As a country with a vibrant economy, a stable political scene, and a healthy job market, it’s not surprising that a lot of people consider Singapore as one of the best places in the world to relocate one’s life to.
But with the influx of professionals, students, and expats, comes the increased demand for real estate. “Where would I live?” and “What kind of real estate can I buy/rent?” are just some of the questions that they would have to ponder on if they want to stay in the country.
However, Singapore’s real estate market is quite difficult to comprehend, especially to an outsider’s untrained eyes. It has acronyms that you can’t find anywhere else, plus a whole slew of rules and regulations that tenants/buyers/renters would have to comply with.
Here is a handy guide that can help you make sense of the labyrinth that is Singapore’s property market (and hopefully get you started on renting or buying your first property in the country too).
Major Types of Real Estate Property in Singapore
There are three major types of real estate property in Singapore: residential, commercial, and industrial. This guide would primarily focus on the residential side of things (as that particular real estate type has a lot of subsets and categories), so it’s best to get the other two out of the way first.
Residential property in Singapore is categorized into several different forms, types, and price ranges. These properties often fall into two kinds: public and private, plus a public-private hybrid category with characteristics from both types.
Public Housing (also known as HDB flats)
HDB is the Housing and Development Board, a statutory board under the Ministry of National Development, which oversees the construction and management of all public housing and dwellings in Singapore. To date, this kind of housing is the most popular in the country, with more than 80 percent of Singaporeans living in an HDB-managed flat of some sort.
The kinds of housing managed by the HDB range from studio apartments (self-contained one-bedroom flats that are primarily marketed to senior citizens) to larger executive maisonettes (two-storey apartments with bedrooms on the second floor). Different kinds of housing cater to different segments of society, in regards to budget and family size.
Since they are subsidized by the HDB, these flats are often very economically-priced. However, your household income must not go above a specified threshold, else you will be disqualified for public housing.
One-bedroom apartments that are specifically designed to accommodate the needs of elderly citizens. Has facilities like non-slip tiles and pull-up bars. Often comes in two sizes, 36 and 45 square meters, which are quite small for a family but is just perfect for one or two senior citizens who want to live independently.
2-Room HDB Flat
The size of a two room HDB flat is around 45 square meters. It can be quite cramped for larger families, but it’s enough space for smaller families working with a smaller budget. This kind of dwelling would have one bedroom (usually with an attached bathroom) and one living room (with kitchen area and storeroom).
3-Room HDB Flat
A three room flat is a major upgrade from the two room flat because of the addition of a larger master bedroom with attached bathroom. There’s also another bedroom, living room, kitchen area, storeroom, and another common bathroom. The usual size for this kind of flat is around 60 to 65 square metres. Though still small in regards to living area, the three room flat is a very viable dwelling option for small families on a budget who don’t like the relatively cramped confines of the two room flat.
4-Room HDB Flat
If you’re a couple with stable professional careers who are looking into starting a family, then the four room flat would be perfect. It has plenty of space (usually around 90 square meters) for a growing family, and the added bedroom can be converted into a leisure or guest room. But of course, with the added living area comes the added price.
HDB Flats on the Higher End of the Pricing Spectrum
These are also HDB-subsidized dwellings, but are catered to larger families (those with five members or more) or people with larger budgets. These flats are a minority in the HDB public housing scene, as they can be pricey and quite out of reach for the standard family.
5-Room HDB Flat
An upgrade to the four room because of the added bedroom and an additional dining area. The size is usually around 110 square metres.
With a floor area of 130 square metres, executive flats are on the highest tier of HDB housing. Marketed towards executives and higher paying professionals, executive flats feature lots of space for recreation. Some units might also come with a balcony (for an extra price).
Multi-generational families are quite common in Singapore, so HDB is trying out a new kind of housing option that are specifically catered to them. The three generation flat is a bit larger than the five room flat, at 115 metres. With this added space comes the option for an additional bedroom and bathroom. As this kind of housing is still relatively new, there are few units that are available for occupancy at the moment.
Hybrid Public-Private Housing
These condiminiums are marketed towards young professionals who are affluent enough to afford higher tier housing, but are still unsure of making the jump to private ones.
In the first five years of ownership, an executive condominium would be categorized as public housing, but it would eventually turn into a private housing unit after the five year period is over.
A major setback with this kind of dweeling is that you would need to live in the condominium for five years before you get a chance to sell it. It’s not that ideal for people who want to invest in real estate property.
The HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) used to be in charge of public housing before HDB. The flats that they used to manage are already phased out by 1987, but a few units still remain (most of them are in the works to be privatized in the near future).
Private Residential Housing
These are the most common types of private housing that are available in Singapore. Condominiums are self-contained residential units in a building that share communal provisions like swimming pools, tennis courts, lounge areas, and gyms. They often come in the form of studio, penthouse, and multiple-room units.
Apartments are kind of similar to condominiums, except that they usually have less provisions and facilities.
Walk ups, as the name suggests, is an apartment or condominium without a lift. You would need to “walk up” to reach your dwelling.
Private Landed Properties
The highest tier of residential property, and also the priciest. They offer the greatest benefit in terms of floor area, privacy and exclusivity, but are often high maintenance and comes at high prices. A quick rundown is as follows:
Bungalows or detached houses
A free-standing house, with no other house linked to it.
A house that is partially attached to other units.
A group of houses that share a “terrace” or are linked together by a common boundary.
“Good” class bungalow
The kinds of houses that are reserved for the most affluent of families. Usually located in prime areas. Land plots can go into more than a couple of thousand square metres.
Industrial properties are often bought by enterprises that intend to do business or engage in manufacturing in the country. As such, they are usually utilized as manufacturing centers, storage houses, telecommunication hubs, business parks, warehouses, and workshops.
All land that are categorized as “industrial” fall into three types:
B1 (Business 1)
Land that can be used for industry, telecommunications, warehouses, and utilities. The NEA (National Environment Agency) does not impose a nuisance buffer* that is greater than 50 metres for this kind of land.
Land that can be used for the same purposes as above, but can also be approved as manufacturing/repair centers for shipbuilding and industrial machinery (clearance should be obtained from the appropriate agency first). Nuisance buffer is pegged at more than 50 metres.
Land that is primarily used by businesses and enterprises for research and development (R&D) purposes, as well as knowledge-intensive, high technology endeavours like science parks.
*A nuisance buffer is a specified minimum distance between a plot of industrial land and residential housing and/or living facilities.
Commercial land is also used for business, however its main difference from industrial land is the fact that it is not expected to cause significant disturbance (i.e. safety hazards, noise and air pollution) to its immediate surroundings. There is no need for a nuisance buffer.
On commercial property, you can find developments like shophouses, offices, and shopping centres. There are also mixed residential and commercial buildings too (e.g. buildings that have a shop on the first storey and a residential area on top).