This section shares what we’ve learned about finding a place, choosing a place, negotiating with your landlord, and applying for various utilities and services once you’re ready to move in.
Need more info? Take a look at the Property Guides page or check out other house-hunting tips from various Singapore websites.
Finding a place
Now that you’re here in Singapore, you’ll need to find a place to live. Property purchase and rental costs in Singapore have spiked over the past couple of years. Shop around and don’t let agents rush you into making your decision. It’s easiest to find a place after you arrive, but you can start to do some research through the many Singapore Property Guides online, and begin communicating with property agents while you’re still overseas.
How soon should I start looking?
For our last two moves, we started viewing places about a month before our target move-in date – that worked well for us. We had a good idea of which areas we wanted to live in, and were very focused about what we wanted (and didn’t want) in a property – so we’re usually able to find a good match within two or three full viewing days. Don’t leave it til the last minute, though – rushing to find a place puts you in a bad bargaining position. And if you’re not sure what you want, it may take you more time as you explore various options.
Do you have more than a month before your move-in date? If you aren’t in Singapore yet, put the time to good use by asking friends and forums for advice, and researching the various districts to decide where you want to live. Sort out your selection criteria – do you want a condo or an HDB flat? Are facilities important to you? Low-rise or high-rise? Downtown or further out? What’s the longest commute you’re willing to tolerate? Some property databases will allow you to filter your search based on facilities provided or distance from the MRT; you can also search based on district number.
Viewing places more than a month in advance is okay too, but that could well end up as “window shopping” to decide which areas you like. Units you view that early will probably be taken by the time you make a final decision – and agents will not be very keen to show you places too far ahead of time. You can start giving your agent your criteria, though, so they can advise you on which areas may fit your needs and your budget.
One month or less to go? By now you should have a good idea of which areas you want to focus on and what you want in a property. If you’re working with a property agent, tell him or her your criteria and your budget so that the agent can screen properties and build a good shortlist for you to view. You don’t want to waste your time viewing places that aren’t right for you.
If you can, ask the agent to send you the shortlist of prospective buildings a day or two before your viewing – if it includes buildings you know you aren’t interested in, you can have the agent drop them from the list and set up for replacement viewings. Check out locations and photos of buildings on the various online property guides so you can see if they’re what you’re looking for.
Work with an agent or do it yourself?
You can work with as many agents as you want, but keep them to different areas if you have multiple agents – to avoid confusion when two agents try to show you the same place. Personally, I prefer to stick to one agent, who then gets to know our preferences well and can do a lot of the pre-screening for us!
A good way to find a reliable agent is to ask friends who have recently moved. Some agents specialize in particular areas of the city while other agents specialize in working with either singles and young couples, or families with kids. If a friend recommends a good agent who works for a large property firm, make sure you aren’t getting passed off to a different, more junior agent instead.
Standard commission is 50% of the monthly rent for a one-year contract, and a full month’s rental for a two-year contract. If the rent is over S$2,500, you don’t need to pay the commission; your agent’s commission will be paid by the landlord, split with the landlord’s agent.
If you prefer to do it yourself, check newspapers and online property databases for ads, then deal direct with the landlord’s agent. If you decide to go this route, take care that the landlord’s agent doesn’t ‘appoint’ himself as your agent and ask for commission from both of you!
Choosing a place
Once you’ve viewed a few properties, it’s time to make a selection. Here are some things to consider when choosing a place to rent.
- If you’re not planning to buy a car, find a place that’s commuter friendly. Places within walking distance from the MRT are best for getting around, but that convenience comes at a premium. If you don’t mind living a little further away, you can often find cheaper units that are well-served by multiple bus routes. By the way, “walking distance” in Singapore is highly subjective. Check Streetdirectory.com or sites like Property Guru to gauge the actual distance to the nearest MRT station.
- If you’re looking at older buildings, be wary of en-bloc potential. There’s been a slew of en-bloc sales recently, where condo unit owners band together to collectively sell a building to a developer who then tears it down and builds a new condo. This is a cash windfall for the owner, but as a tenant this could mean you’ll be house hunting again a couple of months after moving in!
- Before paying a premium for condo facilities, ask youself – do you really need that gym, pool, or tennis court? Quite a few condos have pools about the size of a large bathtub, and you’ll get dizzy from turns before you get any decent exercise. If you don’t plan to use the facilities often, you can save some rent and make use of Singapore’s extensive community facilities instead. You can query the Singapore Sports Council’s list of facilities, although you’ll need to register before you can make an actual booking.
- If you’re planning to rent an entire HDB flat (rather than just one room in a shared flat), read the HDB flat rental guidelines and make sure your landlord has approval from HDB. A common (but illegal) practice is for landlords to rent out their HDB flat without HDB approval, keeping one room locked. The locked room is supposed to be “proof” that the owner continues to reside in the flat, but this won’t save you if HDB officials come to check. Better to be safe than take the chance of losing your deposit or having to move unexpectedly. One of our readers, Vishwadeep, passed along a cautionary story of unscrupulous landlords or agents pressuring tenants to leave the rented flat without refunding their deposit – if you’ve rented the flat illegally, you will not be able to complain to HDB about such tactics.
- An easy way to make sure your landlord has approval to rent out their HDB flat is to ask to see a copy of the approval letter, when you go to view the unit.
