A rental property may not be your forever home, but that doesn’t mean your criterion during your rental HDB flat selection should be “anything goes”. After all, even though HDB has set the minimum lease period allowed at six months, most leases you’ll find on the market are for 12 or 24 months. Choose unwisely and you may be stuck in a difficult living situation not for just a few months, but for a year or two.
Yes, they may all be HDB flats, but they are not made equal. Predictably, rental flats in central Singapore command the highest prices. HDB’s statistics for the second quarter of 2018 show that three-room flats from this area had a median monthly rent of $2150. In far-flung Woodlands, the median was $1400, while in the mature estate of Tampines, the median was $1700.
Be prudent and choose a flat that is slightly below your budget, instead of one at the very top end of it. As a guide, 30 per cent of your monthly wage is a good gauge for how much you should spend on your monthly rent. This gives you a little leeway in case of emergencies, such as minor repairs, or a utility bill that happens to be higher than usual.
Speaking of which, never sign a tenancy agreement before working out exactly what the rent covers and making sure that it is reasonable. Typically, the landlord is expected to provide the white goods. These are the larger and more expensive domestic appliances, including the washing machine, refrigerator, basic kitchen equipment, air-conditioner, and lighting. The tenant is responsible for variable costs that change depending on usage, such as the utilities, and the internet and phone lines.
The landlord should also handle any major repairs, servicing, and maintenance that are required as result of normal wear and tear, while the tenant takes care of regular maintenance and minor repairs. The definition of “minor repairs” may vary, but most tenancy agreements limit annual repair costs borne by the tenant to no higher than $200. Anything above that should be considered a major repair, and paid for by the landlord – if it wasn’t a result of abusive usage by the client.
Another reason to select a HDB rental flat that is slightly below your budget is simply because rents can increase. You never want to lose the roof over your head just because you cannot afford the extra $50 your landlord is suddenly asking for.
As mentioned above, location is probably the biggest influence over the price of a property. The further from the city centre an estate is, the lower the rental prices of its flats; the more mature an estate is, the better established its infrastructure, and therefore, the higher its rents. The older flats in mature estates also tend to be larger, which drives up prices further.
Another (perhaps less imperative) effect of location is the area’s “vibe”. Pasir Ris, with its proximity to the sea and distance from the hustle and bustle of the CBD, is unofficially known as the resort town. Katong is a foodie’s heaven, while Queenstown is the neighbourhood for the pragmatic ones because besides being a mature estate with well-developed infrastructure, it is also close to the CBD whether by public transport or by car.
The budget-conscious tenant has to decide where on the sliding scale of importance both money and location stand. Proximity to your aged parents’ home, for example, may make location a very important factor in your decision making. Barring such compelling reasons, if you love to have money in your bank account, you may have to forgo the idea of walking to work in the CBD every day, and accept that perhaps three stops on the train isn’t that bad.
Infrastructure and Amenities
A train station five minutes’ walk away; a view of the park from your room; a shopping centre nearby with your favourite restaurant chains – these are the little luxuries that can really make a difference to your lifestyle in your new home.
But again, a property that has all of that may cost the earth. Forgo a couple of them, and you may see the rental price drop significantly. The hardest to compromise on is probably proximity to a MRT station – and it should also be the last thing you consider giving up. This is especially true if you’ve already chosen to live outside the CBD to save on rent, and convinced yourself that you could put up with a daily commute to work. Having to take the LRT to the MRT station may not sound like such a big deal at first, but it can really take a toll on you during peak hour at 7am in the morning.
The other amenities may be a little easier to give up. A park is of no use if you are only going to be looking at it from your window; how often would you actually go jogging in it? And do you really need access to a whole shopping centre when there’s a hawker centre and supermarket across the road from the flat? Expand your search radius up to a kilometer away from these amenities, and decide if the savings you’ll get on rent are significant enough to make the walk worthwhile.
The Little Things That Really Count
So you’ve found a HDB rental flat that’s within your budget, in a great location, and near a MRT station. It seems like a dream come true, but don’t let its surface perfection blind you during your first visit.
Turn on all the taps and flush all the toilets. If the water flow is slow, there may be a blockage in the pipes. Check if the water heater is working, and if the shower produces warm water at a reasonable pressure. Look in the back of all wooden cupboards and shelves – the presence of wood shavings may indicate a termite problem. Turn on all appliances included in your rent, and keep them on for longer than five minutes. Sometimes, problems only surface when they have been in usage for a while. Also open up all air-conditioner units to make sure that the filters are not clogged.
The checklist for your first visit to a rental flat should be a long one, so write down everything you want to look out for to ensure you don’t forget any. You may appear overly paranoid, but that’s better than discovering a termite problem after signing the lease.