When I wrapped up the previous post in this series it was August 2020 and we had only just received the keys to our new home, one that we had put in an offer to purchase in January of that year, but we had also moved into an apartment in The Highline Residences while we waited for everything to come to order, because, even though the buyers of our place had been nice enough to allow us to stay there for an extra three months on top of the standard three months that sellers in Singapore receive, that still wasn’t enough and we had nowhere to live after June. However, unlike the last post, this one wasn’t written over the course of many months as the events unfolded, because we had been far too busy and although we’ve been living in our new apartment for eleven months now, the process is still ongoing with minor things needing to be sorted out here and there so it was written in hindsight periodically after we had settled in. In fact, as I first started writing this post there were electricians in our backyard trying to stop our water feature from shorting out the entire apartment every time there was a torrential downpour four months after moving in, and now over half a year after that there are still lights flashing above my head for unknown reasons that we’re waiting for the electricians to fix again and the pump for that very same water feature now needs replacing. Don’t be fooled though, we absolutely love our place, but getting to this point was a test of wills, be it against governing bodies, landlords, agents, or just the plain old foundations of an archaic building. Just be forewarned, you’re going to be reading for quite some time before you see the fruits of our labour.
The next stage of our journey would take place after what would become Singapore’s 10-week circuit breaker period for Covid-19 that lasted from April 7 until around June 18, 2020. I mentioned in that post that I wasn’t going to shave if I couldn’t cut my hair during that time period and then do a Beatles-esque “then and now” photo recreation and share it in a future post, so let’s begin with that first:
Anyway, before moving into what is now our permanent home, our temporary accommodation for the time being was a tiny little shoebox apartment on the 22nd floor of a nearby condominium called The Highline Residences, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable and that was before we knew that our landlord’s agent who got us the place would turn out to be an absolutely psychopathic demon. We would be there from the end of June until almost mid-December, 2020 and although the place might look exceptionally nice from the outside, it is kind of a poorly designed shithole done on a pretty tight budget; in our particular building there were three elevators but they weren’t synchronised at all. At times when we wanted to go up from the first floor there would be an elevator in the basement carpark that wasn’t being used, yet we would sometimes have to wait for an elevator to come down from the 36th floor to the second basement carpark, then back up to the first floor. Bear in mind that this was during peak covid-19 and social distancing was strongly mandated, therefore only four people were allowed in the elevator at the same time so there were quite a few occasions where it took us multiple attempts and wasted a substantial amount of time to get to our apartment, especially if four people had entered the elevator in the underground carpark. After eventually reaching our floor, the front door of our apartment opened onto what looked like a nice, albeit tiny abode, but on closer investigation it wasn’t as comfortable as it seemed. The faucet in our kitchen wasn’t supposed to swivel, but did anyway due to how poorly it was installed and after adding in a small microwave, there was hardy any space left to cook. Our bed barely fit into our bedroom and there was very little storage, the bathroom had a basin that was sunken behind a low-hanging overhead cabinet, making it borderline impossible to rinse after brushing your teeth without smashing your head, and we only found out upon moving out that the window in the bathroom did in fact open all the way, it’s just that its hinges didn’t work properly. Then there were the thin walls that led to us being able to hear our neighbours fighting and their dogs barking, plus people constantly disturbing us by accidentally pressing the wrong button on the intercom when they actually were after someone in a different apartment. Add to this our extremely uncomfortable spare furniture that we had to use, including a sofa that gave me perpetual back pain from sitting on it, constantly stubbing our toes on the coffee table that could only just be squeezed in front of it, yet couldn’t fit anywhere else, and the fact that all of our possessions were packed away in boxes that almost filled the entire spare room, and we were pretty miserable. Even the dog seemed depressed, just laying around, not her usual hyperactive, playful self.
Moving into the place had been frustrating too, because besides being extremely time consuming due to the condo management making the movers park a long way away and wheel our stuff through the basement so as not to disturb any residents, they also were oblivious to the “fragile” stickers on some of the boxes, just throwing them around and stacking heavier items on top of them. By the time our belongings were in the apartment we could see that the frames of some of our paintings had been broken due to how tightly they had bound them together and some of the boxes were pretty beaten up and damaged and it would be in the back of our collective minds for the next several months whether any of the contents were destroyed, because there wasn’t enough room in the apartment to rearrange the boxes in order to look through them.
