Buying a Condo in Singapore: A Step by Step Guide (2024)

Buying a condo in Singpore, ExpatDen cover picture.

When I first arrived in Singapore, meeting anyone who had bought a property in this tiny city-state filled me with a sense of awe.

  • Weren’t property prices in Singapore out of an average person’s financial reach?
  • How did any foreigner navigate the property buying laws and market cooling measures designed to protect Singaporean interests?

These successful expat property buyers seemed like demigods to me; mythological beings with more property-buying power than the rest of us mere mortals.

A decade later and a little less fresh around the gills, I now know that foreigners can buy condominiums without securing permanent resident (PR) status first and that while property prices are undisputedly high, buying a unit in a condominium development is not just the preserve of billionaires.

In fact, the ‘5Cs of Singapore’ — Cash, Car, Credit Card, Condominium, and Country Club membership — are entirely reasonable aspirations to hold.

That said, buying property in Singapore is not as simple as purchasing a car or getting a credit card. The market favors Singaporean buyers, and as a foreign buyer, there are legalities to navigate and additional taxes to pay.

In this article, I will demystify everything you need to know about purchasing a condo as a foreigner and take you step-by-step through the process of getting your foot on the Singapore property ladder.

Also, we are only looking at buying private condominium units, the one type of property that foreigners can buy with no restrictions.

*All prices are quoted in Singapore dollars (SGD).

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Key Takeaways

  • Buying a condominium in Singapore isn’t for the faint of heart because of its price and restrictions.
  • As a foreigner in Singapore, a private condominium might be your only option.
  • You have more options if you have permanent resident status. With it, you can buy an HDB flat, which is much more affordable than a condominium.
  • If you marry a Singaporean citizen or obtain your own Singapore citizenship, you will have even more options.
  • Prices can vary depending on a number of factors, such as square footage, location, and facilities, but on average, purchasing a condo may set you back $1,936.08 per square foot.
  • You don’t need a real estate agent as a buyer, but getting one can help you find and negotiate better deals.
  • As a foreigner, you can take out a loan that’s up to 75% of the purchase price from either local or international banks.
  • The sale price isn’t the only cost you’ll need to worry about when creating a budget, as there are other fees associated with purchasing property, like the buyer’s stamp duty.

Overview

Singapore’s property market is heavily regulated through government measures designed to protect the interests of the everyday Singaporeans.

These measures are put in place to stop foreign investors from flooding the market and putting prices well beyond the reach of the local buyer.

These measures mean that foreigners are limited in what they can buy as well as adding a layer of tax to the process.

Couple these restrictions with already high pricing, and you’ll understand that buying property in Singapore is possible. But it is not for the faint-hearted.

Chances are, if you are looking to buy, you are in it for the long game, not simply because you fancy something nice to live in during your expat journey.

Can a Foreigner Buy a Condo in Singapore?

Yes, a foreigner can buy a condo in Singapore.

However, Singapore has different regulations for each type of foreigner. Let’s take a look.

Foreign Buyers

Unless you hold PR status or have a Singapore citizenship, you are considered as a foreigner in Singapore no matter long you have been living in Singapore.

As a foreigner, you have a few types of property you can buy in Singapore.

  • An apartment or private condominium unit
  • A strata landed house in an approved condominium development. This approval needs to be sought from the Singapore Land Authority before purchase and is heavily reliant on your economic contribution to Singapore.
  • A leasehold estate in a landed residential property for a maximum of seven years, again only on receipt of prior approval and again heavily linked to your economic contribution.
  • A landed property in Sentosa Cove
  • An executive condominium in an HDB Block on the re-sale market only after the Singaporean owner has held it for 10 or more years.

The list is based on the Residential Property Act (RPA) created by the Singapore Government to protect local Singaporean’s property purchasing interests.

While you may initially be excited to see that you can buy landed property in Sentosa Cove, don’t get too excited.

Sentosa Cove is Singapore’s billionaire playground. Officially billed as, “one of the world’s most prestigious integrated oceanfront marina residential communities,”, it is aggressively marketed to foreign buyers; hence there being no restrictions on foreigners being able to purchase here.

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Unless you put yourself in the category of David and Victoria Beckham, who reputedly purchased here in 2015, or you have a spare $88 million to buy this Sentosa Cove, you should move swiftly on.

Buying with PR Status

If you are a foreigner who has taken PR status, then you are looking at a different set of regulations.

The most appealing is that you can now have access, although still not completely unrestricted, to HDB flats and executive condominiums.

HDB Flat in Singapore
If you want to buy a HDB flat, you need to either hold a PR status or marry a Singaporean.

You are also able to buy a landed property with approval from the Singapore Land Authority.

Buying with a Singaporean Spouse

If you are married to a Singaporean citizen, then the landscape changes, as you can buy into HDB flats; but the landscape also changes for your spouse and not in a beneficial way.

Singaporeans marrying foreigners have to follow the rules of the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme, which narrows their options. For example, they are now only eligible for a 2-bedroom build-to-order flat in a non-mature estate, and they have to demonstrate that you, their spouse, meet various visa requirements.

Condo Developers

Condominiums are buildings, or a group of buildings, with multiple residential units and shared common areas and facilities.

In 2023, there were just over 351,000 condos and private apartments in Singapore.

Within this number, there are condos that have been around for many years, like Lutheran Towers on Farrer Road, which was completed in 1974, and brand new builds which are popping up all the time. 

Many condo developers are operating in Singapore with good reputations for striking design and good build quality. Some of the most well-known developers include:

CapitaLand: developers of Singapore’s iconic Jewel at Changi Airport and Ion, the shopping mall on Orchard Road.enowned for strong design-led condos, such as The Interlace, d’Leedon, and Sky Habitat.

Far East Organization: the largest private property developer in Singapore, that built a range of properties from the ultra-slick Cyan to the more retreat style SeaHill.

Allgreen Properties: the property arm of the Kuok Group, is one of Asia’s biggest multinational conglomerates and developers for properties further away from the CBD, such as Changi Court.

Other residential developers include

Average Condo Price

While overall property market fluctuations occur in line with the greater economic picture, prices have risen exponentially since condos were first introduced to the Singapore market back in the early 1970s.

Taking a look at historical data on EdgeProp, Pandan Valley, one of the oldest condos in town, saw a low of $180 per square foot (PSF) for a 6,114 sq ft unit in 2004, fast forward to December 2023 and a smaller, 3,089 sq ft apartment was rocking a value of $1,207 PSF.  

Occasionally, a condo price falls outside of what would be expected in a strong market. This is due to developer overconfidence. For example, Sky Habitat in Bishan, well away from the CBD, was launched in 2012 with an asking price of up to $1,815 PSF, the most expensive condo launch Singapore had ever seen at the time.

It was a tough sell and in 2014, it was relaunched with prices dropping to $1,304 PSF. However, it is worth noting that it did then jump back to $1,927 in March 2024, so all was not lost.

Location can also cause prices to vary significantly. Condos closer to Orchard Road or the CBD will have significantly higher prices PSF than those in outer areas. Just make sure you’re aware of which pricing you are making a comparison with by looking at the price per square foot, not the overall price.

For example, a one-bedroom unit at The Sail at Marina Bay just sold in February 2024 for $1,300,000, whereas a one-bedroom unit at Pandan Valley, further out of town along the Clementi Road, sold in October 2023 for $1,700,000.

But the size of the apartment at The Sail was just 656 sq ft giving a price of $1,980PSF while the Pandan Valley unit was considerably larger at 1,408 sq ft bringing the price of PSF down to $1,449.

