First Time Renter's Guide: For A Singaporean Who Wants to Fly Solo

Singapore Feb 2, 2023

Make your first renting process less daunting and more exciting with these first time home renter tips.

If you're a Singaporean living for years under your parents’ roof, you've probably contemplated the quintessential Singaporean dilemma — buying a home when you can afford to or renting a home and living independently now.

At first glance, renting might seem financially unwise because Singapore is commonly seen as an expensive city to live in and renting among locals is almost unheard of. But the truth is, many of us yearn to call a space of our own and by not moving out, we're paying the price with our mental health and/or quality of life.

Naturally, the thought of striking out on your own may seem overwhelming and paralysing, but there are ways to reduce stress when apartment hunting. With preparation, planning and good timing, you'll be living the life you want for yourself in no time.

If you haven't rented before and truly believe the many reasons why renting is better than buying a property, or maybe you're looking for a place while waiting for your Built-To-Order (BTO) flat to be ready, here are some things to take note before taking the plunge.

Hmlet Tiong Poh Road

1. Your Needs Are Your Compass

If you are a local (Singaporean), examine your motivations that prompted you to move out of your family home. For example, are you a single professional craving for personal growth away from your family, especially since Work-From-Home (WFH) became the preferred mode and having your own space is important.

You probably would not want to rent a room in a Housing & Development Board (HDB) flat, as it might mean having to live with your landlord. Instead, you might find that living in a co-living environment with others who are embarking on a similar growth journey to be a more nourishing experience. For example, at Hmlet, our team works towards recommending a home that suits your lifestyle needs based on the existing members in the apartment. On top of that, you get to participate in community events to meet new people!

If you're craving for some extra peace and personal space, then maybe consider our private units like a 1-bedroom or studio apartment.

And what if you just need a trial run that is non-commital before deciding to move out for real? Sign a short-term lease of 3 months (based on the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s law) and see if you would like to extend your contract after — we do this a lot at Hmlet. For even shorter stays like a week or month, then consider Hmlet Cantonment or Owen House By Hmlet for the flexibility you need.

2. Create A Budget System (and stick to it)

Now that you're clear about your motivations, start working out a budget system that works for you. Some people reverse-engineer a system by studying their spending trends, but many of us start with a basic budgeting rule.

Does 50/30/20 sound familiar? It's essentially a system that allocates your monthly income to different expenditures.

  • 50% for necessary items like groceries, housing or rent, insurance, bills, fuel, transportation fare, loan repayment, etc.
  • 30% for your wants like eating out, Netflix subscription, holiday savings, new expensive shoes, etc.
  • 20% for savings that include investments, emergencies savings etc

But if you're into specifics, you'd find the 30/30/30/10 budget rule to be more realistic — if you have a dedicated amount to just housing needs.

  • 30% for housing related items that include rent, mortgage, appliances, household supplies, and even transport.
  • 30% for other necessary items like utilities, bills, groceries, clothes, mobile plan, Wi-Fi, school or home office needs, etc.
  • 30% for financial goals like savings, investments, debt repayment, retirement planning, etc.
  • 10% for your wants like eating out, Netflix subscription, holiday savings, new expensive shoes etc
Hmlet Emerald Hill

3.  Decide On Your Preferred Location

Singapore might be tiny, but where you decide to rent can have a huge influence on your lifestyle, time spent commuting and your finances. Factors to consider before choosing a location include proximity to your workplace or school, transport accessibility, amenities (grocery stores, supermarkets, etc.) as well as rent. To live in the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore, such as One Shenton in Downtown or in the Tanjong Pagar neighbourhood, you can expect monthly rent to be much higher than others.

If WFH is a permanent arrangement for you, consider heartland locations that are away from CBD, such as Punggol or Woodlands. ‘Suburban’ Singapore typically commands lower rent rates. Areas that are popular among tenants and are still relatively affordable (compared to CBD locations) include Farrer Park, Little India, Paya Lebar, Jurong and Tiong Bahru.

Median rent psm of condos based on area as of Q1 2021. Numbers provided by URA.

4. Market rental rate research

Before you sign your lease, you’ll need to do some of your own research. For starters, platforms like SRX Property, Property Guru and are useful in providing an overview of the market rental rates for selected properties.

Note that many of the rental rates stated are usually higher than the actual rent, so it never hurts to negotiate with your prospective landlord on the final rental amount as well. We rounded up a couple of clever ways to negotiate a lower rent rate here.

5. Go through the rental clauses before signing

While this might seem like a no-brainer, the truth is that some people — especially first-time renters — might not fully understand the clauses in their rental agreements and run the risk of signing leases that are unfavourable to them Some things to look out for include:

  • Agreed rental amount, payment method and rent due date
  • Any additional or ‘hidden’ fees
  • Diplomatic clause and early termination of lease
  • Repair and maintenance responsibilities, minor and major
  • Extension or renewal policy
  • Privacy and access to premises

Another important thing to note would be to identify what is not written down in your rental lease to best safeguard your interests as a tenant. For example, if your lease does not include a clause stipulating that your landlord will offer you the same rental price once your initial lease expires, you might want to negotiate in case you decide to continue staying on after your first term ends. Additionally, if you run a home-based business, remember to check if your lease states that your landlord is comfortable with you doing so on their premises.

6. When possible, go for a physical viewing

Sometimes images online may showcase the space as fully-furnished, clean, brightly lit, etc. all will be answered the moment you go for a viewing. You may come to realise that the furniture is different or worse, the furniture isn't included.

Unless you're able to view the place through a virtual tour that allows you to save time and effort (fyi Hmlet offers virtual tours), opt for a physical viewing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I like the furniture?
  • Can I picture myself living here?
  • Is there enough light or is there too much light?

Going for a physical viewing allows you to scope out your neighbours and the neighbourhood, which is especially important if you are planning on signing a long-term lease.

Overall, a physical viewing has the added advantage of exposing you to the sounds, smells and vibe of the place which photographs could never provide.

For many first time apartment renters or renters-to-be, the most challenging part may actually be sitting down with your family to talk about your motivations for moving out. Just remember that it's totally okay to stand by your boundaries and fulfil your need for personal growth. You could make your rental experience sweeter by getting a space with your own flatmates. Rally your friends or tap into your personal network for interested parties to rent together with you, or if you prefer to go for a hassle-free route, you can always make new connections in a community like Hmlet's.


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