HDB VS Condo: Which is the Best Rental Home for Expats in Singapore?

PropertyGuru Editorial Team
HDB VS Condo: Which is the Best Rental Home for Expats in Singapore?
Among the most important decisions foreign workers in Singapore need to make is whether to rent a HDB flat or a condo. As such, we created this guide to help you decide which type of accommodation is suited for you. But first, here are some background info on HDB flats and condos.
What is an HDB flat?
HDB flats are public housing in Singapore. They are called as such as they’re constructed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). These homes are affordable and can be easily purchased by the average Singaporean as they’re subsidized by the government and are offered with housing grants. Various configurations are available catering to the needs of various families from two-room flexi flats to five-room apartments.
While HDB flats are significantly cheaper than private housing, these properties come with many restrictions. For example, if you’re not a Singapore citizen or permanent resident (PRs), you can only rent a HDB flat provided you hold:
  1. Employment Passes
  2. S Passes
  3. Work Permits
  4. Student Passes
  5. Dependant Passes
  6. Long-Term Social Visit Passes
Important: Tourists are not permitted to rent a HDB flat. Work Permit holders from the construction, marine and process sectors need to be Malaysian citizens. Also, HDB flats can only be rented for a minimum of six months.
What is a Condo?
Unlike HDB flats, condos are considered as private housing. These come with fewer restrictions, but are more expensive. For instance, it’s possible to get a 3-room HDB flat for about S$300,000, while a private condo with a similar number of rooms can cost over S$1 million.
Despite their high price tag, condominiums feature many exclusive facilities like 24/7 security, gym, swimming pools, sauna, BBQ pits and tennis courts. On top of that, condos can only be rented for a minimum of three months.
If you want to know more, about the different kinds of housing in Singapore, please check this guide.
Now that we know the basics about HDB flats and condos, let’s proceed with the pros and cons of renting either property. Below is the outline of the advantages of each, and these are discussed in greater detail below.
What are the Advantages of Renting a HDB Flat?
  1. More affordable rental rates and lower maintenance fees
  2. It lets you experience the authentic lifestyle of a typical Singaporean
  3. Lower cost of living
  4. HDB flats are usually closer to public transport
  5. HDB flats are guest friendly
What are the advantages of renting a Condo?
  1. Exclusive access to recreation and fitness facilities
  2. Condos are more quiet and peaceful
  3. Condos provide tight security
  4. Condos are more pet friendly than HDB flats
What are the Advantages of Renting a HDB Flat?
1. More affordable rental rates and lower maintenance fees
Prior to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, housing allowances for expatriates posted in Singapore were still generous and most foreign workers opted to rent private condominiums instead of HDB flats.
But after many multinational financial institutions were negatively impacted by the economic downturn, housing allocations per employee assigned to the city-state were significantly slashed.
Generally, if you have limited budget, you should prioritise living in a HDB flat rather than a condo due to the former’s lower monthly rental.
For instance, entire five-room HDB flats outside Singapore’s central region can be easily leased for under S$2,500, although rents of HDB flats can increase to around S$2,700 to S$3,000 the nearer you get to Singapore’s downtown area (CBD).
In comparison, it’s not easy to find private condos being leased out for under S$3,000 per month even if the homes are located in the suburbs. Monthly rents of condos near the Core Central Region (CCR) – which includes prime Districts District 9, 10 and 11 –typically start from about S$6,000.
However, please note that while private condos are generally pricier than HDB flats in terms of rent, HDB flats in highly developed locations can command expensive rents similar to that of condos in non-mature estates due to their proximity various amenities and MRT stations.
Aside from the more affordable monthly rent, another advantage of renting a HDB flat is such property come with a lower service and conservancy charges (S&CC) compared to the more expensive maintenance fees of condos.
Please keep in mind that collected S&CC charges from HDB flats are used by the Housing Board to maintain and upgrade public housing estates (includes paying for cleaning services). Similarly, maintenance fees are used for the upkeep of private condos.
For example, S&CC charges for a 6-room jumbo flat in Tiong Bahru, Tanjong Pagar and Queenstown amounts to about S$160, while condo maintenance fees usually range from S$250 and S$400.