- If you are looking to rent a single room within an HDB flat, check out HDB’s rules for subletting rooms.
Regardless of which property you choose, you will need to be a legal resident of Singapore (a permanent resident, or on a long-term pass such as an EP or work pass) in order to rent a place. Landlords are encouraged to verify the immigation of status of non-citizens using VERIFI, an online service provided by the Singapore Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority.
Contracts and negotiations
Letter of Intent
Once you’ve decided on an apartment, you and the landlord should sign the Letter of Intent, and you’ll need to put down a security deposit. The letter of intent should also specify what furniture or appliances you’d like added to or removed from the property.
While most people you’ll meet will be fairly trustworthy, we’ve heard stories of unethical landlords or agents ‘shopping around’ offers they’ve received. That is, after they receive an offer and a check from a prospective tenant, they continue to show the apartment and solicit higher rental bids. In some cases they’ve returned checks, leaving the poor tenant scrambling to find a new place!
Although the rental market is starting to ease off a bit, there’s still a chance this could happen to you. So make sure you get your landlord to sign that Letter of Intent as soon as possible (and the Tenancy Agreement, if you can). Be a responsible renter – help discourage the practice by declining to view or make offers for units where the agent tells you the landlord has already accepted an offer from someone else.
Other things you should know:
- You can often negotiate to one or two new appliances or pieces of furniture for free, such as a dryer or a microwave oven. But if the landlord wants to increase the rent because of the new items, just buy the appliances yourself – it’s cheaper that way.
- If you need some furniture or appliances removed because you have your own, ask before signing the letter of intent. Space is at a premium in Singapore, and your landlord may not have anywhere to store the items if they are removed from the apartment.
Once you have the letter of intent signed, it’s time to talk about the tenancy agreement. IANAL – I am not a lawyer, so if you’re renting a multi-million dollar condo or are in deep negotiations on funky clauses, you may want to seek professional help! In general, though, most tenancy agreements are fairly straightforward; your renter’s agent should be able to recommend good contract to use, or should help you review the landlord’s proposed contract.
- Ask for a diplomatic clause, which will allow you to terminate your lease early if you get transferred to another country or leave Singapore. The diplomatic clause typically kicks in after your first 12 months, and requires a couple of months’ notice (or rent in lieu) before you leave.
- Ask for fire insurance, if it’s not already included.
- Partially or fully furnished flats should have an inventory of what’s provided. Keep a copy and ask the landlord to initial changes if you ask them to remove anything after you’ve moved in, as this is the inventory you’ll use to check contents when you move out.
- The landlord should do a one-time servicing of the unit before turnover. This includes general cleaning, repainting, servicing the aircons, and so on.
- Looking for more tips? Take a look at the Property Rental guide over at Orient Expat.
Utilities and services
- Electricity and water. Contact SP Services to apply. You can open an account online and submit the required documents by mail. You’ll need to pay a deposit which will be refunded to you when you close your account.
- Residential phone service. Singtel’s residential phone rates are listed on their website.
- Cable TV. Starhub is the biggest cable TV provider in Singapore. The lowest-priced monthly plan is about $30 a month, including rental of one digital set-top box. Call 1630 for new subscriptions, and 1633 for customer care if you’re already a subscriber. Ask about promotions before signing up. Singtel’s competitive offering is an on-demand service called mio TV, which has a broad range of on-demand movies and a limited selection of other channels.
- Broadband Internet access. Singtel’s broadband service is called SingNet; you can apply online or call 1610. Click here for SingNet rates. Starhub also has a number of broadband packages – apply online or call 1630. Ask about promotions before signing up.
- TV license, from the Media Development Authority. This is an annual fee normally paid in January (there is a hefty fine for paying late), but will be pro-rated if you apply during the year. Moving from one apartment to another? You can transfer your TV license when you move.
- Once you’ve moved in, you’ll need to update your residential address on your Employment Pass. This informs several government agencies about your new residential address, so they know where to send official communications. This includes the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), which will send your tax forms to the residential address indicated on your EP.
Other house-hunting tips
Many web sites provide tips on house hunting and property searches in Singapore. Most of them, not surprisingly, are hosted by property search firms… but they’re pretty useful nevertheless. A few of these property listing databases are posted on our Property Guides page.
- SingaporeExpats.com posts pictures of popular expat condos online. Handy for checking out a building’s general condition without travelling all over town. Condo entries include a street map and the distance to the nearest MRT station.
- AngloInfo Singapore provides general info on various tenancy agreement clauses, as well as responsibilities of landlords and tenants.
Ready to start looking for a place? Check out the Property Guides page to look for online listings and photos.
Once you’ve sorted out your housing plans, check out other tips on moving to Singapore (getting a mobile phone, opening a bank account), or move on to the Practicalities page for tips on day-to-day living (finding a supermarket, paying your taxes). See the Getting Around page for information on public transport options.
If you have a Kindle our eBook is now also available from Amazon as a downloadable Kindle Book using this link Living in Singapore – An Expat’s Guide to Singapore
Didn’t find what you were looking for?
We’re constantly adding content to this website, so check back often for updates. If you’ve got a tip you’d like to share, email us at email@example.com and we’ll add it to the list!