Finding a place to live while still abroad/neighborhoods?

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SingLaw
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Finding a place to live while still abroad/neighborhoods?

Post by SingLaw » Thu, 14 Jun 2012 7:01 pm

My wife, son, and I will be moving to Singapore in October and we essentially have two options:

1. Take over the lease of one of her co-workers that will run out on December 31 and find a place to live during this period, or

2. Find a place and sign a lease before we move.

She strongly prefers option number 2, so that we don't have to move all our stuff and upset our toddler's routine twice. She's also worried that we won't have much time to look for places anyway once we're there because we're supposed to start working almost immediately. I see her points, but I don't have strong opinions one way or the other.

So, I will try to tap into the collective wisdom here. Is option number 2 realistically doable or would it be a much better idea to do option number 1?

Assuming #2 is doable, we have some idea roughly where we want to live, but would still appreciate any advice you may have. We will both be working in the CBD and we're pretty sure we want to send out son to the Stamford American International School (right next to the Woodleigh MRT). Therefore, we have pretty much ruled out anything west of Orchard Road and north of the Nature Reserve.

We are looking for a 4 bedroom place (1 bedroom for us, 1 for our son, 1 for a maid, 1 for any guests). We're aware of the 3+1 idea, but the +1s seem to be horrifically small and, if I wouldn't feel comfortable living there, I wouldn't want to ask a maid to live there either.

Our son will be roughly 2 years old when we move, so we would like a place where he can meet other kids/we can meet other parents. If we didn't have a kid, both my wife and I would tend to prefer quieter, smaller places (probably landed estates or cluster homes in Singapore real estate parlance). In Oslo, we live in a suburban area in a house with a yard, split into two with another family and we like it quite a bit. However, we also know tons of people already here and don't have to rely on meeting new friends as we will have to in Singapore. A condo probably makes the most amount of sense, but we would prefer a smaller condo or a larger cluster home I guess. Does this seem reasonable?

Ideally, we would prefer something with easy access to the CBD, either right by an MRT station (other than the circle line) or right on a bus line that won't require any transfers. Is either one preferable to the other in Singapore? Can buses be counted on to run on time and not get stuck in traffic?

Based upon all of that, what neighborhoods would you recommend? The ones that seem to fit best (based on reading websites and looking at a map) are Newton/Novena, Serangoon, and the East Coast area. Are there any areas that I left off that we should look at?

Would anyone care to offer up some opinions on each of those areas? I've read the brief description you can usually find on property websites (except that there is essentially nothing on Serangoon), but I'm curious what the more uncensored/less glossy version of a description would look like. For instance, how quiet is the neighborhood? Is it purely residential or a mixture of residential and commercial? Are there restaurants nearby? If so, are they cheap and good/bad, good value, fine dining, etc.? What's the resident breakdown? Mostly locals? Mostly expats? Mostly western expats?

We would greatly appreciate any advice you might be able to provide. In particular, I'm curious about Serangoon because it seems like there is less out there on it than any other neighborhood we're considering. However, because East Coast is huge, any help breaking down the neighborhood into different parts and discussing the differences would also be great.

Sorry for the very long post. The short version is: any help would be greatly appreciated. :)

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Post by zzm9980 » Thu, 14 Jun 2012 8:32 pm

#2 is a very easy way to get scammed in Singapore. I wouldn't suggest it.

Since I assume you're American, you're going to find that a lot of transactions that can occur in a few hours in the US (finding a place and signing a lease, getting a credit card, buying a car) are elaborate multi-day processes here in Singapore.

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Post by zzm9980 » Thu, 14 Jun 2012 8:39 pm

One other thing to consider: Do you have plans on how your son will get to school? East Coast is pretty far from there, especially if you don't get a car.

Use gothere.sg and maps.google.com to plot transit routes to/from potential locations and work and school.

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Post by SingLaw » Thu, 14 Jun 2012 9:03 pm

zzm9980 wrote:#2 is a very easy way to get scammed in Singapore. I wouldn't suggest it.

Since I assume you're American, you're going to find that a lot of transactions that can occur in a few hours in the US (finding a place and signing a lease, getting a credit card, buying a car) are elaborate multi-day processes here in Singapore.
Yeah, I'm American, the wife is Norwegian. Her company has an office in Singapore and a few employees there currently. Collectively, they have used a couple of real estate agents before and recommended them. In addition, I think one of the employees there would be willing to go check out a place for us if we asked. All that being said, do you still think the risk of getting scammed cautions against #2?

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Post by SingLaw » Thu, 14 Jun 2012 9:10 pm

zzm9980 wrote:One other thing to consider: Do you have plans on how your son will get to school? East Coast is pretty far from there, especially if you don't get a car.