Important: If you’re an expatriate, you may have encountered the term PUB included/excluded in a rental ad that has left you wondering about its meaning. Basically, this means payment for utilities (e.g. water and electricity) are included or excluded in the rent.
2. HDB living lets you experience the real lifestyle of a typical Singaporean
If you rent a HDB flat, you will have more opportunity of interacting with average Singaporeans as more than 80 percent of Singapore citizens live in HDB flats.
Moreover, these residential buildings are designed to encourage communal living. For instance, the void deck or the empty spaces on the ground floor of HDB block are unique to Singapore’s public housing estates. These spaces foster close communal bonds as it can serve as the venue for large-scale gatherings like Chinese New Year celebrations and weddings.
The government has also implemented a quota on the ethnicity on people buying HDB flats to prevent the formation of neighbourhoods that mainly comprise foreigners. This ensures that HDB blocks are home to a diverse set of races – Chinese, Malays and Indians.
Living in a HDB flat increases your chance of mingling with Singapore citizens. Through this, you’ll learn more about them, their way of life, their culture and habits.
Within a few months of living in a HDB flat you could see yourself emulating local habits, such as playing board games at void decks as well as dining at hawker centres and coffee shops. This can also help you familiarise with the languages here and get to know people living in the vicinity. Hence, if your job entails creating a network among the local populace or you’re visiting to immerse in the country’s rich culture, then renting a HDB flat is more preferable than living in a condo.
Essentially, you will get a more accurate idea on how common Singaporeans live, as those who reside in private condos are generally wealthier Singapore citizens and other expatriates.
3. Lower cost of living
The government regulates amenities within the vicinity of HDB estates, including what kind of shops can operate there. This keeps food and other necessities sold there affordable.
For instance, hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops, particularly in the mature estates like Toa Payoh, Bedok and Bukit Merah, are known for their cheap but delicious dishes. Similarly, stores and wet markets close to HDB blocks offer groceries and other daily necessities at lower prices.
In comparison, private condominiums are usually located farther away from such heartland amenities, and most of the stores and businesses that set-up shop near condos target a more affluent clientele with more spending power.
4. HDB flats are usually closer to public transport
While some private condos are also within walking distance to public transport nodes, HDB flats are generally situated nearer to bus stops and MRT stations than condos.
In fact, it is a policy of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to establish a least one bus service within 400 m of a HDB block and another bus service linking a HDB estate with a bus interchange or MRT station within the vicinity.
So if you don’t own a car, bike or any other mobility device, renting a HDB flat beats leasing a condo hands down.
In comparison, condos are exclusive residential developments and most companies that build such projects assume that their buyers (or tenants) can afford a vehicle.
So if you’re an expatriate who doesn’t want to drive, always check the condo’s distance to the nearest MRT station or bus stop before committing to lease. Nonetheless, some condos are near MRT stations, but these often command high monthly rent.
5. HDB flats are guest friendly
If you frequently have guests over, then we recommend leasing a HDB flat instead of a condo. This is because your visitors will find it easier to drop by your place as they don’t have to pass through stringent security measures that condos employ.
While HDB blocks don’t come with 24/7 security, they’re still peaceful and secure as there are CCTV cameras placed at lift lobbies, elevators landings and lift interiors. Moreover, it is the community that primarily acts as the watchdogs. It isn’t easy breaking into a flat when there are four or five flat nearby, whose families can be easily alerted.
Also, unlike in other countries, public housing in Singapore is not akin to a ghetto or slum. It’s not a hotbed of crime. In fact, you don’t have anything to fear if you typically arrive home late at night. More importantly, the city-state’s public housing (HDB) is the envy of many well-developed economies.
On the other hand, condos employ tough security measures and condominium builders set-up complex access procedures that it makes passing through airport security like a walk in the park compared with a condo’s.
For instance, in most condos, you need to have a key card to access nearly all locations within the development, including the floor where your unit is located. Sans the key card, visitors need to seek assistance from the security guard and use an elevator dedicated to guests.
However, passing through the guardhouse is no easy feat, as the security guards will routinely request for IDs, record your particulars, and inquire about the purpose of your visit. In comparison, HDB blocks don’t have guards and your visitors can just drop by and knock on your door.
What are the advantages of renting a Condo?