In addition to the location and size of the property, the price also fluctuates with proximity to the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, Singapore’s rail system) and other community and condo facilities and management services. Obviously, the more luxurious and well connected, the higher the price.

Average Condo singapore price in 2024
It is hard to give an average cost for a condo in Singapore with so many variables, but I was able to find this chart on Smart Wealth which rounds up the average prices for HDB flats, condos, and landed properties.

Location         

Singapore may not be a large island, but there is still a big difference between the residential areas.

Property agents and websites refer to districts. There are 28 of these, though no one beyond the property industry uses these district numbers anymore, and many property portals filter based on more common terms such as CBD (Central Business District).

Looking at all the individual districts is another article in itself, so for now I am going to just look at the key areas and some example condos in each, offering their most recent sale information so you can determine your own budget..

CBD / Marina Bay

This is the king of areas in Singapore; the district with the most luxurious and exclusive properties and city access. You have the waterfront, high-end shops, good transport, international dental clinics, and are right in the thriving hub of the city and the beating heart of the culture with Chinatown and Little India nearby. The downside is that leisure options are mainly limited to tourist attractions, and you are in the thick of Singapore’s only area of traffic congestion.

Notable condos in this area include:

The Sail at Marina Bay, where a one-bedroom unit just sold in February 2024 for $1,980 PSF.

Concourse Skyline, where a one-bedroom unit sold for $1,768 PSF in February 2024. 

If you want to hobnob with the high and mighty, then consider The Wallich Residence, where James Dyson apparently spent $4,987 PSF on the  penthouse in 2020.

Orchard and Central

Shops, shops, more shops, and some very exclusive apartments, too. The wider Orchard area is extremely sought after, not least because it also extends to include those prestigious roads around the Botanic Gardens, such as Cluny Road, where incidentally you can also hobnob with James Dyson, as he subsequently spent a further $45,000,000 on a very swish bungalow in the area. The downside to this area is that your wallet might not thank you for the daily shopping hit.

Notable condos in this area include:

Orchard Scotts is well known and loved by expats who use the serviced apartments in this block and presumably love them so much they end up buying them too. A two-bedroom unit just sold in Januar 2024 for $1,963 PSF.

Goodwood Grand, a little further out from the main Orchard area in Balmoral, where the most recent sale was for $2,449 PSF in June 2023.

Gramercy Park is famed for its two curvilinear towers that shoot out of the ground. This award-winning condo development has award-winning pricing too. The most recent sale was for $3,625 PSF in April 2023.

East Coast

The East Coast is for those looking for a more laid-back, chill vibe. With its expanse of running and cycling tracks along the beachfront and cool sea breeze, there is definitely a different feel to life here. Its proximity to both Changi Airport and the CBD simply increases its appeal for those expats looking for the ultimate life-work balance.

Notable condos include:

The Line @ Tanjong Rhu, where a two-bedroom unit sold for $2,401 PSF in February 2024.

Costa del Sol, an older condo with a fantastic underpass straight onto the East Coast Parkway and beach. A 3-bedroom apartment here feels more affordable at $1,586 PSF, according to the most recent Januar 2024 sale. 

Sentosa

I’ve already touched on Sentosa as the billionaire’s playground of Singapore, and it is often quoted as the only area where you can purchase landed property as a foreigner, but it also has some stunning condos available to buy. If you want sea views and a touch of glamourous lifestyle, this could be the area for you, but be prepared to dip into your wallet in a big way.

Notable condos include:

The Coast at Sentosa Cove: panoramic sea views in a stunning four-bedroom apartment sold for $1,425 PSF in September 2023.

Seven Palms at Sentosa Cove: if The Coast isn’t good enough for you, then how about the exclusive Seven Palms, which hasn’t sold a unit since the three-bedroom in November 2021, sold for $2,846 PSF.

Sentosa Island
Sentosa is known as the billionaire’s playground.

