An Expat Guide to Buying Furniture in a Foreign City

There are a lot of choices to buy furniture as an expat in Singapore. Apart from the usual modern furniture, you can buy ready-made or custom-made rattan and oriental furniture.

If you decide to buy Oriental furniture, be aware that their size and design may not be suitable once you are repatriated. A nice antique Chinese bed is not only difficult to transport but may look awkward in your living room at home in London, as nothing else will fit in! Besides, this furniture is made for use in a different climate and may shrink, expand and crack. Also, before shipping back your furniture you should have it fumigated!

Antiques and Reproductions

Before you start, you need to decide if you want to decorate your home, take back some memories or seriously collect specific items as an investment into the future. The term antique is used for a variety of items offered and you need to inform yourself first about the host and home countries’ regulations and custom requirements such as import and export restrictions on religious artifacts (e.g. Buddha statues).

- Educate yourself before you buy.

- Keep detailed receipts of each item, and take photos.

- Buy quality, not quantity.

- Envisage each item in your home country environment and be realistic about size, durability and looks.

- Insure expensive new purchases.

Custom-Made Furniture

To avoid confusion and disappointment, provide a sample or a photograph and specify your requirements in writing:

- Correct dimensions/measurements.

- Type of material to be used.

- Type of frame/material used.

- Type of finish and color.

- Type of foam to be used for padding and cushions.

- Springs to be used (box springs are recommended).

- Fabric of the cushion cover.

- Cording.

- Time of delivery.

- Price, incl. taxes and other costs involved.

- Deposits you made.

- Extra requirements like kiln-dried wood, fumigated etc.

- The support structure should be made of hardwood frames.

- Screws should be used instead of nails or staples.

- Cuts must be concealed.

- Wicker used should be evenly woven and have close fitting joints.

- Cushions should be made out of high-density foam.

Oriental Furniture

There are many different types depending on the country of origin, style or material used. Furniture made in India or Indonesia is often produced in small villages and come with a native touch rather than being in an immaculate condition, which is very exotic. Chinese furniture come in rosewood, camphor, lacquer, coromandel, teak, Elmwood and many other woods and may be antique, a reproduction or modern. Custom-made furniture should be seasoned or kiln-dried to avoid shrinking in a dry environment. To allow the wood to expand furniture should be produced with tongue-and groove- floating panels.

Teak Furniture

The Latin name for Teak is Tectona grandis, which is offered all over Southeast Asia. Teak is an extremely dense, coarse-grained hardwood, which is well known for its durability and resistance to water, the woodworm and many chemical agents. Today, there are teakwood plantations catering to the furniture industry.

When purchasing Teak furniture:

- Buy 100% solid teak. (Not Shorea wood or a combination of both woods.)

- Teak should be made from kiln dried and not green lumber.

- Teak should be plantation grown. Ask for certification.

- Thick pieces of wood used make the product solid and durable.

- Oil finishes will darken the products.

- Plain furniture lightens into a silver gray when left outdoors.

Oriental Carpets

- Before you buy any Turkish, Persian, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian or any other carpets check your own countries customs regulations as there may be restrictions on importing them back home.

- Join a class teaching you how to buy a genuine oriental carpet (sometimes offered by dealers.)

- Buy at a reputable dealer and insist on a certification with origin, description, price, date and place of purchase even when you pay cash and keep the receipts at a safe place.

- Try out your carpet at home before purchase and make yourself familiar with the return policy of the dealer.

- Before you bid at a carpet auction, learn the trade!

- Buy pads or rubberized mats (Ikea) together with your carpets to prevent slipping on marble, tile and wooden floors.

- Ask your dealer how to care for your carpet.

- Inquire about after-sales services like cleaning and repair.

Beds and Mattresses

Sizes of beds and mattresses are different form those in Europe, Australia and the US, that may imply difficulties buying suitable bed sheets when in Asia or back home. Some shops offer imported brand name beds in standard lengths but oversized beds are difficult to find. Southeast Asian beds are usually shorter and sometimes narrower. Sometimes mattresses in US sizes can be ordered for an additional charge. Never buy bed sheets or linen unless you have measured your bed before.

Electrical Appliances/Computers/Accessories

- Consider renting, rather than buying, new electrical appliances.

- Go price shopping and bargain.

- Items with local warranties are less expensive and will do if you do not want to take the item back home.

- International warranties are granted for brand names.

- See if repair center lists provided with the product include your home country.

- Have your warranties stamped by the dealer.

- Prices vary according to their origin (where they are manufactured).

- Check about the latest models before buying, as shops like to sell older models first.

- Desktop and notebooks need to have dual voltage power supply (110-220 V).

- All items ideally should have a voltage switch for use in other countries.

- Make sure prices stated include delivery and installation, if necessary.

- Insist on delivery time stated on the receipt.

