The Finder shares insider secrets on finding a great place to rent, and save you some money, time and hassle along the way.
Specify what you mean by “close” to facilities
When I came here, I said I wanted places that were “close to an MRT” and realtors kept showing me places that were literally in the housing block above the MRT – because that’s what Singaporeans consider “close”. But I found them too noisy for me. So I had to clarify that I meant “within 15-20 minutes’ walk of the MRT.”
Have a hit list of “must haves” and “don’t cares”
If you need an open balcony and space of at least 800 sq foot, but don’t care if it’s furnished, say so. I listed my “must have” and “don’t care” features in bullet point form in emails to realtors. Before you even go see a place, ask how many of the must-haves it has? Some less-professional realtors will drag you all around Singapore looking at completely unsuitable apartments because they may “get lucky” – but it’s a waste of everyone’s time. You can also sometimes check apartment sizes and specs online via websites such as propertyguru.com.sg, www.stproperty.sg or www.gumtree.sg before visiting the place.
Check the location online before going to see it
Key in the Singapore postal code for the most accurate GPS location or look them up on www.streetdirectory.com.sg, maps.google.com or www.sla.gov.sg. Singapore is not big, but it’s crowded. No point living across town if it’s going to drive you mad battling traffic every day. Decide what you’re willing to live with every day. Do you need to be near a certain school? Or near the airport? Narrow your search down to those areas.
Decide on your budget
To get an idea of what you can get for your money, look around on property websites. Then set a monthly rent, and stick to it. However, if you love a place that’s a little out of your price range, you can try polite negotiation. For example, if you’re prepared to sign a longer lease, they may also be prepared to lower the monthly rent.
Ask about parking spaces
If you’re planning to buy or lease a car, you will need a car park as street side parking is limited in Singapore. If the apartment block does not come with underground parking, ask the realtor to show you the nearest free parking spaces. If they take you to an HDB carpark, check if there are any lots marked in white, as they’re available for visitors to use. Lots marked in red are for Season Parking Ticket holders which are reserved by a specific person or apartment, so you can’t park there overnight. For more on the rules of HDB carparks, go to www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/car-parks/parking-lot-line-markings.
Check all clauses in the “tenancy agreement” or lease before you sign
For example, some clauses include “Professionally service all air-conditioning units every six months and provide proof with invoices at termination of lease.” Most leases also specify that you pay the first $100 or $200 of any repairs yourself. Also, check what will allow you to break the lease. A “diplomatic clause” in a lease allows you to terminate the lease after 12 months, after giving one or two months notice. Your security deposit will be returned to you. Most landlords only include a diplomatic clause if the lease is more than a year.
List the repairs you need … or be prepared to pay
When you find a place you like, you and the landlord need to sign a Letter of Intent – a legal letter proposing your intention to rent the place, and your requirements to the landlord. Check the clauses before you sign and list any requirements you need. For example, repairs that are needed to the apartment, or a new washing machine, or removal of extra sofas. After the landlord signs the Letter of Intent, he is bound by law to provide your requests. If something is not in the letter of intent, you can still ask for it to be fixed, but it may take a while and you may have to pay the first $100 or $150 of the repair fee yourself.
Check what type of gas is required
Bottle gas has to be delivered in pressurised containers by private companies. They take away the old container, and attach a new container for you, in the space under the cooker. Depending on how much you cook, you need to buy a new bottle every few months. In contrast, “City Gas” or “government gas” is piped in. Some older apartments only have bottled gas available. If this freaks you out, it’s better to find out before, rather than after you move in. If you have kids (or a curious dog) you can also ask the landlord to put a lock on the door in your Letter of Intent so busy little fingers can’t get at the bottle.
Here are some common terms used to describe different types of homes in Singapore.
- HDB apartment
HDB (Housing Development Board) flats are government built apartments. Some 80 percent of Singaporeans live in HDB housing – and now foreigners and expats can also rent some of the units.
Benefits include having great facilities close by, from shops and transport to playgrounds and medical clinics. You’ll also get to experience Singapore life in a very real way, from enjoying festivals and food to shopping at bustling local markets. Many modern HDB are also as gorgeous outside and inside as any private condo, with marble floors and modern fitments, yet they can be more economical to rent.
However, HDB blocks tend to be big, and some can be noisy at times, with people walking up and down balcony corridors outside your window. So if you’re considering renting one, visit after work and during the day, to get a more accurate idea of how much activity is usual.
- Walk-up apartment
A “walk-up” is an apartment block with no lift/elevator. So factor in extra moving charges. You’re smart to also provide bottled water for your moving men as they will sweat buckets. A cash tip at the end is not expected, but it’s a nice gesture, if they’ve hauled your Kingsize teak bed up six floors, don’t you think?
- Black and White House
Many of the heritage “black and white” houses and apartments are run by the Singapore government. They’re leased to renters for a set period, say one or two years. You bid to rent them via a closed auction, and there may or may not be an open house that allows you to physically view inside the house. Some just offer photos on the goverment website, SLA’s State Property Information Online (SPIO). This site gives details of the bidding process – including what places are coming up for rent. Be aware these houses or apartments sometimes come completely empty. You may need to make repairs to them and install everything from the cooker and washing machine to the water heater and ceiling fans. Despite this, the apartments are often not substantially cheaper to rent than a modern condo. So ask yourself if you can be bothered buying all that stuff and finding tradespeople to do the work. If you can, you’ll be rewarded with vintage character and high ceilings.
By Tara Barker, December 2015