Woodlands

Woodlands has many merits as an area; it has huge historical significance as one of the major battlegrounds of WWII; it is the main link point to Malaysia, with the causeway bridge into Johor Bahru, and it is the beloved neighborhood of many an American family seeking the proximity to Singapore American School.

Prices drop significantly in this part of town, as it is the furthest point possible from the CBD.

Notable condos include:

Woodgrove Condo: Right beside Singapore American School, where a three-bedroom sold in June 2023 for only $968 PSF.

Rosewood: An older style condo in the heart of Woodlands, again just $923. PSF, according to the most recent three-bedroom sale in January 2024.

West

A huge area that can be broken into many different parts but for this article, can be treated as one which is to the west of the exclusive neighborhoods of the CBD, Orchard Road, and Bukit Timah. The leafy green suburbs of the western areas offer some real gems with space and nature on your doorstep.

Notable condos include:

Guilin View: A high-rise block with sensational views over Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. A three-bedroom unit sold in January 2024 for $1,183 PSF.

Parc Riviera: Down on  West Coast Road with easy access to the Tuas Crossing to Malaysia, a two-bedroom sold in February 2024 for $1,609 PSF.

This is a very detailed overview and I could go on, but you should get the picture that each area of Singapore has something to offer depending on what you are looking for and price differentials to reflect it.

What to Consider When Buying a Condo in Singapore

In addition to location, there are many factors you should consider when buying a condo in Singapore, including:

MRT Stations

Do MRT stations affect Singapore property prices? Absolutely. 

The MRT carries approximately 3.5 million passengers and is a mainstay of Singapore’s transport. Real estate agents keep a close eye on property launches in proximity to MRT stations.

When the addition of the Downtown line was announced in 2007, property prices near the designated stations rose by as much as 80%. Buying near an MRT station will always be a good investment idea.

New / Old Condo

While you may be tempted by new builds, there’s pros and cons to purchasing a new condo versus an old one, such as: 

  • Old condos in Singapore are renowned for having more space; developers back in the 1970s and 80s didn’t have to worry about space, and buildings were made with larger balconies and rooms to allow for more natural airflow. But older properties are often more expensive. Prices reflect the varying degrees of space and privacy that an individual property delivers, regardless of age.
  • New condos have modern amenities and facilities, but they come at a high initial cost.
  • Some developers offer customization options for finishes and fixtures, so you can tailor your condo to your taste.

Amenities

A similar picture is seen with amenities, whereby they aren’t necessarily the driving factor in price. Most developers assume that if you are buying a condo, you are driving a swish car and don’t need amenities nearby. You only have to look at Sentosa to see that condos command the highest apartment prices in Singapore, yet there isn’t even a decent supermarket within easy reach.

Property Facings

Another factor that is considered important in Singapore is the direction in which an apartment faces. Never underestimate the unrelenting glare of the afternoon sun.

South-east-facing units are considered the most desirable because they get the morning sun without the afternoon exposure.

Sunny apartment in Singapore
Choose your property facing well, since sunlight in Singapore can be very strong, especially in the afternoon.

Another consideration is light. Many people will choose a double-facing apartment, one with windows on two sides because you get double the light, which can help even the smallest of apartments feel larger.

How to Find a Condo

You now have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for and where, so how do you find the condo of your dreams?

Online

There are several excellent online portals that I would recommend as a good starting point:

  • Property Guru: probably Singapore’s number one property portal. It has a slick interface, good filters, and a useful “find an agent” option.
  • 99.co: a relative newcomer to the property portal market but with a strong lineup of properties and some great additional content features.
  • Oh My Home (OMH): it bills itself as a homeowners listing site, but from what I can see, there are plenty of agents listing properties on there as well, giving a good overall selection.
  • Mogul: another portal, another set of slick images, and more beautiful properties to choose from.
  • Craigs List: although the layout leaves a lot to be desired, and perhaps if you are looking to spend a hefty sum of money you might want something a little slicker, it does at least throw up options in the resale market, and many agents will be using Craigslist as an additional place for their listings.

