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 sometime in your 30s vs renting a home and living in independently now. At first glance, renting might seem financially unwise because Singapore is commonly seen as an expensive city to live in with a weak renting culture among locals. But the truth is, many of us still yearn to call a space our own and by not moving out, we're paying the price with our mental health and quality of life.
Naturally, the thought of striking out on your own can seem overwhelming and paralysing, but there are ways to reduce stress when apartment hunting. With preparation, planning, and good timing, you'll be reclaiming your lifestyle 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 you Built-To-Order (BTO) flat to be ready, here are some things to know before renting an apartment.
1. Your Needs Are Your Compass
If you are a local Singapore resident, examine your motivations that prompted you to move out of your family home. For example, if you are a single professional craving for personal growth away from your family, especially since WFH became the default, you probably would not want to rent a room in a Housing & Development Board (HDB) flat, as you would most likely have to live with another family (that is your landlord's). Instead, you might find that living in a flat sharing environment with others who are embarking on a similar growth journey to be a more nourishing experience. For example, at Hmlet, our Member Experience team works towards recommending a home that suits your lifestyle needs based on the existing members in the apartment. On top of that, you also get to participate in community events to meet new people!
If you're craving for some extra personal space and quiet with zero flat mates, then flat sharing is not an option and you'll be looking at private units like Studio apartments or 1-bedroom units.
And what if you just need a trial run before deciding to move out for real? Sign a short-term lease of 3 months (based on Urban Redevelopment Authority, aka URA, 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 a month, then a location like Hmlet Cantonment gives you that flexibility to live on your own on your own time.
All in all, think about what is the most important for you and narrow down your search from there.
2. Create A Budget System
Now that you're clear on 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. 50/30/20 sound familiar? It's essentially a system that allocates your monthly income to different expenditures.
- 50% on necessary spendings – groceries, housing or rent, insurance, bills, fuel, transportation fare, loan repayment etc
- 30% on your wants (not need) – eating out, Netflix subscription, holiday savings, new expensive shoes etc
- 20% on your savings – including 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% on housing needs – rent, mortgage, appliances, household supplies, and even transport
- 30% on other necessities – utilities, bills, groceries, clothes, phone, Internet, school or home office needs
- 30% on financial goals – savings, investments, debt repayment, retirement planning etc
- 10% on whatever you want – eating out, Netflix subscription, holiday savings, new expensive shoes etc
3. Decide On Your Preferred Location
Singapore might be tiny, but where you decide to rent and live 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, transport accessibility, amenities (grocery stores, supermarkets, etc) as well as base rent. To live in the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore, such as One Shenton in Downtown or in the Tanjong Pagar area, you would have to fork out more money for monthly rent.
If working from home seems to be permanent for you, consider heartland locations that are away from CBD, such as Punggol or Woodlands. "Suburban" Singapore typically pulls lower rent. Areas that are popular among tenants and are still relatively affordable (compared to CBD locations) include but are not limited to Farrer Park, Little India, Paya Lebar, Jurong and Tiong Bahru.
4. Research On Market Rental Rate
Before you sign your lease, you need to do some of your own research on the market range. For starters, platforms like SRX Property, Property Guru and 99.co 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.
5. Read Your Rental Clauses Carefully 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 in one way or another. Some things you typically should 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 you find that 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 the terms with your landlord, just in case you decide to continue staying on after your first term ends. Additionally, you might want to check if your lease states that your landlord is comfortable with you setting up your work from home business at his or her residential premise.
6. When Possible, Go For A Physical Viewing
Unless you're able to do a thorough virtual tour if you're in a rush to find a place (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, is there too much light? Sometimes images online will showcase the space as fully furnished, but once you go for a viewing, you'll realise that the furniture is different or worse, the furniture isn't included.
Plus, going for a physical viewing allows you to scope out your neighbours, especially if you are planning on signing a long-term lease. You would not want noisy or toxic neighbours to disrupt the quality of your life when you move to your rented place.
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, perhaps the most challenging part is actually 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.