Many Singaporeans think that renting a house is throwing away money. Young, unmarried Singaporeans tend to stay with their family until they get married, which is usually between the age of 28 to 35.
Then, the classic route is to look for an affordable BTO and move in when it is ready a couple of years later.
But more millennials are making the choice to rent. How are they able to budget the additional cost for rental? Why have they chosen to pay a premium to stay apart from their families?
Designer, illustrator and animator Sara Chong is one such individual who have chosen to rent rather than wait for the right conditions to buy.
The 32-year-old currently lives in a 3-bedroom apartment in Kallang with her partner. In her words, “It has a big living room with an awesome view.” She stocks up her apartment full of books, paintings and games.
We interview her to find out more about her rental journey.
Why did you think of renting a place when you could continue staying with your family?
I’d lived in various places overseas on my own or with friends for years before this. The freedom that comes with running your own place was something I couldn’t give up when I came back to Singapore after spending 3 years in Italy, where I studied classical painting at Florence Academy of Art.
When living alone overseas, I didn’t have to report where I was, what I was doing and who I was with — a freedom I desperately missed after returning to Singapore.
Living with my parents again just didn’t work, because then I became the “child” in the house again. Things like bringing dates home or even having a bunch of friends over for food and drinks were always tricky. Having the freedom of my own time and space was the main pull for me getting my own place.
I was also a freelancer at the time, and it was difficult working at home when the general impression was that I wasn’t going to work so I couldn’t possibly be working as hard as the other folks in the house who did go to an office. (I used to work 12-15 hour days as a freelancer, so tensions were pretty high.)
Another thing is that I’m bisexual, and my parents have always been pretty awkward about that. Nothing too bad, but just awkward. Moving out and not having to explain myself all the time was definitely easier.
When you told your parents or family members you wanted to move out and rent your own place, how did they react?
Oh they were upset, and the situation was complicated. I pretty much just told them I’d found a flat and was moving out that month, which on hindsight was a pretty emotionally irresponsible thing to do.
But we worked it out over the years since and the relationship with my parents is even better than before, and we really appreciate the time we spend together these days. It’s also been fun sharing domestic tricks with each other to make running the home easier, and we talk about how we all budget much more than before.
How did you budget and plan financially in order to rent your own place?
Well I figured that as long as the rent is about a third or less of my monthly earnings it’s fine, and I still do freelance work now and then on top of my regular job so I can always earn more for the month if I need to. The entire place costs $2500 to rent, but my partner and I split that in half.
There are some extra costs to take note of as well. Utilities and internet are some examples — but it’s a lot cheaper in an HDB flat and it’s pretty easy to manage with two people. Both of us rented entire units on our own previously, and we both agree that it’s way cheaper to share.
Would you say that renting your own place is an affordable task?
Yes it is — you just have to find a good deal for it. I have a pretty awesome agent who’s always been amazing at finding me great places within my budget. And it does help that I can do freelance to top up my earnings if need be.
Do you have any tips for house hunting to share with our readers?
Keep hunting on all sites and platforms for the place that feels right for you. Don’t rush into a place with housemates or strangers before asking yourself if you could live with them for a year at least. If you love cooking, don’t get a place that doesn’t allow you to do so.
If you’re out for freedom, skip the openly racist landlords or housemates who demand “20-30, Female, Chinese only. Light/no cooking allowed”. It’s honestly not worth your sanity.
Places are put up for rent daily, but look out for scams. There’s a few out there:
- The landlord who demands money before getting keys to view the flat (because they’re “overseas” or something ridiculous)
- Agents who put up fake photos of fake apartments just so you’d call them, and they’ll try to sell you some garbage heap instead.
I would recommend not renting from big organisations — they charge GST on your rent, and they’re really stingy and slow when you need to get things fixed. My housemate got locked in once because the lock was faulty, and they insisted she wait while they found the cheapest quote — a task that has taken them 3 days before. We ended up paying for a locksmith on our own and they were upset enough to decide not to pay us back for it even though it was stated in our contract that they were liable for anything above $150.
Always read your tenancy contracts carefully, and pay attention to the Early Termination clause. No matter how good it appears in the beginning, always prepare for the case where you might need to leave the flat before your lease is up.
If living with friends or housemates, make sure you have your living terms set out clearly in the beginning, such as how bills are shared, who’s paying the rent or who’s transferring money, how often you clean the flat, etc. This will prevent or lessen housemate drama.
What are some of the new things you learned when you started your rental journey?
Renting our own home means taking charge of things like setting up utilities and internet. They’re easy enough, though.
If you change houses, you have to make a trip to the police station each time to change the address on your IC, otherwise ICA will send you many letters to remind you to do so.
After renting for so many years, I also learned how to read contracts and use that to negotiate with tricky landlords. One rental disaster was enough. Honestly, no one wants to pay 1 year of rent for a flat you’re no longer living in.
I also discovered the joy of learning how to cook. When you live alone or with adventurous housemates, you get to try all sorts of funny food experiments.
Living alone and walking home alone through the drinking district taught me to be highly cautious and vigilant. Coming from a woman who once lived alone in a place like Italy, I would advise women who live alone to always keep eyes and ears open. I had people following me home 5 times and I had to find different ways to get rid of these “stalkers”. Be careful about inviting strangers or new people back to your place, too.
When your lease ends, will you continue renting?
Of course! I’ve moved every year for about 7 years now. Moving and renting feels normal, but I’d like to stay in one flat for longer than 2 years for once.
I do think about buying my own property in the future, which was why I decided to go full-time so that I can have some CPF savings. For now, though, I like the flexibility of renting. If I choose to go overseas someday, I won’t be tied down by a mortgage.
Images courtesy of Sara Chong.