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.
Home Decorating Tips for the DIYer in You
Here are 11 home decor ideas from the pros that don’t break the bank.
Professional home stagers know how to play up your house’s strengths, hide its flaws, and make it appealing to just about everyone. We talked to several pros across the country to get their tips for freshening up the rooms in your home without breaking your budget.
1. Set the Tone at The Front Door
If you want your house to make a great first impression, paint the front door a fun, glossy hue. “Red is a lucky colour in many cultures,” says Lara Brett, a. A red colour means prosperity in Chinese culture, and on churches it represents a safe haven.
Two other hues gaining favour: orange and yellow, according to stager Christopher Breining. Both colours are associated with joy and warmth. One thing that should go: an outdated screen door. Get rid of it or replace it with a storm door with full-length glass that you can switch out for a screened panel.
Stick to colours like beige or grey, especially on the first floor, where flow is important. “You want to minimise jarring transitions,” says Breining. Neutral walls give you the greatest decorating flexibility, allowing you to easily switch up your accessories.
And if you have two small rooms next to each other, painting them the same neutral colour helps them feel larger. Look at a paint strip and move up or down a shade or two for a subtle variation from room to room, suggests Allen..
Think of a nice hotel lobby: The furniture is arranged in groupings that invite conversation. When you place the furniture in your living room, aim for a similar sense of balance and intimacy.
“A conversation area that has a U-shape, with a sofa and two chairs facing each other at each end of the coffee table, or an H-shape, with a sofa directly across from two chairs and a coffee table in the middle, is ideal,” says Michelle Lynne, a stager.
One common mistake to avoid: Pushing all the furniture against the walls. “People do that because they think it will make their room look bigger, but in reality, floating the furniture away from the walls makes the room feel larger,” she says.
“When it comes to heavy, outdated drapes, a naked bank of windows is better than an ugly one,” says Lynne. Ideally, window dressings should be functional and elegant: Think sheers paired with full-length panels.
If your room gets a lot of sun, opt for light colours that won’t fade. The most recommended lightweight fabrics for panels are cotton, linen, and silk blends because they tend to hang well.
“Mirrors can make a space feel brighter because they bounce the light around the room,” says Breining. But placing one in the wrong spot can be almost as bad as not having one at all.
Put mirrors on walls perpendicular to windows, not directly across from them. Hanging a mirror directly opposite a window can actually bounce the light right back out the window.
“There are few things more ridiculous-looking than hanging dinky little art too high on the wall,” says Breining. The middle of a picture should hang at eye level. If one person is short and the other tall, average their heights.
Also take scale into account; for a large wall, go big with one oversize piece or group smaller pieces gallery-style. For the latter, don’t space the pictures too far apart; 2 to 4 inches between items usually looks best.
Every room should have three kinds of lighting: ambient, which provides overall illumination and often comes from ceiling fixtures; task, which is often found over a kitchen island or a reading nook; and accent, which is more decorative, highlighting, say, artwork.
For a living room, you should have at least 3 watts (42 lumens) per square foot. One visual trick Breining swears by: using up lights. “Placing a canister upplight or a torchiere in the corner will cast a glow on the ceiling, making a room seem bigger,” he says.
Follow these basic rules for an area rug: “In a living room, all four legs of the sofa and chairs in a furniture grouping should fit on it; the rug should define the seating area,” says Breining. “At the very least, the front two legs of the sofa and chairs should rest on top of it,” he adds.
Even living rooms with less than generous proportions usually require an 8-by-10-foot or a 9-by-12-foot rug to properly accommodate a seating area. Go too small with the rug size and everything looks out of scale.
The longer you live in a house, the less you see the mess over time. Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes. You can hire an organiser for a few hours (expect to pay $75 to $250 an hour, depending on where you live) to tackle bookshelves and closets, which stagers say are often packed with twice the amount of stuff they should hold.
Breining suggests whittling down what’s on your shelves by 50 percent. Then mix horizontal stacks of books among the vertical rows and intersperse decorative objects, such as bowls or vases, among them.
If your ceilings are on the low side, paint them white to make the room feel less claustrophobic. Hang curtains higher than the windows, suggests Allen, to trick your eye into thinking the room is taller. Most standard curtain panels measure 84 or 96 inches, allowing you to go about 3 inches above the window casing before the length gets too short.
