Rent in Singapore
Now that you’ve actually decided to rent your own place in the Lion City (or have been relocated there) comes the part of process of actually choosing a place settle down. Initially you may presume that doing so would be easy considering how compact the island is. But despite Singapore’s smallness it boasts of various neighborhoods with different types of rent prices, entertainment, population makeup, etc. In other words, some may be more suited for you than others.
And it is with that in mind we put together this article for you. Inside we not only touch upon some differences between major residential neighborhoods in Singapore but also how to go about actually securing a crib the right way. Also a special emphasis has been put on expatriate housing, being that Singapore’s rental markets are largely geared towards foreigners anyway. Moreover in many instances there are rules governing housing transactions for foreigners (including permanent residents) with differ from those that apply to true citizens. So with that being noted, good luck, and we hope this guide really helps you in achieving the place of your dreams.
There are certain terms and acronyms that you will come across quite often in this post. Here is what they stand for:
Central Business District (CBD) – this is the mid-southern part of the mainland. It not only contains the Downtown Core but also Marina Bay, home of many of the country’s top recreational attractions.
Downtown Core – this is heart of the Central Business District, i.e. the financial capital of Singapore.
Housing & Development Board (HDB) – this is the branch of the Singaporean government which is responsible for providing housing to citizens. The residences they rent out are generally referred to as HDB flats, not apartments.
Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) – this is Singapore’s public transportation system.
WHERE TO SETTLE IN SINGAPORE
Instead of being guided by price from the onset, sometimes a better strategy would be to first identify which part of the island you prefer to live on. Yes, as to be expected some areas are vastly more expensive than others. For instance, neighborhoods in the Downtown Core or on Sentosa Island can cost you a pretty penny to reside in. However, there may be other communities close by which are actually affordable.
For instance, as opposed to Sentosa Island you may opt to live in Bukit Merah. No, the latter is not what you would call a tourist spot as with the former. But Bukit Merah is just north of Sentosa and is where you catch a cable car to the Island via Mount Faber. So if for instance you have a job on Sentosa or anticipate frequenting the Island but can’t actually afford to live there, this will perhaps be the next best location. Bukit Merah is also pretty close to the Downtown Core, as are other affordable neighborhoods such as Tanjong Pagar and Whampoa.
Other factors to take into consideration is a potential residence’s proximity to a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station. For example, if you don’t own a car, you may want to live close to an MRT station if you’re going to be commuting back and forth to work. Also if you have children on board, you would want to pick a community which has the type of applicable and desired educational institutions within it. And there are some other facets of a neighborhood’s makeup you would want to take into consideration, which we will get into later.
RENTING A ROOM IN SINGAPORE
The good news is that as expensive as Singapore may be, you do have the relatively-inexpensive alternative of renting a room as opposed to an entire flat, apartment or what have you. The even better news is that the housing market is overflowing in such selections, so you should be able to find a desirable room in virtually any neighborhood on the island.
RENTING A HDB FLAT OR ROOM
In terms of providing housing, the Singaporean government has solved the landmass’s spatial challenges by building plenty of high rises for people to live in. These are referred to as HDB flats, and it is within these structures that the overwhelming majority of the people reside. Accordingly they also tend to be the most-affordable form of housing in the Lion City.
But the issue is that once again being controlled by the (strict) government of Singapore, securing an HDB to rent is not that simple of a process. For instance, many of the aforementioned rooms for rent are actually located within HDB flats. But there are plenty of rules surrounding which ones can be legally rented out, which we will get into later.
RENTING AN APARTMENT, CONDO OR HOUSE
Of course there are private, non-governmental entities offering accommodations also. The most inexpensive option, outside of a single room, would be a studio apartment. Then there are multi-room apartments (not to be confused with HDB flats), condos and entire houses. Individual houses are not that terribly common in the Lion City as opposed to high-rise residences, housing complexes and mass-residential structures of the sort. Thus generally speaking houses are something you should consider if you are less reliant on the MRT, as they tend to be away from city centers where mass transport is more accessible.