Generally, most agents will be listing properties across all the possible platforms, so it’s unlikely to be the case that you will find your dream property on one and not the other. So I would suggest you pick the portal which you find works best for you.

Offline

Most new developments will have purpose-built showrooms that you can visit in person, which are advertised with huge billboards on the surrounding roads. Frequently, the developer will also have agents standing around handing out flyers to entice you in.

Developers will also advertise upcoming new properties, so it is no surprise that if you open The Straits Times or the Business Times, Singapore’s two major newspapers, you are likely to see some property adverts.

However, what you won’t find offline are details of properties on the resale market, so if you’re looking for an older condo, then I suggest you get online.

Agents

All sellers have an agent who does the marketing and showing of the property, as well as sealing the deal and sorting the paperwork. Many agents work with specific developers and are the interface between the developer and the buyer.

Even when the developer advertises the property directly on their website, they will still have an agent dealing with the individual properties.

As a buyer, you don’t have to have an agent, but it is highly recommended. They are there to help you find the best property, negotiate the best price, and take you through the paperwork and details of the deal.

Buyer’s agents typically charge around 1% of the agreed-upon purchase price.

A couple of important notes, though, before you rush off to find yourself an agent.

Finding an Agent

Word of mouth is always the best way to find an agent. Some very good agents understand a typical expat’s requirements.

This is important. I know of friends who have wasted much time being shown around condos that are not even close to what they are looking for because the agent thought they would want the same as a local buyer.

Find out more: Real Estate Agents in Singapore: What You Need to Know

Conflict of Interest

It is not unheard of for some agents to work for both sides as a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent. They will tell you that they remain impartial and will show you a wide selection of property, but at the end of the day, it is in their interest to steer you to one of their own properties.

If they are a good salesperson, they will do this without you even realising. 

I have a friend who spent a whole evening with an agent who was helping find her an older style condo. It was only at the end of the evening when the agent had given a long presentation on the benefits of a new build that my friend discovered the agent was actually the agent for a major property developer and was trying to push them into one of their upcoming launches.

One Agent Rule

There is an unwritten rule that you should work with only one agent. Singapore is a small island with a limited pool of both properties and agents. If you appoint two agents, both will end up showing you the same properties and both will find out about the other. By all means, if your appointed agent is not working out, end the relationship and start again, but don’t run two agents concurrently.

Financing a Purchase

This is where the fun starts, or the pain; it all depends on the size of your wallet. Buying property is never going to be cheap in Singapore, so you want to look at ways to make it more palatable.

Negotiation

Most property sales are subject to some level of negotiation, depending on the current strength of the market and how good your agent is. A good agent will be able to guide you as to how many units have sold, at what prices, and therefore whether there is wiggle room or not on your purchase.

Getting A Discount

Singapore is the land of the up-sell. Barely a day goes by when you don’t buy something, from as small as a toothbrush to as large as a car, where you aren’t offered an up-sell.

Property is no different. Developers may give discounts or reduce prices, but this will be in response to market pressure when there is unsold stock, especially if they know that another property is going to be launched on the market soon. Some developers also offer vouchers, early bird discounts, and even stamp duty reimbursements.

I don’t suggest you go hunting for a discount as a way of starting your property search, but it’s good to know that you might be able to find one on some properties.

Getting a Loan

All property transactions in Singapore are subject to a maximum Loan to Value ratio (LTV). This is the amount you can finance a purchase through a loan or mortgage.

As a foreigner, if you don’t already have an outstanding mortgage loan, you can borrow up to 75% of the purchase price. This will drop to 45% if you have another loan already, and down to 35% if you already hold two or more.

Many banks in Singapore will offer loans to foreigners and it is worth spending a good amount of time looking at the different options available to you.