- Include purchased item into your insurance on return!

Real Estate Lingo in Singapore

For Singapore, it is not difficult to identify the terms used in real estate transactions. All of the terms reflect a widespread use of English in the realm of communicating and this singular usage has resulted in a highly developed real estate lingo which has brought together the four main racial groups into a harmonious whole. This is reflected in the dynamism of the city state’s real estate landscape.

The professionals of real estate

In Singapore, professional names and terms are accorded their proper place in real estate transactions.

In regards to realty terms used, there is no doubt that ethnic groups do have their own terms in their own different languages, but these have largely failed in establishing a niche so as to become part of the real estate parlance.

The use of English terms in the real estate environment is predominant.

Property Types

Semi-detached – 2 houses that share a common wall, but keep separate gardens.

Linked house – 1 of 2 landed houses joined to the other by a common wall separating their car porches. The common wall is the side wall of the two car porches.

Terrace houses – These are houses that are joined in a row that often have a paved or grassed garden. Larger versions of this type may have a swimming pool, playground or gymnasium.

Corner terrace – This is a landed house located at the end of a row of terrace houses that occupies a larger area of land compared to terrace houses.

Maisonette – The maisonette is a building with a 2-level residential unit within. The adjoining floors are connected by an internal staircase leading from the ground to the upper floor.

Shophouses – A shophouse is a legacy for Singapore’s past that consists of a shop area below and living quarters above. Many have been renovated to enhance original features and tiling. They have small outdoor areas but contain internal courtyards and are found in the central and eastern part of the island.

Detached homes – These homes are essentially bungalow-type buildings that may be single, double or 3 stories high.

Black and whites – Like shophouses, these buildings are a reminiscent of the British colonial era and were used to accommodate air, land and administrative personnel. They range from small terraced homes to palatial residences raised on stilts. Many have huge gardens and servant quarters. They can be let but without air conditioning, fans and linens, which a buyer must purchase from previous tenants.

Cul-de-sac house – A landed house situated at the end of a large dead-end road where a turnaround road has been constructed.

Duplex House – A 2-storey building that contains a residential unit on the first floor and a second residential unit on the second floor. Residents share the same land and an outside stairway connects the first floor residential unit with the unit above it.

Townhouse – A ground-level residential unit joined to a row of 3 or more residential units that have common ownership of theland.

Cluster housing – This type of residential unit is a cross between landed and condominium housing. All the houses are built at ground level and residents share facilities like those found in condominiums. Cluster housings have Strata Titles.

Apartments – An apartment can range from studios to large, 5-bedroom flats that can occupy 1 or 2 floors of a building.

Condominiums – Condominiums are also referred to as condos, which, apart from providing rental accommodation, also provide facilities such as a gym, tennis court, function room, pool and sometimes a small shop.

Penthouses – These are less common rental units that offer private outdoor living with colossal views available. Many have their own “Jacuzzi” whirlpool baths.

Other terminology

Co-broke deal – A situation where more than 1 agent liaises between a landlord or owner and several tenants.

Empty furnished or non-furnished – This highlights a residential unit that is provided without any furnishings except for kitchen space, faucets and light fittings.

Fully furnished – A residential unit or house that is fitted with common furnishings such as a refrigerator, washing machine, television set, furniture, wardrobes, beds, mattresses and similar furnishings and appliances.

Partially furnished – A partly furnished unit or house is fitted with only some and not all the more common furnishing items.

HDB – This is an abbreviation of the Housing Development Board, which is totally responsible for all public (government) housing in Singapore.

HDB flats are units provided by government to house its citizens. They can rent their flats or sublet bedrooms to permanent residents, non-citizens, students or people holding a work permit. There are restrictions and these must be checked out first before any commitment is made.

N-bloc or Enbloc – to the sale of an estate by a majority vote of the owners to give way to a new estate. For development of less than 10 years old, a 90% majority vote is required, but for development of 10 years old and more, only an 80% majority is required.

Strata title – Multi-level apartment units are divided into separate levels, or “strata”.

Top – A “Top” refers to a temporary occupation permit. A unit that has been labeled as a “Top” unit means that the unit is ready to be occupied.

Common room – This term refers to a living room area within the same HDB apartment or house. It is usually shared by other occupants living in the same apartment or house.

Master room – A separate room within the same HDB apartment or house that is available only to the person paying rent. It is usually partly or fully furnished with the full range of amenities and appliances. The quality of the master room is reflected in the rental price charged.

Pax – Commonly used by agents and landlords when referring to tenants living in rental units, the term was originally used by the travel industry, which referred to passengers.

Leasehold – The right to own real estate for 99 years or the right to own property for 999 years, a version of the first leasing type.

Freehold – The right to own land in perpetuity or without any limit to such ownership.

Are you thinking of living or buying in Singapore? If so you can find more information and a