RENTING A LUXURY HOME
There are also luxury homes for rent available in Singapore. The more expensive ones aren’t usually listed on general Singaporean classifieds websites, and as such you may have to visit a specialty site such as LuxuryEstate or Sotheby’s to find one. In addition to possessing impressive architecture, infrastructure and in some cases the best views of the Lion City, these homes are also often located in compounds/structures which feature special amenities such as swimming pools, gyms and rooftop lounges.
PRICING FACTORS IN RENTING A HOME
If you have between SGD$800 to $4500 a month, in terms of average Singaporean housing prices, you should be able to obtain anything from a single room to a three-bedroom apartment/condo. And there are factors which make some of these rental options more expensive than others.
PROXIMITY TO THE CBD
Generally speaking, the CBD it is by far the most-popular part of Singapore, as in where a bulk of the money flows from. Also the general Marina Bay area is where many of the island’s most-famous attractions are located. Or stated otherwise there is a good chance – for one reason or another, perhaps employment – that you may find yourself frequenting the CBD. And being that it does serve such a vital role in the nation’s economy, the general rule of thumb is that the further away you are from the CBD the less expensive rent becomes. As such from a money-saving standpoint being relatively-far to the east, north or west of the island become advantageous.
OLD VS. NEW HDB ESTATES
This may sound a little backwards, but renting a flat in an older HDB estate can prove more expensive than a newer one. That’s because the latter may still be in some stage of development, while the former already possesses adequate infrastructure. Moreover, as civilizations tend to do, the first estates built were actually those in close proximity to the major business areas. So as you get closer to the CBD for instance you will notice older as opposed to newer estates.
PROXIMITY TO MRT STATIONS
Readers of this blog may already know that the Singaporean government is not overly-fond of private car ownership. The country is small, and the powers that be do not want to deal with the negative consequences of having too many cars on the road. So in response they have provided one of the premiere public transportation systems in the world, the MRT. MRT is also quite comprehensive, either through rail or bus providing patrons access to pretty much the entirety of the island. And for those who regularly utilize the service, living in close proximity to an actual station is ideal. Such can also influence rent prices. In fact when searching for a home in Singapore, listings are often classified by their proximity to individual MRT stations.
PROXIMITY TO ENTERTAINMENT AND SHOPPING CENTERS
The Lion City is littered with entertainment/leisure venues and shopping centers, especially we would say the latter. In fact Singapore takes malls very seriously, and some of the best ones in the world can be found here. And on some occasion, living in close proximity to a popular mall or entertainment center will logically result in rent prices in the area being higher.
POPULAR EXPAT COMMUNITIES IN SINGAPORE
Singapore is a country whose population, according to statistics compiled in 2018, is made up of over 40% immigrants. Considering that in the nations admirably-low crime rate, you will find expats on virtually any part of the island. However, there are some communities, as listed below, which have had or can have a wider appeal to foreigners than others.
The Woodlands, being in the north of the mainland as opposed to the more-popular south, is one of Singapore’s hidden gems. Moreover it happens to be perhaps the most-notable center of the country’s American expat community. This is largely because it is also the home of the Singapore American School, which runs from pre-kindergarten all the way up to the senior-high levels. And as its name implies, it specializes in an accredited curriculum based on the Western educational system, which of course many people deem superior to the local one. As such the Singapore American School is one of the more prestigious institutions you can send your child to, even when coming from abroad.
As its name implies, Holland Village is a community that was founded by the Dutch. And also as its name implies, it tends be especially popular amongst Europeans. In fact Holland V, as the ‘hood is sometimes referred to, is the most-renowned ‘expat community’ in the entire Lion City. As such it is very artsy, and you may even find one of your favorite restaurants franchises from the West has setup shop there. Also, the area has a happening social as well as shopping scene and is very MRT-friendly. But best of all, being dominated by an HDB estate, Holland Village offers reasonably-priced renting options.
Of course not all expatriates to Singapore are from the West. Indeed, the Lion City is a desired designation for immigrants from across Asia and has more or less been that way for over a century now. One such country that has a notable population in Singapore is India. And Marine Parade, which is a bit to the east of the Central Business District, is known as a hub for Indians, particularly the well-to-do sort. In fact this is one of the most idyllic parts of the country not only due to its proximity to the CBD but also being even closer to the island’s “East Coast” beachfront.
