Want a head start in house hunting? Start exploring the market at least 1 month before your arrival and decide in details what will work for you the best.
- Buy or rent?
- Private housing or condo?
- Which district is your job in?
- Are you able to spend a couple of hours daily on commute between your home and office?
- Which facilities do you need in your housing?
- Proximity to other establishments (for example, a school if you have kids) also means a lot.
Having shortlisted your specific criteria, it is easier to find the good fit: you won’t waste your time on viewing unsuitable options.
The real estate market in Singapore is very streaming, and agents usually cater to the most urgent needs. If you find a good fit, it won’t wait for you for months. That is why on early stages seeing the property is helpful mainly for the orientation purpose: to decide on the district and ask the price. You can involve as many agents as you want or search on your own; however, the latter approach can be challenging for a foreigner: you will need to check piles of newspapers and screen property database and then connect with agents of landlords. If you have friends who have recently moved to SG, ask them to recommend you a proven agent.
Types of Property in Singapore
The HDB flat is the most affordable (due to governmental subsidies) public housing 80% of locals live in. Modern and clean, this dwelling solution appeared to cater for the needs of Singaporeans with modest incomes who cannot afford private housing. Such flats come in different sizes:
- Studio: stylish one-bedroom flat (36 or 45 m²) designed for elderly Singaporeans who prefer living separately; it is equipped with support bars and pull-for-help devices everywhere.
- 2-room (45 m²): reminds a studio, but is much cheaper; fits small families.
- 3-room (65 m²): has 2 bedrooms (with an additional bathroom attached to the parents’ bedroom); fits families with one child.
- 4-room (90 m²): contains 2 bedrooms for kids with common bathroom and the parents’ bedroom with own bathroom.
- 5-room (110 m²): contains additional dining space.
- 3 Gen flats (115 m²): specially developed for families that contain 3 generations living under one roof; the apartment has one more bedroom and one more bathroom.
- Executive apartments (130 m²): has a balcony and additional space that can be used for studying or as an additional TV corner.
- DBSS (Design, Build, and Sell Scheme) apartments: the premium version that is something between a bigger flat and an executive condo.
Public & Private Mix
Want advantages of private housing but to stay on the public territory? Singapore has dwelling options that are something between a public and a private housing:
- Housing and Urban Development Company flats (HUDC) started to rise in the 70s and 80s as public housing, but today most of such estates are privatized.
- Executive condos are options for young and well-paid professionals who can afford more than just an HDB flat but don’t want to mess with landed properties. Executive condos have lots of design features and facilities common for the private housing but still remain cheaper thanks to the HDB. Nevertheless, executive condos have lots of restrictions: the apartment turns into your private property only after you have lived in such public housing apartment for 5 years: now you can sell it on the market to the locals. To be allowed to sell it to foreigners, the property must undergo privatization during the next 5 years. Such executive condominiums aren’t freehold and have a long 99-year leasehold period.
Singapore attracted lots of money within the past decades, but as the land is a very limited resource (the country is tiny!), prices for private property have always been very high (with today’s tangible growing trend). The land deficiency made Singapore develop diverse forms of the private housing. Let’s overview the main two: condos (condominiums) and landed properties.
- Condos are huge and luxury apartments that have similar features with executive condominiums but are free from restrictions as they are designed as private housing options. Condos fit young and well-paid people who still cannot afford landed property or find its maintenance too labour-intensive. In condos, you can get all facilities most private houses are equipped with (swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts, and gardens), and you don’t have to mess with maintaining them. Condos are quite expensive options to buy; however, for foreigners working in SG and wishing to live on their own property, it is the only option for purchase.
- Apartments are cheaper brothers of condominiums. They are located in smaller buildings that have a much more modest set of facilities than condos, and, therefore, they are cheaper than condos. In comparison with government-subsidized HDB flats, apartments are more costly options.
- Walk-up apartments are actually apartments or condos that are located in low buildings that aren’t equipped with lifts. Being usually of 3 to 5 storeys, such apartments won’t exhaust you when you climb upstairs.
- Landed Property is the quintessence of privacy, freedom, and prestige of being on the top of country’s social ladder. Such property requires investments of time and money in its maintenance, but its spacious forms and unlimited opportunities in remodelling and rebuilding are beyond comparison. Landed properties have lots of types available in SG:
- Terrace houses are a row of similar houses which share the same boundary.
