Note: This post was written over the course of many months, beginning on Friday, May 3, 2019. To document as accurately as possible the entire excruciating process, I just kept adding more and more to it as events unfolded. I was initially going to cover both our experiences with buying and selling an apartment in Singapore, however, as we encountered seemingly perpetual red tape, endless delays, and the process as a whole dragged on, this piece got painfully long so I decided to edit into two separate parts, thus far resulting in this still rather lengthy first chapter solely about selling our apartment. Enjoy.
We decided quite a while ago to buy a new apartment and, despite how long it has taken, we initially thought it would be a lengthier process, because the plan was to also keep our current place and rent it out. If we sell our current apartment, we achieve our goals about two years earlier and don’t have to deal with the stress that coincides with being landlords, however, that doesn’t free us of the burden of dealing with real estate agents. The bulk of these people in Singapore are just awful, plain and simple. Okay, we initially encountered a couple while selling that weren’t too bad and the pair that ultimately got the job done were fantastic. I have previously written about what we went through to simply rent an apartment in New York City, but selling one and buying another in Singapore isn’t a whole lot of fun, either.
So, what makes dealing with the bulk of Singaporean real estate agents so bad? Well, there are the obvious lies and deception that come hand-in-hand with making major secondhand purchases, but it’s usually used car dealers who get the bad rap, however, as you keep reading, particularly when I’ve finished writing the next chapter about buying an apartment, you’ll learn that the word “room” can mean almost anything to a Singaporean estate agent. Then there are the endless personal questions and comments that these awkward, giggling, little socially-stunted people make that have absolutely nothing to do with them or the process of buying or selling a house. Add to this them ignoring all regular communal time constraints when calling or messaging you, and you’ll be pulling your hair out within days.
Anna initially put our house on the market on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 and I was originally going to begin writing this piece when the entire process was completed, but in under two weeks I had accrued so many weird anecdotes and tidbits that I felt I was going to forget some nugget of gold that had occured during this entire course of action. Instead, I compiled the stories that took place as they happened instead of just putting them into the notes on my phone, until this entire debacle was completed.
As you will find out, we painfully tolerated some real estate agents when we were looking at apartments to buy, which was almost immediately after we had put our place on the market. However, the only way these people can get any worse is when you have something of which they know they can make a nice little commission, the standard market rate in Singapore being 2%. When Anna first listed our place for sale she used my phone number as the main point of contact. Now, here I sit, writing this portion over two weeks later on Friday, May 10, 2019 and I have kept my phone on silent the entire time due to the constant calls and messages from real estate agents that were late to the party, yet still want a piece of the action. Here’s an example of one I received yesterday:
So much to decipher there; is his or her name Adnic? Anna told me that PN stands for PropNex, “Singapore’s largest listed real estate agency,” but why would I want this person coming over on a Saturday morning when each entire week spent dealing with these people leads to a big Friday night being required in order to de-stress and unwind? And who the hell is this Angie to whom they wish to speak?
Anyway, Anna had dinner with some of her family on the Wednesday, the day after listing the property, and her auntie has bought and sold many apartments in Singapore, as well as overseas, so she gave Anna some advice and also listed our place in Singapore’s national daily newspaper, The Straits Times. Needless to say my phone blew up the next day and these people are like the hybrid of a vulture and a leech. My day consisted of just constant calls and messages, the calls mostly impossible to understand speed-mumbling and the messages indecipherable and full of typos, the example above being par for the course. Some would call four or five times in a row, hoping to get an answer, others would send a followup message just minutes after their initial message just to see if I had received it, because they still hadn’t heard back from me yet. In fact, one of them even sent me a bunch of articles about himself, some of them in Mandarin and from almost four years prior:
Anna was home when the phone first started ringing and it was her suggestion that I should ignore the calls and just respond to messages, which suited me fine. Still, real estate agents here want exclusive rights to your apartment, meaning that they can be the only person to market it, but we didn’t want that so Anna and myself had to devise a standard response to each of these messages that I was receiving in order to find the agents that were at least attempting to be legit. This is what Anna came up with and saved it in the notes in my phone so I just had to copy and paste the the top portion as a reply to each message:
Hi, in order for us to authorise you as our agent;
Please advise if you are an exclusive agent or can do open market, and
What is your lowest commission rate?
In the interest of convenience, please continue to communicate via message/WhatsApp.
(If they say non-exclusive and can offer a rate in writing of 2% or less, we can send them the pics and unit no.