There were some benefits to living in The Highline though; a few of our friends lived there including a couple only a few floors up so we could just take the stairs to their place instead of waiting forever for the elevator, it is directly across the road from the building that houses my local bar, an area for some reason represented in the “artist’s impression” on the Highline website as a blank, green void, a proximity that allowed our friends to hear Anna laughing at the pub from their 24th floor residence. Plus the pool was nice when it wasn’t full of screaming children, and who could resist sights such as this photograph I took (above) from our balcony before a thunderstorm? The fact of the matter, however, was not only were we cramped and all of our stuff was unaccessible, we just wanted to be in our new place, but we knew due to the sheer amount of red tape we had to cut through that that could still be in the distant future.
Anna had been looking at furniture and fittings before we had even sold our previous home and almost from the moment we had completed the purchase on this new apartment she had been checking out architects and interior designers to get the job done. I was going to have my man-cave where I would keep all of my stuff so as long as I had full reign over that single room, I was happy with how the rest of the house appeared, but Anna and I have pretty similar taste to me anyway. I’ve always loved vintage goods and art-deco design, a style that Anna has also embraced, plus she was binge watching The Great British Bakeoff during the circuit breaker which strongly influenced how our smaller living area and particularly the new kitchen were to appear. She also wanted a classic 1920s The Great Gatsby inspired theme for our main living room with bold, crescent wallpaper and a bar, but the rest of the apartment was going to be much like our old place; a single long, exposed-brick wall in the hallway and living areas, Peranakan fittings in the bathrooms, and a bedroom similar to the old one, just with more storage. My room was going to be home to all of the stuff I’ve collected and accumulated over the years so there would be floor to ceiling shelves for books, records, that type of thing, plain white walls because I was just going to hang posters from concerts and events that I’ve attended in the past, plus it would be the only room where we would maintain the apartment’s original tile floor. Anna did a lot of research, eventually taking a recommendation off a friend whose apartment she likes and decided on who our designer would be, Paul Yeo from Pi Architects.
It was phenomenally frustrating waiting to be able to begin our renovations, but that was also a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to make little tweaks here and there to our plans, plus we ended up with a significantly larger budget for our renovations due to not being able to really leave the house for 10 weeks during the circuit breaker, let alone do any international travel since the beginning of the pandemic. There was a lot of back and forth between us and the designers, coming up with plans for the layout and different ideas and suggestions for fittings, tiles, and wall colours. I honestly never would have thought I would be required to choose from a such a large selection of shades of white paint or spend an entire day looking at doorknobs, yet there we were. The bulk of the furniture purchases were strictly down to us, Anna has friends in the right places so we could put in orders for what we wanted and it would be available whenever our apartment was ready. Now we just had to play the waiting game, one that dragged on for months.
Bureaucracy in real estate here is seemingly endless, whether you’re buying or selling. The previous place we owned was an HDB apartment and while our new apartment is private, it is still governed somehow by the Housing Development Board. I know, I don’t really get it either. Anyway, despite being a branch of the government, HDB tend to have extremely outdated information about the properties they oversee. A good example of this was when we were selling our old apartment and an HDB representative came over to inspect the property before it could be put on the market. The woman arrived, took a look around the place, and asked when we had built in the balcony and why we hadn’t sought HDB approval to do so. When I pointed out that the apartment was like that when we purchased it, she pulled out a floor plan showing the apartment as it had originally been built in the 1940s and maintained her stance that we had had illegal renovations done to our property. I pointed out to her that her floor plans were outdated and explained that it must’ve been a government initiative years ago, because if she took a stroll around the neighbourhood she would notice that every single apartment in every single block like ours had had it’s balcony built in in the exact same manor. In fact, it must’ve happened decades ago, because that built-in portion of some of the otherwise original, non-renovated apartments looks extremely dated, a lot of them even have cracked windows that they’ve mended with tape because Tiong Bahru never used to be a particularly affluent neighbourhood.
