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How To RENT + Buy A House In Singapore

Looking to find a home on this island? Peruse our guide to everything you need to know about how to do it, here.

Looking to rent a home in sunny Singapore?

Finding a house for rent in Singapore can be a long and tedious process. And while the market here isn’t the most rent-friendly, it’s only normal to ensure you get the most out of what you pay for.

Summary:

  1. Factors to consider when renting a home
  2. Properties to rent in Singapore
  3. Free DIY home search portals
  4. Must-knows before signing any property agreement
  5. Basic property rules for foreign home owners
  6. Figuring out your budget
  7. Conclusion: Is it really a renter’s market?

Important factors to consider when looking for a house to rent in Singapore:

house for rent in singapore location
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1. Location

Singapore might be a tiny island, but getting from place to place can take a surprising amount of time. Choosing a neighbourhood that offers easy access to the places you frequent – your workplace, your kids’ school or even your favourite weekend hangouts – can mean hundreds of hours saved per year. If you plan to use public transport, look for a property within walking distance of a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train station or nearby bus stops. (Check out more conveniences, at right.)

Also, consider the noise level around of the location, proximity to construction and amount of sunlight the home receives. You want to feel happy and relaxed when you’re there, after all. And know this: The closer the property is located to the city, the higher the rent is likely to be. Aim to find a happy medium between how centrally located your home is and how much you’re willing to pay.

2. Size

Homes in Singapore come in all shapes and sizes, from itty-bitty studio apartments to massive landed bungalows. A three-bedroom HDB (which stands for Housing & Development Board, and is an oft-used shorthand for public housing in Singapore) tends to average about 90 square metres, while a three-bedroom condominium apartment can range from 90 to 280 square metres. As for landed homes, they can range from 180 square metres for a small terrace house to, frankly, humongous.

3. On-site amenities

Condos and cluster houses are frequently equipped with shared facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and gyms, and you’ll enjoy round-the-clock security. Mind you, these amenities typically come at a cost. On the other hand, if you opt to live in an HDB flat, you’ll likely have an affordable accommodation but without such facilities. (Don’t worry, Singapore has no shortage of sporting and leisure amenities open to the public!) The pros and cons of living in a landed property? You may score your own private garden or swimming pool, but you will have to factor in the added effort and cost of maintenance.

4. Other conveniences

Grocery shopping or stepping out for a quick meal are things you may want to do regularly. Think about what conveniences you need so you can check their location in relation to homes you’re thinking of renting. Other than supermarkets and eateries, look into the proximity of gyms, swimming pools and other sports facilities, plus SG’s Park Connector Network or even the coast. Bookworms might opt to live near a library, while those with health issues or family might want the reassurance of having medical and dental clinics nearby.

Properties to rent in Singapore

1. HDB Flats

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HDB flats are government-built apartments, and where some 80-percent of Singaporeans live. Many HDB estates feature facilities such as MRT stations and hawker centres. HBD living gives you a window into authentic Singaporean life (think festivals and local activities). Newer two-bedroom HDB flats are typically about 60 to 65 square metres while four-bedroom flats are approximately 110 square metres.

Expect to pay: about $2,400 a month for a two-bedroom HDB flat in Queenstown.

Did you know? HDBs allow only one dog of an approved breed, and cats are not technically permitted.

2. Condominiums

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Condominiums are high-rise apartments that enjoy gated community security and amenities such as swimming pools, gyms and saunas – some newer ones even have yoga decks and sky bridges. Many condos are also conveniently located close to MRT stations or integrated into shopping malls. Studio units can measure as little as 25 square metres, while penthouse apartments can go up to 600 square metres.

Expect to pay: about $3,300 per month for 2-bedroom condo in Bishan.

Did you know? Properties within 2 kilometres of a top local school can easily cost 10-percent or more than other properties within the same area.

3. Black and White Houses

house for rent in singapore black and white homes
(image: Mita Kelder Photography)

Heritage “black and white” bungalows, mostly built in the early 20th century, are coveted for their sprawling estates and high ceilings despite the high rent. They can only be owned privately or by the government. Government-owned houses are allocated through bidding, while privately-owned ones can be rented through consulting a property agent or portals (flip to the next page). Floor areas start from 200 square metres and up.

Expect to pay: at least $10,000 for a colonial home in Bukit Timah.

4. Cluster Houses

house for rent in singapore cluster homes
(image: Lee Junxian)

Combining the privacy and spaciousness of landed properties with the security and facilities of condominiums, cluster houses enable you to zip from your gated community’s swimming pool, playground, sauna or gym to your own landed-style home. Cluster houses typically range from the smallest three-bedroom units that clock in at about 170 square metres to 5-bedroom units starting from about 300 square metres.

