Choosing the right home is a huge part of ensuring a happy experience in Singapore. Most expats sign up for a two-year lease with the option to renew, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to choose a neighbourhood and a property that suits you best. (If you’re looking to buy a property, check out our buyer’s guide!)
We asked Deborah Law from Expat Realtor her top tips for renting a property in Singapore. (She’s got over 12 years of experience in the Singapore market, so we know she’s got it covered!)
- Compile a checklist of your requirements – Like anywhere else, money goes further when you’re outside the prime districts. If you’re planning to live in a central location, you may have to settle for less space or fewer on site facilities. Rental prices are experiencing downward pressure as a result of recent government property-cooling measures and new employment guidelines; it’s now a tenants’ market.
- Choose your agent carefully – Word of mouth is usually best and it’s highly recommended to use a single agent who will then commit to you 100 percent; agents in Singapore are paid on a commission only basis. Avoid registering with a number of agents: it’s time wasting and confusing for everyone concerned as they all access the same database of properties on the market. If you do decide to view properties with more than one agent, tell them upfront which properties you have already viewed to avoid duplication.
- Understand the agent’s commission – A salesperson cannot collect commission or fees from more than one party in a transaction. If he collects commission from you, he cannot collect a commission or co-broking fee or payment from the other party or from the latter’s salesperson. Ensure that a standard Council of Estate Agents(CEA) agreement is signed. Commissions should be paid to your estate agent and not directly to your salesperson. Factor in the 7 percent GST if the agency is GST registered. A salesperson earns commission only upon completion of a successful transaction.
- Search Effectively – Limit your viewing to no more than five or six properties at a time. (Any more than this gets too confusing!) Tell your agent what you’re looking for in terms of price, location and minimum number of bedrooms. Don’t get too stuck on style, but do stipulate if you need a balcony, small grass area or larger outdoor space. Many people end up doing a complete u-turn on their initial criteria – e.g. choosing more space over something modern. Do mention if you have animals at the beginning of the search. Take photos when viewing to review afterwards and to show other members of the family.
- Sign Wisely – Second Viewings are important to make a note of anything you might need to request in the Letter of Intent (LOI) such as the replacement of damaged fixtures such as taps, rusty hobs, mouldy fridges/ washing machines and so on. Changes not requested in the LOI will be almost impossible to implement after the lease has been signed. Do be reasonable with your requests, as you don’t want to risk your offer being rejected because you appear to be a “difficult tenant”.
- Ensure you’re covered – The Diplomatic Clause allows expats to break their leases after 14 months (12 months plus two months’ notice) if, for whatever reason, they have to leave Singapore. Leases may not be broken on any other grounds.
- Pay a deposit – Two deposits are required: one month’s rent payable with the LOI, and two months’ rent on the signing of the Tenancy Agreement (TA). One month’s payment goes towards the first month’s rental and is called the good faith deposit, or holding deposit. The second is held as the security deposit and returned by the landlord interest free (minus the cost of making good any damage) at the end of the lease. The tenant is also required to pay the stamp duty.
- Be aware of service charges – For apartments, the rental usually includes the service charge for general maintenance of the common facilities. For landed properties, there is no service charge, but as with apartments, you are responsible for minor repairs and routine maintenance, payment of public utilities, telephone and cable TV services, and servicing of air-conditioning units. All of this is covered in the Tenancy Agreement.
- Check your contracts – At the time of handover, make sure all your requests have been met. You or your agent should take notes on the Inventory List and take file photos of any defects such as damaged flooring or broken items. This will protect you at the termination of the lease. Signing your contracts and moving in should not be the end of the relationship with your agent. A good agent will keep in touch to provide ongoing help and advice and help with the hand-back of the unit at the end of the lease.
If you’re done with having a landlord and are in the market to buy, check out our buyer’s guide to help guide you through the process. Also check out our reader’s top tips!
This article first appeared in EL City Guide 2015/2016.