This Months Real Estate Insider Newsletter
Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners — money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
The Best Indoor Plants, According To Plant Experts?
When it comes to caring for house plants, some folks are born with a green thumb while others swear they could kill a cactus. As a member of the latter category (or so I thought), I understand the hesitation that goes along with becoming a plant parent. I loved the idea of filling my space with the best indoor plants, but I was scared to end up with a bunch of dead foliage.
Then two years ago, a friend (who is also a gardening teacher) brought over a plant clipping to my apartment. She helped me settle it in a pot and shared advice on how to care for it. That gifted plant ushered me into the wide world of indoor greenery — my collection has grown to 11 house plants spread over three window sills — brightening my home and offering fulfillment along the way.
For aspiring plant parents who feel apprehensive about embarking on their own plant journeys like I once did, know that there are plenty of great indoor plant options for every skill level and environment. I sought out the advice of a few notable plant experts. They not only shared their extensive flora wisdom, but they also offered their picks for the best indoor plants, for beginners, less than hospitable conditions and beyond.
Check out their recommendations below, then read on for their expert tips on how to care for all your indoor plants.
Best Low Maintenance Indoor Plant: Marble Queen Pothos
Best Indoor Plant For Low Light: ZZ Plant
Best Indoor Plant For Small Spaces: Snake Plant
Best Flowering Indoor Plant: Red Anthurium
Best Indoor Plant For Pet Owners: Bird’s Nest Fern
Best Indoor Plant to Build Confidence: Philodendron
Best “Next Level” Indoor Plant: Monstera
How to Care For Indoor Plants
“We think of plant buying a bit like matchmaking,” says Blank. We want your plants to fit your home, your style and your lifestyle.” Set yourself up for success by starting with low maintenance plant varieties, like a Marble Queen Pothos or ZZ plant, that can withstand a little accidental neglect while you travel up the learning curve.
Plants need good care in order to thrive, but new plant parents have the tendency to over-care for their plants. “Over-watering is the easiest way to kill your plant,” says Blank. “It’s easier to bounce back from under-watering than from over-watering.” Marino adds, “some people go into diagnosis mode the second they see a browning tip or yellowing leaf.” Her advice: don’t panic. “Just prune it right off and know that shedding is a natural part of the growth process.”
Summers, meanwhile, advises against repotting plants too frequently. Some plant owners see a plant growing well and think that’s the time to switch it into a roomier pot. But that well-meaning impulse can backfire. “Repotting disrupts the plant’s root system, which means it has to focus on reestablishing its system instead of on new growth. You’re making it work harder than it needs to,” she says. Instead let your plants thrive in their current pots. “When you’re getting absolutely no growth — especially in spring and summer — then it is time,” Summers says.
Just because some plants don’t need frequent watering doesn’t mean you should forget about them for too long. Take some time each day to touch base with your plant babies. “Developing a routine and ritual is important,” says Oakes. “If you get up to check on your plants when your coffee is brewing or tea is steeping, then you’re on the right path.”
From YouTube and gardening books, to walking into a shop and chatting up the staff, there are endless sources to continue educating yourself about the house plants in your life. For those who can’t make it to a store, Tula offers robust educational resources like a plant care library. The Sill offers online workshops that answer burning plant care questions. And Oakes recently launched a 12-part mini course called Houseplant Basics that teaches the fundamentals of plant care.
Getting Your Home Ready for Your Pandemic Puppy
You don’t have to give up on design just because the dog will probably chew everything in sight.
Nicole Lim’s house in Tampines wasn’t always a fun house for her Goldendoodle. Before she bought Bowie three years ago, she regularly polished the vintage pine floors of her 4-room flat, had a cozy reading nook in a corner of the living room, and covered her white sofa with colourful throw pillows.
Now, Bowie runs the show. Area rugs cover the floors to keep him from scratching the wood or slipping. The reading nook has been replaced with a ball pit to hide doggy treats. And the white sofa is sheathed in a slipcover, the throw pillows stored away in a basket.
“It’s all about him now,” said Mrs. Lim, 39, a photographer. Bowie even has an Instagram account with 700 followers.
Nicole never expected to be the kind of dog owner who would surrender the home she’d spent years making cost. Yet here she is. “If asked four years ago how my dog would affect my home décor, I would have said, ‘Not at all,’” she said. “I would have been so wrong.”
Pet adoptions have spiked during the pandemic, as people look for ways to break up the monotony and loneliness of coronavirus quarantine. And of course, like babies, puppies come with gear. They need beds, crates, toys and bowls for food and water. Like new parents, new dog owners quickly learn just how much of their home they’re willing to surrender to their new family member.