1. Exclusive access to recreation and fitness facilities
If your daily routine involves working out at a gym, doing laps in a pool, playing tennis or sweating out in the sauna, then condos are more suited to your lifestyle. This is because condominium projects are generally equipped with such facilities, and these are intended for exclusive use of residents and tenants.
Apart from the aforementioned facilities, some condos have other attractive facilities like putting greens, rock-climbing walls and communal movie theatres. Aside from smart home features like lights and appliances that can be controlled by smartphones, or remote viewing, some condominiums offer concierge services.
Although most HDB estates also come with gyms and swimming pools, such facilities are open to the public and these can get crowded on holidays and weekends. Hence, you may find it bothersome when there are too many people, especially if you just want to relax.
2. Condos are more quiet and peaceful
Previously, we mentioned that the majority of Singapore’s population live in HDB flats, while the rest live in private properties, like condos.
Consequently, condos are more peaceful and quiet as there are fewer people living there than in HDB estates. It’s even possible that you’ll only have a few neighbours, instead of being surrounded by multiple families in HDB blocks.
In a high-density city such as Singapore, such tranquillity is highly valued, given the large number of people here, especially in areas closer to the central business district (CBD).
Expatriates, who are used to large open spaces, especially those from the US or Australia, are often shocked by the large masses of people here. And such foreigners will likely appreciate the exclusivity and privacy offered by a condo, which can serve as a haven, while adapting to Singapore’s crowds. In addition, condominiums typically have self-enclosed spaces where you can unwind, such as sky parks and landscaped gardens.
However, please note that some condos can also be noisy, particularly those adjacent to MRT stations, malls and major roads. To check the noise level, visit the condo you intend to rent at different times of the day. If you want a more peaceful home, be on the lookout for a corner unit or those with few neighbours. This also applies if you opted to rent an HDB flat instead of a condo due to budget constraints, but can’t stand the noise.
3. Condos provide tight security
As mentioned above, condos generally come with round-the-clock security, in addition to perimeter wall and surveillance cameras installed in strategic areas. There are also stringent access procedures ­– if you don’t have a key card, you will not only be able to enter your flat but also most parts and facilities in the condominium.
While this is a turn off for those who love to entertain friends and guests, this stringent security is sought-after by those who require extra protection, such as high-raking executives and people who work with the military, intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.
4. Condos are more pet friendly than HDB flats
HDB flats are public housing, hence, such properties come with many restrictions. For instance, there are even rules on what kind of pets you are permitted to keep due to the limited space in these projects, as well as to avoid causing problems to neighbours.
While you can keep a small dog with a maximum weight of 15kg, you are only allowed to have one and its breed must be one of those allowed by HDB. Please visit this link for list of 62 dog breeds allowed. However, please note some popular breeds are not permitted, such as Pitbulls, Chow Chows, Siberian Huskies and Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
As for cats, these are not allowed in all HDB flats, except for a pilot programme at a HDB estate in Chong Pang at Yishun.
Meanwhile, pet restrictions on HDB flats don’t apply to condos as these are private properties. As a result, you have more versatility when it comes to keeping pets if you rent a condo.
However, please keep in mind that many landlords in Singapore don’t want tenants with pets, due to the greater risk of having their property or furniture ruined, on top of potential health issues.
Nonetheless, some owners may be okay with tenants having pets, just check with the landlord first or the condo’s management committee.
Conclusion on which is the best rental home for expats: HDB or Condo?
Fundamentally, the key consideration for expats assigned to work in Singapore when renting a HDB flat or condo is their budget.
Those with generous housing budgets have the option of renting either kind of property. If you decide to rent a condo, you’ll get what you pay for in terms of exclusive facilities like a gym, swimming pool, tennis court and sauna. But if you rarely use such perks, there’s no point in leasing a condo except for the strong security and better privacy.
Even with a high budget, you can save a lot of money by renting a HDB flat. But if you really want a condo lifestyle, then go ahead and rent one.
On the other hand, expatriates with limited budget have little choice but to rent a HDB flat. But by choosing to live in this humble public housing, you will have a chance to mingle with the average citizens of this small country. Learn what makes them tick, and experience what Singapore truly has to offer from their point of view.
Aside from this article, you may also want to browse our resale HDB flats or private condos for sale or rent. If you want to know about future property hotspots in Singapore that will benefit from ambitious government plans, check our AreaInsider.
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