Guide to Property Investment in Singapore
Investing in residential property in Singapore is an attractive option for those seeking to grow their wealth through property ownership. With a stable economy and vibrant property market, Singapore offers a range of such opportunities for both local and foreign investors.
However, navigating the complexities of property investment can be challenging for those new to this area. Only by making sound investment decisions can you maximise your chances of achieving success in this lucrative space.
In this general guide, we’ll outline the main factors you need to be aware of when investing in any residential property in Singapore.
Types of Residential Properties
For a start, let’s look at the different types of residential properties available in Singapore. Each type of property has its own pros and cons, and choosing the right type of property will depend on your own investment goals and budget.
Housing and Development Board (HDB) Flats
Public flats are the most common type of property in Singapore, and they are built and managed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). HDB flats are affordable and cater to the housing needs of the majority of Singapore’s population.
HDB flats can range from 2-room to 5-room flats, as well as executive flats and maisonettes. They are ideal for first-time buyers or those on a budget. However, they come with certain restrictions such as a minimum occupation period before you’re allowed to sell or rent out the flat.
Executive Condominiums (ECs)
Executive Condominiums (ECs) are a mixture of both public and private housing, meant for Singaporeans who are not eligible for an HDB flat but at the same time find private condominiums too expensive.
Although ECs are built by private developers, they are fully subsidised by the HDB. These properties offer amenities similar to those found in private condominiums such as swimming pools, gyms and clubhouses, but are comparatively more affordable.
For the first ten years, ECs are regarded as HDB properties and owners must therefore abide by HDB’s regulations. However, once they cross the ten-year mark, they become fully privatised.
Private condominiums are privately owned properties , offering various amenities like gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities. Many also come with 24-hour security services. Some also come with concierge services much like a hotel.
It’s also timely at this juncture to talk about the concept of strata titles versus land titles. Firstly, a strata title refers to the ownership of a specific residential unit within a larger building, such as a condominium.
In this type of ownership, the owner of the unit owns a portion of the building in which he/she lives in, as well as a portion of the common areas shared with others, such as the swimming pool, gym and common corridors. This ownership is represented by a document known as the strata title.
On the other hand, land titles are used for landed properties such as terrace houses, semi-detached houses and bungalows. These properties are built on their own individual land plots and are not shared with other owners. In this case, the owner has full ownership of both the property and the land it’s built on, and ownership is represented by a document known as the land title.
Cluster Housing is a type of hybrid housing model comprisings homes that are identical in size, style, and space and which share common ownership of the land on which the cluster housing development is located.
Such homes combine the privacy of landed properties with the convenience of condominium-style facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, and parking spaces. They can comprise terrace houses, semi-detached houses, bungalows, or a mixture of all three.
The next category to look at is landed properties. These are properties that come with land titles and comprise 3 main sub-categories – terrace houses, semi-detached houses, and bungalows. They offer more space and privacy compared to HDB flats and condominiums but are also more expensive as a result.
Terrace houses are properties that form part of a row of similar houses joined together. According to guidelines set by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), terrace houses have to be part of a row of at least three units joined together, with each unit having its own walls and roof.
There are 2 types of terrace houses – Type 1 and Type 2. Among the differences between them, one is plot size and width.
- Type 1 terrace houses are the larger among the two, with a minimum plot size of 150 square meters and a plot width of 6 meters. A corner Type 1 terrace house has a minimum plot size of 200 square meters and a plot width of 8 meters.
- Type 2 terrace houses, on the other hand, have a minimum plot size of 80 square meters and a minimum plot width of 6 meters. A corner Type 2 terrace house also has a minimum plot size of 80 square meters, but with a larger minimum plot width of 8 meters. Type 2 terrace houses are allowed only in certain streets demarcated by the authorities.
According to the URA, a semi-detached house is one where two separate homes share a common wall between them.
The land plot of a semi-detached property must have a minimum plot width of 8 meters and a minimum plot size of 200 square meters if they are built side-to-side, or a minimum plot width of 10 meters and plot size of 200 square meters if they are built back-to-back.
In Singapore, GCBs are viewed as the most elite category of landed properties, and they differ from bungalows in the following ways:
- To qualify as a GCBs, the property must be located within 39 prime residential areas designated by the URA. Some examples of such areas include Belmont Park, Holland Rise, Maryland Estate and Swiss Club Road.
- They must have a minimum plot size of at least 1,400 square meters.
- The footprint of the house must not exceed 40% of the entire land plot
One important aspect that property investors should be aware of is property tenure, which refers to the length of time that a property can be owned and occupied by its owner.