Skip ahead to early August, 2020 and now we had a similar problem where the place we had purchase eight months prior was a heritage-listed apartment and any works we wanted to do had to be approved by another governing body, however, once again their floor plans were incorrect. Once inside it was obvious by the dirt patterns on the wall that the living room window had been relocated and that would need to be shifted back to its former position, but that wasn’t what their main concern was with the place. This particular agency believed that the front door (left) had also been moved from its original location, telling us that it must’ve been in the corridor down the side of our place. Strange, because that corridor is private, becoming the staircase for our upstairs neighbour, Mohan. Furthermore, the wall where they argued was supposed to be the proper location for the door was where the circuitboard for ours and other apartments in the building is located. Their reasoning was that their building and floor plans for the neighbourhood didn’t have any doors to any of the buildings facing the street, despite the fact that an apartment directly across the road from ours also has exactly that. There were a lot of emails back and forth between Anna and one representative, as well as another representative and myself, however, we were getting completely different information about our door, mine generally more positive than what Anna was receiving. Even Mohan, who is the legal owner of the stairwell area, was getting information that conflicted with anything that we were being told. Anna and I met up with Mohan multiple times, a really nice guy with whom we genuinely enjoy hanging out, and he was more than keen to explain the case to the agency representatives. I even went to the extent of going up and down our street, taking photos of the front entrance to all 56 ground floor apartments, noting that 16 of them, ours included, had entrances that face the road and what was preventing the door initially being in the corridor, be it a circuitboard, mailboxes, a handrail, or just a general lack of space between the corridor entrance and a wall. One even had both types of entrances, a street-facing front door, as well as one in a corridor. I took all of the photos and the apartment numbers and put them in a spreadsheet with a list of what was preventing the door from being located in the corridor for the 16 apartments with external front doors. Anna emailed this to both representatives, we arranged a time to meet with them and our neighbour in the apartment, and now all we had to do was wait, because that email had to be our ace in the hole.
After three weeks of back and forth about where a door should be located, we were finally there, standing in our unchanged living room with our neighbour and the two representatives with whom Anna and I had been separately corresponding. There were multiple reasons that we needed to get this sorted, the main ones being that:
- Moving the front door would add thousands of dollars to our renovation costs, and
- Those renovations were supposed to have already begun months ago.
Mohan made his case that the stairwell was his own private property, which it rightly is, but the female agent wouldn’t budge. We tried several approaches, first explaining to them that their job was to preserve the buildings in their original form and she agreed that was their objective, despite the fact the door was in its original position. We brought up the 16 other apartments that had their front doors facing the road, however, this time she tried to explain condescendingly that those must’ve been the result of unauthorised renovations and there was nothing they could do. “Oh,” I said. “So if we just don’t tell you about any renovations we complete, there will be nothing you can do about it afterward?”. I received a sarcastic look, followed by, “it doesn’t work like that”, but I told her that clearly it does, otherwise she would be bothering the owners of those places as well. The whole time these interactions were going back and forth, the other agent present, the young guy that had been sending me emails contradicting the ones the female agent had been sending Anna, had been standing silently with his hands behind his back and staring at his feet, saying nothing and clearly terrified of conflict, especially with a woman as fierce as Anna and a guy who looks as intimidating as I, despite me being no threat whatsoever. “Why isn’t he saying anything?” I inquired. “Oh, he’s just not in a good place at the moment” she replied, putting on a halfhearted display of false concern. “Of course he’s not in a good place!” I boomed. “Because he’s in our f___ing living room and we can’t even live here at the moment!”, I continued before storming out, Anna immediately in tow. After we had calmed down a bit we messaged Mohan, but he didn’t mind and actually found our departure completely reasonable. It must’ve worked, because the following week Anna received an email that stated the door could stay where it is. Strike one up for me!
Once they were able to commence in early September, the renovations themselves went relatively smoothly, but there was something strange that was a regular occurrence; we would go over to the apartment once or twice a week to be updated on what had been accomplished and it was not unusual to find random people, sometimes entire families, just walking around inside, checking it out for themselves without it even occurring to them that what they were doing was illegal. When I approached them, the general reaction was to feign ignorance, despite the fact that there was a padlock and chain, as well as a “No Entry” sign on the boards that covered the front entrance. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I just thought that, um…” was the standard response before they made a hasty exit, although one was bold enough to even ask me how much we had paid for the place. On another occasion there was an entire family just wandering around inside and when I approached them they just laughed and pretended not to be able to speak English, rather just chatting amongst themselves in Mandarin. This is where I took Anna’s advice and whipped out my phone and threatened to take photos of them to the police and have them charged with trespassing. It turns out they could speak English after all so they apologised profusely and headed to the exit. This still wouldn’t be the final time we would find ourselves dealing with this situation.