If you want to hang them higher, you’ll have to order custom drapes. Love patterned panels? Try vertical stripes; the lines visually elongate your walls. Leaning a large mirror against a wall can also make a room seem taller.
Got dated fixtures? Reinvent them with spray paint and inexpensive refinishing kits. “A 1980s brass chandelier can get a new lease on life with a quick coat of hammered-bronze or satin-nickel spray paint,” says Breining.
Even outdated kitchen cabinets benefit from a few coats of white paint and new hardware. And if you thought there was no hope for Formica countertops, think again. Breining swears by Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformations, a DIY counter-coating product that mimics stone, making even the ugliest 1970s counter look fresh.
Pros and Cons of DIY and Hiring A Professional
One of the first things that a homeowner must make when beginning a home improvement project is who will do the work. The decision to hire a professional contractor or to complete a project personally can be tough to make. After all, there’s a lot riding on each home improvement project. Knowing the pros and cons of each option can help you make the right choice.
• Homeowners who are able to complete tasks themselves can save on labour expenses, which enables them to make home improvements at a fraction of the cost of a contractor or handyman.
• Many homeowners like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from working on their own home.
• Some homeowners feel better about the quality of the work when they’ve done it themselves.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides of doing your own home improvement work.
• Not all homeowners know how to make home improvements correctly.
• Without training and expertise, homeowners can do damage to their property.
• Many homeowners lack the equipment and training required to do home improvement projects safely.
The advantages of hiring a professional to complete your home improvement tasks are numerous.
• Professionals often carry insurance and have a bond that protects the consumer (you’ll have to check on a case-by-case basis because not all professionals are the same).
• Professionals often have training, expertise, tools and equipment that enable them to do the job right.
• Professionals are often able to complete the work more quickly and efficiently than homeowners.
One of the most common problems that homeowners encounter when trying to hire a professional is the price. For a typical handyman, the average rate comes to around $77 per hour. For home improvement contractor, average rates can go up as high as $102 per hour. At these prices, homeowners on a tight budget may find themselves priced out and unable to make the kind of home improvements that they want or need to make.
• Give yourself time to shop around for a contractor who offers a competitive rate.
• Hire contractors in the off-season when rates are lower.
• Hire small business contractors who have fewer or no employees and lower overhead costs.
When the time comes to make a final decision, safety and expertise are important factors to consider. Any job that could incur structural damage to the home (such as a roof or ceiling improvement) should be handled by a reputable contractor. Likewise, any home improvement that could result in injuries to the homeowner (such as electrical improvement) should also be conducted by a professional.
The final thing to consider before making improvements to your home is the value of your property and the way the value would be impacted. Professional upgrades may be of higher quality and therefore can deliver more value than DIY home improvements. If you’re thinking of selling, try to scope out the improvements of other homes in the area. If you’re selling a South Alexandria home, it would make sense to understand what other homes in that area are doing before selling. Improperly performed upgrades can actually devalue the home. Taking this into account can help homeowners decide for sure whether or not an improvement should be performed as a DIY project or by a professional.
Best areas to live in Singapore?
According to the expats who have chosen to set up a new life in this Asian Dragon, Singapore is in its prime. The city-state is second in the 2019 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, with high positions for quality of life, income and career progression.
For those moving to Singapore with children, it’s reassuring to know that in the same survey it came first overall for ‘Little Expats’, which is made up of ease of making friends, learning and schooling.
Singapore is split up into a number of Districts, and within these you can find some of the best neighbourhoods for professionals, couples and families.
This Bohemian area is one of the most popular neighbourhoods for expatriates to reside in. It offers attractive leafy suburban streets filled with a mixture of larger family homes, condominiums and apartment blocks, with a number of gated communities.
Close to the Botanical Gardens and only minutes away from Orchard Road, with its shops, restaurants and bars, Holland Village benefits from a central location with a community village feel. Many families opt to live here, thanks to its proximity to some of the best schools and open green spaces. There are also a number of art galleries and shops in the area.
In the evenings, Holland Village is popular with both local residents and expatriates as a place to go for an evening meal or night out. It is sometimes called ‘Holland V’ by its young, trendy visitors. It’s a great area with plenty of choice of accommodation to suit your preferred style of living.