JOO CHIAT / EAST COAST
And just east of Marine Parade we have another neighborhood known as Joo Chiat. It is not usually singled out as an expat enclave per se, nonetheless being officially recognized as Singapore’s center of Peranakan (Chinese + Malaysian + Indonesian) culture. Also it is part of the general East Coast area which once again has proven to have a particular appeal to Asian expats. For instance, this is perhaps the main part of the country which is known for featuring dishes from not only the West but also various parts of Asia. Moreover, unlike Marine Parade for instance renting in Joo Chiat (or even Geylang, if you want to go there) is a lot more affordable.
Anyone who knows anything about Singapore knows that the country has a very strong Chinese influence. In fact an overwhelming majority of island’s aforementioned sizable foreign population comes from China. Indeed it was Chinese entrepreneurs who for the most part initiated Singapore’s economic development as far as modern history is concerned.
Well back in those days it was Singapore’s River Valley where those who made it big liked to congregate. And it has remained a hotspot for some of the island’s more well-to-do residents, though nowadays being known more as a Japanese expat enclave. However, Australians and Europeans are also fond of the area. And overall the River Valley is recognized as a community possessing one of the best mixes of wealthier expats and their local counterparts. And it terms of its geographic positioning, it doesn’t hurt the community’s appeal that it is nestled right in-between Orchard Road – the island’s main shopping district – and Clarke Quay, Singapore’s primary party district.
Architecturally Tiong Bahru is one of the most-outstanding parts of the Lion City. And this is not due to any type of ultra-modern building but rather the area being highlighted by a housing estate dating all the way to the 1920s. In fact Tiong Bahru proper is Singapore’s oldest extant housing estate. However, it has not been neglected by time, experiencing a boost in popularity and influx of residents as recently as the 2010s. Or stated otherwise the place serves as a nice mixture of old-school and modern Singapore.
Indeed the aforementioned architecture was actually in many ways ahead of its time and has recently been preserved by the government’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. And even though you wouldn’t know it by looking at a map, Tiong Bahru happens to be one of the cooler, more laid-back parts of the bustling southern part of the island. For example, it serves as one of the Lion City’s centers of literature. Verily it is the area’s art scene which has been recognized as being a particular draw to expatriates. So if you’re a cool expat, a “bohemian” as some would say, then like Holland V this is a neighborhood where you’ll encounter a lot of people like yourself. As such it also happens to be a place where many expats set up shop on the island.
Remember how earlier it was implied that private housing is quite scarce in Singapore? Well one of the parts of island where you’ll actually find a concentration of such is Bukit Timah. Therefore despite not being one of the most popular parts of the country, Bukit Timah is well-known to wealthier expatriates who desire an entire private home to rent out while also residing relatively close to the Marina Bay / Downtown Core.
Earlier it was pointed out how, traditionally speaking, Holland Village was the island’s hotspot for White people, shall we say. However, in more recent times, that distinction has begun being shifted to Tanglin, which is just east of Holland V.
Tanglin is another part of the country which has a long history in entertaining Europeans. And in summarizing its appeal, let’s say it is more-expensive alternative to Holland Village. For instance, Tanglin actually houses a few foreign embassies. Moreover it does not have its own MRT station, meaning that people who can afford private vehicles (and like to avoid crowds) tend to settle there. Moreover it is right next to Swan Lake and the Singapore Botanic Garden and features a mall which is known to be ideal for Western expats, on top of the neighborhood itself being just a stone’s throw away from the ever-popular Orchard Road shopping strip. So that being said, Tanglin is not the type of place you choose to reside in the name of affordability. Rather if you’re coming over with a lot of money in your account or perhaps after making it big in the Lion City, you can decide to settle here next to the rest of the bigwigs.
Jurong, as well as its environs, is one of the more-economical options on this particular list. That is because it is located more to the west, which is less spoken of than north, east or southern Singapore. Or let’s say that due to Jurong being relatively-remote, the area is also more monetarily-considerate when it comes to renting.
But this is not to imply that the west is lacking in any way. In fact some of Singapore’s main attractions are to be found there. And as with other parts of the island (remember about 4 out of every 10 people are foreigners), there are expats to be found there. So when doing your housing search, especially if you’re on a budget, you should at least take a look out west and see what’s going on before making your final decision.
