Let’s be frank: cheap rent in Singapore less probable than a non-racist Ku Klux Klan meeting. This is one of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates, and also one of the most expensive property markets in the world. So check out our handy list, and you won’t have to decide which kidney you don’t need:
1. Understand the district system
When picking a place to rent in Singapore, it’s important to understand district codes. These district codes refer to the first two digits of the area’s postal code. These codes can tell you whether the rental unit is in the Core Central Region (CCR), Rest of Central Region (RCR), or Outside of Central Region (OCR).
OCR properties are the cheapest to rent, whereas many CCR cost enough to make a cocaine dealer balk. District codes are as follows:
CCR – Districts 9, 10, 11, and Sentosa
This is close to areas like Orchard Road, Tanglin, and River Valley. These areas can be thought of as “downtown Singapore”. Rent here is affordable, provided you’re the sort who rinses with champagne in the morning.
RCR – Districts in the central region, but outside of district 9, 10, and 11 (e.g. Districts 1 and 2)
These are areas close to the Central Business District (CBD). This is the “mid-range” of Singapore’s rental properties, in terms of price. Chances are, this is what your housing allowance permits.
OCR – The remaining districts (any number outside of 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, and Sentosa).
These can be in the north, south, east, or west; but they are the areas where most Singaporeans live. These areas have the most affordable rent; so if you don’t have a housing allowance then look here.
2. Chances are, a “central location” will be overrated to you
If you come from Australia, or the United States, or any of the billion or so countries bigger than ours, here’s a tip: rethink how important that “central location” is. Singapore is small enough to walk across in a day.
Odds are, even if you live in the OCR, you’re at most an hour away from town (and that’s with public transport).
Singapore also tries to make each district as self-sustaining as possible. Just about every neighbourhood has its own mall, eateries, cinema, parks, and so forth. A central location may not be as necessary as you imagine.
3. Sometimes, the pricey properties have less accessibility
Some high rent areas, such as the landed properties in Bukit Timah, actually have worse accessibility in terms of public transport.
As 82 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing, that’s where most of our efforts go when setting up train and bus stations. Furthermore, property developers sometimes ignore lack of public transport for luxury projects – it’s assumed that if you can afford a $2 million condo, you can afford to drive.
If you’re not interested in renting a car here*, do consider that when choosing where to rent.
(*Renting a car in Singapore is expensive, seldom necessary, and a good way to develop anger management issues when finding parking space).
4. Seriously consider the benefits of unfurnished property
One of the most common disputes with landlords involves the security deposit.
Now the more stuff the landlord has in the house, the more likely you are to lose said deposit. All it takes is one tear on a leather sofa, or one little dent on the wall; you’ll get a reparation bill that looks like something the UN would endorse on al-Assad.
To avoid that, consider getting an unfurnished unit. It’s not hard to “do up” the unit; if you get furniture on ezbuy.sg, for example, you can get a prime membership and get whole beds shipped over for $2.99.
If you are going to settle in for a while (say two or three years), then this is preferable; some landlords will even buy over your stuff when it’s time for you to go home.
5. Understand mature versus non-mature estates
You will sometimes read about property being marked as “in a mature estate”. You may also be wondering why older properties (often in mature estates) have higher rental rates than newer ones.
A mature estate, such as Queenstown or Marine Parade, has been developed over many decades. There are more amenities present in these areas, such as malls, libraries, supermarkets, and so forth.
Non-mature estates (or new estates) are still being built up. But the key advantages of these areas are lower rent, less crowding, and properties that are generally newer. If you’re the sort who needs space, these estates may be the ones to go for – the roads are often less congested, the rent is lower, and you won’t be pressed between sweaty chests and backs when shopping at the mall on weekends.
6. There can be two property agents involved
A common point of confusion among expats is our “two property agent” system. In Singapore, the agent who represents the seller cannot also represent the buyer, or vice versa. As such, you as a tenant have your own property agent, and the landlords have their own property agent.
The commissions for your property agent, as a tenant, works as follows:
- For rental rates of $3,500 and above, and a lease of two years, you usually don’t have to pay a commission. The landlord will pay their agent’s commission, and that agent will split that commission with yours.
- For rental rates of $3,500 and above, and a lease of one year, you usually pay your agent half a month’s rent.
- For rental rates below $3,500, and a lease of two years, you usually pay your agent one month’s rent.
- For rental rates below $3,500 and a lease of one year, you usually pay your agent half a month’s rent
Note that these are not actual legal rules; they’re just conventional rates, and can be negotiated. Also, neither you nor your landlord are required work through an agent. Some landlords will handle the process themselves, as do some tenants.
But if you’ve never rented in Singapore before, use an agent the first time around and learn how it’s done.
7. Drop by the property a second time, at night, to scout the area
Before signing the lease, drop by the property a second time if you can. You don’t have to go in, just hang around outside the area; this will give you a sense of the noise levels.
Some areas are peaceful at noon, when everyone’s at work; but they’ll sound like an explosion in a cymbal factory any time after 7pm. You’ll also want to get a sense of how congested the roads and nearby malls / eateries are – it’s great when there are 10 restaurants across the road, but less great when there’s a one hour wait time for any table.