Expect to pay: about $7,000 for a 3-bedroom cluster house in Novena.

5. Landed Houses

house for rent in singapore landed homes
(image: Lee Junxian)

A landed house offers the perfect respite from the bustle of the city, with many located in peaceful neighbourhoods. Styles range from terrace and semi-detached houses that usually come with a garden to spacious bungalows with swimming pools. The smallest three-bedroom terrace houses typically measure about 130 square metres, while some bungalows can easily exceed 1,100 square metres.

Expect to pay: about $5,000 for a 3-bedroom terrace house in the Upper Bukit Timah area.

6. Conservation Homes

house for rent in singapore conservation homes shophouses
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Have history at your doorstep by living in one of SG’s iconic heritage shophouses. These beautiful buildings, often painted in candy colours and scattered across conservation areas, are preserved by the authorities for their architectural style and historic value. Conservation homes can range from small studios that measure about 28 square metres to six-bedroom units measuring over 380 square metres.

Expect to pay: at least $7,000 for a 3-bedroom shophouse in historic Joo Chiat.

Short term rental options:

house for rent in singapore short term rental
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If you’re not ready to commit to where to live, or just don’t want to deal with all that property hunting and paperwork, there are some great alternatives. Namely…

1. Co-living

Co-living portals such as figment.live, Hmlet.com and Cove.sg offer stylishly furnished spaces (plus fast Wi-Fi connections, utilities and cleaning) on flexible leases. Note: You will have housemates.

2. Serviced Apartments

They come fully furnished, often with the perks of a hotel – think housekeeping, breakfast buffets and on-site gyms or pools. Find a range to consider from the Serviced Apartments Association (servicedapartments.org.sg).

3. Short-Term Rental Sites

Only private property owners of non-HDB can legally lease out a spare room or entire unit on sites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Nestpick and RentinSingapore.com.sg. The duration of the stay must be at least 3 months. For HDBs, the minimum duration must be 6 months.

Free DIY home search portals

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  1. Property Guru: Its website and handy app enable you to easily search residential property listings all over SG. Just filter your search according to parameters such as property type, size or number of bedrooms. Tip: It can even help you know the market rate, so you can make a more educated offer. Click on the Condo Directory. Like a particular unit? Scroll to View Past Transactions to see the recent rental rates.
  2. 99.co: If you like Airbnb’s search function, you’ll probably like 99.co. One of the biggest online website publishers of sale and rental listings, it has a user-friendly search engine that lets you filter results according to parameters such as area, HDB towns, districts, nearest MRT station, nearby schools or even travel time from a chosen destination. You can explore its news section about condominium launches and Singapore’s neighbourhoods.
  3. iProperty.com.sg: iProperty.com.sg is popular with property agents (see below) looking to publish their listings. The portal also publishes lots of guides and blog content on numerous topics from property market news to decor trends.
  4. EdgeProp.sg: This portal not only displays property and rental searches, but publishes news, data and analytics on the property market, too. It covers a wide range of subjects from the latest news about the property market to lifestyle and decorating intel.
  5. SRX Property: On SRX, or Singapore Real Estate Exchange, some listings offer 360-degree virtual tour videos of the property. Plus, you can research housing price trends across Singapore with its heat map. Tip: It has a value pricing tool, so you can make sure you’re getting a fair price on your desired property.

Here’s how an agent can help

house for rent in singapore finding an agent
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Don’t feel like trawling through pages and pages of property listings? Finding a new place to rent is a lot easier when a property agent is doing the legwork. Such a tenant’s agent will help to locate properties that match your requirements, and most will set up viewings and chauffeur you there, which is especially useful if you’re fresh off the boat or don’t have wheels of your own. In addition, they negotiate with the landlord’s agent, and handle paperwork such as the Letter of Intent (LOI), Stamp Duty and more.

But who can you trust? Personal recommendations from friends and acquaintances who’ve previously hired a realtor are always good. You can also read internet reviews of agents on sites like PropertyGuru (see above). And before engaging an agent, check the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) portal to be sure the agent has the necessary credentials and licensing.

Did you know? If you sign a two-year tenancy agreement, you typically won’t have to pay to hire an agent, as the tenant’s and landlord’s agents will split the commission.

Must-knows before signing any property agreement

housing agreement with key
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1. Letter of Intent (ROI)

When you first agree to rent a home, the landlord may ask you to sign one of these. This document indicates your commitment to renting the place. At a later stage, you will also need to sign a tenancy agreement. Not all landlords use both.

2. Tenancy Agreement (TA)

The tenancy agreement, or lease, sets out the key terms governing your stay. There is typically a section for landlord’s covenants, or obligations, and another for tenant’s covenants. Make sure you read it well.