The three big local banks, DBS, UOB, and OCBC, are the biggest players in this market and probably the best place to start, but you could also look at international banks such as Maybank.

MayBank
It’s possible to get a loan from a local bank such as Maybank.

If you are hoping to secure a loan, then you need to do the research ahead of finding your property and apply for an Approval-in-Principle (AIP) from your chosen bank.

The AIP will set out how much the bank will loan to you and what your monthly repayments will be. You can’t secure your property until you can demonstrate that you have this in place. The AIP is good for one month, after which you can renew as necessary.

There are some useful loan calculator tools available online, such as this one from DBS Bank, to help you understand how much you can borrow and which banks will loan it to you.

Lawyer

Agent sorted, finance sorted. Next step is to find a property lawyer.

If you are buying property in Singapore, you will require the services of a local lawyer to draw up the contracts, perform searches, and confirm details on the property and its ownership and any other due diligence that may be required.

A lawyer is especially recommended if you are buying a resale apartment so that you can run adequate checks on the seller and ensure you are not a victim to any kind of scam.

Both your bank and your agent may be able to recommend a lawyer to you, but again, I would ask around for recommendations from friends.

Buying Procedure

The buying process and timetable is full of technical terms but is actually pretty straightforward.

New Build

First up, if you are buying off-plan from a developer, there is an initial process and timetable to follow compared to buying a condo that has already been launched or is being resold.

Expression of Interest

Having been to the showroom and decided you like the new build enough to buy off-plan, then you can complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) form even though you don’t have a confirmed price. This is handed to the developer along with a blank cheque addressed to the developer’s project account.

The blank cheque will form the 5% booking fee on the property once the prices are unveiled. Submitting this EOI and cheque doesn’t form a legal obligation and will be returned if you don’t proceed with the purchase.

Launch Ballot

On the official day of the property launch, you visit the show flat and submit a ballot number.

When this ballot number is called, you can book the condo that you wish to purchase. It is entirely possible that at this point someone else has already snaffled the exact one you had set your sights on. So, make sure you have a backup condo in case.

Property Details Information

On booking your preferred unit, the developer will provide you with a set of Property Details Information (PDI) documents, which will include the floor plans, rules and regulations, and other necessary details. You must read, agree, and sign the terms on all of these documents.

At this point, you are ready to jump back into the same process as those who are buying a resale property or a condo unit in a previously-launched development.

Option to Purchase

On deciding to purchase the property, you will submit a fee, generally 1% of the purchase price, in exchange for the Option to Purchase from the seller. This allows a 14-day window in which to confirm whether you are proceeding with the purchase. Within that window, you will (hopefully) exercise that option and legally sign the document and forward it to the seller’s solicitor, along with the additional 4% of the purchase price.  

For those of you buying off-plan, you have already covered this 5% fee and Option to Purchase when you made the Expression of Interest and wrote a blank cheque.

On receipt of the Option to Purchase, you finalise the loan with your bank, who will furnish you with the Letter of Offer, a document outlining the terms under which you are receiving the loan.

At the point of agreeing to this Option to Purchase, check the property and its fixtures and fittings carefully and request any changes or negotiations. These cannot be done once the sale has been completed.

Offer to Purchase

Alternatively, you can skip the Option to Purchase and jump straight to the Offer to Purchase. Terms and conditions are drafted and your 20% down payment is made straight away.

Sales & Purchase Agreement

This is the completion of the sale document. If you have made an Option to Purchase, this is drawn up and delivered to you within the 14-day window, after which you have a further three weeks to sign and exercise the option. At this point, you pay the remaining down payment of 15%, as you have already paid 5% as the exercise fee.

Your lawyer will then draw up the Sales & Purchase Agreement and will arrange documents transferring the title of the property and ensure that the property is registered properly.

Taxes & Fees

I have already touched on the Option to Purchase and Exercise Fee / down payments, but to bring it simply together for you, it goes like this. 

