“Out of the frying pan, into the fire”
Many Australian expats in Singapore, along with most others, of course, have navigated through the difficulties that Covid-19 travel, and work restrictions presented, only to now be faced with rapidly rising rental prices as interest rates have surged.
The vast majority of Australian expat households that I’m speaking about within Singapore are facing rental increases of 40% to 80%, and in some cases, well into the triple digits when it comes to the lease renewal time. With interest rates rising leading landlords with mortgages to face higher borrowing costs, rental prices have been largely stagnant across the country for the past 11 years, a lack of new supply throughout Covid-19, and new entrants into Singapore, all of this has meant that many are left with no choice but to pay higher rental prices.
Here is a look at the chart showing the Singapore Rental Index over the past 20 years:
Given the current situation of higher rental prices, and the fact that increases in income are largely going to be insufficient to cover the higher cost, what can Australian expat households do to reduce their rent? Here I share my tips on how you can look to achieve exactly this:
- Location, Location, Location
Naturally, the more convenient and popular the location, the higher the rental price is going to be. You will also often find that those properties within walking distance of an MRT station can be more costly than those next to a bus stop as this can often mean higher commute times. Given that Singapore has both an excellent MRT and bus network, I would have no concerns looking at those properties with great bus network access to reduce the rent where possible.
Given that the public transport is excellent in Singapore, you may find that you can simply look to live one more stop out from the CBD along the MRT line and see your rental price drop further. For example, a studio apartment in the Orchard area could set you back $4,300 per month on average, while one stop away in Newton is only $3,800 on average.
- Review Recent Transacted Prices
If you’ve spent any time searching for properties available for rent online and trying to book appointments with local agents, you may be frustrated that properties rarely transact for the listed price, and in many cases are no longer available, particularly in this current market. To get an accurate gauge for what properties are actually being leased for, head over to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) website, select the date range, choose the condo developments that you’re considering of the postal district and you’ll be able to view the actual lease price based on the size and location of the property.
By being equipped with this information, you can review any increases or decreases in the property recently, and have a clear idea of the lowest and highest transacted prices to give you some guidance when making an offer.
- Consider Having Roommates
You may also want to consider sharing your property to be able to be in a more convenient location, such as Orchard or the CBD area. In this case, you may choose to utilise the Master Bedroom and Ensuite and rent out another bedroom or two so that you can all enjoy larger shared facilities, as well as the condo facilities if applicable, without being faced with the entire rent bill yourself. Of course, it’s important to be selective with who you’re planning to share the property, but if your work involves a reasonable amount of travel and long hours, you may find that your roommates are in the same position and you rarely see them anyway.
- Fully, Partially or Unfurnished?
A fully furnished property means that essentially all of the furniture is provided to move straight into the property including lounges, beds, and dining tables. Whilst this can be convenient, you can often find that a fully furnished property can be more costly and places you at greater risk of losing your security deposit/bond if you damage any of the furniture provided. If you’re only going to be living in Singapore for a short stint (<2 years) then a fully furnished property may be sensible to avoid the cost of buying new furniture, however, if you’re expecting this may be longer, a partially furnished property could be the way to go.
- Ask the Landlord to Share the Costs
When it comes to the ongoing costs of the property, it is common for the tenant to be faced with two key costs:
- Quarterly servicing of the air-conditioning units, can often set you back $100 – $200 per service.
- Covering the first $200 – $250 of any repairs or maintenance required for the property such as repairing a washing machine.
When you’re reviewing the lease, you may want to ask your landlord to cover a portion of or all of these ongoing costs. In the interests of securing a good tenant, they may be happy to do so. After all, it doesn’t hurt to ask the question.
- Sublet Your Property
By shopping around or even negotiating with your landlord, you can often find that the property contract will allow you to sublet rooms in the property as the main tenant. This could be a great way for you to maintain control over the other people residing in the property as well as create some extra income for yourself. You will need to do your homework to check how easy it will be to secure tenants in the location you’re looking at, but this could be a simple way to reduce the burden of the rental price.
You may wish to seek legal advice when reviewing the property contract to allow you to sublease, as there are some strict rules which must be adhered to, such as erecting partitions in the property.
- Convert your Investment Property to Interest Only
If you have another investment property in Singapore or Australia, or multiple properties for that matter, you may want to review your options to reduce your loan repayments on that property, such as by converting the repayments to interest-only or extending the loan term out to 30 years, and this could allow you to redirect the money you’re saving on loan repayments to assist in covering some of the rental increase in Singapore.
You could also look to set up an offset account in Australia if your loan is variable, and hold any excess cash here, which will also allow you to pay less interest, and perhaps redirect any excess savings to Singapore to assist with your rent. Naturally, given that this would involve foreign exchange transfers, it’s important to review your options here and consider an FX broker with very low fees.
- Consider Longer Lease Terms
In some cases, landlords will consider accepting lower rental prices in exchange for a longer lease term, such as 3 years, as this provides them with greater comfort that there will be a regular income for a longer period of time. As the tenant, this means that there are no nasty surprises in the form of higher rental prices for at least the term of your lease, which provides some more peace of mind for your time in Singapore.
When it comes to longer-term contracts, it can also be sensible to ensure that you have the Expat Clause built in, which allows you to terminate the lease after a certain period of time, usually the first year in a two-year contract, in the event that you’re terminated from your employment.
- Prepay Your Rent
You may also want to consider a prepayment of up to 12 months of your rent to the landlord when negotiating a new lease, as this provides them with certainty that payments will not be missed and there is sufficient cash available to cover any repairs or maintenance issues that may arise. This strategy naturally requires that you have this cash available to prepay upfront and that you can’t utilise it yourself, so this may not be for everyone, but may be an option to secure a lower rent for those that have the funds available.
It looks likely that the current higher rents are here to stay, at least for the time being, so it’s important to review your options, equip yourself with the right information, and ensure that you’re securing the best outcome you can when it comes to renting in Singapore.
To Your Financial Success!
Jarrad Brown is an Australian-trained and qualified Fee-Based Financial Planner with Australian Expatriate Group of Global Financial Consultants Pte Ltd providing specialist financial advice and portfolio management services to Australian professionals in Singapore. Jarrad Brown is an Authorised Representative of Global Financial Consultants Pte Ltd – No: 200305462G | MAS License No: FA100035-3
Australian Expatriate Group is a division of Global Financial Consultants in Singapore providing specialist advice to Australians living abroad.
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General Information Only: The information on this site is of a general nature only. It does not take into account your individual financial situation, objectives or needs. You should consider your own financial position and requirements before making a decision.
*Please note that Jarrad Brown is not a tax agent or accountant and none of the content outlined here should be taken as personal advice. You should consult your tax agent and financial adviser to review your current personal finances and financial goals to consider whether this strategy is appropriate for you.