Hold the front page (not!): accommodation here in Singapore is expensive. Yes, rents may still be coming down, but odds are that they’re still higher than in your home country. For some expats, an HDB flat can be ideal, not only financially but also as a way to fully immerse yourself in Singapore life. We talk to expat couple Katie and Michael Peace about why they chose to live in an HDB apartment, and how it works for them.
British expats Katie and Michael have been in Singapore since 2012; their one-year-old son James was born here in February 2014. The couple relocated from the UK with Michael’s job, and started Singapore life on an expat package.
“We lived in a condo out near Newton, but to be honest it was a bit ill-advised as it was still a bus ride away from the MRT station, so not wholly convenient,” says Katie. “Our agent warned us that it got lots of sun, and she wasn’t wrong – our bedroom was like an oven!”
Both Michael and Katie work full-time, and so found they didn’t meet many people from their condo, particularly as many of the flats had their own private entrance. “I had the car as I was driving over to Malaysia for work quite frequently,” says Michael. “It was okay for me, but I think Katie found it quite isolating.”
After 18 months, Mike’s company began discussions to relocate the couple back to the UK, but with Katie enjoying her job and both of them loving the Singapore life, they took the decision to ditch the expat package and for Mike to find another job in Singapore.
The HDB hunt
The couple realised they would have to leave their first condo and find something to suit their new circumstances. “Our key requirement was that it had to be close to an MRT station,” explains Katie. They were hoping to have a baby, and so were looking for three bedrooms and air-conditioning throughout the apartment. This ruled out about 75 percent of HDB apartments, the majority of which have units only in the bedrooms.
“We didn’t know anyone else who lived in an HDB. We had a look at Property Guru, but saw some real horrors,” says Katie. “When dealing with agents I found it easier to communicate via SMS. I was asking three key questions: does it have air-con in the living space (which I later found out actually refers to the hall), does it have an oven, and does it have a bath. I’d get one positive answer out of three if I was lucky.”
Michael and Katie had earmarked a few of the big heartland areas that were conveniently located in terms of transport to town, so they felt that somewhere along the East West (green) and North South (red) MRT lines made the most sense, even though they weren’t quite sure where Michael would be working.
“We knew Tiong Bahru and Buona Vista, but we weren’t so familiar with this area,” says Katie. The apartment they ended up choosing is in a block directly opposite Redhill MRT, and Tiong Bahru is one MRT stop or about a 15-minute walk away. Close by is Alexandra Canal, which Katie enjoys running along and which can take her all the way into the city. There’s a hawker centre and market within a two-minute walk, as well as plenty of other convenience stores.
Within the HDB are two playgrounds and an outdoor gym. The facilities at Delta Sports Centre, along Tiong Bahru Road, include a swimming complex and an indoor play area, Tickle Tickle, ideal for James. Slightly further afield are Tanglin Mall, the Botanic Gardens and Dempsey Hill, all either a short bus or taxi ride away.
So, with all of this convenience on their doorstep, are there any downsides? Integrating with the local residents could have been a concern, but the Peaces are already proving popular, particularly little James. “He’s adored by all of the local aunties and mums, and he’s got loads of friends. I made sure I met the mums and helpers and we set up a WhatsApp group to arrange regular play dates,” says Katie. “I think it helps that we aren’t seen as keeping ourselves to ourselves.”
This story first appeared in Expat Living Singapore’s April 2015 issue.
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