The day after the packers

You walk in and the house looks like a tip. Your heart sinks at the sight of the cardboard fragments and tiny strips of packing tape stuck to the floors, knowing you’ll soon be kneeling on the marble tiles, scrubbing them off. The walls hold shadows of your furniture and the house is eerily silent. Mechanically you attack the walls, the floors, cleaning away until every trace of you has gone. But you can’t erase the memories. And this is the day that I usually come undone.

When we moved from The Hague, I went from room to room, mop in hand, blubbering like a small child who’d lost their favourite toy. I was bereft, as this was one place I did not want to leave. All my kids were born here – we had a real connection to the country.

This time though, I wasn’t particularly emotional and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because we’re moving home for good? Maybe I’d become inured to our temporary existence? Or perhaps I was so cranky with our grasping, greedy landlord that I didn’t have time to be sad? Despite the house being in a much better state than when we moved in, I was still worried about the handover because despite our best efforts, she’d still find something to moan about.

Anyway, I thought once the kids were here and saw the empty house, the full impact of the move would hit them and we’d have a good old cry together about leaving. Wrong again.

Them: “Cool, I can do cartwheels in the lounge room!” “No, let’s play tag, there’s more room now…”

Me, screaming: “Don’t touch the walls, we’ve just spent the day cleaning them!”

I watched carefully for a reaction, which was pretty hard as they were bounding from room-to-room, their laughter echoing loudly off the empty walls. The only tears occurred when one of them ran into a doorframe.

Perhaps it’s just time to go home?

The day the packers came

The morning was crazy – packing lunches, packing boxes, packing kids off to school via bus again – what a treat! We had an extra hour up our sleeves just when we needed it most.

I thought the kids would be sad, knowing they’d be leaving the condo for good. Turns out, I was wrong. They were really excited about the serviced apartment, viewing it as a little holiday before our big adventure. They went off quite happily which was great to see and a huge relief.

And then I spent a frantic few hours in their cupboards making sure there were no organic surprises in their drawers. I’m all for science experiments but would rather they didn’t take place in our shipping container.

In Singapore, the primary bank account signatory is the only one who can sort out utilities, banking and the like. This includes the cancellation of the TV subscription which meant hubby got to spend the morning facing queues and paperwork, while I was at the coal face with the packers.

I was a little daunted by what was to come, however, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The foreman arrived first for a quick walk through and he was wonderful – softly spoken, reassuring, and instantly calming. Then he told me to kick back on the sofa until they had to pack it. Which I did until the school rang to say H had a temperature. Did I want to come and collect her. Now? Panic-mode, what to do? Hubby was lost for the day in bureaucracy and I was house-bound lest the packers take the owner’s potted palms.

Poor H…I suspect her symptoms were mostly due to worry and fatigue. She’d spent Sunday watching us run around like headless chickens trying to get ready; she was sad, confused and sleep didn’t come easily for her that night. Lots of thoughts overwhelmed her, but as it turns out, her biggest fear was of the packers forgetting to load her things. The ship sinking with our container on board came a close second. I ran with the obvious – family matters most and the five of us will be flying. Stuff can be replaced and then somehow we got into a detailed conversation about inventories and insurance…

Anyway, I explained to the nurse our situation and she said not to worry, H’s temp was down after a rest and a drink – just collect her if she comes in again. Which she did, an hour later. Hubby still tied up with red-tape, I was still on the couch which hadn’t been packed, packers still needed supervising. What to do?

The nurse was very sympathetic and I guess that’s the thing about expat living – most people understand your situation because they, too, know what it’s like to be on your own. Sometimes, you simply just can’t be there and although you feel dreadfully guilty, there’s nothing you can do about it. After moving from queues to traffic jams, Hubby did manage to collect H and she was fine after spending the afternoon on a couch in air-conditioned comfort.

As was I. The packers didn’t pack my couch so I enjoyed the afternoon with my feet up. It was quite peaceful despite the constant rip, rip of the packing tape. I took pictures of the house as it was when I left and when I got home, I showed H a few of her bedroom. The boxes were all neatly stacked, ready for the container and I watched carefully for her reaction.

She just shrugged. “Want to go to the playground?” she said as she ran off to explore.

Denial? Or are kids more resilient than we think?

The day before the packers arrive

You wake early. You’ve barely slept and already you feel like the weight of the world is pressing down on your chest. Your breathing’s shallow and a million thoughts race through your head faster than the kids running inside for dessert.

Quickly you throw breakfast at the family, gulping down bites of your own while shoving items in boxes before you forget why you’ve got them in your hand in the first place.

You turn off the freezer, start emptying a cupboard and then rush to the bedroom to chuck things in a suitcase. In your haste to get back to the kitchen, you thump painfully into the doorframe right before you slip on the water that’s leaked from the slowly defrosting freezer. And then you realise you’ve just packed the towels that were meant to sop up the mess.

What a crazy day this always is! Emotionally-charged, frantically busy and no matter how much you’ve planned for it, there is always a ridiculous amount of work to be done before the packers arrive. The kitchen is the worst – any plastic containers need to be washed and dried, appliances need to be squeaky-clean else you’ll be in for a nasty surprise after six weeks of shipping, wet towels need to be dried lest they go mouldy in the container. And try explaining all that to the kids!

