Are Soho Condo Apartments in Singapore Worth Considering?

A Soho condo apartment in Singapore with modern furnishings and a bed on a raised platform
(Image credit: Far East Organisation)

Every industry has its jargon, with some leaving you confused as to what they mean or what they really stand for. For the property sector, ‘Soho’ may just be one of those head-scratching terms. 

“Soho” is actually the short form for “Small Office Home Office”. This catchy-sounding term manages to save everyone a mouthful (property agents especially), and even has a nice air of sophistication to how it sounds. 

But here you might be wondering, what exactly are Soho condo apartments, and are they actually worth putting down your money for? 

Let’s take a closer look.

 

So what exactly is a Soho condo apartment and what makes it attractive? 

The term ‘Soho’ is typically used by property developers in a marketing context. Sohos condos usually refer to condos that have attractive features like high ceilings, typically targeted at buyers who wish to work from home. 

Much of the appeal behind a Soho condo lies in the notion that it’s a place to live, work, and play - all under one roof. What’s more, if your Soho condo is centrally located, you get to enjoy being near attractive amenities as well as to your clients.  

Greater freedom for space planning also makes Soho condos highly sought after - these properties have higher ceilings that can come close to 5 metres. 

With such generous vertical space, you might be able to customise the space to your liking, such as by installing platform beds and having an office space right below. 

 

What should I consider when getting a Soho condo?

Whether you’re thinking of getting a Soho condo as a home office, or purely for residential purposes, here are some things you might want to consider before getting one. 

However, before we dive in, note that condos are technically only for residential use. If you want to use your Soho condo as a home office, you’ll need to apply for URA’s Home Office Scheme.

 

1) How optimal the Soho condo location will be if it’s a home office

A well-lit Soho condo apartment in Singapore in the evening with modern furnishings

A Soho condo apartment in The Scotts Tower (Source: Far East Organisation)

Assuming you intend to use the Soho condo as a home office and need to be near clients regularly, you might want to get a Soho condo in a more central location. If you get a Soho condo such as in Orchard, like The Scotts Tower, you’ll get to enjoy great connectivity and proximity to the CBD. 

Depending on where your clients are located, you’ll likely be able to reduce your transportation time when travelling from home to their office for a meeting. Conversely, your Soho condo will be more easily accessible by your clients.

If your work doesn’t really require much face-to-face interaction with business associates, a Soho condo that isn’t centrally-located might suffice for you. This also applies if you simply prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Some Sohos condos located further away from the CBD include Guillemard Edge in Geylang and The Hillier in Hillview.

 

2) You might not be able to build a permanent extra floor within some Soho condos 

There are a couple of ways you can maximise the vertical space in a Soho condo, whether it’s building a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf complete with a ladder that slides across it, or building an extra floor as a gaming space.

But note that you have to get permission for URA if you’re thinking of building a permanent extra floor. The rationale for this is that building a permanent floor will involve modifying the structural elements of the building. 

If you’re thinking of getting a Soho condo and building an additional permanent floor within, do take note of the gross floor area (GFA) of the Soho condo. There have been incidents where buyers bought such property thinking they could build a second level to maximise living space, when they actually weren’t allowed to. 

Some years ago, a group of buyers at One North Residences lodged a complaint to CEA and URA, seeking compensation from the developer. These buyers claimed they were told they could build a second level within the unit, but subsequently informed they were not allowed to do so upon key collection. 

It turned out that the developer had already built to the maximum GFA. As such, building the mezzanine would be illegal. What the owners would have been allowed to build were temporary platforms, not permanent mezzanine floors.

Despite this regulation, the upside is that you can still build an additional floor for that extra space, in the form of a temporary platform. 

 

3) Soho condos are more expensive than regular condos

Given the low supply and high demand of Soho condos, they tend to be pricier than regular private condos. 

What’s more, you’ll be looking at even higher prices if you want one that’s in or close to the CBD. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can always consider Soho condos that are further away from the city centre. 

 

4) A Soho condo apartment still sits within a residential area 

You probably rolled your eyes reading the above, thinking ‘duh!’. However, we thought this was worth pointing out. 

Having your home office from your swanky-looking Soho condo with its high ceiling and mezzanine will probably ‘wow’ your clients, but you need to consider that you’re still living in a residential area. 

This means that before your business associates arrive at your doorstep, the environment they pass through might naturally not be what business people associate with, well, business.

If you get a Soho condo and will have clients coming over now and then, you’ll need to be fine with them seeing that not-so-friendly housewife next door who seems to be hanging out laundry all day, everyday. Or your neighbour’s terror dog that barks and snarls at everyone who walks by.

 

What about commercial Sohos in Singapore?

Apart from Soho condos, there are also commercial Sohos. The key difference here is that commercial Sohos are commercial properties, while Soho condos are residential properties. 

Commercial Sohos can only be used as an office, and are built according to the safety requirements of commercial properties. 

What’s great about these commercial properties is that they usually have condominium facilities like a gym and pool. 

Also, with these commercial Sohos largely located in the city, these Sohos make for accessible offices especially if your clients are mostly based in the CBD. Some examples of such commercial Sohos include the SOHO@The Central at Clarke Quay.

Note that if you’re buying a commercial Soho, you won’t be able to use your CPF for the purchase. Loans for commercial Sohos also have a higher interest rate of 2 to 3%, compared to that of 1 to 1.5% for residential Sohos. 

Furthermore, commercial Sohos have a lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of up to 70%, compared to 80% for a Soho condo. 

 

Location

  • Usually located in the city
  • Usually located in the city

Rules and regulation

  • Can only be used for commercial purposes
  • Same regulations as commercial buildings
  • Need to apply for a permit to build temporary floor
  • Can only be used for residential purposes
  • Same regulations as residential buildings
  • Need to apply for a permit to build temporary floor
  • Need to apply for URA’s Home Office Scheme if also used as an office

Financing 

  • Loan interest of 2 to 3%
  • LTV ratio of up to 70%
  • Loan interest of 1 to 1.5%
  • LTV ratio of up to 80%


What are the rules for Sohos in Singapore? 

Sohos in Singapore can be used either for residential or commercial purposes, not both.

URA views “Soho” as simply a marketing term used by property developers, and actually don’t recognise the term in their urban planning. 

URA also does not specifically approve developments for “Soho” use. Rather, developments advertised as Sohos are approved either for office or home use, not for both, which URA has stated in the past.  

URA has announced in the past that office developments marketed as Sohos are misleading as they may not meet URA’s guidelines and requirements for residential use. For example, parking space might be insufficiently catered. 

Additionally, those looking to buy a Soho condo should not think that they can convert it into an office. 

If you wish to run a small business from your Soho condo, you’ll need to apply for URA’s Home Office scheme and meet the following conditions: 

  • The property has to be used primarily as a residence. 
  • There cannot be more than two other non-residents engaged in the business. 
  • Business signages cannot be put up.

In addition, only the following businesses are allowed to be run under the scheme: 

  • Accountancy services
  • Architectural services
  • Consultancy services (business, engineering, IT, management, or education)
  • Design/advertising services
  • Insurance/financial planning services
  • Real estate agencies
  • Technology based and knowledge intensive businesses
  • Trading office

Ultimately, a Soho condo may be worth considering if you want greater vertical space that you can play with, and are comfortable with the slightly more demanding financing considerations. 

If you intend for it to be a home office with business partners coming over, you might want to consider if the residential surroundings is something you’re okay with. 

More importantly, remember to play by the rules and regulations!

 

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