Singapore Apartment Hunting: 6 Mistakes to Avoid

Needing to find an apartment for rent in Singapore definitely falls into the category of "Good problems to have". After all - there are many available, most are great, and sometimes it can even feel like picking a hotel or resort (but don’t mention that to colleagues back home, as they may get a little jealous of your new location!)

You may even consider yourself an "expert mover", having hunted for a place to live plenty of times before. Even still, even seasoned expats can make miss things when moving to a new country, so we’ve listed a few things we think you should keep in mind. Based on our own experience and those of friends, here is a list of mistakes you might easily find yourself making if you’re not careful.

Using a Bad Agent

No matter where you go in the world, people love to complain about real estate agents! We think the problem is definitely exaggerated in Singapore, but we listed this here because it’s the most common warning people will give someone moving to Singapore.

When we say “bad” agents, we don’t mean Doctor-Evil-bad or “scam” bad, because those types are thankfully very rare due to good regulation in Singapore. We simply mean agents who are either not the best at their job, or not doing their best to help you for whatever reason (maybe they’ve taken on too many clients at once, for example).

We’ll write more on this in future posts, but here’s some helpful do’s and don’ts:

Don’t:

  • Don’t feel forced into whichever agent your company assigns, unless there are colleagues who can tell you personally that they did a great job. It’s actually likely your company probably isn’t paying them anyway, because agents usually get their commissions from landlords instead. They may even be paying your company, for the referral!
  • Avoid using an agent if you found them when you inquired about another apartment which was “unfortunately” unavailable. Enticing but unavailable apartments - some of which may not have existed even in the first place - is a common way to attract leads like yourself, so best to avoid this method of agent discovery.
  • Don’t think you’re stuck with an agent - this is not a marriage! Find another one if you’re not happy, assuming you didn’t sign any exclusivity agreement with them in the first place (usually this should only extend to apartments they’ve introduced you to, anyway).

Do:

  • Find an agent that someone you trust can recommend from personal experience

Not Using an Agent at all

Yes! This also can be a mistake. For most people, having the services of your own agent won’t cost you more, because they get paid by the landlord for helping him/her find you, if the total lease value is high enough (typically anything over $3000/month with a 2 years lease). So for zero direct cost, you can have someone who:

  • Knows Singapore and condos very well
  • Knows rental prices of apartments and can negotiate on your behalf
  • Makes appointments, checks apartments meet your requirements before taking you
  • Drives you from viewing to viewing
  • Helps check the lease paperwork
  • etc

As we mentioned earlier, a lot of people have negative experiences with agents or even recommend against them - we disagree with that advice. Find a good agent and take advantage of all of the above. We love real estate and researching things for ourselves, but we’d still use an agent if looking for a rental apartment in Singapore.

Fixating on Districts and Areas

As soon as you start talking to anyone about Singapore real estate, it won’t be long until you’re overwhelmed by talk of "Districts", “Planning Areas” or localities. Singapore is not “Hunger Games” and you should not worry much at all about Districts!

Like practically any city in the world, Singapore does have defined suburbs/localities, and yes they often do come with some of their own "personality", but the reality is also that Singapore is a young and evolving city and there are no firm boundaries or clear-cut differences between districts or areas that should concern you greatly. Convenience to workplaces and/or schooling should usually be far more important criteria. So therefore we list this as a common mistake, because you’d be amazed at how many people moving to Singapore who are sure they already know which district or area they should be living in (we were one of those!).

When building keylocation.sg, we almost left off districts/areas/localities altogether, because of how distracting we think they can be for someone who is still learning about a city. While we ultimately included them, we advise you not to narrow your focus too early.

Not checking Commute Times

You know you want to live somewhere convenient to your workplace(s), and you’re probably looking in locations that are fairly close on the map, but are you paying enough attention to how long it will really take you to get to work? Most people forget to check this type of thing carefully when deciding on apartments, but it’s important because even two condos at different ends of the same road could have a 10 minute different in commute time depending on where the MRT (rail) or bus routes go.

Did you know that just a 5 minute increase in commute translates to about 40 hours a year? So that 10 minute difference we just mentioned is like two extra work weeks a year!

It’s for this reason that travel time is at the center of our Condo Wizard, and not travel distance, or districts or suburbs. We think that what’s important about a location is how long it takes to get to places of importance to you, and there usually not many things more important than a workplace you need to get to every day, or the school your kids will go to. By default we show only condos within 30 minutes door-to-door of your office by public transport, but you can easily change both the time or the transport mode (for instance if you will drive to work).

Taking Friendly but Narrow Advice

Although it’s great to get the opinion of friends or colleagues, don’t forget that most people are only familiar with a small fraction of Singapore’s condos. So even if you ask 5 people, you might still only have heard of 5% of all the places you could choose! Be sure to cast your net widely - including the dozens of new condos which may have launched since friends arrived.

Forgetting that Singapore is Different

This is also known as our “You’re not in Kansas anymore” advice. It’s easy to forget that living in Singapore probably has some significant differences to where you’re moving from. Things like:

  • It’s hot and humid. Some people treat a change of country as like a New Year - "I’ll walk to work every day and get fit!". Just don’t overestimate how likely you are to walk to work from wherever you choose!
  • It’s not really a “driving city” and most expats don’t drive to work anyway. If this is your first time in a while not having a car, don’t overlook how different that can be and the importance of public transport plus walkable amenities like groceries. For this reason we let you filter condos based on walking time to MRT, bus stops and grocery stores.
  • Space comes at a premium. Singapore is not usually the type of country where you keep a spare room just for 1-2 times a year when you think someone might visit.
  • Speaking of space, don’t search by bedrooms alone! You’d be impressed at how many bedrooms can be squeezed into small space in some condos, so make sure you set both a minimum bedroom requirement as well as a minimum size requirement (e.g. square feet or meters) too.

Conclusion

So there you have it - our advice on mistakes to avoid when apartment hunting in Singapore. Have you made any of these, or do you think we missed any good ones? We’d love to hear from you!

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