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Speaking to expats across professions, lifestyles and hometowns; Wani Azahar finds out what ticks all the boxes for their ideal serviced apartment in Asia.
According to the recent Accommodation Survey by ECA International, Singapore is ranked the seventh most expensive location in Asia for high-end rental accommodation this year – falling from fourth position in the regional rankings last year.
Despite that, Singapore is still top as the city with Asia’s best quality of living in Mercer’s 19th annual Quality of Living survey – possibly a hint as to why the nation is still a choice for many expats to build their home away from home.
On that note, we spoke to several expat assignees on their needs, concerns and challenges when it comes to finding their home in another land.
Location: Where you’re at
Location, location, location – that has always been a mantra for real estate. Naturally, this also extends to those in search of serviced apartments. Surprisingly, it’s not always about “being in the heart of the city”, but more on accessibility and how it fits the expat’s lifestyle.
For Im Sung Bin, financial analyst at SAP, it was never about shopping malls and city centres. Im is currently staying in Dhoby Ghaut, bringing her husband and four-year-old daughter along when she relocated from Korea to Singapore in December 2016.
Despite staying in such a central location, she said: “Instead of being near a mall, I would prefer to stay near a park where I can bring my daughter to play in the evening.
“Most serviced apartments are in the city. It would be nice if there were some that are situated in the heartlands. One that is accessible, yet family-friendly,” she further described her ideal location.
She also noted her current serviced apartment offers meal preparations for kids, making it a huge deal-sealer when she was hunting for her home here.
As for the downside, she emphasised the lack of information usually given to expat assignees on the location. “While it’s easy to search on the location, it’s much harder to get a detailed (or local’s perspective) on the neighbourhood,” she said.
“I would have appreciated if more specific information was given – such as the surrounding child care centres, grocery stores, eateries. As someone who doesn’t know much about the country, it would have been helpful to get recommendations on what’s around the area.”
Most serviced apartments are in the city. It would be nice if there were some that are situated in the heartlands. One that is accessible, yet family-friendly.
– Im Sung Bin, financial analyst at SAP
Similarly, Shirley Eng, marketing and business director, TBA Creative Network, Pico Group, also noted how location played a huge role when she moved from Singapore to China.
Currently staying at Fraser Suites in Beijing, she said: “Other than being near the office, it is a safe compound and the hospitality is great. It feels like a second home.”
In response to understanding the different needs of expats, Richard Tan, vice-president of serviced suites at Pan Pacific Hotels Group, said: “We understand that it usually takes time to settle into a new environment and the fi rst few weeks are especially challenging.”
Elaborating on how serviced apartments can “help residents assimilate into their new surroundings”, services such as 24-hour Personal Assistant services are in place at the establishment.
“To us, every resident is unique and has their own needs, so our approach is tailored to what works best for them for a truly personalised experience,” he said.
Aesthetics: What you see
Apart from location, Andreas Ley, head of consulting at LucaNet ASEAN, underlined how aesthetics played a key role in his decision making. Moving from Europe to Asia, Ley was on a short-term assignment in Bangkok for one month last year.
With an in-house gym, a location just five minutes from the office and a quality room, the serviced apartment ticked all the boxes for Ley. Despite doing the search independently, he mentioned he had almost no trouble searching for the ideal apartment thanks to his frequent visits to the country.
He also had a personal recommendation, and noted that some expat assignees may need to go the extra mile in finding suitable accommodation.
“Some HR professionals might not have a local contact. For me, apartment hunting was not a challenge,” he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities where a serviced apartment can be booked online. Plus, I’ve visited Bangkok a lot before, so my employer did not need to support me on this one.”
Some HR professionals might not have a local contact. For me, apartment hunting was not a challenge.
– Andreas Ley, head of consulting at LucaNet ASEAN
Similarly, Wynnie Cheung, senior financial analyst at SAP, said usability of the serviced apartment was paramount. Describing how her previous apartment matched her expectations, she said: “There were full gym facilities, swimming pool, a bar as well as 24-hour front-desk services.
“I was given the choice of four different serviced apartments and the one I chose seemed to fit in most with my needs. It was spacious in comparison, with separate living, dining, study, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom spaces,” she continued, noting that size does matter when it comes to an ideal home.
Sharing the same sentiments as Ley when it comes to doing independent research, Cheung recommended: “Speak to both locals and expats who live or have lived in Singapore to get a gist of what it is like to stay in Singapore.
“Think about your personal needs and your budget. For example, if you like to travel outside of Singapore on the weekends, then you may want to find a place that is relatively close to the airport. Consider what ‘extras’ you will need as different apartments have different amenities.”
Lifestyle: How you live
Speaking to Human Resources, Andrew Liyana, senior commodity trader at Louis Dreyfus, who moved to Asia from the US, highlighted another priority for expatriates – nearby amenities.
Liyana, who is currently staying along New Bridge Road, said: “This is my fourth apartment in Singapore, and it fits my social lifestyle the most.
“It is a terrific location and the units have high ceilings and open fully to a decent balcony. “The short-comings are the poor wiring, difficulty replacing light bulbs, and noise pollution from neighbouring KTVs.”
Sharing his opinion on the topic, Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality, said: “The search for an ideal serviced apartment is also often too cost-driven. While it is important to find accommodation that is reasonably priced, it is also imperative to find one that does not compromise security, convenience, among other considerations.”
Additionally, Lee Quane, Asia regional director of ECA International, draws attention to how most expatriate assignees are put up in a serviced apartment if they are on a short-term assignment (less than a year), or during the initial month of a long-term assignment or a permanent transfer.
With location a reflection of your preferred lifestyle, he said: “When they (expats) are housed in a serviced apartment for a longterm assignment, this usually occurs while the employee is setting themselves up, such as looking for long-term housing and getting familiar with their new living environment.” He advised HR to be aware of hidden costs. “Some rates are often all inclusive while some service providers will charge fees associated with utility usage and internet access,” he said.
“Therefore, in order to get a full picture of costs among the choices of accommodation, the company needs to make sure that any comparison is on a like-for-like basis.”
Key takeaways: What matters most to expats
Location: Where you’re at
It’s not always about “being in the heart of the city”, but more on accessibility and how it fits the expat’s lifestyle. Expats at different stages of life have different location requirements.
Aesthetics: What you see
Size does matter when it comes to an ideal home. What matters more is the usability, layout and quality of the expat’s new home, though it may be temporary.
Lifestyle: How you live
Location and aesthetics are typically a reflection of the expatriate’s preferred lifestyle, for example, a central location with high ceilings and a balcony fits the lifestyle of the city dweller.
Photo / iStock