Fast forward to the beginning of December, the renovations were essentially completed, bar a few tweaks and additions here and there and it was now finally time for us to move, however, there was yet another issue with which to deal; we had worked long into the night to finish cleaning and packing our apartment, finding an old necklace of Anna’s under a mat and an ancient Samsung phone (right) amongst our possessions, as well as managing to fill an entire large box solely with spices, seasonings, and condiments. Now we just had to show the aforementioned demon agent, ironically named Karen, around the place the following day in order to get our deposit back. When she arrived, the agent was accompanied by the owners of the property and they were quite nice folks who would be satisfied if we just met the terms of the rental agreement, but the agent wanted us to go absolutely above and beyond to completely unrealistic standards. If you looked at the first bunch of photos of the boxes in the spare room you’ll notice that one picture shows substantially more boxes than the others. That is because I took out some removable shelves from within the built-in wardrobe in that room in order to store more boxes, as I had done with our bedroom. At one point during their visit I was putting those very shelves back in place after removing the boxes and as I was reaching up doing so, Karen just stared angrily and explained sternly that the shelves need to be put back in the wardrobe. I just rolled my eyes and went about my way, but she wasn’t done. When we had been cleaning the apartment the previous day, we had the assistance of a helper of ours so things were looking pretty decent after our combined effort, including wiping off a brown smear Kermit had left the entire length of a wall in the hallway from dragging her body along it, as well as paying to have some parts of the place professionally done. The owners of the apartment looked inside the oven and complimented its cleanliness, however, the demonic agent from the nether-realm decided to lay on the floor on her back and inspect the the top of the inside of the oven, demanding it to be cleaned again, but we managed to get out of it. Another part of our rental agreement was to get the air-conditioners professionally cleaned, a basic clean being all that was warranted. This cost about S$150.00 (US$110.00) per unit for our three units, but when she saw the muck that was coming out of the living room air-conditioner, Karen insisted on us getting them chemically cleaned, which would be an extra S$100.00 (US$75.00) per unit, adding an another two-thirds to that bill, even though that wasn’t required in our Tenant Terms and Agreements. Even the aircon serviceman who would’ve benefitted from the extra cash felt the need to explain to her that what was coming out wasn’t unusual or disproportionate for our air-conditioners, it was just a result of them being cleaned. Among other nonsensical demands the agent had was that all working light bulbs be replaced, she wanted us to have watermarks on the ceilings painted over that the owners acknowledged were there before we moved in, and she even asked why we hadn’t cleaned the outside of the windows! That was the point where I just got tired of her ridiculously petty insistences and pointed out that that was up to building management, otherwise I would’ve had to stand on a ledge about 10cm (4″) wide and close to 100 metres (320′) in the air or find a place with a ladder that long that I could use. In the end the owners said they were satisfied, but Karen still wasn’t finished, not by a long shot, however, we were now free to begin moving into our new apartment.
