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Renting a Home in Singapore? Look Beyond the Rates!

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Ryan Ong

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Not buying a house? I can only assume you’ve seen our property prices, and realized you don’t know how to rob a bank. Well if you’re going to rent in the Lion City, you’d best brace yourself; the landlords here make the Sea World shark tank look like a petting zoo. So don’t fall for their attractive rates and sales jabber; go through this list first, and make sure you’ve covered the important points:

 

When renting a house, do look at more than the price tag. A house located in the metaphorical armpit of the country may fetch lower rent, but transport isn’t cheap around here; an inaccessible location can rack up taxi fares faster than a Comfort executive. Or you might end up renting a house near a train station, in which case you can consider a bike helmet part of your sleepwear. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Duration of Lease
  • Chance of En-Bloc
  • Cost of Facilities
  • Proximity to Public Transport
  • Level of Furnishings
  • Diplomatic / Expatriate Clauses

 

1. Duration of Lease

 

Calendars
Not pictured: Landlord’s subtlety

 

Watch out for the dreaded 24 month lease. The standard lease term in Singapore is 12 months, but when the market’s good, landlords will pressure you into the former.  This is to secure the (currently high) rental rates for as long as possible.

The landlords will usually say you’re getting a better rate for 24 months, but it’s seldom worth it. In 12 months, the rental rates can drop; then you’ll be the only chump on the block who’s paying last year’s prices. Unless your landlord is dropping the rates by at least 20%, ask for a 12 month term.

Bear in mind: once you sign the tenancy agreement, you’ll have to pay a security deposit of one month’s rent for every 12 months on the lease. Changing your mind later will burn that deposit.

 

2. Chance of En-Bloc Sales

 

Run down buildings in Singapore
“The only en-bloc sale we’ll make is to the Salvation Army.”

 

En-bloc sales happen when the entire building gets sold. This (usually) requires 80% consensus from the different apartment owners. Now, pop quiz: if you suspect that 80% is about to be reached, and you’ll have to move out of your apartment, what do you do?

Answer: You move out, and rent your old apartment for the rest of its limited life. Which might be what your landlord is doing to you.

This can be a serious hassle, since the en-bloc may happen in the middle of your tenancy. In which case, your tenancy agreement will contain an “En-Bloc” clause, which states that your landlord needn’t compensate you if that happens. There’s two ways to go about this:

You could try to argue against the en-bloc clause, which is pretty futile. Or you could just find another place. Between the two, choose the latter. A building that’s about to go en-bloc won’t have the most diligent maintenance crew, and you’d probably need an archaeologist to fix the plumbing. It’s probably old is what I’m saying.

 

3. Cost of Facilities

 

Long stairwell leading down
“That IS the gym facility. You tried walking up to your apartment yet?”

 

The rent in condominiums includes the cost of facilities, like gyms and swimming pools. It might make up a substantial portion of the cost. Before forking out the money, are you sure you’ll use what you pay for? If you have no interest in the facilities, look for some place simpler.

Remember the cost of facilities are fixed, regardless of apartment size. So your one room shoebox apartment will bear the same facilities cost as a penthouse. Are you okay with that?

 

4. Proximity to Public Transport

 

Bus passing under MRT
“They DID warn me about the interchange and station. But I couldn’t hear them over the traffic.”

 

If you drive, then proximity to public transport can become a negative. HDB flats near train stations periodically roar, especially at seven in the morning. Or maybe it just seems louder BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO SLEEP. Anyway, even being close to a bus interchange can be a pain; it means possible crowding during rush hour. By its very nature, a transport hub means traffic congestion.

If you don’t drive, you’ll want to make sure you’re not too far from your workplace. It’s a common error to assume that, because Singapore is so small, you can get anywhere quickly. Smaller country = less road space. The traffic will slow you enough; you don’t want to be far away and caught in traffic.

 

5. Level of Furnishings

 

Moose head in a bedroom, over a moose antler themed bed
“UN-furnish it and maybe I’ll stop vomiting long enough to sign this.”

 

Your rented home can come furnished, partially furnished, or looking like a prison cell with nicer windows.

Furnishings are a major cash generator for landlords. It’s hard to put a fixed price on FF&E (Fittings, furnishings, and equipment), so landlords have a field day. Usually, your landlord will insist his interior is priceless, and that he ransacked seven tombs in Egypt just to decorate the toilet. Then he’ll charge you enough to buy Cairo.

As far as possible, go for an unfurnished apartment and get what you need from IKEA. You can always garage sale the leftovers when you’re leaving again. The other advantage to this? You don’t need to worry about damages. If you do have a furnished flat, the landlord can charge you for damaging his stuff.

If you absolutely must have a furnished apartment, get a camera. Take pictures of any damage you spot on the first day, so you can’t be blamed for it later.

 

6. Diplomatic / Expatriate Clauses

 

SIA plane at Changi airport
Planes vs. Landlords is a favourite Singaporean game.

 

If you’re an expat and must sign a 24 month lease, make sure this clause is in the tenancy agreement. If you’re ever unemployed or transferred somewhere sane (i.e. anywhere beyond this island), it comes in handy. It allows you to terminate your lease with only two months notice. Also, you’ll get to keep your security deposit.

Beware of landlords who play this up, as if it’s some special thing they’re doing for you. It’s a standard part of the contract, and shouldn’t be an inducement to sign.

Overall, renting a house is never an ideal choice. Rent money is money burned, whereas home loans eventually secure you a piece of property. Between the two, buying should always be considered first. If you do rent, try to end the practice asap. It’s just a waste of good money.

Image Credits:

RubyrannicksarebiacameronhuffSBS593GSchizoformJimmyHarrisifindkarma

Got questions about renting in Singapore? Ask us in the comments box! 

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.