A freehold property is one where the owner pays for and may own the property forever.
A leasehold property can either be owned by the Singapore government or private owners. In this case, the property is leased for a certain period of time (99 or 999 years), after which it is subsequently reclaimed.
Freehold properties generally carry a higher value and are more expensive than leasehold properties.
As a property investor, it’s important to understand the different property tenures as they can affect the property’s value over time and its potential for future development.
For example, freehold properties have an indefinite tenure, which means they can be owned and occupied for an unlimited period of time. As a result, they are considered to be more valuable and can appreciate value over time. On the other hand, leasehold properties have a limited tenure and tend to lose value as the lease period approaches its end.
Furthermore, leasehold properties with shorter lease periods may be more difficult to sell, as buyers are usually hesitant to commit to properties with such limited tenure.
Property Investment Eligibility Criteria
Among the eligibility criteria for property investments, there are 2 key criteria that one should pay attention to – nationality and age.
When it comes to HDB flats, only Singapore Citizens (SCs) and Permanent Residents (PRs) are eligible to purchase such properties, provided they fulfil one of HDB’s purchasing schemes (mentioned below under the sub-heading “Purchasing Schemes”).
As for ECs, they fall under 3 different categories – new ECs, resale ECs that can be sold anytime between the 6th and 10th year, and fully privatized ECs that are fully privatized after the 10th year. SCs and PRs are allowed to purchase ECs across all 3 categories, while foreigners are only allowed to purchase ECs in the last category, i.e. fully privatized ECs.
In the case of private condominiums, SCs, PRs, and foreigners are free to purchase such properties.
Finally, when it comes to landed properties, only SCs are eligible to purchase such properties. Foreigners including PRs, on the other hand, need to first seek approval from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) before they are allowed to purchase them.
For HDB flats, the purchaser must be at least 21 years old to purchase one with a family. Single people who are unmarried or divorced must be at least 35 years old.
In the case of private properties (including ECs), the purchasers must be at least 21 years old to purchase such properties. However, if the property is purchased under a trust, the purchaser can be below 21 years of age.
Grants & Schemes to Purchase Singapore Properties
There are several different grants and schemes you can use to purchase properties in Singapore.
Use of Central Provident Fund (CPF)
The first method is using your CPF Ordinary Account (OA) savings to purchase property, something which the vast majority of Singaporeans tend to do. The actual amount you can use is subject to the valuation limit (VL) and the withdrawal limit (WL).
The VL is the market value or purchase price of the property at the time of purchase, whichever is lower.
The WL is the maximum amount of CPF savings you can withdraw to pay for the property.
In general, younger buyers have a higher WL than older buyers, while properties with a longer remaining lease have a higher WL than those with a shorter remaining lease.
CPF Housing Grants
CPF Housing grants are only available when purchasing HDB flats or ECs. There are no such grants when purchasing private properties.
There are several grants available and the specific grant you’re eligible for will depend on the purchasing scheme you used when purchasing your flat or EC.
HDB Purchasing Schemes
When it comes to HDB flats, there are a number of specific HDB purchasing schemes you can tap into to purchase such properties. Here are a few examples of such schemes and what they mean:
- Public Scheme – Refers to a family nucleus that includes 1 Singapore Citizen and at least 1 other Citizen or Permanent Resident. Parents and children can be included as part of this nucleus.
- Fiance/Fiancee scheme – For couples who haven’t officially married yet.
- Single Singapore Citizen Scheme – Refers to unmarried or divorced singles who are Singapore Citizens aged 35 years and above. The monthly income ceiling is $7,000.
- Joint Singles scheme – For a group of 2-4 singles who are Singapore Citizens and who wish to live together under the same roof. In this case, the combined monthly income ceiling cannot exceed $7,000, if the persons are also concurrently applying for the CPF Housing Grant. For EC purchases, you are only allowed to purchase such properties under some of these specific schemes, e.g. Public Scheme.
As for private properties, there are no such purchasing schemes and you are free to purchase properties either as a single or with someone else.
Ways to Make Money from Properties
There are essentially two main ways to make money from property investments in Singapore.
Method 1: Purchasing and Selling
The first method involves purchasing and selling properties after a period of time.
In this method, you purchase a property and later sell it at a higher price for a profit. As part of the process, you may need to spend some time and money renovating or upgrading the property in order to increase its overall value and ensure a good profit when you sell it.
The key to succeeding with this method is timing – you’ll need to sell your property as soon as the right opportunity comes along.
You’ll also need to be aware of certain rules when it comes to selling certain types of properties. For example, in the case of HDB flats, you’ll need to occupy the flat for at least five years before selling it.
