Rent prices in Singapore have gone crazy, right? My friends keep telling me how their rents have spiked 20 percent, 50 percent or even 70 percent. I seem to have gotten the worst of it, with my own rent more than doubling, increasing 110 percent! Insanity!
Singapore is now like a giant chessboard, with everybody moving. I was curious about who could afford my crazily-priced house and it turns out all the people viewing it were those with black-and-whites who can no longer afford them. So, it seems renters are making way for those who have enough money to afford a palatial home but not enough money to afford their current palatial home!
My own personal hell
Not only have rent prices in Singapore gone through the roof, but stories of handovers gone bad are cropping up everywhere. It seems landlords are being difficult, nit-picking every little thing. And some are taking advantage of the situation to rake in extra dollars.
My own personal handover took six excruciating hours, with me ending up in tears. And then my fabulous handyman, Peter Lee, spent 12 hours at top-speed fixing every teeny, tiny thing. I thought I was a really good tenant, so I was in shock. My next-door neighbour had the same experience. We each spent thousands of dollars fixing up things we didn’t even know were broken, things we each felt weren’t our responsibility.
Peter told me it was the most insane handover he’d seen in decades. Simply, the landlord’s realtor Cleo really put us through the paces, being overly anal about every tiny thing. Peter said, “Cleo is the kind of realtor you want to have if you’re a landlord. She’s not the realtor you want if you’re the tenant.” Yup.
In the end, I’m glad to be out of that house and back into an easier-to-manage apartment. And, now that I’ve been through hell and back with this handover, I’ve sought out some tips so you don’t have to repeat my nightmare.
Finding a new place
The best way to find a new place is to know somebody who knows somebody. Tell everybody you’re looking for a new home. Get on the expat Facebook pages – there’s even a page for lease takeovers. My friend Vanessa found an apartment in her same condo by chatting to neighbours at the pool – and she prefers the layout to her old apartment. I found a new place through my friend Kristen Graff, a realtor. She knew of an American family repatriating. Funny thing? Our new apartment is the exact same apartment we first lived in in Singapore. So we’re back in our new/old apartment and paying less rent than we’ve ever paid.
Being forced to move may not be so bad after all. Still, moving is a pain, especially when it’s not your choice – and it’s a pricey process.
Realtor or not?
First, get yourself a good realtor. It’s easy to look for places on propertyguru.com, but everybody is looking at the same listings. Homes are being snatched up and rents are getting jacked up in bidding wars. To get a deal, you need to find a place before it hits the market. Realtors often know what’s coming on the market before anybody else.
More so, realtors help protect you during the duration of the lease and particularly during handover. How I wish we’d had our own realtor to do battle for us during my hellish handover. I found the house we just vacated on my own and negotiated a great rent, but it came back to bite me when we moved out.
The things landlords often ding you with during handover would normally be covered under minor repairs – not the renter’s responsibility, but the landlord’s. But landlords will claim these small nuisances are your responsibility. And they’re often in cahoots with their own handymen. If your lease says you’re responsible for minor repairs up to $200, the repair job mysteriously comes in at $200. We had to order a replacement toilet seat from Europe after the bracket on ours broke. Price? $200 exactly. I bet that seat didn’t cost $200! My own realtor would have helped battle that. I was just exhausted with it all and gave up.
Get your own handyman to make requested repairs – they’ll often charge far less than the landlord’s handyman. Peter’s number one thing he deals with is lighting issues – burnt-out lightbulbs and faulty switches. I didn’t realise how many lightbulbs had burned out until we started to move out.
There is a misconception that the landlord must return your deposit within 14 days of vacating the property and that once the inventory is signed, he or she can’t make further requests. This is not accurate. Often landlords and their agents go through the place again to note defects. If a tenant is moving in right after you, sometimes their defects become your problems. Ouch.
Did you just move into a new home? Are you reading this in a total panic? No worries. You still have time to protect yourself. When you first move in, you have 30 days to report problems with your home. Be fastidious. As Peter said, “Pretend you’re Cleo.” Take photos of every little problem you find.
With my new/old apartment, I’ve worked on writing a list of faults daily for the first 30 days. Every time I see something tiny, I take a picture and add it to the list. That list has gone not only to the landlord, but also to my realtor.
Do it. Don’t get lazy. Protect your deposit.
Keep updating the list the whole time you live there. Let your landlord know what’s happening with the home. Make your motto “Good communication”. Keep receipts for maintenance such as air-con servicing, pest control and more. Be ready to hand them over when you move out.
Be prepared to return the house however it was given to you. Newly polished floors? Make them glint when you give it back. Curtains freshly cleaned? Clean them again for the next tenant. Fair wear and tear is subjective; don’t give the landlord anything to pick over.
Be sure to get rid of all of your stuff when you move out. Donate things to the Salvation Army or go to the Blessings Only Facebook page. Find a junk disposal company on Carousell. Another tip: dig out the old handover list from when you moved in. Go through it and make sure everything is the same before you hand over. This means replacing lightbulbs and making sure you have all the keys and remotes, and so on.
When things go south
If your landlord refuses to give you back your deposit, you can take them to small claims court (judiciary.gov.sg/civil/caseseligible-small-claim). This is a lawyer-free process and only costs $10 or $15, with a maximum claim being $20,000. You need to be in Singapore to claim, but someone can go on your behalf. The mediator listens to both sides and tries to work out a solution.
Note that landlords may offer to give you an extra month on your lease while you look for a home. Don’t do it. Put the extension in writing. Why? Because if your landlord doesn’t treat you fairly and give you back your initial deposit, you can’t go to small claims court without a current lease in hand.
From the landlord’s point of view
In truth, there are probably more bad renters in the world than bad landlords. Landlords trust people with their biggest investment: their home. So it’s understandable that they want you to take care of it and return it in good shape. For every bad story about a handover gone bad from the renter’s point of view, there’s an equally bad story about a renter destroying a house.
These tips will help you navigate the current market, but in the end, you need to be fastidious and have a little luck on your side. I wouldn’t wish my handover hell on my worst enemy. And in the end, remember one key thing: be Cleo!
This article on rental prices in Singapore first appeared in the September 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
Check out the different neighbourhoods in Singapore too.