For instance, so long as the landlord hasn’t inserted any clauses into your rental agreement forbidding pets, you should be able to keep up to three pets in private property. Some condos also have their own rules regarding pets, so do check with them.

3. Good-Faith Deposit

This deposit, also called a booking deposit, is typically equivalent to a month’s rent for a 12-month lease, and is paid to the landlord after you sign the LOI. If you back out, the landlord gets to keep it. But it also prevents the landlord from renting the property to anyone else. After you sign the TA, the good-faith deposit gets carried over to your security deposit.

4. Stamp Duty

Your TA needs to be stamped by Singapore’s tax authority, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), to become legal and usable in court for any disputes. The tenant typically bears the cost of stamp duty, which needs to be paid within 14 days after signing the document in Singapore, or 30 days after receiving the document if signed in another country.

5. Security Deposit

The security deposit is paid after you sign the TA and typically equivalent to one month’s rent for every year of the lease. You are refunded the security deposit at the end of the lease, provided the landlord doesn’t find any reason to keep all or part of it for repairs to the property due to damage caused by you, or other costs and expenses arising from you breaking the lease.

6. Term of Lease

The term of the lease indicates the amount of time you’ll be renting the property. Leases in Singapore typically last one year or longer. The landlord may give you the option to renew your lease, pending two or three months’ notice. At that point, the landlord may raise your rent if there’s nothing in the contract preventing it, so be prepared to negotiate or find another place if needed.

7. Diplomatic or Repatriate Clause

As an expatriate, there may come a time when life takes you elsewhere. So, look out for a diplomatic or repatriate clause, which lets you terminate the lease and recover your security deposit after the first 12 months by giving two months’ notice. These are usually only offered for leases over a year. Also note: There might be a line stating that you’ll have to reimburse a portion of the commission the landlord paid to his agent if you enact the clause.

8. Repairs and Maintenance

Generally speaking, you are responsible for minor repairs, while the landlord is responsible for major repairs and maintenance, as well as any issues with appliances that are not caused by you. Also confirm who is responsible for pest control, gardening, pool servicing and servicing and maintenance of air conditioning, and whether you need to keep the receipts as proof if you need to arrange for these services on your own.

9. Breach

Breaching, or violating, a term of the contract may result in severe consequences such as eviction. Feel you are in the right? Consider taking your case to the Small Claims Tribunal (statecourts.gov.sg), which exists to help settle tenant-landlord disputes quickly and inexpensively.

Basic property rules for foreign home owners

family moved into new home
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Buying property in Singapore is relatively easy for expats, but there are certain restrictions on the type of property you can buy. Depending on whether you are a Permanent Resident (PR) or not, the rules might be a little different.

Rule #1: Only PRs can buy HDBs

As a form of public housing intended to make homeownership more affordable for locals, HDB flats can only be purchased by Singapore citizens and PRs.

As a PR, you must be purchasing a new HDB flat together with at least one Singapore citizen, or a resale HDB flat together with at least one Singapore citizen or one other PR. If you are buying a flat with another PR, both of you must have had PR status for at least 3 years. PRs cannot purchase HDB flats alone.

In addition, you must satisfy all of the Housing & Development Board’s other requirements. These include making sure you are buying the flat under one of HDB’s eligibility schemes. For most PRs, that would be the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme for married or soon-to-be-married couples or the Public Scheme for family members.

Rule #2: All foreigners are allowed to buy private non-landed property such as condos

Whether you’ve got PR status or not, as a non-Singaporean, you are free to buy non landed property including condominiums. You can also buy certain cluster houses or strata bungalows if they are part of a condominium development.

Rule #3: All non-Singaporeans need approval to buy landed property

Before being able to buy landed property, all non-Singaporeans, whether PR or not, must seek approval from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) Land Dealings Approval Unit (LDAU) by submitting an online form.

Rule #4: All property purchases regardless of nationality need to pay Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD)

As a non-Singaporean, you’ll also have to pay Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) on all your property purchases. PRs pay ABSD equivalent to 5 percent of the property price on a first residential property, and 15-percent on second and subsequent residential properties. Non-PR foreigners pay 20-percent ABSD on all residential properties.

Checklist of paperwork to prep

Make your home purchase go more smoothly by putting these IDs and docs into a dossier.

