Searching a home in Singapore

Your home away from home

Searching a home in Singapore

Now that you've committed to making that move to Singapore, you're ready to search for your home away from home.

In Singapore this is usually a process along the following lines.

Your property agent

Once you've done your research, that is, compiled a shortlist of criteria that you'd like your future home to meet, you pass this list to your property agent. He'll use this to gather a number of available addresses that match all your listed points. The screening process that follows involves your agent taking you on viewings so you can actually acquaint yourself in person with the kind of homes that are available.

TIP: Bring a little notepad to the viewings so you can jot down your findings. And use your mobile camera to take pictures of aspects of the homes that grab your attention. Keep a lookout for things like redecoration issues or repair jobs that present themselves, and make refurnishing suggestions if you think you'll want to change a few things around the house.

Ask the incumbent tenant or the landlord or the agent as many questions as you like. For instance, ask them about the noise levels at various times of the day, whether there are any hidden problem areas, whether there will be any major construction in the area soon, the direction/intensity of the sun, the neighbors, etc.

Making Your Offer

Let's say that you've found a suitable place that you connect with and would like to inform the landlord of your interest. Before you do inform the landlord, however, let your agent know how much you'd like to offer, because he/she will know if your offer has a good chance of being accepted or not and will tweak it if need be. Once the two of you have reached consensus on the amount, go in and tell the landlord.

This is where things take a more formal turn.

LOI (Letter Of Intent)

In order to "lock in" your choice, you need to show the landlord a token of your sincerity. This token is known as an LOI or Letter Of Intent. In addition, you need to make a so-called good faith deposit or booking deposit, usually one month's rent.

By accepting your LOI, the landlord in return will not rent out the unit to any other parties during the negotiations that follow between you and him. Of course at this point, the two of you should have by now more or less agreed, at least verbally, on the main items in the LOI.

Once you receive the landlord's counter-signed copy of the LOI, you're well on your way to become his tenant.

Note: The good faith deposit is non-refundable, so be 100% certain this is the home you're after, because if you change your mind after this point, you forfeit these funds. By the way, I recommend that you make your payments by crossed cheque.

TIP: Always add an expiry date to the LOI, usually one week later. That way the landlord will have to return the good faith deposit immediately upon expiry.

Awaiting the landlord's reply

One of two things can happen next. Negotiations may stall, after which the landlord rejects your LOI and refunds the good faith deposit. Alternatively, the LOI is received well and you move on to the TA, or Tenancy Agreement stage. Let's assume here the landlord accepts your LOI terms.

TA (Tenant's Agreement)

The TA comprises the terms and conditions under which the property is leased, including your actual rent suggestion. A TA is signed by both you and the landlord and is basically a more detailed version of the LOI. It essentially spells out clearly the tenant and landlord responsibilities and accountabilities.

Usually a standard IEA agreement template will suffice, at which point no legal fees are due. However, if various amendments to the TA are needed, it's best to have the final draft checked and verified by a lawyer, especially since Singapore’s laws can be regarded as quite landlord-friendly.

Incidentally, since asking rents are negotiable, by all means have a go and unleash your bargaining skills. Keep in mind that generally in Singapore rental tenures are for one or two years and use that as a crowbar in your favor in the event of deadlocked negotiations. This also applies to asking for a month's worth of free rent in lieu of a lower rent. If the landlord is not budging from the rent at all, more often than not he will agree to a month's worth of free rent, because this way he gets to "keep face".

Rounding off the procedure

Now that the TA has been signed by both of you, it is the time you submit to your landlord a copy of your passport and employment pass or work permit, as well as the first month advance rental and the security deposit, usually one month’s rent for every year of lease. Note that the security deposit is refunded to you - in most cases interest-free - once the lease term expires.

TIP: By the time you're completely settled, you'll have realised how many times you were asked to provide a copy of your passport's personal details pages and of your employment pass. When you get a copy made of these documents, don't just get one, get a dozen made, so you've always got these at the ready. You won't regret it.

Other points to note before you sign:

  • Make sure your unit's landlord is indeed that unit's landlord (don't become victim of a fake landlord scheme). And always ensure you receive a valid receipt upon handing over the cheque.
  • If a good faith deposit was given with the Letter of Intent, then this amount is deducted from the advance rental and the security deposit.
  • The lease security deposit will be forfeited on pre-mature termination of the lease.
  • The Landlord has the right to deduct all costs of damages and expenses arising from any breach of contract as stated in the Tenancy Agreement. For this reason I suggest that if during your tenure the property suffered some damage that doesn't fall under the normal wear and tear clause, it's better that you perform the repair yourself, because this way the fixing cost will tend to be lower.
  • Maintain all documentation for your future reference
  • Some landlords split up the rental amount into A. rental of premises, B. rental of furniture/fittings/etc., C. maintenance fees. So make sure that the rental amount that you're both agreeing on is in fact the final tally, apart of course from the separate items mentioned below.

Quid pro quo (Agent commission)

Once you have inked the tenancy agreement, you're obliged to pay your real estate agent. Generally in Singapore the agent's fee is ascertained as follows:

For rentals below SGD 2.500, the tenant pays half a month's rent commission to the agent for a one year lease and one month's rent commission for a two year lease. For a lease in excess of 24 months, the tenants pays an extra half a month's commission.

For rentals above SGD 2.500, no fee is payable by the tenant, because the agent receives his commission from the landlord. (N.B: SGD 3.000 is becoming more common nowadays. Also, in the case of a one-year lease, please note that the landlord pays half the rent's commission to his agent and the tenant pays half the rent commission to the tenant's agent.)

Please note that in the case of a one year lease, commission (in this case, half a month's rent) will be payable by the landlord to his/her agent and by the tenant (again, half a month's rent) to his/her agent, unless otherwise agreed prior to signing the lease.

Note also that these amounts are exclusive of GST (7%).

Stamp Duty

In order to make the TA a valid legal document to be honored by all parties involved, it has to be stamped by the IRA, the Singapore Inland Revenue Authority. The charges for this procedure, so-called stamp duty, are to be borne by the tenant. I suggest you do not omit this stage, since you will not only be in breach of Singapore law but it will also undermine your case should a dispute occur between you and the landlord.

Click here  to calculate your stamp duty.

Moving in

After you have received the keys to your property, why not walk on in and take a few minutes to relish the moment. This is after all, the place that will be your home away from home for the foreseeable future.

Next, have a close inspection around the place, the aircon, water-heater, appliances, all the fittings, the state of the walls, the furniture (if applicable), the tiling, and of course the inventory listing, i.e. make sure nothing is missing anything and note each item's condition. A good practice is to take pictures of everything that is looking a little worse for wear that you may have missed during the initial viewing of the unit. Email copies of the pictures to your landlord so both of you are aware that these particular problem areas exist at this early juncture, and so that at your request he can rectify these. This way you won't be held liable when the lease expires.

TIP: In Singapore the landlord is responsible for any repair of electrical appliances such as the fridge, washing machine, aircon, etc. should these break down within in one month of the start of the tenancy. So make use of this if this applies.

This article was submitted by Bry, Renting in Singapore ( ) - Telephone: +65 90079345

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: