|Housing: An overview of housing in Singapore|
An Overview of Housing in Singapore
So you're planning to relocate to Singapore or have just arrived in this tropical island. You will not find white sands and swaying palm trees but a modern city whose people speak the English language in a way which takes you a couple of seconds before you fully understand what they are saying.
The hotel you've been put up at is nice, but at US$180 a night, you know you've got to find a new place, and quick. Your stuff from home will be arriving by air or by ship soon. And a hotel just doesn't feel 'homely'.
So you get your office here to help call a realtor to show you around and take care of everything ... or do you ?
While Singapore is a modern western society populated by largely English-speaking ethnic Chinese, the similarity to the west does not extend fully into real estate. A country the size of San Diego County, its lack of land translates into a hefty rental for real estate - a bracket that while most Manhattanites and Londoners find reasonable, the rest of us find outrageous.
Rental for an apartment in the heart of downtown Orchard Road, the shopping district, can cost as much as US$2 per square foot per month, or about US$2,500 for a cosy 1,100 sq ft 3-bdrm apartment. Rentals for bigger apartments, of, say 2000 to 3000 sq ft, may cost some US$5,000 to US$9,000. While senior level expatriates may not have to worry about the rent, more and more expatriates are coming here and getting jobs on local terms and salaries, and rent is usually the biggest component of one's expenses.
What then should one do if after careful calculation, you've figured that you can spare no more than US$1,500 (or even less) on getting a place?
The first factor in determining the rental of a place here is of course, location. Imagine if you will Aladdin's magic lamp, which has a similar shape to the island of Singapore. A little above where the lamp's body is joined to its base, imagine a spot no larger than the size of half a penny. Geographically, the area to the south-central of the island, is the Orchard Rd / Lower Bukit Timah area which commands the premium rental. A little to the southwest is the River Valley area, a hop away from Orchard Road. Here too the rent is dear, with a new 3-bedroom condo going for around US$2,500.
With the spout of Aladdin's lamp pointing to your right, run your finger to the base of the spout and up just a tad. Anything eastwards of that would be the East Coast area, a 8-km strip that runs east-west along the southeastern coast of the country that in the last 10 years, have been dotted with new high rise condominiums planted along the entire stretch. Rental here has become very affordable of late, dropping from US$3,500 to only US$1,200 recently (assuming the same new 1,100sq ft 3-bdrm condo). The area has also become a favorite among expatriates, with its proximity to the airport (about 10 mins away) and the East Coast Park where one can rollerblade or ride a bike for 11 uninterrupted kilometres. You may also want to simply laze on the smouldering beach or enjoy the loads of restaurants offering a variety matched only by the Orchard Road district.
Now go to the other end of the island, where the lower handle joins the lamp: the West Coast. Expatriates choosing this area include those who work in or near the Jurong Industrial Town, those who work at the local universities, or those who wish to enroll their children at a popular international school (Tanglin Trust School), and many others who wish to be just outside the Holland Village area, an expatriate-infested enclave with a high density of Starbuck-ish coffee places and even higher density of restaurants offering cuisine from Mexican burritos to Indian curries.
Rentals in the west coast, like anything away from the prime district, is more affordable, with condos going for about US$1,000 for places in Clementi, Buona Vista and Queenstown. The notable exception would be Holland Village, located just one kilometre north of Buona Vista and separating it from the prime Bukit Timah area. Rentals there start at US$1,200 for a new condo but can be as little as US$1,000 for a 10-yr-old unit. Despite its price tag, it remains a favourite with expatriates because of its slight bohemian appeal and high concentration of fellow expats. It is the one place in the country (besides pubs in Clarke Quay - Boat Quay in the evenings) where locals might find themselves equaled in numbers by expats.
To the north of the country are several other towns where comfortable housing is available at decent rates. Housing in Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh, and Yishun, though far from the city centre (far in Singapore means anything more than a 10-min drive), is easily accessible by the mass rapid transit. The Orchard Road station is all but a quick train ride away from these residential townships, all sitting on the north-south lines, and all well-served by their own train stations. Rental for a condo here go for US$1,000 and up. Woodlands, the northernmost town is now a favourite among American expatriates who wish to reside near the Singapore American School, the largest international school in the country. Woodlands is also situated near the Malaysia border and residents in the area frequently commute across the border to purchase commodities and household items at cheaper prices. Rental here can be as low as US$1,000 or even lower should you choose to rent a public housing flat (HDB flat). Private condos are renting at about US$2200 to US$3,000. Terrace houses with 4 bedrooms go for about US$3,300.00. Bungalows are in demand here and can fetch some US$6,600 to US$9,000.
Renting a Housing and Development Board's (HDB) flat in Singapore is a lot cheaper but these public housing dwellings were built primarily for housing the local masses and do not offer amenities like swimming pools or tennis courts or gyms like condos do (although a sub-genre called HDB Executive Condos do have some facilities). These flats are referred to by the total number of rooms, that is, a 3-bdrm condo would be equivalent to a 5-room flat (add a living room and a dining room to the 3 bedrooms). While it is illegal to rent out the entire HDB flat (remember they are built to house the masses, not allow them to enjoy rental revenue), renting out parts of it is allowed. So many Singaporeans rent out the entire flat while keeping one room locked up. The idea here is owners of these HDB flats will claim that that one locked room is where they are staying, and therefore, they are not renting out the entire flat.
Should you choose to rent a HDB flat, you will find that the going rate starts from US$650 for a 5-room flat in the outlying areas (eg Jurong, Pasir Ris) and about US$900 for one closer to town. Downgrade to a 3-room (a puny 500 sq ft) or 4-room (800 sq ft), and you can find yourself paying as little as US$400. But that is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
What then should you do if the condos cost a tad too much and the HDB sounds too basic and primitive? You can always forego a new condo and go for an older one, which means anything built more than 8 years ago. For the same 3-bdrm condo, you can get one that is about 30% cheaper than the new ones. Go for an even older one, something over20 years old, and you can find yourself paying close to half what the new ones command. Or if you have a larger household, go for houses.
Houses in Singapore command a disproportionately lower rental so one may pay less for a huge house than for a medium sized condo in the same area. Rentals for houses are more dependant upon the condition of these houses rather than their location. The reasons for these are a) there are very few new houses for rent - it is the Singaporean dream to live in their own house rather than renting it out. b) most expats prefer condos as these often come with amenities for their families.
If you prefer more space and privacy, and enjoy the garden and the outdoors, you may choose to live in a house. You will probably have a car and are more mobile. Going further out and away from the central prime districts, one can pay as little as US$1000 for a 2500 sq ft 15-yr-old terrace house (like a town house) outside the city when that same rent can only get you a medium sized condo in the same area. It would be almost impossible to locate a decent abode in the central areas for this same budget.
If you look in the local papers, you will find that advertisements for rental properties are all divided into numbered districts. Some of the more popular ones are in District 9 (Orchard Rd/River Valley), District 10 (Holland Road/ Bukit Timah), District 11 (Bukit Timah/Newton Circus), and District 15 (East Coast).
Below is a list of what one might find in the daily advertisements, and the average asking prices of some of the island's properties:
Good luck with your house hunting, and enjoy your stay in Singapore. After you have stayed in a place for the initial 2 years as required by most tenancy leases, you may want to move to another part of the island to see what it is like. But then again, you might not want to go through the trouble of moving again until the time comes when you have to leave the island.
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