Asking price $XXX,XXX)
I was copying and pasting this reply so frequently that I made the mistake of copying the entire thing, including the section in brackets, and sending it to a couple of agents before realising my mistake and quickly deleting it. If we received the answer from an agent as outlined in the underlined section that was intended for my eyes only, they would then receive the following message:
Thanks for your interest, we will be free to let you view our apartment and take photos on Tuesday or Thursday, 1-5pm. Please SMS to confirm viewing.
It was all getting a bit much and we would need to clean up before people viewed our apartment the following week so I went out shopping to get some of the supplies we would need. While I was out I received a phone call and figured it would just be Anna so I answered without looking. It turned out to be one of the vulture-leeches, he was in the area and wanted to speak to us personally. I told him I would be home in 30 minutes and he agreed to meet me at our place for what I assumed was an opportunity to have a look through the apartment and get some pictures early. Nope, he just wanted to give me his spiel on letting him have exclusive rights to the apartment, however, he did raise some good points. I let him know that Anna is the main breadwinner and decision maker in this process so it would be best if he spoke to her, but he’d need to wait until she returned home from work. He hung out alone at the nearby shopping mall until Anna was home and then went through his exclusivity speech again to Anna, pointing out that open market sale wasn’t an option for him, he only does exclusive sales. We said we would talk over his offer, which had its pros and cons, and then get back to him, but after discussing it we decided against his offer of exclusivity. He messaged me the following night, Friday, to ask if we had talked about it, and this was where I learnt two valuable lessons about him and most other real estate agents trying to sell properties:
- He was full of shit.
- He truly couldn’t care less what time he contacted me.
Despite previously saying that he only does exclusive sales, he had no problem with trying to sell on the open market when he realised we wouldn’t use him otherwise. Also, he would continue to hassle me the entire weekend, going as far as messaging me at 11:00pm on Sunday night! Here are some of the highlights of what I continued to receive over the course of the weekend, check out the times of some of them:
Desperation is a stinky cologne! I wouldn’t even message my own parents that late on a Sunday night, and you can see that there is a deleted message toward the end, because this guy was pissing me off so badly that I initially responded a little less diplomatically so Anna ultimately wrote that final reply. Still, when someone tries to point out that you don’t appreciate being contacted on that day or at that time, it takes a special kind of stupid to reply to the message. On a later occasion he texted me at 3:30am, beginning his message with an apology for contacting me at that time, but he was worried he’d forget what he wanted to ask me if he waited. Just write it down and inquire later in our agreed upon timeframe!
Monday was just as stressful, constantly dealing with real estate agents’ phone calls and messages, as well as cleaning up the place, trying to rearrange the clutter. I also cooked dinner that night and accidentally knocked a bottle of olive oil off our extremely small bench, smashing it on the ground and covering the floor with oil and shards of glass. To make matters worse, we had run out of floor cleaner so after I finished picking up as much broken glass as I could find without slipping over, I had to find a place that sold floor cleaner at 9:30pm and mop the house, putting me in a rather bad mood that ultimately scared the dog.
Tuesday was finally here and I started getting our place into the best shape I could quite early. Nobody was supposed to arrive until 1:00pm, however, the first agent showed up at 12:30pm and complained about why I hadn’t finished cleaning and that I wasn’t ready for him. I politely reminded him that I wasn’t expecting anyone for at least another 30 minutes, but he just told me he could give me tips on tidying and then started to unplug all of our devices and rearrange our furniture until I put a stop to that. He said our apartment needed to look “less cluttered, less lived in,” so I then passive-aggressively explained to him that, unfortunately for him, we still do live in it and the reason we are selling is that, although we love our current apartment, we have just outgrown it and the place simply isn’t big enough, there isn’t space for everything, but we’ll need to continue to live there until it is sold and achieving that is his role in the whole situation. It’s a nice apartment at a decent price in a highly-sought after part of town, if he can’t sell it, maybe he should try another line of work. Anyway, he spent the next hour filming our property and taking photos, not letting me in the same room as him and not allowing any of the agents that came at the correct time to enter the apartment, instead forcing them to stand in the stairwell in the heat. He even whined that out house is too dark and I need to find a way to make it lighter, especially the bedroom. Yes, that’s because we sleep in there, not use it as a photo-booth, and it’s kind of ironic that he described the place as “bright” in his video.