However, with a few thoughtful purchases and some attention to detail, any home can feel like a welcoming space for dogs and their humans.
Keeping Your Style, Even With a Pup
Designers do have their tricks. Carolyne Roehm buys extra fabric when she upholsters a piece of furniture, then lays the swatch over the cushion when one of her six dogs wants up. Bunny Williams uses faux fur throws to protect furniture, a tip Ms. Salk applied to her own home in Connecticut, where she has three dogs.
“First of all, they look great in a room,” said Ms. Salk, who also wrote “At Home in the English Countryside: Designers and their Dogs.” “If I know that I’ll be gone for a long period of time, I’ll put those out and the dogs will just lie on it and it protects your sofa cushion and you throw it in the washing machine.”
When buying new furniture or rugs, choose colors that complement your pet’s fur (if you have a golden retriever, for example, avoid navy.) Look for stain-resistant materials, like microfibre. Choose patterned rugs that hide stains. Indoor-outdoor rugs can be washed down. Other types, like Ruggable rugs, can go in the washing machine. And get a pet-hair-friendly vacuum cleaner, like a Dyson V8 Animal. If you have a puppy, avoid furniture with wood legs, because what puppy doesn’t love demolishing a stick?
Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style at Modsy, an online design service, likes leather because the fur from her dog Coco, a Chihuahua and Jack Russell mix, won’t stick to it. But don’t expect that leather sofa to look pristine after a few rounds with your pet. “It’s not for type-A people who would freak out when they see a scratch,” Dr. Wood warned. “You have to be someone who loves a good pair of vintage boots.”
Get on Your Dog’s Level
“Is there an electrical cord under the couch that you may not notice? Are your most important pieces of artwork at mouth level? Is it safe for them? When in doubt, put it up,” said Colleen Demling-Riley, the dog behaviorist at Dogtopia, a US dog day-care franchise based in Arizona State. “Dogs will be dogs, they will chew things.”
Pay attention to how far your dog has to jump to get to the sofa (if you allow that sort of thing). Over time, that impact can take a toll on any dog’s joints. Position an ottoman, stool or sturdy poof at the foot of the sofa to provide a lift, without sacrificing the style of the room.
Store the toys in a basket that the pooch can access, but choose one that looks nothing like the ones that store human items, lest the dog mistake your favorite slippers for a new chew toy.
And watch to see where your dog finds a calming corner. Maybe it’s a nook in your home office, or a living room chair. Wherever it is, help your dog claim it by leaving a blanket, bed and some favorite toys. “If your dog is there, let him be,” Ms. Demling-Riley said.
Making a Bed for Your Four-Legged Friend
A cloth crate cover that matches your décor can help camouflage it. Or, tuck it away under a table. Charlotte Reed, the host of the syndicated radio show “The Pet Buzz,” who kept six dogs in a Manhattan apartment, tucks crates under end tables in her living room, which is now in Florida, making sure the dog still has a view to gaze out.
Before you invest in a pricey dog bed (and there are plenty to choose from), spend time observing your pet’s sleeping behavior. Some dogs stretch out long, others sleep in a ball. Some like to nestle up against a wall. Once your dog is house trained and no longer chewing up everything in sight, look for a bed with a shape, and a style, that fits.
“You can have a lot of fun,” Dr. Wood said. “That is definitely a place to lean into your style, your colour palette.”
Mrs. Lim, the owner of Bowie, has two dog beds, including a raised one in the kitchen that helps keep Bowie cool. And Kim Kavin, the author of “Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue From Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth,” has two mutts and three beds. Her favorite bed is made from a wine barrel that she had shipped from California to her home in the US. “I paid around $200 bucks at a craft market in downtown Napa. It ended up costing more than a whole case of wine,” she said. The barrel sits in her den, and her dog loves it about as much as she does.
One caveat for new dog owners: Don’t rush out and make impulse buys. Until your dog has settled into your home, and you have settled in with your dog, resist the temptation to splurge on gear. You may not know yet if you have a wine-barrel kind of pup or one who prefers a pooch penthouse.
“Don’t over-invest until you know,” Ms. Salk said. “Get to know your dog first.”
No regrets: 4 ways to find the right neighbourhood
Know what you want—then find it.
It’s easy to forget to evaluate the whole neighbourhood during a home search, and this can lead to neighbourhood regret. According to a recent survey, 36 percent of respondents would move to a different neighbourhood than their current one if given the chance. And that number goes up based on location and age. Forty-two percent of young home buyers experience neighbourhood regret, versus 35 percent of older people, and 42 percent of people 18 to 29 reported regret, compared with 28 percent of those 50 and older.
