KARIN MARTENS moved here from Chicago with husband Brad. Their initial two-year stint has stretched to 16 years and their family has grown to include Singapore Special dogs Buddy and Penny, US cat Freckles and helper Angie. Karin shares with us how the move has helped her professionally and her journey to becoming a real estate agent in Singapore.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in The Netherlands. After graduation, I lived and worked in Brussels for nine years before moving to Chicago with Brad. Though we loved the cold winters, we were happy to leave them behind when moving to Singapore!
What brought you to Singapore, and what kept you here?
We always discussed moving to Asia. So when Brad was offered a new regional role, we grabbed it. It was my first time as a trailing spouse, having had to resign from my position at Sara Lee’s global HQ in Chicago. My first mission on arrival was to find an apartment and the second was to continue my career.
Brad settled into Singapore immediately, but it took me a few months to feel at home. Once I was back in the workforce and we developed a growing social network, I truly started to fully enjoy Singapore. The sunny days, the incredible choice in food, the international work and social life, the regional travel opportunities and options for domestic help make Singapore hard not to love.
While it was my husband’s job that landed us here, it was my job that allowed us to stay when his Singapore assignment ended as I had become a PR.
Tell us a bit about your background and business in Singapore.
My background is in operational excellence – helping companies improve their bottom line and raise their levels of customer experience by continuously improving how the work gets done.
When I arrived in 2007, it surprised me how many roles there were in my field, and the willingness of companies to interview a foreigner who needed a sponsored employment pass to work. It’s much harder these days to find a job and get an EP. I initially joined Microsoft, then briefly worked for Accenture and then moved on to Shell for almost a decade.
When my corporate career came to a natural end early last year, I established Red Dot Realty and I’m now a licensed Singapore real estate agent helping expats find their new homes.
I’ve lived in six different places the past 16 years and I’ve had my fair share of frustrations in my home search in Singapore, so I know how challenging it can be, whether you’re renting or buying. I hope to be that trusted and reliable advisor who helps make the experience less stressful and provides the support I was looking for myself when I needed it.
What do you love about being a real estate agent?
When I came to Singapore 16 years ago, and at various stages since, I needed advice for both renting and buying. l always thought it would have been so much easier with someone there for us the entire way, for guidance through the process, and to point out the things to consider and watch out for. What I love about being a real estate agent is that it feels good that I can do that now – helping others by making that full end-to-end process an effective, transparent and, hopefully, fun one!
Any particular surprises or challenges you’ve found living and working in Singapore?
In my former corporate life, I held a number of global roles and doing these from Singapore can be gruelling. It can have a major impact on your personal and social life if you’re not incredibly disciplined at managing your work day.
From a personal perspective, your social circle is renewed every three to four years if you’re here long enough. Many good friends are made who sadly depart. So you need to make a continuous effort to meet new people. The positive side is that we now have good friends all over the world!
Where is your home in Singapore and how long have you lived there? Were you previously in a different area?
We’ve lived in the River Valley/Robertson Quay area from the beginning. The central location with easy access to restaurants, exercise opportunities, MRT station, and Orchard Road is convenient for our lifestyle.
When we initially arrived, we rented a floor in a shophouse in Boat Quay. We loved it until they opened two nightclubs right in front of it. We weren’t able to sleep decently because of the noise and were lucky we could negotiate a penalty-free exit from our two-year contract, four months into it. After that, we rented in multiple condos, until we calculated how much we had spent on rent the first eight years, which is a mind-blowing number. We knew we wanted to stay for the longer term and decided to buy our own condo, which was one of the better financial decisions we’ve made.
What are a few things you like to do in Singapore when you’re not working?
I’m a passionate animal lover and love to spend time with our Singapore Special dogs that we adopted here, and our cats, who we brought over from the US. At one point, we had 10 rescue animals in our house, when we were fostering a litter of puppies and their mother in our apartment!
For exercise, I try to go to the yoga studio a few times a week. On the weekends, we socialise and check out our regular haunts.
Karin and Brad’s recommendations
What’s your favourite …
Casual restaurant in Singapore? Cafe Iguana is a great place to take the dogs and people-watch by the river, while enjoying the best fajitas and margaritas.
Bar? The Wine Connection on Mohamed Sultan Road because it’s about 50 metres from our front door.
Local food? Si Wei Mao Cai in Chinatown is the best place if you like spicy food.
Nature space? Fort Canning Park
Thing to do with visitors? Walk around the historical neighbourhoods of Chinatown, Little India, Boat Quay and Arab Street, and try the local food. A Sunday bubbles brunch at one of the larger hotels is also a hit.
Nearby holiday destination? Bunaken island, Indonesia. By far the best, most convenient diving and snorkelling destination in the region.
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
To make the most of living in Singapore, read our latest City Guide here for free!