Singapore has earned the enviable reputation of being one the leading property investment destinations since early 90s. And there are many reasons for this. For starters, the procedures are rather straightforward. Secondly, there is a low risk in case you want to sell your property in future. And lastly, owning a property in Singapore is not impossible for foreigners even though there’re regulations that prohibit certain property type ownership by foreigners.
But just how do you go about the business of buying property in Singapore if you are a foreigner? What kind of properties can you buy? Can you get a bank loan? For answers to these questions and more, continue reading our comprehensive guide on how to buy property in Singapore as an expat.
Step 1: Research
Take your time research the specific areas you are interested in living as well as the kind of properties that appeal to you. Write down the most important things that you would want in your home. This will help you a lot when you start viewings. For instance, how many bedrooms will you need? What is the size of kitchen that you want? After writing down the features that your future home must have, you need to start thinking about the neighbourhood that you want to live in. Also know the nearby amenities that must be there as well as the time it takes to commute to and from work. Here’s a really useful guide on what you can get from the different neighourhood in Singapore.
Step 2: Find a property agent.
Because a property agent will be your representative in the entire process of buying the house, it’s important that he or she is not only competent but also has a wealth of experience in that particular market. Stick with one real estate agent per transaction because if you appoint many you are likely to be embarrassed and confused as majority of agents have the same portfolio.
Be open with your agent regarding the specific type of property that you are looking for. Furnish him or her with your budget, location and dimensions. Giving your agent clear instructions will help the agent point you in the direction your dream property not only quickly but more accurately. A good property agent can also double up as a consultant in case you require financial and legal advice upon buying the property.
Step 3: Know the type of properties you can buy
There are different types of properties that you can purchase and these include the following:
• HDB or Public Housing
HDB flats generally refer to government housing that is affordable. However, this type of housings is not available for purchase to foreigners.
• Public-Private Hybrid
Executive condominiums or EC refers to public-private hybrid properties that foreigners can only buy 10 years after conclusion of construction. These housing units come with a 5-year MOP (minimum occupation period) that basically means that one has to occupy it for a minimum of 5 years before they are given the right to dispose of it in an open market.
• Private Residential Housing
The various kinds of private residential properties can be broadly categorized into two main groups. These are condominiums/apartments and landed properties. Apartments and condominiums appeal most to private property investors. These units are the more luxurious versions of HDB flats. Buying condos don’t have any restrictions and in fact are the favourite of most expats.
• Landed properties
These comprise cluster house, bungalows, terrace houses, houses and shop houses. Although they require more maintenance than other types of properties, they are unparalleled in terms of privacy, spacious living and size. A Singaporean local can buy landed property without any restriction but this is not the case if you are a foreigner. You will first have to get approval from Land Dealings Authority Unit. The good news though is that you can obtain fast-track approval from Singapore Land Dealing Unit.
Step 4: Get a bank loan
All the leading banks in Singapore offer property loan facility to foreigners to help them easily buy property in Singapore. To qualify for a loan, you will have to show proof of income.
Most banks finance as much as 70% of the value of a home. The loan terms are based on your age and income. In general, you can get loan terms of between 25 and 35 years. Singaporean banks are well known for their very competitive rates that at the moment stand at 3.5% to 4%. This is comparatively lower than rates offered by other cities for instance Hong Kong where prime lending rates have hit 6.5%.
Step 5: Consider the rental yield
Even if you are buying a property to stay in, it’s still important to think in the long term and foresee your actions in future. Is there a chance that you could rent your house at some point in future? If so, you need to calculate the potential rental yield and figure out whether the property will easily be rented out.
If you are interested in buying a property for investment, you would be better off doing so in prime districts for instance the CBD (central business district). Another option when buying for investment or a resort home is to go for properties with stunning sea views at the East Coast.
Start by computing the annual rental yield vis-a-viz the purchase price. Because of the high price of freehold properties, they are more likely to have lower rental yield compared to leasehold properties.
Step 6: Understand the Property Taxes & Maintenance Costs
According to the laws of Singapore, all homeowners are obligated to pay monthly, quarterly or annual maintenance costs that go towards for upkeep of the property. This amount tends to vary, and it’s determined by location, price and size of the property.
Other than property maintenance costs, homeowners are also required to remit property taxes to the government. The tax amount is computed by taking the tax rate (10%-20% progressive) and multiplying it by annual property value (equivalent to annual rental income). Even if you haven’t rented your unit out, you are still obligated to pay this tax. However, tax rate for owner-occupier units is a little lower (4%-6%). There are also additional taxes as explained below:
I. Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD)
This is usually based on the market value or purchase price of the property, whichever is higher. It’s calculated as follows:
• For every $100 of the first $180,000 you are taxed $1
• For every $100 of the next $180,000 you are taxed $2.
• For every $100 of the remaining you are taxed $3.
To put it simple, if the purchase price exceeds $300,000, the stamp duty charged is at the rate of 3%.
II. Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD)
The government introduced an ABSD (Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty) payable by specific groups of people who acquire or buy residential properties on 8 December 2011 or after. Buyers are thus required to pay ABSD in addition to the Buyer’s Stamp Duty. Starting from January 12th 2013 transferees or buyers who are:
• Singapore Permanent Residents or SPR would pay 5% on the acquisition or purchase of first residential property.
• Foreigners (abbreviated as FR) would be subjected to an ABSD of 15% of acquisition or purchase of any residential property.
• Singapore citizens who already own one property would be required to part with ABSD of 7% on the acquisition or purchase of the second property.
• Singapore Citizens already having two or more residential properties would pay 10% ABSD on acquiring or buying another property.
Step 7: Complete the transaction
This part is best left to your solicitor. They will complete the sale within 8-10 weeks through lodging a caveat on the house. You are allowed to inspect the property for the last time before you complete the sale if you ask for permission to do so in Option to Purchase. Make sure you check all the times the seller agrees to sell such as the furnishings. Within 2 weeks of signing Option to Purchase, you have to pay a stamp duty of 3%. This is paid to Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.
Buying a property in any foreign country is no easy task let alone Singapore’s property. You have to get acquainted with the rules of that country and also prepare to pay more tax being a foreigner. However, with the right property agent, enough research and practicing due diligence, nothing can be too difficult to pull off.