Down Payment

On buying a property, you are legally required to pay at least 20% of the property price in the form of a deposit/down payment. This consists of the 5% Option Fee and 15% Exercise Fee.

As a foreigner, the full 20% has to be paid in cash.

Buyers Stamp Duty

Within 14 days of completing your sale, you must pay Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD). This will be calculated on the purchase price as stated in the Sales & Purchase Agreement, or the market value of the property, whichever is the higher amount, but it generally ranges from 1% to 5%.

To calculate what you owe you can check on the IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) BSD online tool.

Additional Buyers Stamp Duty

There is an Additional Buyers Stamp Duty (ABSD) which foreigners pay at a different rate than locals. This is one of the cooling measures introduced back in 2011, which I referred to at the start of this article about limiting foreign investment levels.

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore
ฺBuyers Stamp Duty and Additional Buyers Stamp Dury are collected by Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

For foreigners, the ABSD rate is 60%, compared to no fee for Singapore citizens or Permanent Residents purchasing their first property, or 20% for their second. There is a major caveat here, if you are a foreign national from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, or the United States, then you pay the same rate as a local.

In addition to the IRAS fees, you will also be liable for legal fees incurred to draw up the sales documents, conveyancing fees, and any other services used. It is worth requesting a quote on these fees before commencing with the lawyer’s services.

There is also a Caveat Registration Fee, payable to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) of $64.65, which your lawyer will generally include with the conveyancing fee.

After Buying

On completing your purchase it’s time to consider what else you will need to set aside as budget for your new home.

Property Insurance

Home insurance will protect you against unexpected costs incurred to the building or your contents through events such as flood, fire, or theft. There are a huge number of companies providing home insurance. I use NTUC Income but other local providers such as FWD are very good as well, and there are many comparison tools such as this one from MoneySmart to consider your options and pricing.

Condo AGM / Management

As soon as you own a condo unit, you are required to contribute maintenance fees that form the management committee’s budget for works and upkeep of communal areas and facilities. These fees range from $500 through to $2,000 per month, with luxury condos charging higher fees.

Furniture

Obviously, after buying your property you will need to furnish it. As to guiding you on a budget for this, well that is an almost impossible feat. I furnished my rented home for next-to-nothing as I bought second-hand items off other expats leaving Singapore, but if I was furnishing my brand new condo, I would feel more house-proud and want to go shopping. There are no shortages of furniture stores in Singapore, so set aside a good budget and enjoy the process.

Decorating

The same applies to decorating. How swish do you want your new home to be? Decorators in Singapore are cheap in comparison to most countries. It is best to ask around for a recommended decorator as the quality of work varies enormously.

It is also possible to secure a renovation loan in addition to your purchase loan. This is limited to 6 months of your income or $30,000, with interest rates ranging from 3% to 5% per annum.

Maintenance

I recommend setting aside an annual budget for maintenance. It is amazing how even the most well-presented condo can throw up problems with the plumbing or electrics. Again, use a recommended contractor.

Renting out Your Condo

Rental yields in Singapore are surprisingly low, between 2% and 3%, so buyers tend to be in the Singapore property market for future resale rather than rental income. 

As a foreigner, if you receive rental income, don’t forget to factor in personal income tax. If you are working in Singapore and hold an employment pass, these will typically be lower than if you are a foreigner renting from outside of Singapore. You can check interest rates on the IRAS website.

Is It Possible to Buy a Condo in Singapore from Abroad?

Whether you live in Singapore or not at the point of buying is a moot point. All foreigners, regardless of where they live, can buy private condominiums in Singapore.

Selling

Singapore does not have any capital gains or inheritance taxes, which is great news for sellers, however, there is a Sellers Stamp Duty (SSD) which is another cooling measure that the government introduced to prevent house-flipping. This is at 12% of the property price for sales within the first year after buying. It decreases to 8% in the second year, 4% in the third year, and no taxes from the fourth year and on.