And another area you should treat similarly is Paya Lebar, which is found in the east region officially and geographically somewhat to the northeast of the island. It is one of Singapore’s sub-business districts and a good place to immerse yourself in the country’s economy without actually being in the CBD. For instance, it serves as home of the SingPost Centre, an entire shopping mall in which monetary transactions take place via eCommerce. And as we have discussed in the past the Lion City is trending towards becoming a cashless society anyway, so shopping there kinda puts you ahead of the game. And again there are general advantages to residing in Paya Lebar, most notably though being that rent prices, even for larger apartments, are relatively-affordable.
PROCEDURE FOR RENTING A PROPERTY
Here are some of the most important things to take into consideration when renting a place in Singapore:
IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS
We human beings are somewhat-complicated creatures. So even outside of the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, we also have other certain needs. No, a person may not perish due to a lack of entertainment or socializing with people like themselves, but such activities make our lives more edifying, which is why we all tend to seek them out. And accordingly, it is a good idea to give yourself the proper respect by identifying the things you like and choosing a place accordingly.
For example, many of us like to chill inside, spending our leisure time browsing the internet or watching television. If you’re such an individual, then where you decide to ultimately settle may not be so much of a factor. But if on the other hand you’re an artist, then you may want to choose a community that actually has an art scene. Or going back to the expat community, you may want to rent a home in an area alongside a lot of people from your homeland. Also as pointed out, a close proximity to your place of work, though not all-important with the MRT, is still a convenience. So keep it real with yourself when renting. Don’t stick yourself somewhere you know you won’t be happy simply in the name of saving a few dollars. Shop around and hopefully you’ll be able to find the exact type of place that you’re looking for.
HIT UP THE INTERNET
Singapore is a country which is increasingly relying on the internet in terms of fulfilling basic societal functions. Or stated otherwise, the world wide web may be the best place to go in terms of finding out what’s available in the housing market.
And a couple of months ago we already posted a pretty-comprehensive list of the best classified sites in the Lion City, most of feature a plethora housing listings. In fact some of them, such as 99.co and Rent in Singapore, specialize in real estate. Others, like Singapore Expats and Just Landed, feature residential options marketed specifically to expatriates. But as honorable mentions that didn’t make that list we would like to also give a shoutout to the likes of PropertyGuru, one of the most complete listings of available homes in Singapore, as well as SRX, a really-thorough Singaporean rental site.
CHECK YOUR ELIGIBILITY (EXPATS)
Time and time again, we have pointed out that the leaders of the Singaporean government aren’t necessarily the hippest dudes in the world. That’s another way of saying that the laws of the land are really tight, and you shouldn’t let anyone fool you into believing otherwise. So if you are an expat and intend on renting a home co-owned by the government (i.e. an HDB), do your proper eligibility research first.
LIAISE WITH LANDLORD, AGENT OR HOUSEMATE
So now that we have identified a place we like and checked our eligibility, now comes the point where you start interacting with other human beings by contacting the landlord, agent or housemate. And let’s get this out of way right off the bat – no one really likes to deal with housing agents. That is because doing so often adds an additional charge on what may already be an intimidating rental price. However, keep in mind that you can also hire one to do all of the above research for you. Also in some incidences they won’t even charge you, as they are rather paid by the landlord.
But considering that these days renters have the internet at their disposal, you may often find yourself liaising with a potential landlord or flatmate directly. That is to say that logically if you are actually interested in renting a place, then you have to take the next step by contacting the one who is advertising it.
DO ADDITIONAL RESEARCH
This step also includes actually visiting the property to see with your own eyes if it is suitable for you. But the reason we listed this section as ‘doing additional research’ is that an eye test alone simply doesn’t cut it in the world of real estate. So you would want to express any and all concerns you have to the renter to get their feedback. And of course one of the main questions you would want to ask is the quality/age of the home’s infrastructure. In fact as noted a few sections ago, there are parts of the Lion City that are still in development. So despite being one of the most-advanced countries in the world, you cannot always take basic amenities for granted just like that, especially in outlying areas.
Also keep in mind that the primary goal of the renter is to sell you on the property. That is to say that they are not the most objective source of information on the property. As such, if after meeting landlord you find yourself liking the place even more and being on the verge of renting it, you may want to consult with neighbors, flatmates and who have you beforehand to get additional, unbiased information not only on the property but also the neighborhood at large.
