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A coming-of-age house hunting tale

Embarking on what is the most important search of my life thus far.

At the ripe “old” age of 36, I decided that it was time to move out of the family home and fulfil my dream of having my own bachelorette pad. It was a huge step for me as this would be the biggest ticket item I would have purchased in my life thus far.

House hunting 101

When I first started house hunting, I was a bit overwhelmed as I had no idea where to begin. To be honest, I’m not someone who’s very interested in the latest property news as it just wasn’t relevant to me. As long as I had a roof over my head, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the X number of quarters of declining or increasing property prices. Hands up those of you who feel the same way!

When friends got wind that I was house hunting for a property, almost everyone had a brother, cousin, godmother (and the list goes on) who was a property agent and I was soon bombarded with a series of well-meaning recommendations. Soon enough, I was buried under an avalanche of e-contacts and started to wonder if I should even bother with engaging an agent to assist me in my house hunting journey.

Upon deeper reflection, I became acutely aware that because of the nature of my work, I would not have the luxury of time to sift through thousands of listings while house hunting. I knew that to make my dream home materialise, I would have to work with a property agent who could do just about everything else for me other than signing on the relevant documents and paying the required deposits.

Qualities of my ideal property agent

In my mind, my ideal buyer’s agent is one who’s keenly aware of my needs and requirements (a corner 4-room HDB resale flat in the Tiong Bahru vicinity), responsive and responsible and finds meaning in helping clients find their dream home.

Sounds like a tall order? Believe it or not, I found all that (and more!) in my agent Julie. Julie was an ex-classmate whom I re-connected with through some mutual friends. I felt very comfortable with her during our interaction and she could instinctively pick up what I was looking for in my first home. I also liked that she had successfully helped other singles (like myself) find their first home. It is very important for me to work with an agent who understands my needs during the house hunting process.

Is this where I’ll find my dream home?

A careful consumer is a happy consumer

Being the careful person that I am (I’m an accountant by training), I made sure that Julie was a registered property agent by doing a search at the Council for Estate Agencies’ (CEA) Public Register. After all, we hadn’t met up in over 10 years and quite frankly, I didn’t know Julie from Adam and needed to make sure that she was the real deal and not some fly-by-night imposter.

Thankfully, Julie’s credentials checked out and I advanced to the next step of my journey with her – negotiating the percentage of commission due to her as the buyer’s agent. The general rule of thumb is to accord a commission of 1% of the sale price of the flat. I was keenly aware that it was only a guideline and not a hard and fast rule. Once again, the accountant in me took charge and after a few amicable rounds of negotiations, Julie and I decided on a commission percentage of 0.88%. Both parties left the table pleased as punch. After all, who doesn’t like to huat huat?

To cement in black and white what has been agreed upon and the scope of duties involved, Julie and I signed the estate agency agreement, which she downloaded from the CEA website. Then it was all systems go for Julie to embark on finding me my dream home.

Getting the preliminaries sorted out was the easy part; choosing my first home was a lot tougher than I had thought! My weekends were burnt going for an average of three viewings a day. Julie was a saint for being responsive to my ever growing list of likes and dislikes. To her credit, she never pushed me to make a decision quickly just to seal the deal and get the process over and done with. She patiently listened to my analysis of each unit and used my feedback to narrow down the units she felt would tick off my many requirements.

At last! The home of my dreams

Finally after four months of hard work, I found THE FLAT that I had been waiting for all my life. Julie made an offer to the seller’s agent on my behalf and after two days of negotiations, we agreed on a sale price.

However, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I was away for work at that point and could not give the $800 option fee the seller wanted. Anxious about potentially missing out on my dream home, I told Julie to get the cash from my parents first but she turned me down. I was really surprised as I thought it would be in her best interest to furnish the seller with the option fee and seal the deal. She informed me that the correct course of action was for me to either write out a cheque or to do a bank transfer directly to the seller. To avoid any misunderstanding, property agents should not handle any monies associated with the transaction.

Thankfully, my house hunting chapter has a happy ending. Upon my return to Singapore, I immediately wrote out a cheque to the seller and got Julie to secure my home by delivering the cheque to the seller’s agent.

A dream come true! Living a stone’s throw away from my favourite coffee place.

Today I’m the proud owner of 4-room HDB flat in the Tiong Bahru area. I do so love my coffees and I’m happy to be walking distance away from an enclave of artisanal cafes.

I’m here to tell you today that you too, can find the home of your dreams if you work closely with a property agent who’s the right fit for you. Do take your time to speak with different agents, so you know whom you have chemistry and feel comfortable with. As with all other relationships, the relationship between you and your property agent should be built on trust, respect and open communication.

All the best in your house hunting!

This article was first published on 99.co on 23 October 2017.