easy for a burglar as well. This is especially important if you’re living on the ground floor.
Is there adequate lighting outside? Would you feel safe walking from the road/bus stop/MRT station back to your place in the middle of the night?
Unless you enjoy the excitement of living in a hoodlum haven, take note of the amount of graffiti around benches, stone tables or vending machines. Also, check if there are any new splotches of paint on walls, lift landings or staircase landings used to cover the infamous ‘O$P$’ signs. For the uninitiated, the O$P$ signs are splashed by loansharks and means ‘Owe Money, Pay Money’. And cases of mistaken identity are not unheard of.
- Before you put pen to paper…
As Nishant puts it, ‘The Contract is an epic document that binds you, in blood, sweat and exploitation, to the people who wield the powers of ownership over the house you want to rent’. Read it.
There could be some clauses or covenants that you might want to insert or delete. If you’re an expat, ensure that the contract contains a diplomatic clause. Ask that your agent or landlord go over the details in the contract with you so you don’t get sandbagged by unexpected surprises.
That’s it for now. If you’re wondering what the initial payments are, you can refer to my previous post. Are there any other things that you think I should add?