- Shophouses are renovated and conserved terrace houses that have historical importance. These 2-3-storey houses are the heritage of traditional European, Chinese, and Malay architectures that were authentically mixed in Singapore for a long time. Traditional shophouses can be found in such districts as Chinatown, Little India, and so on.
- Bungalows are absolutely detached private houses with the minimum square of 400 m². They divide into classes depending on the size of land such properties occupy. Bungalows having more than 1400 m² are called “Good Class Bungalow”. They are usually packed with pools, private cinemas, luxury gardens, tennis courts, and other bling. Taking into account such waste of space in tiny Singapore, in the whole country, there are approximately a thousand of such properties.
- Semi-detached houses are actually separate properties that have mutual walls with other similar units (are attached to them).
- Townhouses are something between condos and landed properties: they are designed as terrace houses but share mutual recreational facilities with other units. This way, you get your privacy and spacious accommodation and save lots of time and money on maintenance of these facilities.
- Cluster houses are a form of dwelling that can join several private houses (terrace/semi-detached houses or bungalows) with mutual condo-inspired facilities. Benefits are obvious: you save your privacy and space and don’t have to mess with maintaining facilities.
Foreign Property Ownership in Singapore
- Foreigners aren’t allowed to buy landed properties (bungalows, semi-detached houses and so on) and HDB flats without governmental approval (such kinds of SG property are reserved for the locals). Getting such approval is basically based on your important contribution to the city-state.
- Foreigners working in Singapore on the work visas are allowed to buy condos (the down payment is 20%, and getting the loan can also be challenging, but still possible).
- Overseas residents who buy condos in SG must pay the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (15%).
- Foreigners who become SG permanent residents are allowed to the “restricted” property.
Areas and Districts of Singapore
After you have decided on the suitable type of property that meets your budget and needs, the next step would be finding the right district for a dwelling. Different areas in Singapore have their unique advantages, attractions, and top-notch recreational facilities, so you have a wide choice. Expats live all over the city rather than in any special district, so feel free to cater to your own needs and wishes while looking for a perfect area.
Orchard Road and city are one of the Singapore’s bustling prime locations packed with hotels, restaurants, cinemas, and shopping malls. Being home to the Central Business District, it is well-connected with the rest of the island with the Central Island Expressway and public transport. Despite business, the area, however, has quite quiet and green neighbourhoods (Botanic Gardens). In the prestigious Tanglin, there are lots of condominiums and private houses. Buffs of conservation shophouses can find quaint units in the River Valley. Proximity to the river makes the latter a perfect accommodation area for expats who value green living and recreation. Here, another one expat favourite area is located – the Holland Village – that retains the western spirit with its Holland-style architecture and numerous food and health facilities. If proximity to the CBD is crucial for you, you can also consider dwelling in Robertson Quay (which is home to ritzy condos with fantastic river views), authentic Chinatown, or luxurious condominiums of the Marina Bay.
Living in the centre of Singapore suits those expats who value proximity to the business district and diverse recreational and healthcare facilities. Opt for green Bukit Timah area where the Japanese, Holland and British expats will find their national clubs or the Newton Circus district famous for its hawker food centre or Novena where you can find premium medical facilities and new housing without overpaying for the “premium” label like in other prestigious areas. If you are looking for a comfy and relaxed living with your family, consider settling in the village called Serangoon that offers lots of spacious condos, houses, and gardens. Hunting for a lovely nature and fascinating views but don’t want to pay a terribly long everyday commute for them? Choose Thomson area located close to the marvellous MacRitchie Reservoir. The centre of Singapore fits French and Australian families with kids due to the availability of national schools here.
Northern Singapore (basically represented by green and spacious Woodlands) was admired by the Americans for its reasonable prices for property and the American school. The Northeastern district called Seletar offers signature black-and-white houses (the local colonial style common for houses built before the WWII and inspired by the British art).