District 9 encompasses Orchard Road, the tree-lined boulevard lined with major stores, boutiques and hotels, and the main shopping and entertainment area of Singapore. While it is known as the commercial hub of the city-state, it also offers some prime residential housing options.
Here you will find towering condominium and apartment blocks that offer sky-high luxury living. It doesn’t come cheap for this central floor space, especially in the Core Central Region. In August 2017, a ‘super penthouse’ sold in the Sculptura Ardmore complex in excess of a reported S$60 million – though exact details of the sale were kept private. What is known is that the Sculptura Ardmore is a 36-storey, 34-unit high block, with the penthouse taking up the top two floors and has its own cantilevered private pool.
Other complexes in the area offer the ultimate in city luxury, but at slightly less eye-popping prices from around S$30 million upwards.
Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, and it’s built in a unique way. The houses interlock together in a kind of horse-shoe shape around the community centre. It offers lower-level living, which might appeal if the idea of a towering apartment block doesn’t suit you.
Apartments here are elegant and with a rich heritage, with Art Deco stylings. Many have been extensively but sensitively restored into stunning modern homes. The area in general can feel much calmer and quieter, which can offer a good respite from the busyness of the city centre.
The area has seen a lot of investment and interest. It is home to many modern and trendy cafes and coffee shops, boutiques and eateries. It also has a popular market and good commuter links to the business district. It’s a popular area with expatriate families in particular, especially those with younger children.
This city-centre district is popular with high-income single professionals and couples who want to live at the heart of everything. The area has been hugely redeveloped to meet the demand and there are some incredible buildings with all manner of residential options. It’s also a short commute to the main Central Business District (CBD) on foot.
The condo blocks here usually have a pool and gym facilities and are located in premium positions to benefit from sky-line views across the city.
In the area, you will also find the classic shophouse-style buildings that Singapore is known for. It’s probably the most recognisable style of local architecture, with a narrow face but great depth. Shophouses date back to the 18th century and many were destroyed to make space for newer developments. Not many are available as modern housing options, but they do lend a cultural charm to the area.
Sentosa is known as a ‘resort island’ in Singapore, thanks to its Universal Studios theme park (as part of Resorts World Sentosa), golf club, beaches and other attractions. However, for those who want high-end living away from the main city, this is a great residential option. It does mean a commute from the mainland, either by car or by using the tram that connects to the MRT system.
Those who live permanently in the area will benefit from a close-knit community feel, but it can get busy in the main tourist season with many visitors. There are plenty of luxury accommodation options here, with exceptional sea views and a short walk to the nearest beach. There are striking condos available, as well as more substantial waterfront homes.
You would certainly never get bored on this island. It boasts casinos, international shows at the Festive Theatre, restaurants, bars, an indoor skydiving experience and the historic Fort Siloso.
This popular area, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, offers a selection of apartments with excellent sea- or riverfront views, as well as variety of activities and dining options.
From the green oasis of East Coast Park where you can cycle, rollerblade, canoe and windsurf to your heart’s content, to the excellent facilities at the Laguna Golf Course and East Coast Tennis Centre, there certainly isn’t a lack of fun things to do in this area.
Some of the most popular international schools are located around 45 minutes away by school bus, and some can even be reached by bike commute. As such, this green area is popular with expatriate families looking for a quieter living experience with lots of open space to enjoy. It’s a little further out, which means that you can usually get a lot more space for your money.
Popular with American expatriates in particular, due to its close proximity to the Singapore American School, Woodlands is a neighbourhood in the north region of Singapore. It is the main centre for this region, so it has all the key amenities close to hand. It does mean a commute to the Central Business District if this is where you will be working (about 12 miles away), but it is a nice area to bring up a young family.
Here you can find large houses with lots of green space, a wonderful alternative to apartment city-centre living. It is one of the fastest-growing areas of Singapore and has developed well beyond its initial roots as a very rural area, home to numerous rubber plantations and farms.
This is one of the most exclusive and desirable areas to live in Singapore for expatriates right now. It is stunningly designed, attractive and has a huge greenspace right at its heart or public use.
