Published February 10, 2007

Building a home out of a house

Veronica Moore banks on her rich experience of changing houses and countries many times since leaving her native Malta to soothe newbie expats' house-hunting woes, says GEOFFREY EU

LIVING in Singapore has been a moving experience for Veronica Moore - literally, that is. As a relocation specialist whose task is to help newly arrived expatriates find suitable homes and smoothen the path to settling down in a foreign country, Moore - who has changed houses and countries many times herself since she left her native Malta over three decades ago - relies on her own considerable experiences to put anxious clients at ease.

Comfortable clutter: The airy apartment near the Botanic Gardens is full of natural light and it has a cosy touch, being full of items acquired from a life on the move such as a dining room set from South Africa, oil paintings and a marble-topped chess table

Moore arrived in Singapore with her banker husband about 10 years ago from a posting in South Africa. Before that, they were based in Switzerland and the UK. The couple has a primary residence in Surrey as well as a chalet in the French Alps and a country house in Provence, so it's safe to say that finding and furnishing a home has become almost second nature to her.

'I have been in the position of moving homes so many times myself,' says Moore. 'I grew up in Malta and I always thought that going to England would be my 'big move', but now I love moving and setting up again. Malta is just so small (it is a Singapore-sized speck - a small archipelago, actually - in the middle of the Mediterranean, about 93 km south of Sicily) and I never expected to end up on another tiny island.'

Over the past seven-and-a-half years, Moore has helped to find rental homes ranging from HDB flats to high-end bungalows for dozens of families with budgets ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. 'It doesn't matter what budget you have - it doesn't get easier because you have more money,' she says. 'The bigger the budget, the more expectations you have.'

In addition to finding residences, she also assists in the settling-in process by advising families on schools, furniture and what clubs to join. 'I tell them to make it a home and not treat it as a short-term relocation,' she says. 'It is so important to feel that it is a home, otherwise you won't settle as well. Also, they should get out and experience the region - don't come here and expect it to be just like home.'

'When people ask me what the worst thing about Singapore is, I tell them it's the weather - but I love the warm climate, the cleanliness and the way everything works,' says Moore. 'There are lots of similarities with Malta, but it hasn't developed the way Singapore has developed and the atmosphere is totally different. Over there, everything is built in limestone.'

Moore says the rental property market in the midst of the current en bloc frenzy is 'a nightmare. There is a big shortage of rental properties and I'm concerned with what's going to happen once everything has been sold.' But she adds that there is likely to be a glut once all the en bloc sales have been converted to new projects.

Being on the move, so to speak, has turned Moore into a collector of sorts. She now has more than enough items to fill several houses. 'When we left England 16 years ago we left with 86 boxes but when we arrived in Singapore we had two 40-foot containers of belongings. I collect things that I don't necessarily use - everything is chock-a-block,' she says.

Much of it is now back in the UK. Six months ago, the Moores - whose grown daughters live abroad - moved from a large black-and-white bungalow to a bright and airy three-bedroom apartment near the Botanic Gardens, and there wasn't enough room to fit everything.

The apartment is filled with natural light and there are expansive views of verdant scenery in every direction, especially towards the Bukit Timah area. Not surprisingly, the place evokes a casual, cosy and comfortable feeling, decorated with treasured items acquired from a life on the move. This house is quite definitely a home.

There are oil paintings and a dining room set from South Africa, a grandfather clock from England and many pieces from Asia, including a marble-topped chess table from India and a large antique Chinese door decorated with iron animals. The animal theme also extends to a quirky hippopotamus carved from solid mahogany and bought from a street vendor in Johannesburg. Moore's most prized animal, though, is Sahara, her pet Labrador who has been with the family since they lived in South Africa.

Moore enjoys each of her homes but is not given to being overly sentimental about them. 'Every home has its own needs,' says Moore. 'It doesn't matter what you have in each house.' The house in Provence was decorated entirely with furniture bought in Singapore. Recently, she put her ski chalet in the alpine resort of Les Gets up for sale on a property website. By sheer coincidence, she got a response from someone who lived next door to her previous home in Singapore. 'It just goes to show how small the world is,' she says.

Despite being very happy here in Singapore, such is Moore's peripatetic nature that she would be prepared to move on if necessary. 'You never know what's around the corner - if something came up and we had to move I would go.'

Meanwhile, however, she intends to make the most of her home of the moment. 'It's a house full of memories,' she says.