Use gothere.sg and maps.google.com to plot transit routes to/from potential locations and work and school.
Sort of. We aren't sure if we will have a car or not yet, but SAIS does offer a bus service. We're a bit hesitant about letting our two year old ride a bus though. Are we being overly-cautious parents here or does this strike anyone else as too young? If we have a car, then we could drive him. Otherwise, the bus, public transportation with a maid/nanny, or walking/strolling are the only options.

I've been using those two sites fairly extensively, but one thing I haven't been able to find is a comprehensive bus map of Singapore. Does one exist? I can find clickable maps for each company, but not a single map showing all bus routes. It's much easier to tell what are "major" bus routes if you can see all of the bus lines as opposed to a sea of clickable bus stops on a map.

Also, one person I know that lives in Singapore strongly cautioned against relying on buses. He insisted on living withing a few hundred meters of an MRT station as he said the MRT lines run every few minutes, while buses run much less often. Do you agree with this assessment or is there no real reason to prefer one over another?

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Post by zzm9980 » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 8:26 am

I haven't found (not have I extensively looked for) a comprehensive bus map. I think there is a book you can buy at the local book stores with one. Maybe a paid-for iPhone app too. Nothing free I'm aware of, just the SMRT and SBS websites which only cover their own.

The busses here are better than anywhere else I've ever used them. I live on the East Coast, and can get most places reasonably easily, and the busses come regularly. You might have issues if you live somewhere less central and only travel at off hours. During peak hours, I can usually get a bus to the closest MRT (Paya Lebar) in less than 10 minute wait, and the bus ride is less than 10 minutes. MRT is good, but during peak hours certain routes are overly packed. I've had to wait for 4-5 trains to come and go before just to get standing room. (Green line from Tanah Merah to CBD during a morning commute time)


As for your kids, I don't know. My daughter isn't old enough to go to school yet, and I don't plan to send her to an International School for just pre-school anyway. Doesn't seem like a good value proposition for me. If your company is funding it though, more power to you. Those private school busses cost a few hundred a month I hear. You can get a slightly used but in good condition smaller car (say late model Honda Fit or equiv Toyota) for about $750+ a month, under $1k a month after parking, petrol, taxes, ERP, etc. Between that bus and all of the taxis you'll use having a child to carry around, it is definitely worth considering.

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Post by JustMyself » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 9:50 am

SingLaw wrote: Sort of. We aren't sure if we will have a car or not yet, but SAIS does offer a bus service. We're a bit hesitant about letting our two year old ride a bus though. Are we being overly-cautious parents here or does this strike anyone else as too young? If we have a car, then we could drive him. Otherwise, the bus, public transportation with a maid/nanny, or walking/strolling are the only options.
Buses for school children are different than public transportation or the private system for adults and are completely safe even for a pre-schooler. Each bus has an "Auntie" on board whose sole job is to supervise the children. The price varies according to how far across the island your child is travelling. The norm seems to be S$400 - S$600 per school term, though I had to pay S$1300 for the one term that my daughter had to be driven across the island from Pandan Valley to the Chatsworth East Campus in Mountbatten. You will have to check with the bus service that your son's school uses for exact pricing.

Also, one person I know that lives in Singapore strongly cautioned against relying on buses. He insisted on living withing a few hundred meters of an MRT station as he said the MRT lines run every few minutes, while buses run much less often. Do you agree with this assessment or is there no real reason to prefer one over another?
It depends on how patient you are. Buses run every 10 minutes or less during peak times along the main roads. Even during off peak times the wait is rarely longer than 20 minutes. The longest I ever had to wait for a bus was 35 minutes during off peak time on a Saturday. Frankly, I think there was a breakdown or something, since the gap isn't usually that bad.

Riding on a bus can give you a unique view of the city. I feel like I can get a better look at the buildings, people, etc. than when I'm in a taxi. At least half of the MRT system is underground, so not much of a view. The buses can seem doubly slow when they stop frequently to take on and let off passengers, but sometimes they pass several stops in a row if no one is waiting which won't happen on the train.

If you plan ahead you can get where you need to be on time. There are several phone apps available that can show you what combination of buses and trains to take to get to your destination and tell you how long the trip will take.
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Post by mummy mantras » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:12 pm

SingLaw wrote: I've been using those two sites fairly extensively, but one thing I haven't been able to find is a comprehensive bus map of Singapore. Does one exist? I can find clickable maps for each company, but not a single map showing all bus routes. It's much easier to tell what are "major" bus routes if you can see all of the bus lines as opposed to a sea of clickable bus stops on a map.