Additionally there are quite a few statutes in place in terms of who can legally rent an HDB room or flat. For instance, in terms of rooms, the flat it is located in has to be at least a three-bedroom joint. Also in many cases the owner of the flat has to had occupied it for at least five years before renting it in its entirety. Additionally if there are already a large number of non-citizens living in the area, it may be illegal for a landlord to rent you his or her HDB if you are an expat. Indeed as an expat you would definitely want to identify yourself with the government’s rules concerning renting HDBs to minimize the possibility of getting unceremoniously sacked later on.
In many cases rent prices in Singapore are negotiable. In fact rent negotiations are a common practice in the Lion City. So even if you are coming from a part of the world where such is not the case, still you should not be afraid to bring up the topic of negotiation prices with your new potential landlord.
And it should also be noted that there is an art to negotiation. Haggling over rent prices isn’t necessarily something that you do just like that, and desired outcomes tend to favor those experienced in the art. In other words, it may not be a bad idea to familiarize yourself with rent-negotiation tactics, if your landlord is willing to take it there.
LETTER OF INTENT
If applicable, the Letter of Intent (LOI) would be akin to the first formal agreement between you and the landlord. Well actually, it’s not an agreement per se. Rather it is indicative of the fact that yes, you have decided to rent the property. For there may be other renters bidding for it also. So you want to let the landlord know that you are indeed serious, sort of like a job application if you will. And if he or she accepts the letter, then he will also stop considering other tenants for the property. As such, LOIs are often accompanied by a deposit on behalf of the tenant.
Also this document serves as a medium in which any verbal agreements you have made with the landlord can be verified and formalized. This of course includes the price of rent and duration of stay. Additionally in some cases the landlord may have agreed to provide you with certain furnishings. And a list of said items is also something you would want to capture in the LOI.
VERIFICATION OF HOME OWNERSHIP
LOIs are not a universal practice. But either way this is around the stage of the process – in which you have agreed to take the property and the landlord has also agreed to give it to you – where you would want to verify that the person you are renting from is in fact the landlord. And whereas this may sound like a daunting task, in Singapore this is something which can often be achieved without any type of significant effort, instead only requiring an internet connection, an applicable device and a willing renter.
In the case of an HDB property, he or she would login to their government account via the widespread SingPass system. And for private properties, such verification can be ascertained via the Singapore Land Authority website.
GOVERNMENT APPROVAL (HDB FLATS)
Renting a room in an HDB is one thing. But in terms of acquiring an entire flat, no matter what the government has to be involved. That means either you’d be renting it directly from the HDB or need their permission (if you’re an expat) if renting the flat from a private citizen (i.e. a Singaporean who has rented it directly from the HDB). And the latter case would involve the landlord filing an application with the government. So as an expat, it would not be a good idea to take a flat from someone unless they can show you that said application has been approved.
TENANCY AGREEMENT / PAYMENT
This is the final stage in actually acquiring your new crib. Most of the intricacies of the agreement may have already been hashed out via the LOI. And for the record the standard in Singapore is to pay rent on a monthly, not yearly, basis. However, in addition to your first month’s rent, initially you should also be prepared to pay an additional one or two months’ rent depending on the length of your contract agreement, which is usually one or two years respectively.
DIPLOMATIC CLAUSE (EXPATS)
It is recommended that expats in particular get what is called a diplomatic clause included in their tenancy agreement. This is a contingency which allows you to legally terminate the tenancy after a specific amount of time (usually one year), if for instance your employer decides to relocate you outside of the Lion City.
If you are on the verge of renting your own place in the Lion City, whether it be a single room or an entire house, first of all let us say congratulations. For you are fortunate enough to be resident in one of the most-exciting cities in the world. However, Singapore, in some regards, is also infamously formal. And as such before making any big moves, especially if you’re a foreigner (i.e. someone not familiar with the system), it is highly-recommended that you familiarize yourself with the residential statutes of the land. But with that being said the Singaporean housing market is rather robust, and if you follow the layout above you shouldn’t have any issues. And of course, we wish you the best of success in your home hunting.