We had learnt our lesson from moving into the Highline so we didn’t let the movers handle anything that had been marked “fragile”, we would take on the burden of bringing those items to our new home ourselves, and it was surprising how many of those boxes and other fragile pieces there were. The first part of the day consisted of having the few pieces of furniture we wanted to keep moved over, all the while having to remove an old man that was just wandering around in our new place who told me he thought it was a new shop, despite there being no shops on our street. Once that was completed, the rest of the day was mostly me remaining at the new apartment and awaiting deliveries of the new furniture we had purchased while Anna was at work and then we borrowed a car off her parents that evening and moved all of the fragile items, taking multiple trips and working until very late once again at Anna’s insistence on getting it all done that day, her growing more and more agitated as the hours passed. Some items, however, were too large to fit into the car so we had no choice but to carry them at least 500m from Highline to the new place over a couple more trips. It had been a stressful, tiring day, and my back was sheer agony by the end so all we wanted to do was sleep in our own bed in our cluttered new home, but ultimately that wouldn’t be an option; If you have ever been to Singapore, you would be aware there it rarely gets any lower than about 26ºC (79°F) overnight and the humidity is stifling so air-conditioning is a necessity, however, we couldn’t find the remote controls for any of ours, nor another way to operate them. The only real option was to head back to the Highline and fold out our old sofa-bed there just so we wouldn’t be sweating all night. By the time we arrived my back was so bad I had a lot of trouble getting out of the car, let alone walking, so it was Anna who had to fold out the sofa-bed on our shitty, old, brown couch which we couldn’t dispose of soon enough. Friends have slept on that thing before when they’ve stayed over and maybe they were too drunk or just appreciative of free accommodation, and although some have said it was a “bit uncomfortable”, I don’t recall any of them groaning or walking with a considerable limp afterwards. However, my friend, Owen, once booked a hotel room when his girlfriend joined him on a trip as she has fused discs in her back so he was a bit worried about her sleeping on it. Our first and only night on the sofa-bed, on the other hand, was excruciating! The mattress was so thin and lumpy, plus we could feel the support bars through it digging into our lower back area, causing even more pain for me, and also the bonier parts of the knees and lower legs. To make matters worse, the mattress was only about one foot (30cm) off the ground so Kermit kept jumping up there, no matter how many times we put her back on the ground, and in the end we just gave up so she settled in between us and then decided to stretch out as much as she could on a bed that was already to small for us both, giving the occasional claw to the side or a snort spraying one of us with dog snot. This also resulted in the bed getting quite warm from both her body heat and her farts, countering the air-conditioning we thought we so desperately needed, and turning the situation into trying to get a good night’s sleep on what felt like an ironing board full of hot doorknobs. As a result of the stress of the previous few days combined with the lack of sleep, I ended up having a minor seizure that night once I finally managed to drift off, but it was nothing too major.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
It was finally the first day in our new abode and the following week or two would be me receiving more deliveries, repairmen coming over to fix things such as the wall lights that were fitted upside down in the bedroom and installing the pump for the water feature in the backyard. In fact, while the guy was doing that, I was going out and I noticed a group of older and obviously cashed up women standing in the alley behind our place, watching him get everything working through the back gate so I decided to go in and start talking to him in the hope that it would make them uncomfortable and leave. Nope, they just started asking questions, the first being if I were the owner and then if they could have a look around! I made it clear they weren’t welcome so I managed to dodge the inevitable “how much?” inquiry. But we had more than one apartment to deal with at this point, because now we had to handle…
Getting the Rental Deposit Back!!!
Anna continued to get messages from Karen the veloceragent about our temporary home for the previous six months, sometimes over 30 per day at all hours and even on Christmas Day, until the second week of January, 2021, a month after we had moved into our new place. Karen still had other issues with the oven, namely a small chip on the stove that she wanted repaired as it wasn’t what she considered “wear and tear”. She took a closeup photo from the side to highlight a tiny cosmetic scratch that was barely even noticeable and when we asked her to prove it wasn’t already there before, she compared it to another picture of the stove taken from a distance and a completely different angle, apparently from before we moved in to back up her argument. She said it would cost about S$200.00 (US$150.00) to repair the chip, however, if the oven was damaged in the process the entire unit would need to be replaced and that could cost well over S$1,000.00! We said we would only pay the $200.00 and cap it there as it wasn’t affecting the function of the oven, but she wasn’t done with our microscopic cooking area yet. Anyway, this is to what she was referring and what she considered proof that it wasn’t there before we were tenants (also, note the date and time that she sent it):
That photo of our stove was sent to Anna when we were staying at a resort in Sentosa with some friends for a few nights, which meant that we couldn’t even enjoy what passes for a Christmas getaway during this pandemic without getting hassled day and night by this agent. Anna was so stressed by the incessant messages during out staycation that she was having trouble sleeping and was completely unable to relax at all, constantly replying to demands at all hours, on what for her was a well deserved break. Another issue Karen had with our stove was that the splash-back area protecting the wall immediately behind the stove had been scorched and she insisted on us getting it replaced, despite her only proof that it wasn’t already damaged was yet again a non-detailed photograph taken from a distance. It was a little strange though, because, although we did cook quite a fair bit while we were staying there, we never used the the rear hotplate because it was too inconvenient. Also, you would expect something near an open flame to be a little more heat-resistant, but she put it down to negligence on our part and insisted we pay for it. Anna pointed out that changing the entire back-splash was only aesthetic as it was still completely functional and it wasn’t our problem that it was such a poor quality item, much like most of the fittings in our Highline apartment, so we would only pay S$300.00 (US$220) as that was the maximum required per repair job. Karen gave us two separate quotes to dismantle and replace it, the first for S$1,200 (US$885.00), the other for S$1,100 (US$812.00) and claimed that our Terms and Agreements didn’t cover negligence so we would be liable for the full sum. Strange because we got a quote to get the job done for S$900.00 (US$665.00) and we even agreed to pay half just to make her go away so we were furious when we got our contractor to replace the back-splash and Karen later tried to claim S$1,380.00 (US$1,020.00) from us for the work, over a third more than what we had actually paid and still S$180.00 (US$135.00) more than her own highest quote!