Buying vs Renting?

As a foreigner, you can buy a condo in Singapore, but you are restricted to buying units in private developments, and you will pay more than a local. So, a key question to ask yourself is, am I really looking to buy?

This is also a question you should ask yourself early on in your expat foray into Singapore.

Many times I have had a conversation with a friend who has bemoaned the fact that their initial two-year posting to Singapore has become  12 years, and they wish they had purchased it way back when they first landed.

It doesn’t take long to work out that if you are spending, say $8,000 a month on rent for a three-bedroom apartment in NassimVille, after 10 years, you have spent just shy of a million dollars with nothing to show for it.

That could have bought you a beautiful three-bedroom apartment in Parc Canberra, which you could then sit on for the next 10 years as a nice little property investment and retirement fund.

While the purchasing costs might seem outrageous at first glance, over time, the amount you spend on rent is going to feel even more outrageous. You can ship your household items from your home and place them there without having to move them again when you need to find a new place to rent.

The other advantages of buying are that you are then in control of your finances and won’t have a landlord hiking up your rent every two years because they got greedy.

On the flip side? You may not have the money upfront to just drop into a new place. Or perhaps you want to ‘try before you buy’; there is merit in living in different parts of town before committing to a certain condo or area.

And, of course, renting gives you the ultimate flexibility should you need to leave Singapore ahead of your expected time.

Buy a Condo in Singapore as an Investment

Singapore ranks among the most expensive property markets worldwide, with the average price per square meter for condos being $20,839. 

For such a small island, these are big numbers. The context is that the island is a limited landmass of 721 square kilometers and a growing population contained within it; around six million people increasing at a rate of just under 1% a year.

Population growth in a restricted area naturally leads to greater demand for housing and price rises as this demand starts to outstrip supply. This environment appeals to investors and speculators who believe they can buy and re-sell prime property quickly.

apartment in Singapore
Although the property price in Singapore is among the highest in the world, many people are still interested in buying a condominium here.

If left unrestricted, this type of property market increases beyond the means of the average resident. Demand then falls, as do bank loans and interest rates, and a property crash can occur. 

The Singapore Government is quick to ensure that, while some element of the property cycle is inevitable, especially in line with the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and the Global Financial Crisis of 2007, the overall market doesn’t completely run away from local Singaporeans as a result of foreign investment.

The government does this by putting legal and financial measures in place to ensure that locals have a preferential means of holding a stake in their own country.

However, don’t let this completely put you off. As a foreigner, there are still many opportunities to buy a condo in Singapore. It is just about knowing and understanding the terrain.

Now, on to You

As I mentioned earlier on in the article, buying property in Singapore is not for the faint-hearted. Prices can be heady and taxes high, but don’t let that put you off. For many expats, owning a property in Singapore is a means of securing their future and having a stake in the country they find themselves now living.

There are some simple top tips to apply whether you are investing in Singapore or any other city.

Do your research. The more you understand the market and the developments, the more rational and logical your decision will be.

Do your legwork. On finding a property you like, check it out from all angles. Visit at different times of the day. Walk the route to the MRT. Ask your friends about the area. Know what you are buying.

Don’t over-leverage. The basic rule-of-thumb is, never to borrow more than you can afford in monthly repayments.

Don’t panic in a downturn. You may have to hold your breath for longer than you like but the market will bounce back in the next cycle.

Most of all, enjoy it. Buying a property can be a hugely rewarding process and in years to come you will be delighted when you can casually drop into a conversation, “Well, the condo I own in Singapore.” 

Selina writes from her outdoor desk in sunny Singapore. Originally from the UK, it didn’t take much to convince her to leave behind the grey, rainy skies for tropical living in the Little Red Dot 11 years ago and she has never looked back. When not behind her desk, she can be found wandering the streets with a camera (follow her on @s_ingshot) or climbing volcanoes around South East Asia.

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