There may not be much you can do about your estate—and even less you can do about your age—but there are other ways to up your odds of loving your new neighbourhood.
Here are four ways to avoid neighbourhood regret:
Put “the right neighbourhood vibe” on your must-have list next to number of bedrooms during your home search. Do you want a quiet, family-friendly cul-de-sac full of silence? Or lively, walkable, urban block flush with entertainment options?
Screening for the right vibe can vastly improve your chances of avoiding neighbourhood regret. Fifty-five percent of people who are currently happy with their neighbourhood were significantly influenced by the vibe of the neighbourhood when selecting their house, compared with only 36 percent of people with neighbourhood regret.
How do you do it? There are a million ways to figure it out, but luckily, you don’t have to do it on your own. Online Portals may have amenities section on every neighbourhood page. Check it out to see if the neighbourhood you are looking at it is heavy on nightlife or mamak shops, depending on your preferences.
Neighbourhood regret is more likely to happen when homebuyers don’t have access to accurate information about a prospective neighbourhood. For example, 22 percent thought the vibe was oversold. Features like “vibe” are pretty subjective, so you’ll want to check it out yourself rather than take a listing’s or website’s word for it.
Of course, you don’t always have time to visit a dozen neighbourhoods during a home search—or even one if you’re shopping from afar. Fortunately, Google Maps includes 360 photo galleries to help you out. Whether you use the original photos to narrow your search down to a couple of neighbourhoods to check out, or to scope out a community from across the web, the virtual tour is the next best thing to being there yourself.
If you get the chance to spend time in a prospective neighbourhood, get friendly. Strike up a conversation with pedestrians, baristas, and neighbours about what they think the neighbourhood is like. Many of neighbourhood regretters’ complaints are things that may be hard to spot during a quiet stroll. Thirty-three percent of them dislike the lack of social activity in their neighbourhoods, while 30 percent complain of street noise, and 28 percent are unhappy about unfriendly neighbours.
Google Maps makes the task much easier with crowdsourced reviews by your future neighbours on their reviews. Want to know how your pets or kids will fit into the community? With one click, you can read reviews by dog owners and parents to see what they have to say.
It’s hard to beat safety and school quality in neighbourhood must-haves. And yet, 21 percent of neighbourhood regretters believe the school quality in their area was oversold. Problem solved: Some reviews includes detailed information about schools, including a map, what locals say about safety, school ratings, and school reviews by parents. With such important information, nothing compares to hearing from those who already live there.
You can knock down walls and repaint your new home all you want, but when it comes to your neighbourhood, you take it as it is. But if you choose the right one, that can be great news. Follow these tips, and you can find a neighbourhood that feels like home.
How to know when to buy a house?
Getting to know your local housing market just takes a bit of research.
Is now a good time to buy? Is this neighborhood a good place to buy? Is that listing you’re drooling over priced fairly? You can find answers to all of those questions by understanding your local housing market. Here’s how to do the research you need to figure out when to buy a house and where.
- Browse listings in your area
Start by getting a general idea of your local housing market with current housing prices. If you search your target city or neighbourhood online, you’ll find a few indications of current local prices that can help you decide when to buy a house:
- On each home listing, you’ll find the price of that house, as well as home estimates for neighboring houses.
- In many neighbourhoods, you can find the typical price ranges of homes, as well as other helpful info.
- Check out the Price Trends info on every listing to see the average price of new and resale home based on current data
2. Ask for a comparative market analysis
Once you’re able to find a few neighbourhoods that have houses you can afford, you can dig deeper to learn all about those areas. Real estate agents have access to databases that can help to compare properties in greater detail than you can find on your own—and since they’ll eventually want to help you buy a home, they want to give you access to it and help you understand it.
The report an agent can make for you is a comparative market analysis, or a CMA. Here’s what it includes:
- Square footage, location, number of rooms, size lot, age, and any unique selling points or unusual features of a specific property
- Active listings on the market
- Data on sold listings on what buyers actually paid for properties recently (as opposed to what sellers are hoping to get)
- Expired or removed listings, which can indicate the ceiling for prices in a particular area
This helps you understand the difference between all of those asking prices you’ve seen on active listings, and what properties are really going for in your area.
3. Check sales over time
Past sales trends will help you understand if now is the best time to buy in a particular area. If houses are way more expensive now than they were three years ago, your market might be in a bubble. Or you might find that prices have dipped and it’s a great time to buy.
You can find markets trends on portals for a particular town going back five years.
4. Figure out local housing supply
Understanding supply will let you know if you should put on your game face and prepare for a possible bidding war, or if you can take your time making an offer. The number of months of supply a market has lets you know how soon all the houses for sale would be gone if no new ones came on the market.