Its well-known as the location of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, which takes place on a street circuit adjacent to Marina Bay. It also hosts a number of special events in the area, including fireworks, New Year celebrations and art shows.
The top development in the area is Marina One, with is available for mixed-use, including residential. It offers up to four-bedroom apartments and penthouse suites, right in the heart of the city. It is connected to four MRT lines to allow for easy commuting around the rest of Singapore. It also has a pool, gym and private dining rooms. Not to mention panoramic views over the sea and the gardens.
10 French Restaurants In Singapore For Affordable Crepes, Duck Confit, And More
French restaurants in Singapore
We may think wallet-friendly French restaurants are hard to find in Singapore, but the truth is contrary. All you really need is a little insider intel, and for that, I am grateful to have French friends who can point me to fine bistros that don’t rack up a $100 per head bill.
While it’s true that the cuisine seems to demand finesse, you don’t really need deep pockets or an elevated palate to appreciate the likes of foie gras, escargot, and duck confit. Hidden all over Singapore are French restaurants that dole out affordable dishes, great for when you’re missing your last trip to France just a touch too much.
1. The French Ladle
A condominium complex isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of finding French restaurants, but The French Ladle turns that notion on its head.
Tucked away in Pandan Valley Condominium, this hidden gem of a French bistro has been up and running for over seven years now, dishing out classic French food that’s both delightful and affordable. The team behind The French Ladle makes most of their dishes from scratch, including their sauces and pâté. The cherry on top: all prices are nett.
Their menu boasts French classics, such as Escargots de Bourgogne ($16) that’s prepared with garlic, herbs and butter, as well as Confit de Canard ($34), featuring pillowy mashed potatoes. To get the best bang for your buck, head here during lunch for their Prix Fixe two- or three-course menu ($30, $35) which lets you choose from a selection of entrees, mains, and desserts.
Address: 2 Pandan Valley, #01-206, Pandan Valley Condominium, Singapore 597626
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 12pm to 2:30pm, 6pm to 9:30pm
2. La Petite Cuisine
Another Westside gem, La Petite Cuisine in Serene Centre has been serving affordable French food since 2006. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that serves classic French main courses for under $25, but this is one. Plus, there’s no service charge here either!
The duck confit, or Confit de Canard costs $21, and comes served with au gratin potatoes. You can even find mains for under $20; the Dory with Beurre Blanc ($18) and Filet of Chicken with Chanterelle Mushrooms ($16) are popular picks. Top up $6 to score a soup or dessert of the day to round off the meal.
Address: 10 Jalan Serene, Singapore 258748
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5:30pm to 9:30pm
Working in a food title means I am perpetually the default source for dining recommendations amongst my friends, and when it comes to French food, Gaston is my always my instinctive answer. The menu pays homage to manager Geoffery Daurelle’s upbringing in Burgundy, as well as his family’s recipes, so expect French cuisine with lots of rustic soul at this Keong Saik bistro.
Escargot fans can look forward to something different, as their Escargots de Bourgogne (from $16) are served in crunchy pastry “shells” and drenched in garlicky butter.
For mains, their Boeuf Bourguignon ($34) is a must. A portion of this tender beef chuck stew is easily shared between two, comes loaded with salty French bacon and a silken mash that is made with 50% butter, and 50% potatoes.
Address: 25 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089132
Opening hours: Mon 5pm to 10:30pm, Tues-Sat 12pm to10:30pm
Tel: 6909 8120
4. L’Entrecôte The Steak and Fries Bistro
Steaks that are doused in a legendary secret sauce and served with unlimited portions of crispy French fries sound like a match made in heaven. For an atmospheric date night that won’t break the bank, head to L’Entrecôte The Steak and Fries Bistro for their famous Trimmed Entrecôte Steak ($36.80++).
This tender premium steak cut is sliced and served medium-rare, accompanied by L’Entrecôte’s trademark secret sauce that’s buttery, balanced, and incredibly addictive. It also comes with walnut salad and free-flow golden fries for you to mop up all that amazing sauce.
Address: 36 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089614
Opening hours: Sun-Thurs 12pm to 3pm, 5:30pm to 10:30pm, Fri 12pm to 3pm, 5:30pm to 11pm, Sat 5:30pm to 11pm
5. Taratata Brasserie
If you’re craving for French food on a budget, classic French bistro Taratata Brasserie on Keong Saik has got you sorted with their three-course set lunch ($38++) which is available every day, including public holidays!
