Whether you are new to Singapore and wondering where to move after your spell in a serviced apartment has ended, or if you have been here for years and are pondering your next housing move, many of us have wondered whether we would be happier in a condo or a landed house. Deciding on which family-friendly neighbourhood in Singapore is best can be tricky enough, but what kind of home would suit you and your family better?
Tracy Tristram has just swapped eight years of cosy condo life for a big move to a big house and shares her list of pros and cons on both styles of living…
When we first arrived on the Little Red Dot eight years ago, we were given a guide to living in Singapore by our relocation agent, which basically just told us to move to a condo in Holland Village. We did move to a condo, but gave Holland a miss for a life on the East Coast, and from that initial foray into condo living we then moved to two different ones – each time creeping further towards Changi Airport (which has become one of our secret fave hangouts with the kids, by the way). We loved life in a condo and we have no regrets after any of our moves, but the lack of space did become an issue over time, especially when we increased our brood from two kids to three! Each time a lease ended we did briefly flirt with the idea of moving to a house, but then I would get to the pool with the little ones, hang out (aka gossip) with the other mums, and realise that I had it pretty good in a condo, despite not being able to swing a cat in my bedroom.
Last year the inevitable happened – a common peril for expat folk: most of my besties upped and left and I was sat at my pool alone with no one to hang out with. Likewise for the kids… Suddenly their play dates weren’t casual meet-ups at the pool with the neighbours’ kids, but became scheduled playdates with their school chums instead. We even stopped using the pool as a family at the weekend, and instead started heading out on adventures around Singapore. Resort-style living had lost its shine…
We have now been in our new house for nine months, and haven’t looked back. It isn’t for everyone (and for that matter neither is condo living), but having now taken the plunge, I can happily offer some insight into the pros and cons of the big condo vs landed house debate…
CONDO LIVING: THE PROS
The pool: The year-round scorching sunshine here in Singapore means that a pool to cool off in is a huge bonus for the whole family. Think of the free exercise you’ll get with that regular swimming, plus easy access to swimming lessons for the kids.
Playgrounds: Most condos have at least one playground where your little one can let off some steam and make some new buddies. The playground is usually a great place to catch up with other parents too.
The gym: Gym membership can be costly here in Singapore, so having access to a gym within the condo is perfect for those of us who like to work out (and by us I actually don’t mean me!).
Social network: Making friends at a condo is easy peasy. Back in my newbie expat days, living in a condo was a lifeline for me. I was desperate to talk to someone other than my five year old and four-month old baby. When I was feeling lonely I could just nip downstairs and find a friendly face at the playground, or at the pool. The kids also made friends easily, which helped enormously in the settling in days for us all.
Maintenance: Those lush gardens and the insect control aren’t going to be your problem. You get to live with a beautiful garden that you have to take zero responsibility for!
Parking: If you have a car then parking it is no issue when you live in a condo. Chances are you will have an allocated space, and if not there will be ample room to find a spot in. There will also be dedicated areas for guests to park so visitors won’t be irate trying to find a space when they come to see you.
Security: Regardless of whether you live on the ground floor, or are up in the clouds on the 20th floor, there will be security guards on the front gates and patrolling the common areas too.
CONDO LIVING: THE CONS
Lack of space: Not all, but a lot of condo apartments can be somewhat limited in space. (Singapore is obsessed with how many sq feet you have!) Rooms tend to be a bit poky (especially in newer condos) and storage within the apartment can also be a bit of an issue. No room for cat swinging.
Privacy issues: Everyone will know what you are up to, when and who with. There is no such thing as privacy in a condo. Beryl on the ground floor will know instantly when you have a delivery, and Mike on the fourth floor will know that your kid bit another kid on the slide last Thursday.
High density living: Generally there will be a lot of apartments in your complex. And this means that there will be a lot of people wanting to use the pool, gym etc at peak times. BBQ pit on National Day? Forget it! Lots of people living in a small area can also mean lots of noise.
No open space: Unless you are lucky to have a large balcony then the lack of instantly accessible outdoor space in your home can make you (and the kids) feel a bit stir-crazy. It also means lots of arguments about whose turn it is to walk the dog if you have one.
Security: I know I’ve also add this to the pros, but these guys also earn a spot on the cons list. Overzealous security were often viewed as the fun police by my kids with their endless rules, and there was more than one occasion that a friend was denied access to our condo if they didn’t have photo ID on them. Rules are rules for sure, but sometimes those rules rather got on our nerves.
LANDED HOUSE: THE PROS
A garden/yard: Whilst space is a premium here in Singapore, a landed house will afford you some sort of outside space for you to fire up a BBQ in, and also entertain the kids and their friends in, away from your glassware. If you have a garden big enough then pool rental is pretty easy here in Singapore and definitely worth considering (and if not then there are tons of really cool public pools and free water play parks around the city). The dog also won’t need as much walking if there’s a yard to run around in…
Privacy: Once you shut your front gates there is no one busy-bodying in your space and the neighbours are much less likely to have any idea what deliveries you have had, or that your child bit another child!
More for your $: You tend to get much more space for less money when it comes to renting a house. This is obviously relative to your location and other factors, but for us we swapped a teeny apartment for a three-storey house for just a few hundred dollars extra a month.
Space away from each other: No longer are the kids’ bedrooms directly off of our living room. They are now two floors up and away from our living space, which means we can finally have the volume up on the TV once they are in bed. It is also much easier to have guests over for dinner without having to shhhh them to keep the noise down so as not to disturb sleeping children. The extra space also makes it much more interesting for serious games of hide ‘n’ seek.
LANDED HOUSE: THE CONS
Mosquitos (and other pests): Mosquitos are proving an issue. The critters seem able to seek us out regardless of how much citronella we douse ourselves in. You will definitely need to factor into your monthly outgoings regular pest control to keep on top of the creepy crawlies: rats and snakes can also be an issue. We do have a soft spot though for a very brave little shrew that wanders into our living room most evenings to say hello!
Security: Back to those security guards: this time the lack of them. There is not much to stop an unwanted visitor getting into your garden. Security lights and a burglar alarm would be advisable, and a dog is a helpful deterrent if you have one! Watch out for Pokemon Go addicts trying to catch ’em all on your driveway!
No ready-made social life: If you or the kids are feeling bored, there is no community area to meander along to without making an effort to get out and about. You won’t have friends on tap to call upon in moments of emergency (like not having enough eggs for the cake you are baking).
No facilities: Whilst you may have room for a small pool, there will be no all-singing, all-dancing facilities to boast of in your back yard. There will be no gym (this is not a con for me, personally) and there will be nowhere for the kids to have proper swimming lessons on site.
Of course there is no right or wrong when it comes to making your housing choice. For us the years we spent in a condo were perfect for where we were in our lives at the time, and we have no regrets. Likewise, now we are in a house we are loving the different style of living and enjoying a fresh take on life in Singapore. It takes more effort to be social, but the fact that I no longer have constantly lacerated feet from stepping on Lego in a small space is a huge plus. We’ve found plenty of great local playgrounds, so the kids have ended up making friends with the neighbours anyway, and we are all loving our new mate, The Shrew. My advice: just go with what works best for you and your family – with rental leases generally being one to two years, no choice is permanent and you can always mix it up with your next move anyway!
Illustration: Aliff Tee for HoneyKids Asia