Also, one person I know that lives in Singapore strongly cautioned against relying on buses. He insisted on living withing a few hundred meters of an MRT station as he said the MRT lines run every few minutes, while buses run much less often. Do you agree with this assessment or is there no real reason to prefer one over another?
Try using OneMap (http://www.onemap.sg). The user interface isn't that intuitive, but if you can figure it out, it's very powerful and very comprehensive. It can show you the routes of all the buses in Singapore, and the easiest way to get from point A to point B anywhere on the island.

It's the 'government-approved' map of the whole island so the system contains wads of useful (and also useless but fun-to-know) data about everything from recent housing prices in a specific area to the location of traffic cameras and the nearest kindergarten to your home.

It helps to kill the hours at work! :D

Oh, and about your second question, I use the buses all the time. They're fine. And anyway, the MRT can ... ahem ... break down every now and then (it's a bit of a sore point with the locals) which is even worse because you're stuck underground. At least, if a bus breaks down, you can just open the doors, get out and hail a cab while grumbling loudly to yourself.

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Post by JR8 » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:20 pm

zzm9980 wrote:I haven't found (not have I extensively looked for) a comprehensive bus map. I think there is a book you can buy at the local book stores with one.
There is a comprehensive streetmap of SG called 'Mighty Minds Singapore Transport Map' but good luck using it for buses. It does not show the routes, it has painfully complex references to bus-stop numbers. I assume it was created by women who 'can't do maps' hehehe...

I can never just roll up at a bus-stop either and work out if I can take a bus where I'm intending to go (the routes are only denoted with a list of stops, 98% of which mean nothing). On the other hand if you can figure out a route for a journey you use regularly then I find the service very good.

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Post by zzm9980 » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:22 pm

JR8 wrote: I can never just roll up at a bus-stop either and work out if I can take a bus where I'm intending to go (the routes are only denoted with a list of stops, 98% of which mean nothing). On the other hand if you can figure out a route for a journey you use regularly then I find the service very good.
And this my friend is why you need a smartphone. :) They make you feel stupid by how dependent you become upon them, but at least you'll always be able to walk up to a bus stop and know which bus to jump on. (And how many minutes until it arrives!)

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Post by the lynx » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:26 pm

Street directory dot com dot ess gee is also another good one. It shows both bus numbers and bus routes. The latter is the most important to me because I like to visualise where I can hop off and walk to my destination in 5 minutes instead of taking a long-winded bus route for 15 minutes.
Last edited by the lynx on Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by JR8 » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 4:26 pm

Let's hope it's more accurate than the GPS on my wife's iphone!

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Post by SingLaw » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 5:17 pm

Thanks for all the info so far guys. :)

I saw the mention of bus frequency, but in terms of frequency, how often do the MRT trains run?

I think I currently live in the Oslo version of an east coast commute, as I take a bus to the subway every day and then the subway to work. If I could cut out that bus and just take a direct bus or a direct subway, I think I would be a lot happier with the commute.

As far as neighborhoods go, can anyone shed any light on Serangoon/Kevan vs. Newton/Novena vs. East Coast?

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Post by sundaymorningstaple » Fri, 15 Jun 2012 5:37 pm

Serangoon/Kovan is where I live. Well, 2.4 km from the Serangoon MRT station and the largest Shopping centre in Singapore (at the moment) called NEX which is incorporated over top of the NE and Circle MRT lines. I like it out there but I guess it all depends on where you work as well. I use a feeder bus to the station in the mornings but often walk home in the evenings as it doesn't matter that I get sweaty on the way home. I rarely go to the CBD area so the Circle Line I make good use of (one direction to work and the other direction to the indoor stadium.

MRT frequency between 3 minutes and 7 minutes depending on whether it is peak travel times or not.
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Post by SingLaw » Mon, 18 Jun 2012 2:08 am

sundaymorningstaple wrote:Serangoon/Kovan is where I live. Well, 2.4 km from the Serangoon MRT station and the largest Shopping centre in Singapore (at the moment) called NEX which is incorporated over top of the NE and Circle MRT lines. I like it out there but I guess it all depends on where you work as well. I use a feeder bus to the station in the mornings but often walk home in the evenings as it doesn't matter that I get sweaty on the way home. I rarely go to the CBD area so the Circle Line I make good use of (one direction to work and the other direction to the indoor stadium.

MRT frequency between 3 minutes and 7 minutes depending on whether it is peak travel times or not.
Thanks for the info SMS. What do you like about the area? You've been around Singapore for a long time and you've picked that area, so I guess I'm curious what factors drove your decision to live there.

We will both likely be working in the CBD, but it seems like the actual time on the train to Clarke Quay is only 15 mins, so that definitely seems doable to me. That being said, if you add a feeder bus onto that time, it gets longer. Ideally, we would like some place within walking distance of a purple line station (or red, but then that gets us further from the school for our son).

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