  • Your blue identity card (PRs only)
  • Your passport (non-PR foreigners)
  • Your marriage certificate (if buying HDB property as a PR under the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme)
  • Birth certificates (if buying HDB property as a PR under the Public Scheme)
  • Divorce and custody documents (if buying HDB property as a PR together with your child under the Public Scheme)
  • Latest Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary Account statement (for PRs wishing to use CPF funds)
  • Last 3 months’ payslips, income letter from employer and/or last 2 years’ Notice of Assessment from Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS)
  • Latest credit card and loan statements

Must-know property terms/jargon

house jargon stock image
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Here are some essential terms every property buyer needs to understand.

Option fee or booking fee: A sum of money, often equivalent to 1-percent of the purchase price, that you pay in order to obtain an Option to Purchase. This fee will be put towards your down payment.

Option to purchase: A document issued to you by the seller. In order to exercise the option, return the signed form and pay an Option Fee. Once this is done, the seller cannot offer the property to anyone else. If you back out of the deal, the seller can keep the Option Fee.

Letter of Offer: A document issued by the bank when you successfully apply for a home loan.

Option Period: The period of time, typically spanning 14 days to 21 days, during which you must exercise the Option to Purchase before it expires.

Sales and Purchase Agreement: The contract governing your purchase of the property and setting out details of the payment schedule.

Down Payment: A percentage of the purchase price that must be paid upfront, usually in cash, before your home loan kicks in. If you are a PR, you might be able to pay for a portion of your down payment with your CPF savings.

Stamp Duty: The Buyer’s Stamp Duty and Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty are taxes that must be paid when you buy residential property as a foreigner.

Figuring out your budget

Calculators at the ready! It’s time to work out how much you need and more.

balancing between finance and house
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1. Can you afford it?

There is a limit to how much a bank can lend you. Banks in Singapore need to abide by the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) imposed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

The maximum loan they can extend to you is one where your total debt repayments (including all forms of debt other than your home loan) would not exceed 60-percent of your gross monthly income. If you earn a variable income, the bank must apply a minimum cut of 30 percent to your income before working out the TDSR.

The cost of the property isn’t the only amount you’ll be paying. Even before you move into your new home, you’ll have to factor in expenses such as stamp duty, legal fees plus any renovations.

2. Which loan is best for you?

Home loan packages in Singapore typically fall into two categories: fixed rate and floating rate. “Fixedrate packages in Singapore are unlike those found in other countries,” explains David Baey, CEO and Founder of Mortgage Master. “Ours are not fixed throughout the entire loan tenure but only for a defined period, typically between one to five years. Subsequently, it will convert to a floating rate package.”

The advantage of fixed-rate packages is that they cushion you from interest rate fluctuations for a number of years. “As most expats are here on a non-permanent basis and some lucky ones even have a fixed housing allowance to draw from, I would recommend they choose fixed-rate housing loan packages rather than floating ones,” advises David.

“These fixed rates will give stability, as the interest rates are predetermined – even up to a five year period. Fixed interest rates mean monthly instalment payments will not deviate during this fixed period, allowing for better financial management.” Note, however: “Safety in interest rates comes with a premium, and the longer the fixed rate’s tenure, the higher the interest rate will be.”

Still, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to home loan packages. “Expats should choose the relevant package not only based on their risk profile, but the number of years they believe they will stay in Singapore,” says David.

3. Getting a good deal

Here’s a little-known tip: Developers sometimes slash prices in order to sell property faster. “Developers in Singapore are given five years to complete and sell all units of a property or face a hefty penalty of 25-percent of the land price. This is to avoid land-hoarding in Singapore. As a result, developers are likely to give hefty discounts (up to 20-percent!) on unsold units of a property once they’re nearing the five-year mark,” shares David.

He also recommends selecting property that is tailored to your needs rather than following purchasing trends. “Will you be driving or taking a taxi or private hire vehicle to work every day? If you are, there is no need to fight for premium homes near public transport facilities,” he says.

Conclusion: Is it really a renter’s market?

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“Covid-19 has definitely caused a drastic change when it comes to relocation patterns,” says Darren Teo, Director of Real Estate & Destination Services at Ohmyhome (omh.sg). “We are hearing of more leases being terminated before they expire, and also stories of expatriates seeking help to find replacement tenants for those who have not fulfilled their minimum lock-in period.”

The result? Demand for rental properties has fallen, which results in lower rents. However, the impact has not been uniform across the board. “Many of the good quality properties in prime locations are either already being rented out or have no trouble finding a replacement tenant in a short period of time. But landlords are finding it more difficult to rent out older properties,” he notes.

Still, there’s potential for a further fall in rental prices if you wait a bit longer. Says Darren, “The volume of expat renters is expected to be reduced in the coming months, although we expect an inflow of new expats due to a handful of new ventures into Singapore by some multinational corporations as announced by the government. In terms of rental prices, it will likely be further moderated next year.”

By Joanne Poh, for The Finder Issue 304, October 2020

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