Another important area you need to be aware of is the Seller’s Stamp Duty or SSD. This is a specific tax that needs to be paid to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), if a property is sold within three years of its purchase. To avoid paying such a tax, you’ll need to hold on to your property for at least three years before selling it.
Method 2: Purchasing and Renting Out
The second method is a long-term strategy, where you purchase a property and rent it out for an ongoing monthly income while waiting for long term capital appreciation before you exit. In this case, in order to turn a profit, your rental income has to be higher than any existing mortgage and property maintenance payments.
Factors to Consider Before Investing in Singapore Property
Property investing in Singapore can be a lucrative and worthwhile investment opportunity. However, it’s important to take a step back and consider a number of factors before making any sort of investment decision.
Below are some of the key factors you should take note of when deciding whether or not to invest in a particular type of property.
One of the most important factors in any investment decision is your budget, so it’s crucial that you spend some time determining what your overall budget is. This is especially true if you’re looking at investing in landed properties, which are far more expensive than HDB flats or condominiums.
When determining your budget for a property purchase, it’s important to consider all the costs involved in the purchase, including the down payment, monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, and maintenance fees.
Firstly, you should determine how much you can afford for a down payment. The minimum down payment required depends on the type of property you’re looking at and whether or not you’re a first-time buyer.
Next, you should calculate the monthly mortgage payments based on the loan amount and interest rate. The interest rate for a property loan will vary depending on factors such as the loan amount and the borrower’s credit profile. To help you with such calculations, you can consider using an online mortgage calculator to estimate what your estimated monthly mortgage payments will be.
Furthermore, you also need to factor in other costs such as property taxes and maintenance fees. Property taxes in Singapore are calculated based on the annual value of the property and are paid annually, while maintenance fees are charged by the property management company and cover expenses such as building maintenance and security, typically on a quarterly basis.
With a predetermined budget, you’ll have a much better idea of your current financial situation and whether or not you need additional financing. If you do require financing, having a clear budget will allow you to identify suitable options that fit within your budget and current financial situation.
Following your budget determination, the next factor you should look at is the financing options available for property investments, especially if you realize that you require additional financing.
For a start, you can tap into your CPF savings to finance your property purchases, using them to pay for the down payment and monthly installments. However, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility criteria before you can do so.
Another option you can consider is mortgage loans offered by banks and financial institutions. However, the loan amount might be capped at a certain percentage of the property’s value, and you might need to meet specific criteria before your application can be approved.
In some situations, certain property developers also offer financing options for those who are keen to purchase landed properties. These options might include deferred payment schemes or plans with lower down payments or interest rates. However, you should be cautious when considering such an option, as you might end up paying higher costs in the long run.
Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR)
An important aspect you need to be aware of when it comes to financing is the total debt servicing ratio or TDSR, which is a framework implemented by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to promote financial prudence.
This is a ratio that represents the percentage of a borrower’s gross monthly income that is used to repay their monthly debts, including any property loans. If the TDSR exceeds 60%, it may be challenging for the borrower to obtain any financing for properties, as the bank will consider them high-risk borrowers.
The next important factor you need to look at is the actual location of the property, as it will have a major impact on the property value over time, its rental yield potential, and your overall quality of life.
Properties with easy access to amenities such as MRT stations, bus stops, schools, shopping malls, and food centres tend to have higher value and rental yield over time. They can also make daily life more convenient and enjoyable.
It’s also important to keep a lookout for potential factors that encourage rental growth and property value appreciation over time, such as rejuvenation plans for the neighbourhood, construction of new MRT stations, or the development of new commercial centres.
Lastly, you should also consider the surrounding neighbourhood as well, especially if you’re looking at landed properties. Some neighbourhoods are known for their vibrant entertainment options, while others are more peaceful. Take some time to reflect on your own lifestyle preferences and choose neighbourhoods that align with those.
Condition and Age
Another factor is the overall condition and age of the property, as it can significantly affect its purchase price, property value, and rental income potential. In this case, it’s advisable to engage the services of a professional home inspector, who will be able to help you conduct a thorough assessment of the property and identify potential issues.
A well-maintained property in good condition that complies with safety requirements will be able to command a higher price and rental rate, as well as attract more potential buyers and tenants.
On the other hand, properties in poor condition with potential safety hazards will require time, effort, and money to rectify, easily eating into your budget and potential profits.
As for age, older properties usually require more maintenance and repairs due to wear and tear, which will add to your ownership costs. They will also not have the same modern amenities as newer properties (e.g. energy-efficient appliances, smart home technology), which makes them less attractive to potential buyers and tenants thereby affecting your return on investment.
