Housing in Singapore
About 85% of Singaporeans live in public housing. Unlike public housing in some countries, these apartments are mostly (90%) owned by those living in them. These apartments are located in housing estates, which are self-contained towns with schools, supermarkets, clinics, hawker centres, as well as sports and recreational facilities. Because they are built and maintained by the Housing and Development Board, they are called HDB flats. There are three-room, four-room, five-room and executive flats. The living room is counted as one room. So a three-room flat has two bedrooms. A four-room flat has three bedrooms and so on. Some have an extra room that is used as a study; others have a dining area. An executive apartment has three bedrooms and separate dining and living rooms. They are the largest apartments built by the Housing Board.
Buying a home
The following restrictions apply for expatriates wishing to purchase residential premises in Singapore:
All Permanent residents and non-citizens making an economic contribution to Singapore or holding professional qualifications or experience useful to Singapore may purchase residential property.
Residential premises in buildings of six storeys or more may be purchased.
In addition, residential units in approved condominiums may also be purchased, regardless of the number of storeys.
For other types of residential property not mentioned above, government approval is required from:
Controller of Residential Property Land Dealings (Approval Unit)
Shenton Way, #27-02 Temasek Tower
Renting a home
Expatriates may rent all the different classes of residential premises - from HDB flats, to private condominiums, to bungalow houses. Rental prices vary according to locality, type of premises, size, furnishing provided and recreational facilities available. Accommodation in Singapore is normally rented out on an initial one or two year lease. Landlords usually ask for up to 3 months' rent as a deposit.
Private houses and apartments
If you have a high budget you can get a luxurious apartment, complete with facilities such as swimming pool, tennis courts, and gym. If you are willing to spend up to SGD$50,000 per month, you can rent a first class bungalow with lots of room, lots of space and a big garden.
Prime districts are at Orchard Road, around Holland Road, Tanglin Road, River Valley, and Bukit Timah, where rents cost a lot more. Other popular residential areas are the West Coast and the East Coast.
Renting a public housing flat
Singapore's public housing is unlike public housing in Western countries. The homes are built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and then sold to the occupants. So, the apartments are much better kept. In fact, should you be invited to one such home by a Singaporean, remember to take off your shoes before you walk into the apartment. Some 85% of Singaporeans live in such public housing.
Because these apartments are intended to solve the social problem of homelessness, there are strict rules against rental by the Housing Board. So the number available is small - only about 6,000. These are flats often rented by expats from Malaysia, Hongkong, China and India.
The advantages of living in such flats are that they are cheap and well-served by shops and public transport. In fact, shops, eating places, bus and subway lines have been designed to serve these housing estates.
The downside is that the ambience does sometimes leave something to be desired. This is especially true in lower income blocks with three-room flats. Also, as these apartments are intended as basic accommodation, they may not have all the facilities more modern private apartments may have. For example, modern apartments are fully air-conditioned with space for laundry and a separate smaller room for the domestic help. The more spacious five-room and executive apartments do come close to matching private apartments.
There are just two sources of public housing flats. The first and cheaper source is the government bodies HDB or the Jurong Town Corporation. The rent is lower in part because these bodies do not pay any commission to agents and in part because there is official policy to encourage foreigners to come to Singapore to work. However, there is only a very small number of such apartments available. This means that nothing may be at hand at the time you want or else those at hand may not be where you want in location or facing. Also, there is little room for negotiation.
The second source is owners who have approval from the Housing Board to rent. Here is the willing-tenant and willing-landlord situation where negotiations are possible. Ask the agent or the landlord who is showing you around for the letter of approval from the Board. Alternatively, tell the landlord that you have a car - the parking permit from the Housing Board can only be obtained if you are a legal tenant.
There have been a few cases of tenants who have given a deposit on the flat they like only to have the "owner" disappear on them. These "owners" were merely tenants. Before handing over any money, ask to see the title deed - proof that the person you are paying the money to actually owns the apartment. Be polite about it, adding, if asked, that you have read reports about the scam.
Source: Monster Singapore