The idea of leaving home, your family and comfort zone and moving to Singapore to start your university life sure seems daunting, doesn’t it? I can imagine all these questions popping into your head: “Will I like my university?”, “ Will I do well?“, “Where will I live?”
Where will I live?!
Other than university halls, there are plenty of options for student accommodation in Singapore and helpful resources make your rental process smooth.
As an international student who has rented in Singapore before, I know it can be overwhelming to wrap your head around all the information. So here’s my list of renting tips I’ve earned from my experience!
1. Understanding your needs
Before you even begin to look for your accommodation, the first few things you should be asking yourself are:
- What is my budget?
- Who am I going to live with?
- Whole unit or room rental?
- What will make me comfortable?
I remember sitting with my parents and carving out a simple financial plan a few months before I started university. Understanding how much you’ll be spending on major monthly expenses will be useful when you start your search and will help you manage your money in the future.
As a point of comparison, refer to this list of average rental prices in Singapore here to get a better estimate for your budget.
This is also the time you ask yourself whether you want to move in with friends or rent alone. If you’re moving in with housemates such as other international students, make sure you’re all on the same page.This is with regards to your budget, how long you want to rent for and even your personalities.
For instance, in my freshmen year, my flatmates and I knew that we were not going to be in Singapore during the summer and decided to opt for an 8 month lease to save on the summer rent.
Next, you must decide whether you want a roommate or a single room. Sharing a space definitely saves you money, but if you’re an introvert like me and all you want to do is crawl back into your shell at the end of the day you may consider getting a single room or a studio apartment.
Remember, what matters most is that you are happy and comfortable!
2. Start searching early
Housing is one of the most important decisions you will have to make. With a huge influx of international students coming in, the demand will be high and the options in your area, limited. Especially if you’re planning to live near your campus!
Trust me, it’s a bummer when you’ve made up your mind on a house but someone makes an offer before you. It’s best to plan ahead and act fast.
Although I flew down to Singapore only a couple of days before starting university to finalise my accommodation and sign the lease, having started the search over a month in advance made the process easier when I arrived.
Another helpful tip: The variety of filters on Carousell’s Property category make it easy to narrow down your search:
3. Picking your property: HDB or condo?
Terms like “HDB” might seem like property jargon to you, but speaking of jargon… wait till your Singaporean friends teach you Singlish for the first time.
Just kidding lah! You’ll be fine.
Generally, HDB rentals are more affordable while condos, although slightly more expensive, come with facilities such as gyms, pools, spas and 24/7 security.
If you’re someone who places importance on these added facilities, it might be worth the extra spend; but at the same time, first check if your university offers gym and pool facilities!
4. Location location location
Location is one factor that has always been a non-negotiable for me.
Lesson learnt the hard way in my freshman year: A 24-minute walk to campus for a 12 o’clock class, under the scorching heat and humidity, or sometimes even the rain? Not fun, especially as the books and notes got heavier and the nights at the library got longer.
There was a bus stop 3 minutes away, but it led to nowhere near my university.
I spent hundreds of dollars on cab fares because inevitably there are going to be days when you’re running late for a class or an exam.
To top it off, my house was 15 minutes away from the closest supermarket, with no restaurants around.
For my second rental, I found a place that was only 15 minutes away from university, with plenty of food options and convenience stores around and a direct bus from the school library (yay!).
Here are some tips I learnt from my experience:
- Rent a place that’s easily commutable by MRT or bus, especially if it’s not close (like, close close) to your university.
- If you’re not fond of walking (especially in Singapore’s hot climate) find a place not more than 10-15 minutes away from your university, or say, close to a bus stop with buses going directly to your campus.
- Ensure essential amenities such as grocery stores, supermarkets, malls or restaurants are accessible around.
- A slightly higher rent will still save you more money that you’ll otherwise end up spending on taxis.
- Make good use of filters in your search – for example, if you’re trying to find student accommodation near NUS, you can specify the distance and nearest MRT when searching on Carousell.
5. Meeting your agent (or landlord)
You can choose to search for rentals online yourself, or engage a property agent to help with your search.
If you’re doing it yourself:
If you’re searching on platforms where both property agents and direct owners are listing properties for rent – Carousell, for example – you’ll be liaising with either an agent or directly with a landlord.
This way, you’ll save on the agent commission fees, which are usually the equivalent of a full month’s rent.
If you’re engaging a property agent:
If the agent is working on your behalf, you will have to endure the agent fees.
But you might find that it’s worth it – a good property agent will understand your needs and priorities, source for suitable properties and arrange viewings on your behalf, and take care of the necessary paperwork.
A couple of tips:
- Property viewings are the right time to ask all your questions and flag any concerns.
- If you’re not in the country, request a video that helps you clearly envision the property.
Honestly, every agent or landlord you meet is hardly going to be a Phil Dunphy. Be prepared to meet different kinds of people and handle complex conversations. After all, it’s part of growing up!