He was an obnoxious douche and was more than a little liberal with the truth, but the video he put together (which is no longer available) wasn’t too bad and if he one day allows me to teach him pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure, I may just take some of his decluttering tips.
Many more real estate agents arrived over the course of the day, most of them polite, some quite critical, and pretty much all of them trying to make the same jokes and starting the same conversations; “How’s the weather up there?” and, “Have you eaten?” were all questions I had to answer multiple times, as was making up excuses for where Anna was and that’s where I made my biggest faux pas. The agents always try to get personal information out of you, especially about income, which is none of their business when we’re using them to sell our apartment. There was no problem with me telling any agents that I’m a freelance writer, but Anna didn’t want any of them knowing what she does for a living, because they might try to lowball us on our place if they knew she was a surgeon. The first time an agent asked where she worked, I kind of panicked, leading to this exchange:
Agent: “So, where is your wife?”
Me: “At work.”
Agent: “Oh, where does she work?”
Me: “Near the hospital.”
Agent: “Oh, what does she do, is she a nurse? A doctor?”
Me (kind of panicking): “Canteen.”
It didn’t help that Anna used to do pole dancing for exercise a few years ago and we still have the pole in our house. “So, is your wife a dancer, too?” she asked in a very judging manner. Yes, now this particular real estate agent thinks that I’m married to a stripper that also needs to work in a hospital canteen during the day to make ends meet. Another agent asked if the pole was to hold the ceiling up and could it be removed. God, some of them are dumb, we live on the third floor of a four-storey building, I’d be equally worried for the people that live above us if that were the case!
It’s now the first week of June, 2019 and we’ve had some agents bring people to check out our apartment. We’ve had around 10 different potential buyers look through, but it only seems to be the same two or three real estate agents out of all of the ones marketing it that are getting the people in. Our apartment clearly has an industrial design, however, one of the first agents who showed people through described it as “countrysides look.” Firstly, I don’t think the word ‘countryside’ can be pluralised and secondly, a countryside design would be the complete opposite of industrial. When I hear “countryside” I picture lace curtains, doilies, vases of flowers, floorboards, that type of thing, not exposed bricks and beams to go with the mostly cement floor. He also told the people that we had vinyl flooring in the living room when that portion is clearly marble, one of the only remaining original features of the entire apartment from before we renovated it when we first purchased the place seven years ago. Was he even trying?
The agent who made the video of our house, a film that was apparently based on a true story, contacted me on Friday, June 7 to tell me that he had some people who wanted to look through our apartment the following day and was wondering if our place had two bathrooms. It took all of my energy to refrain from telling him that the answer is in that stupid little movie that he made and instead told him it has only one. He then asked how many bathrooms our neighbour’s place had! I wouldn’t recognise my neighbours if I saw them in the street, let alone know how many toilets they have, but I assume it would be the same amount as us, as all of the apartments in our building were built with an identical floor-plan. He also asked what time on Saturday suited me best so I told him 3:00pm, but on Saturday morning I received a message saying that he would see me at 2:30, half an hour earlier again, but at least he told me this time, unlike the day he made his home movie. Before long it was 2:20pm and my stomach was starting to cramp, I had to go to our only bathroom urgently, but I was also worried that he may arrive earlier than the agreed upon time again, on this occasion while I was in a rather compromising situation. Fortunately, I managed to complete my business quickly with enough time remaining for the aroma to adequately dissipate and the viewing went off without a hitch, however, the agent had grown a really bad moustache since we had last met.
When you’re looking at spending every cent you have on an apartment, there is an endless list of questions you could ask — Does the traffic get noisy? How much hot water does the current tank give? Have any murders ever been committed there? For some reason though, we kept getting asked the same two questions time and time again from potential buyers;
- Which direction does the apartment face?
- What race are our neighbours?
