Why do people keep e-mailing me about “a cheap place to rent” in Singapore? It almost doesn’t exist, okay? You’d have better luck finding professional surfers in Afghanistan. Down here we get into fistfights over space; and that’s just to find a spot to eat our noodles at lunch. If you must rent in Singapore, forget about cheap. Focus on good and convenient. There is no alternative to paying top dollar; so you’d better just focus on the benefits:
1. Don’t Mess With the Security Deposit
When you rent a unit, you need to put down a security deposit. This is an amount (usually one month of rent) that’s returned at the end of the lease term. Examples are:
- 6 months lease (Unusual, most leases are at least 12 months) – 6 months rent paid in advance as deposit
- 12 months lease – 1 month rent as deposit
- 24 months lease – 2 months rent as deposit
Should you damage, destroy, or play Nicki Minaj in the apartment, the landlord can take compensation from your deposit. Although said deposit is meant to stay untouched, some landlords try to bargain with it. They might offer unusual terms: Lower rent for a higher deposit, or premium rental rates with no deposit.
In which case, run for the exit. Non-standard or unusual contracts are a warning sign: You might be dealing with a bootstrapped landlord, who’s struggling with mortgage payments or related debts. If the bank forecloses, or the landlord suddenly needs to sell, you’re better off not being in the middle of it.
2. Check for the Expatriate Clause
For expatriate tenants, leases should come with a diplomatic / expatriate clause.
This clause allows you to cancel your lease without losing your security deposit (if you give two months notice). If your employer cancels your contract, this could save you a significant amount.
Some landlords might “forget” to include an expatriate clause. Because, ha ha, these things are so easy to miss you know, and “don’t worry I’m not trying to cheat you”.
Yeah, right. It wouldn’t be the first time a bad memory turns out to be a surprising advantage.
You don’t need to get a lawyer to read the contract. Just ask your landlord to point out where the clause appears. I’d seriously consider renting somewhere else, if you hear the “I overlooked it” excuse.
3. Check the Surrounding Property
Before renting, check the surrounding area. The rental rates should be within 10% of what your landlord charges.
Be sure to compare similar properties. First-timers to Singapore often misunderstand the differences in flat types. Rent for a DBSS flat, for example, can be higher than rent for a regular flat; even if the size and location seem similar.
Also, ask other tenants about the amenities. You’ll get a more objective view. As Australian student Tamara and her friends found out:
“The landlord told us there’s this great market hawker center a few streets away, and there’s a bus stop, and we thought it’d be great.
But we asked some other tenants, they said ‘What? No! All the good stalls around there close early, all the ones open at night are awful, and so on’. And we found out the bus we needed to take didn’t stop at that particular bus stop; we would have to walk seriously far. So good thing we checked.”
4. Check the Inventory of Contents
The inventory of contents is provided by the landlord, who will catalog all the stuff on his property. And while it’s a pain, you do need to go through every item on the list.
Do a walk-through of the apartment, and have the landlord point out the items on the list. Ignore suggestions like “It’s okay, I trust you, ha ha.” The inventory of contents is one of the most common sources of dispute. There have been cases of landlords claiming theft, and cases where landlords claim tenants’ property as their own.
For expensive items (e.g. carpets, artwork, sofas) always take photos. Verify that it’s the exact same item described on the list.
5. Fully furnished: Do You Really Need That?
Rented apartments can be fully furnished, or partially furnished. Fully furnished apartments can save costs, because you don’t need to buy beds, tables, etc. Partially furnished apartments might take a few calls to IKEA.
I’m not immune to the charms of a fully furnished apartment. But before indulging in this convenience, think it over.
A fully furnished apartment increases your liability. Remember the inventory of contents I mentioned in point 4? Yeah, it’s 10 times worse when the apartment’s fully furnished.
Also, you might have to think twice before hosting events. Breaking your $80 coffee table during a birthday party is just annoying. Breaking your landlord’s $9,000 glass designer table can be a life changing financial event.
Also note that some furnishings (e.g. elaborate chandeliers, sculptures, shaggy carpets) are a nightmare to maintain. There’s no “convenience” in a fully furnished apartment if you’re dusting, mopping, and polishing 10 hours a day.
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