Eastern Singapore (the 18-km-long area from Kallang to Changi Airport and Loyang) is famous for its comfy and spacious houses and condos with reasonable prices and East Coast Park sandy beaches with lots of seafood restaurants. Katong is a perfect place to plunge into the unique local colonial Peranakan culture and experience Singapore’s authenticity. Looking for modern construction ideas? Opt for such neighbourhoods as Tampines, Bedok or Siglap that offer a wide variety of bungalows, walk-up condos, apartments, and townhouses for a laid-back and calm lifestyle.
Western Singapore is a great place to search for a comfortable condo or a semi-detached house in. Opt for Bukit Timah (upper) if proximity to the forest (Nature Reserve), Malaysia, or Singapore’s American school means a lot for you. The Japanese School and the University of Singapore invite you to one of the greenest and airiest districts of the country – Faber Park. Canadians opt for the west because of the international school near Clementi. If you are looking for swanky and expensive housing in company with perfect marine views, Sentosa Island is the best option for you, although it is actually on the South of Singapore.
General Tips for Renting/Buying Property in Singapore
- You are allowed to rent property only if you stay legally in Singapore – on the appropriate work visa. Landlords can check your legal status using the service VERIFI that helps the ICA fight the problem of illegal immigrants. That is why “crashers” in Singapore cannot expect to live in decent accommodation.
- Ensure you know the agents’ fees: you pay a standard fee for every view, and if the suggested property suits you and you take it, you need to pay your agent the half of this property’s monthly rental cost. If the property’s rental cost is more than 2.5k SGD, the agent’s fee will be paid by the landlord.
- The general price rule is: the farther the accommodation is from the city centre, the lower its price is. You can save lots of money if you settle in the suburb and commute by bus. As only a few of foreigners make a decision to own a car in Singapore (it isn’t popular because of high-quality and affordability of public transport and because of very high costs on owning a car in Singapore), you will probably win if you settle near the MRT lines.
- The property cost includes not only location “advantage” but also facilities you get in a pack with your condo: like a swimming pool or a tennis court. Having them around comforts, but overpaying every month isn’t a good idea if you aren’t going to use them really often. What is more, these facilities usually don’t go in a decent standard (the pool will be quite tiny), so it’s wiser to save on frills and get high-quality service in specialised community facilities which are in abundance in Singapore (check them on the Sport Council’s website).
- Renting the HDB flat has its peculiarities. If the owner leases the whole flat (not just one room in it), he/she must get a special approval from the Housing and Development Board. Sometimes the landlord closes one room (to create the impression that the owner lives in the flat), but this is an illegal solution and can result in being evicted from the flat in case of an unexpected check from the authorities. When you view the property, ask the landlord to show the copy of the approval.
- Renting the flat legally is your guarantee that the landlord won’t evict you from the property without refunding your rental deposit. In the case with the illegal deal, you won’t have a chance to complain the authorities.
- Real estate brokerage is a cruel business rooted in competition and ruses, and, therefore, even in such well-developed country as Singapore you can encounter an unscrupulous agent (or a landlord). Some agents get spotted in fraud when they continue to “sell” the unit after getting the money from tenants: they are looking for higher bids. If they find, they can ask you to leave the property. People are people, and, therefore, we encourage you to be more careful and picky while choosing an agent. Compiling and signing a Letter of Intent that describes your mutual obligations and some details will help to avoid such frustrating situations.
- If you need some pieces of furniture to be removed from the apartment you are going to rent, ask about it and specify it in the Letter of Intent in the very beginning; otherwise, you can face a rejection if you ask afterwards. If you need some additional pieces of furniture or domestic appliances, negotiate in the very beginning and decide what is cheaper: to buy it on your own or to pay the additional price for the added items.
- Signing a Tenancy agreement is the final step in making a rent deal. Involve a lawyer if you are going to rent a very expensive property or if you need to make lots of elaborate clauses (for example, prescribe an ability to terminate the contract if you suddenly need to leave the country, agree on how the landlord has to prepare the apartment before your move-in (general cleaning, checking and servicing appliances, and so on)).
- The tenant pays for services (the Internet, cable TV) and utilities (electricity and water) on their own.
The Singapore’s real estate market is versatile and fits any budget, and even if the price is discouraging sometimes, the quality won’t disappoint you. Following our smart tips and with professional guidance, you will be able to find the right dwelling option you will happily call your new home soon.