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Starting your search for a home

Ok, now that you've got your personal list of wants and needs, you're ready to go and have a closer look at what's on offer out there. In Singapore this is usually a process along the following lines.

1. 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 or she will 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 what's available out there.

TIP: Bring a little notepad and your printed list to the viewings so you can jot down your notes. 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.

Also, by all means 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 they know if there will be any major construction in the area soon. And check around the area to see if you can find any project developer's billboard announcing major works.

Other important things you can do to make sure you've got all bases covered is to ask the current tenants if mozzies are a problem. Dengue does flare up every now and again in Singapore, so you'd do well to at least try and stay out of Dengue hot-spots. Also, don't get a property that faces the sun squarely, because the walls will be radiating latent heat long after the sun has set.

2. Making Your Offer

Things are gathering momentum now. You have 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 your offer.

This is where things take a more formal turn.

3. 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.

TIP: To see a list of LOI must-haves click here.

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.

(Click here if you're having deposit issues with your landlord)

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.

Ok, 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.

5. 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".

TIP: Request for your deposit to be placed in an escrow account. And modify the clause that says "the landlord will return the full deposit minus any repairs within 14 days." adding the line "Failure to return the deposit within the agreed-upon timeframe will result in interest being levvied of 2% per month until such time the full deposit has been returned."

(Click here if you're having deposit issues with your landlord)

6. 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. 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.

7. 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:

The agent shall receive one half (1/2) of a month's gross rental for a lease less than 12 months from the tenant. For a lease of up to 24 months, the agent shall receive one month's gross rental from the tenant.

The agent's fee is regardless of rental amount.

Please note that above commission terms, introduced by the Singapore authorities in January 2011, deviate from the previous terms, in which the professional fee amount was commensurate with the amount of rent chargeable. Note also that the amounts chargeable are exclusive of GST (7%), which is also due.

8. 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 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.

9. 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.

10. Utilities

Since the utilities are not included in your rent, you'll have to set these up. You can do this using the following websites:

Alternatively, you can ask me to do these chores for you. However, note that at some point your personal details will need to be verified, so keep your signed application form, your passport photocopy (there it is again), your employment pass and the signed Tenancy Agreement at the ready.

Ok, armed with the above information, it's time for you to take your first step. Click here to mail me what kind of accommodation it is you are looking for, along with your wish list to your dream home. Esther will get back to you with viewing suggestions within a day.

Tip: Bookmark this site, because I'm sure the information you find here will come in very handy during your initial explorations here in Singapore and even long after you have settled down in your new life.

BTW, since chances are that you'll be moving here, it's never too soon to get to know what the emergency number is in Singapore - 995.

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