6. Documents and agreements
Here comes the slightly trickier part. I for one have always been scared of “terms & conditions” and “clauses” and whatnot. But don’t worry! Essentially there are two things to focus on.
The Letter of Intent (LOI)
You saw it, you liked it, you want it. Now’s the time to go get it.
Once you’ve made up your mind, draft a Letter of Intent as a way of calling dibs on your new place. An LOI is a document that states your intention to rent the property.
An LOI should include all the terms that you verbally agreed upon with your agent or landlord. For example, if you’ve requested to allow your parents to come visit you, or asked for additional furniture such as a study table and chair or extra storage, make sure these reflect in your LOI.
Submit this along with a Good Faith Deposit, an amount worth one month’s rent which acts as the Security Deposit once the Tenancy Agreement has been signed.
Do note that if you back out after paying the deposit, the landlord is entitled to keep the money if you back out. So make sure you’re sure of your decision!
The Tenancy Agreement (TA)
This step is what seals the deal.
The Tenancy Agreement is a legally binding contract between you and the landlord, containing your particulars, the landlord’s particulars and the details of the agreement. Here’s a sample Tenancy Agreement!
It’s okay if you do not understand everything. The first time I rented, I didn’t either. Feel free to get the help of your parents, or your university’s office of housing services, to go through the clauses and make sure everything is fine. Also, the terms and conditions agreed upon in the TA should match up with those you detailed in your LOI.
Note that there are two types of tenancy agreements: joint and separate tenancies. If you are renting with other flatmates, be sure to include all your names and details in the TA to ensure equal accountability for the house under a joint tenancy agreement.
7. Bills and payments
Singapore is an expensive city to live in. Your rent isn’t the only payable amount. There are many little expenses here and there which are important to the renting process.
If you put down a Good Faith Deposit, this can be transformed into the security deposit.
Otherwise, upon signing the TA, you’ll usually be asked to pay the security deposit and the first month’s rental. This amount is returned to you at the end of your tenancy.
It’s the tenant’s responsibility to get the Tenancy Agreement stamped by the IRAS.
This is a relatively small expense – 0.4% of the total rent across the whole lease period, and can be done on the IRAS e-stamping Portal.
If you’re renting a whole unit that doesn’t have utilities set up, you’ll have to do so yourself online through SP Services.
As for room rentals, these either come with utilities already factored into your monthly rent, or the cost might be split equally between everyone in the house every month.
Your TA would probably contain a clause stating that air-conditioning maintenance should be carried out by the tenant every 3 months. It’s a good idea to obtain a 1 or 2 year servicing contract at the beginning of the lease and keep the receipts safely.
8. Prepping for student life
How are you doing? So far so good? I know that’s a lot of information to digest but it gets easier hereon. To ensure your rental journey is smooth all the way till the end, keep the next few tips in mind!
Firstly, try to request your landlord for a study table and see if they can include it in the lease.
I used to rely on my school library completely and never thought I’d have to study at home until the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and the university facilities shut down.
Otherwise too, having a study table can be quite convenient and would save a lot of time travelling to university to study everyday.
Home appliances and other furniture
If there are certain things that you think are must-haves, such as a microwave, request for these too.
Or, you can always find second hand alternatives at reasonable rates on platforms such as Carousell.
Rules and conditions
University is often considered the time of your life. Meeting new people and making friends can be quite exciting but it shouldn’t come at the expense of breaking rules.
One example would be hosting house parties or having friends over and playing loud music.
Before the lease has been signed, ask your landlord if you are allowed to have visitors and at what timings. Similarly, in case your parents plan on visiting and staying with you, make sure the landlord approves of that in advance.
You might also want to check if your landlord is comfortable with you using the kitchen and the common areas (if renting a room with a live-in landlord) while they are around. And lastly, whether light, heavy or any cooking at all is allowed during your tenancy.
9. Getting ready to move in
So, you managed to secure a rental flat. That’s one of the biggest parts of settling in, settled! After moving in, also be sure to maintain the house well. Some students run the risk of not getting their security deposit back if they’re careless with the house and its belongings, or don’t maintain its cleanliness well.
It would help to split tasks such as paying bills, cleaning and throwing the garbage out amongst yourselves if you’re living with housemates. Trust me, this may seem obvious now but establishing some house rules will be helpful in preventing disputes later on.
A new living experience
It took me two years, two houses and two different rental experiences before I could even fathom just how everything works. Give yourself some leeway to absorb all of this information but do take this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
When you take matters into your own hand and accomplish a milestone as big as renting your first place – you’re left with that amazing feeling which makes you wonder, “Wow, I’m #adulting!”.
Renting a home is actually less scary than it sounds – especially when you know you’re prepared in the right way and that’s why we’re here.
I hope this article took some of that pre-university stress away and left you feeling more informed and confident.
You’re now in a better position to start the rental process as you turn the page to the next chapter of your life. Start your journey on Carousell now!