The developer’s reputation is an important factor you should look at as well, as it will have a significant impact on the property’s value and rental potential. This is especially so when it comes to investing in landed properties.
Here are some reasons why this is important:
- Overall quality – Developers with a good reputation for quality work will be able to deliver properties that are well-built and finished to a high standard. This can lead to higher resale values and rental yields, as buyers and tenants are willing to pay more.
- Transparency – Developers with a good reputation will be transparent about the details of the project, such as the expected completion date and potential risks. This can help you make informed decisions about whether or not you should invest in that property.
- Support and service – Developers with a good reputation are more likely to provide good support and service to investors. This can include after-sales support, property management services and even advice on how to generate income from a property.
Legal and Regulatory Requirements
Property investments in Singapore are subject to various stringent legal and regulatory requirements. It’s therefore advisable that you seek professional legal advice on this, in order to ensure compliance with such requirements.
Below are some of the main requirements that you need to pay attention to:
- Stamp Duty – Stamp duty is a form of taxation that is applied to all residential properties, regardless of their type. It is based on either the market value or consideration amount of the property, depending on whichever is greater.
- Property Tax – Property tax is taxation that is levied on the ownership of properties, regardless of whether they are rented out, owner-occupied or left vacant.
- Tenancy Laws – If you intend to rent out your property, you’ll need to comply with regulations governing such rentals. Regulations for the renting of HDB flats come under HDB, while those for the renting of private residential properties come under URA.
- Building and Safety Regulations – Property owners are also responsible for complying with building and safety regulations, which come under the purview of several government agencies. Some of the agencies include Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Fire Safety and Shelter Department (FSSD).
Land Titles And Caveats
If you’re looking specifically to invest in landed properties, there are 2 specific legal documents that you need to pay particular attention to. These are land titles and caveats.
- Land Titles – Every piece of landed property has its own unique land title, which may contain certain regulations that limit the use of the land. While most land titles do not have such restrictions, it is still advisable to seek a lawyer’s advice to ensure you understand such limitations if they’re present.
- Caveats – Caveats are legal documents that buyers submit to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to register their legal interest in a property. Although it’s not compulsory to file a caveat, it is recommended to do so to safeguard the buyer’s interests. A lawyer can similarly help you with the filing of a caveat if necessary.
Indoor Living Areas
Another factor you should look at carefully is the overall indoor living area of the property, especially if you’re looking to invest in landed properties.
When looking at a specific landed property, it’s important to consider a spacious living area that can cater to your family’s changing needs over time. A larger property provides the necessary room for growth and potential renovations (e.g. creating additional bedrooms), without compromising the overall property layout.
A larger space also gives you the flexibility to create separate work and leisure areas, especially if you or any of your family members need to work from home on a regular basis.
It’s advisable to search for properties with well-designed floor plans that maximize the overall layout and flow of the property. Additionally, focus on regularly shaped rooms and plots with larger floor plates, in order to optimize layout efficiency and design flexibility to meet your family’s changing needs.
Besides the tangible factors discussed above, another equally important factor is the emotional connection you may have toward a specific property. This is especially relevant when it comes to landed properties.
Certain properties may hold certain sentimental value to you, such as it being passed down from previous generations, or having some historical or cultural significance. While such an emotional connection can make a property more meaningful to you, it could also impact your investment decision as well. For example, you might find it difficult to rent out or sell such a property.
While emotional attachment can add personal value to a property, it’s important not to let it drive your decisions. At the end of the day, being pragmatic and objective is critical to making sound investment decisions that align with your own goals.
Apart from the above mentioned factors, there are also other miscellaneous factors that can impact the overall property market in Singapore. The two main ones include the government’s cooling measures and the economic climate.
- Government cooling measures – Depending on the current state of the property market, the government can intervene and introduce measures to regulate overall demand and supply. For instance, in September 2022, cooling measures were introduced to moderate housing demands and promote more prudent borrowing.
- Economic climate – When the economy is doing well and consumers have significant spending power, property demand is likely to be high resulting in a rise in property prices. However, if the economy is in a recession, unemployment will increase resulting in a decrease in household income and a subsequent drop in demand.
Working With A Property Developer
At the end of the day, investing in property can be an overwhelming and complicated process, and attempting to do it alone may result in serious mistakes being made. Therefore, after spending time reading this general guide, it’s recommended that you also enlist the services of and work closely with an experienced property developer and advisor.
Such a person will be able to offer valuable insights into Singapore’s property market, help you identify potential properties and carefully guide you through the entire buying process from start to finish.