Here’s how to find it:
- Find the number of active listings in a specific area.
- Divide it by the number of pending transactions in the same area.
- Multiply the result by 60 (days).
- The number you come up with is the days of inventory for that specific area.
- In a balanced market—one in which you won’t have to battle over every listing—there’s usually about a six-month housing supply.
- When you find a real estate agent, they can help you find the number of active and pending listings for an area.
With an understanding of your market, you can start your home search. Our home-buying guide can help you get started.
How to know you’re ready to buy a house?
Find yourself wondering, “Should I buy a house?” This is the checklist for you.
Whether the question “should I buy a house?” has been nagging you for years or occurring to you for the first time, it’s a big, exciting thing to consider—especially when you’re really ready. If you find yourself nodding along to the statements below, that time could be now. Take a read to see if your answer to “should I buy a house?” is “yes” right now—or if you’re getting pretty close.
How to know if the answer to “should I buy a house?” is “yes”:
You want to own a home.
Being a homeowner is a lifestyle change that comes with a lot more responsibility. Taking care of your property and extra costs are part of the deal. But the perks of being the primary decision-maker may make it all worthwhile:
- Control over your living space. When you own your own home, that space becomes yours entirely. You can paint the walls orange—you can knock the walls down if you really want to.
Ability to make a neighborhood your home. Owning a house allows you to plant some roots and make connections. Because you control how long you’ll stay there, you can settle into a neighborhood and not worry about your landlord selling or charging more rent than you can afford.
- Building equity. Paying your mortgage might feel similar to paying rent, but it’s not. Every month, a little more of that home becomes your financial asset. This is called building equity in your house. Once that equity is built up enough, it boosts your wealth and creditworthiness.
- More predictable housing costs. Rent can fluctuate, but a fixed-rate mortgage makes your housing costs more predictable. Improved home value, property taxes, and insurance rates can affect that payment some, but typically less than a spontaneous rent hike.
- You can afford to buy a home.
There are more than a few things to consider when deciding if you can really afford a house. Online mortgage calculators are a good start, but there are other costs to factor in, too. For example, you’ll need money for your down payment and closing costs. Most people put anywhere from 5 to 20 percent down, and at closing, you can expect to spend about 2 to 5 percent of the home sale price.
Also, consider monthly payments and ongoing costs. In addition to the principal and interest for your mortgage, you’ll have homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, mortgage insurance, and sometimes homeowners association fees. Repairs and maintenance will vary widely, but you can expect to spend around 1 percent of the home sale price every year—and more if it’s a fixer-upper.
We break down these costs more for you in our next guide here.
Even with all that info, it can be tough to do a side-by-side comparison of home ownership costs with your current rental costs. This handy rent-vs.-buy calculator on our website can make it easier.
You can qualify for a good mortgage rate.
If you’re at the point of wondering, “Should I buy a house or rent?” CPF is a big thing to consider. Depending on your savings, you may want to wait and work on growing your CPF before deciding you’re ready to buy. The extra time could save you big.
Also, your credit score can determine both if you qualify for a mortgage and how much you’ll pay for it. A great credit score of, say 790, will likely earn a low mortgage rate. You might get a mortgage with a 600 score, but your interest will likely be high, which could cost you tens of thousands of dollars more over the years (depending on the size of your mortgage, of course).
And here’s a tip: Some organizations can help you buy a home with lower credit. Check out our Affiliates section for our affiliated mortgages bankers to see if you can get a good deal.
You’ve found a neighbourhood you love.
When you own a home, you’re committing to living in one location for a while (or for a long while!) In a recent survey, we found that five out of six respondents said finding the right neighborhood was equally if not more important than finding the right house. They said they’d give up home features—like pools, storage space, a garage, or a yard—in exchange for a great neighborhood.
It makes sense: Homeowner happiness relies so much on where that home is. A great way to find out what it’s like to live somewhere before you commit is reviewing Google Reviews. Millions of residents have shared their firsthand experiences of living in their neighbourhoods, helping you find the best fit. When you find a place you can’t wait to call home—you’re ready to start looking for homes there.
You can’t save money renting.
Home ownership is such a part of Singaporean culture that people just assume that it’s the smartest financial decision—and for many people, it is. But whether or not you should buy a house or rent depends on where you live. With rising housing prices, in some towns it’s actually cheaper to hand your landlord a cheque each month than it is to pay all of the home ownership costs we mentioned above. And experts have also found that once inflation is accounted for, many people don’t even end up making much profit when they sell. That doesn’t make home ownership a bad deal—far from it. It just means your reason for buying should be about wanting to be a homeowner, not about what will happen when you sell.