In fact, she just kept trying to make our total bill larger and larger by including more ridiculous claims. She arranged for:
- The apartment to be professionally cleaned, something that again wasn’t in our Terms and Agreements, at a cost of S$280.00 (US$205.00).
- A chemical test demo on the he balcony to see if it were possible to remove black spots for S$50.00 (US$35.00) and then it would be another S$150.00 (US$110.00) to clean the entire balcony if the demo were successful.
- A stain that was already present on the marble floor in the living room to be removed for S$200.00 (US$150.00), but if it made the other areas of the floor look less clean, it would then cost another S$500 (US$370.00) to then clean and polish the rest of the living room, kitchen, foyer, and hallway.
- A previously broken light fitting to be repaired at our cost.
Karen was unable to provide proof that we were responsible for the marks on the balcony or the living room floor and we knew for a fact that they were already there when we moved in, plus we had already taken note of the light when we signed on for the place. She also wanted us to replace the rubber seal on the washing machine, because she thought we had worn it out during our six-month stay when in reality it was completely fine, and she even wanted a shelf in the wardrobe replaced because apparently it had a tiny dent in the corner (left). The cherry on the sundae, however, was when she told the incoming tenants that she would include our microwave oven and coffee table in their lease agreement for free without even consulting us! The microwave worked perfectly fine and the coffee table was okay too so we asked for S$80.00 (US$60.00) for each item, because we certainly weren’t going to give them away, but she declined, saying that the inclusion had already been confirmed and that’s when Anna reached her limit. She messaged Karen to say that we had been exploited for costs above our official Terms and Agreements and to tell her that she was considering placing a complaint to an official body for unprofessional conduct, to which Karen replied that she hoped “nothing get claim [sic] and all are easy as I do have a conscience as well”. But then things took a weird turn and Karen got a little passive-aggressively threatening in her next messages, which she sent at 4:00am on January 5:
Anna doesn’t take threats lightly and told her that the harassment and exploitation won’t be tolerated and that if it continued, we would pursue it in small claims court, including looking into any patterns of this type of behaviour with any other tenants. Karen replied the following day to tell us that she had quit representing that particular landlord so we had won and could finally enjoy ourselves and our new home, but If we ever need to rent a property again for any reason, we’re taking photos of EVERYTHING the first day!
Anyway, we’ve now been settled into our new home for almost a year and although there have been quite a few things go wrong with the new place in that time, mainly due to the the antiquated wiring shorting out randomly and the effects that has had on appliances and lighting, those problems have been pretty much sorted for the most part and we love our apartment. This article on the Pi Architects website and another that appeared in The Business Times will show you how our place looks now when compared to pictures from when we first bought it, although they did add some plants, furniture, and moved some other things around a bit for the photos, but it essentially sums our place up perfectly. However, if reading all of that is too much effort, this video shows it off nicely, although there have been some changes here and there since, but there are two other things worth noting:
- The terrapin turtles featured were our pets, but are no longer around due to Anna accidentally killing them while spraying almost an entire can of Raid on a cockroach in the hallway. They died over a period of a couple of days, but ironically, the cockroach somehow managed to survive, and
- Contrary to what Anna answered, no, I don’t just collect limited edition records, I’m just a music lover who mainly likes finding ones I like in flea markets when we travel:
If only we could’ve been stuck here during the circuit breaker, but our new home is still not a bad place for us, as well as friends, to hang out while we’re waiting to be able to travel again, which hopefully will be to Germany at Christmas.