The second question seems to be a real selling point in Singapore and the potential buyers asking this are always relieved to find out that our neighbours are all Singaporean-Chinese. People here can be a tad biased at times and I still have no idea why, but many in this country don’t want to live anywhere near members of particular races or nationalities. I’m sure, though, that they wouldn’t have any problems with the eccentric, old Singaporean-Chinese guy that lives behind us who usually wears nothing but a faded old towel or sometimes his clothes on backwards, meditating outside on mouldy, discarded office furniture, testicles swaying in the breeze, surrounded by a fort of more hanging towels, as well as having banana peels, clam shells, and other meticulously arranged, but ultimately unusable food items drying on the ground outside his apartment full of clutter, trash, and plastic bags. His joint is constantly infested with rats and they are always running around the general vicinity of his apartment, but he’s fine:
Today is Monday, July 29, 2019 and we’ve had quite a few people look at our apartment, but no official offers, the main complaint being that, despite being listed as a “walk-up” apartment, it doesn’t have an elevator, some viewers even perplexed at this exclusion, because climbing two small flights of stairs is just too much effort for many. Why bother even looking at it at all? We also realised that it has been the same four or five agents getting people to look at our apartment and they suggested that we get the agents that haven’t done anything to take their listings down from property websites to avoid saturation, which isn’t a bad idea. This morning I sent those agents the following message:
My wife and I own the property you have listed at 20 Tiong Bahru Rd. I am writing to request that, due to a complete lack of viewers, that you cease to list our property. This is not open to negotiation.
Most of them just did it and replied to let me know, which was appreciated, but one decided to call me and try to weasel his way out of it, which went something like this:
Agent: “Good day, sir, in reference to your message, what I’ve been doing is collating all of the offers on your property in order to ascertain what –”
Me: “YOU HAVEN’T BROUGHT A SINGLE PERSON TO OUR PLACE IN THREE MONTHS, TAKE THE LISTING DOWN!” *click*
These guys are terrified of complaints that will damage their reputation so almost immediately after I hung up on him I received a text message that said:
Hi tim.will abide. Apologise n tks
I think that translates into “Hi, Tim, I will take the listing down as per your request. Apologies and thank you.”
Fast forward to what is now mid-December, 2019 and we’re still sitting here, waiting to sell our apartment. We ended up going with one of the female agents as an exclusive agent and she initially brought a reasonable amount of people around to our place to have a look, but even her interest waned over time to the point where she didn’t even have our place listed toward the end. Fortunately her contracted period as our exclusive agent expired. We did receive a couple of offers, but they were either quite low or rescinded after the people who made them opted for a different apartment.
We ultimately chose to go with a pair of other agents at the recommendation of a friend who was able to sell her place quite quickly, instead of going through all of this hassle. To try to make the process go even smoother with these guys, I went on a crazy decluttering spree, spending many hours of many days going through certain areas of the apartment and just throwing stuff out, much to the behest of my lower back. Anna chipped in on the day the agents came to take photos and videos, managing to throw out five shopping bags full of old shoes alone, as well as several boxes of books. This cleaning process resulted in us finding some items we had completely forgotten about or didn’t even know we had. A good example is that we can never find a pen that works when we need one, yet I found three unused and rather expensive pens still in their boxes that were gifts at some of Anna’s conferences. The absolute highlight for me though, had to be two books Anna wrote in primary school, the first when she was about seven years old, detailing her family’s trip to California with interesting tidbits such as finding her cousin’s bra, her friend playing with it, and then putting it on her soft-toys. The other book was a mystery about a kidnapping and ransom, written when she was roughly eleven or so:
As a result of all of this cleaning and carrying so many loads of heavy items down to the bins downstairs, I was barely been able to stand upright properly for a few days, plus all of the dust that had been stirred up as a result had us constantly sneezing, but it did feel nice having less crap around the place. As a result I wasn’t looking forward to the whole moving process, but that wouldn’t happening anytime soon.
The agents came around on Saturday, December 13, 2019, took their photos and videos, as well as sat down and had a chat to us, these guys actually asking questions and showing a genuine interest, so that was a good sign. They also informed us that this time of year isn’t a good one for the housing market so it probably wouldn’t be until January or February until we hear anything, but an online virtual walkthrough of our place was still put up on their website on Monday, December 15, 2019.
From Saturday, January 4, 2020 we had a steady flow of viewers for our house and it wasn’t just people who were bored on the weekend and had decided to spend it snooping through other people’s apartments, these ones seemed genuinely interested in purchasing, and by Tuesday, January 21, 2020 we had accepted an offer and sold our place! What nobody else could achieve in eight months, our new agents pulled off in one, a month that happened to include the Christmas and New Year period, as well as being just prior to Chinese New Year. Pretty impressive.
This now left us with the headache of dealing with banking procedures and bureaucracy in order to finalise the sale of our apartment, as well as sort out the place we wanted to buy and it was the second one that would prove the most frustrating, but that’s a story for next time. Stay tuned for the story, whenever it is eventually finalised, that coincided directly with this one; The Hell That We Experienced In The Real Estate Process In Singapore — Buying.