Finally, exhausted, you realise that no matter what – everything will get packed, including the flip flops that H forgot to put in her suitcase. She just won’t see them for five-to-eight weeks which is not a problem, given it’s winter in Melbourne.

And the serviced apartment? Well, you can eat at the hawker market and if that doesn’t work, cheese-on-toast is a good alternative.

After many moves, I’ve finally come to the realisation that you can’t think of everything. What you thought you would need – you don’t. What you really do need – you never thought of. But we’re lucky that we’re moving to a country where you can buy it.

So after a week of over-planning, I’ve called it quits. We’ll deal with the consequences in Melbourne and that’s not a bad place to be.

Life goes on…and H will just have to wear school shoes for a while!

The landlord’s domain

It’s always crazy busy when you’re trying to find a home in Singapore. You’re whisked off to apartment after town house after condo and before long, they all blur into one. The pressure builds to find something quickly because you have limited time in your serviced apartment. Finally, when you do find a place that (more or less) meets your needs, within a very short space of time you’re signing a lease document. The ink barely dries on the contract before your shipment arrives.

However, if you can find a spare moment between sorting out Starhub and SP Services, it’s well worth making the effort to fully document any existing damage – however slight – in your new home. And at the risk of sounding particularly paranoid, try and have a third party present to any conversations you have with your landlord about the condition of the premises.

We had a pre-inspection last week and it was disappointing to see the owner try and hold us accountable for pre-existing damage. However, we were fortunate that our relocation agent had taken loads of photos of the apartment before we moved in. Not only did he take shots of individual rooms, but he took extra pictures of all the existing damage. Stains on curtains, cracked tiles, discoloration of the sinks and basins – you name it, he filmed it, labelled each file with a clear description of the photo and burned them onto a CD for us.

Thanks to him, we were able to find the photos from three years ago highlighting the damage in all its glory. There’s nothing like photographic evidence to finalise a dispute!

One thing that never occurred to me was to fully check the state of the curtains. They were just there, hanging over the windows and the ones that needed to be opened were opened, and the ones that didn’t stayed prettily tied up with a sash. But unbeknownst to us, those decorative drapes had been baked by the sun for the last 15 years and were falling apart. When we took them down for dry cleaning, the laundry lady rang up to say the fabric was rotten and they’d fall apart if she tried to clean them. At this point I’m not sure whether we’ll have to foot the bill for new curtains, despite the fact that they’re older than my firstborn child. Whatever the case, I’m kicking myself for not being more thorough when we moved in.

When we moved to Singapore the first time, the apartment we rented was filthy and the owner wouldn’t have it cleaned. I spent about 14 frantic hours scrubbing mould from the cupboards the day before our shipment arrived and I swore I would never do that again.

This time I asked for the house to be professionally cleaned but the landlord assured me they’d leave it spotless when they moved out. I insisted but my protests fell on deaf ears. When we did our final inspection before signing the contract, the place was grubby and it was apparent that no particular effort had been expended to clean the place.  I was livid and I made sure that the owner, her agent, my agent and the relocation agent were aware of the dirty tissues left in drawers, stray socks and sticky stuff that was splattered all over the cupboards.

And so I lost another day to cleaning someone else’s mess the day before our container arrived. So when the landlord asked me if I was going to organise professional cleaners before we moved out, I had to bite my lip so I didn’t laugh out loud.

The first time you move to Singapore, knowing what your landlord’s expectations are can take some figuring out. Some are brilliant and happy to maintain their property but in our case, we’re expected to return the apartment in a much better state than when we rented it.

As there is no Residency and Tenancy tribunal here and landlords hold a substantial deposit, it’s daunting and difficult to know what rights you have here, as a tenant. For a little self-preservation, I’ve found the following has helped in our situation:

  1. Taking photographs of every single room in the house and detailed close-ups of marks/scratches/dents, no matter how trivial the damage appears to be.
  2. Keeping emails/text messages or any other form of communication that transpires between you and the agent for the duration of your lease.
  3. Ask the landlord to have the place professionally cleaned before you move in. Otherwise, if the house isn’t up to scratch when you sign the contract, make a point of it in front of both agents and the owner. We’re leaving the house much cleaner than the way we received it and this will definitely be pointed out at checkout.
  4. Are they going to polish the marble floors? If not, take note of any scratches, marks and chips. Also, check for cracked tiles in the wet areas and look up! Is anything amiss on the ceiling or around the light fixtures?
  5. From when your contract starts, you have 30 days to point out any repairs that the owner should make right. Otherwise the liability will fall onto you. Highlighting everything – preferably in writing – is a good start so you’ve got a record of your requests.
  6. If the landlord organises something to be delivered and the contractor causes damage to walls etc, take photos and send them to your agent immediately. We were held accountable for damage that the fridge deliveryman had apparently caused, but thanks to our photos, we could prove that the dent in the door frame was actually there well before we – and the fridge – moved in.
  7. Keep a journal that records the date and time of requests for repairs to be made and the name of the repairmen who show up.
  8. Have friends who are lawyers!

Anyway, to keep things fresh, we’ve moved onto the battle of the leaky water hose. It flooded the floor from the day we stepped foot on the property and after multiple requests to have it fixed, it got dumped in the “too  hard” basket and she turned off its water supply. It’s our problem now, it seems, to get it fixed properly before checkout. Another day, another issue. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s problem to surface!