Unlike many places where options are limited to just two or three choices per course, Taratata Brasserie’s set lunch has twice the number of choices—including escargots, sirloin steak, and duck confit! If you’re staying for more dessert, the molten-centred Moelleux au Chocolat ($15++) hits the spot. Alternatively, opt for three choices off their cheese trolley ($25++)
Address: 35A Keong Saik Road, Ground Floor, Singapore 089142
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 12pm to 2:30pm, 6pm to 10pm
Tucked away in Bukit Timah, Choupinette has long been lauded as a brunch spot for one of the best eggs benedict on the island. This charming cafe has brunch sets that include classic French breakfast favourites accompanied by fruit juice and a hot drink.
These include Eggs Benedict ($22++) with house-made hollandaise and ham, and The Tristan ($21++), which comes with your choice of eggs and sausage, along with tomato provençale, mushrooms, and bread. For those with a sweet tooth, the Di Di’s Set ($19++) is a great choice, with fluffy slices of French toast decorated with tart berry compote and honey.
Address: 607 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 269708
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 8am to 7pm
7. Entre-Nous Creperie
If you’ve got a craving for crêpes, head to Entre-Nous Creperie. This cosy French restaurant on Seah Street specialises in two things: sweet crêpes and savoury buckwheat galettes. Made from scratch with flour imported from Brittany, the buckwheat galettes are priced between $14.90+ and $22.90+, depending on the combination of fillings you get. You can’t go wrong with the classic Egg and Emmental Cheese ($15.90+). However, my personal pick is Stephan’s Favourite ($21.90+) that comes with roasted chicken, wholegrain mustard, and house-made caramelised onions.
Address: 27 Seah Street, #01-01, Singapore 188383
Opening hours: Tue-Fri 12pm to 2:30pm, 6pm to 9:30pm, Sat 11am to 9:30pm, Sun 11am to 5:30pm
8. Nicolas Le Restaurant
Another French restaurant natives recommend is Nicolas Le Restaurant, where wallet-friendly set lunches make for a great special-occasion option. Their three-course lunch menu is $48++, featuring your choice of appetiser, main course, and dessert. Their mains are a standout, choose from Tasmanian Rack of Lamb or North Atlantic Sea Cod served with a beurre blanc sauce.
Address: 10 Teck Lim Road, Singapore 088386
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 12pm-2pm, 6:30pm to 10pm
9. Bistro Du Vin
Run by the Les Amis group, Bistro Du Vin specialises in classic brasserie fare. Their lunch menus start at $34++ for two courses, and feature moreish entrees like rillettes, though made with salmon, and mushroom cream soup. For mains, go straight for the Hand Cut Steak Tartare, served with fries and salad, or top up $10 for Duck Confit with Potatoes.
Address: 1 Scotts Rd, #01-14, Shaw House, Singapore 228208
Opening hours: Daily 11:30am to 2pm, 6pm to 10pm
10. Merci Marcel
Having first opened at Tiong Bahru, French restaurant Merci Marcel now has a chic space at Palais Renaissance and Club Street as well, with all locations serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. With cosy indoor seating and outdoor tables for al fresco dining, Merci Marcel nails it in terms of ambience.
Go for the flaky Croissant ($3.50++) or Pain Au Chocolat ($3.50++) for a relatively lighter brunch option that still satisfies. If you’re looking to pull out all the stops, get the Ravioles de Royan ($18++), which is a French dumpling pasta filled with cheese. At dinnertime, the Duck Rillette ($18++) with marinated pear and melted Camembert cheese, and Tarte Flambee ($25++) boasting bacon, apples, asparagus, and blue cheese, make for excellent sharing plates.
Address: 56 Eng Hoon Street, #01-68, Singapore 160056
Opening hours: Tue-Sat 8am to 11:30pm, Sun 8am to 10:30pm
Affordable French restaurants in Singapore
These 10 French restaurants show that you can indulge in tasty French fare without breaking the bank. What’s more, places such as The French Ladle and Taratata Brasserie offer multi-course meals so you can have a romantic night out.