Buying a home is expensive.
If you want to know EVERYTHING you need to consider before committing to a purchase, you’ll love this list.
Through my personal experiences with hundreds of buyers, I’ve found these 107 tips and factors to consider.
Some are obvious.
Some are essential yet often overlooked.
Others are dreamland stuff.
But they’re all here…
Along with tips, resources and useful links.
- WHY are you buying?
- For Location
- To Lease
- Capital Appreciation
- What to Buy?
- Construction Stage
- Type of Property
- Can I Afford?
- Which Development/Unit?
- Getting Started
- BONUS Section
- Manner of Holding
- Alternatives to Buying
- Buy MORE!
If it’s your first home, most likely it’s for own occupation. When choosing a property, imagine yourself actually living there. It’s an emotional purchase where happiness and comfort take precedent.
- To lease
Buying an investment property for leasing provides predictable income over sustained periods. Good for building your long-term retirement nest egg. BiggerPockets, an American website on real estate investing has a great article on why rental properties are the best investment.
- For capital appreciation
Just like no one gets rich from stock dividends, neither did anyone from rental income. Leveraged cash-on-cash returns from capital appreciation can be as high as 3-digit percentage returns over a short period of time. With the right property and right unit, of course.
Did you know that there are also other methods to calculate your real estate investment returns? Read more here.
- For status
When you’re one of the world’s richest, you want to own something rare and unique. After all, there are many billionaires in the world. But how many of them can own a super penthouse atop Singapore’s tallest building? Just ask James Dyson.
Latest update Oct 2020: He sold the unit at a loss of more than S$10 million dollars! And that’s not including fees and taxes. Even Covid can change the plans of a billionaire haha. Small change to him though.
- For legacy
Real estate is a physical asset built on firm foundations and can last practically forever (with the right maintenance). Especially so if it’s freehold. This makes it a great asset for legacy planning and wealth transfer to future generations.
- For retirement
Through long term wealth accumulation, real estate can provide all your financial needs for your golden years. In fact, that’s my primary focus of work for my clients and I’ve specially created an Ultimate Guide in Retiring with Real Estate that you can click the image below to read more.
7. Close to kids’ schools
What joy and convenience it is for parents whose children’s schools are within a short walk away from home. Sending them to and fro is a breeze and kids can easily return home for meals. Plus, being within 1km of a primary school grants certain entry privileges. While important, be prepared to pay more… especially if within a top primary school.
8. Close to parents
With rising child care costs, young couples often rope in their parents to assist with parenting. Most of the time parents being retired and grandchildren-loving, are more than happy to do so. Staying with or near to parents are also encouraged by our government through housing grants.
9. Close to transport links
To the perpetual Grab-user, maybe this isn’t so important. Or, if everyone in your family owns a car. Singapore’s pretty well connected so you can pretty much get from 1 point to another via public transport… as long as you stay close to either an MRT or a bus stop.
10. Close to workplace
Long commuting time is bad for your health. Getting stuck in rush hour traffic or packed like sardines in a full train isn’t how we want to spend our mornings and evenings. Besides, that time spent can be used more productively. Stay close to work for a happier life.
11. Close to amenities
Where’s the nearest supermarket? Another common question I get during viewings. Or the nearest coffee shop? We’re all lazy people, and if we can reach everything within short walking distance, we’re sold!
Nifty tool: Edgeprop’s Amenities Check
Buying To lease
12. High traffic flow
As we need water to flow within us to survive, so does rental properties need human traffic to flow around them. Where there are people, rental demand would follow. On a macro scale, that’s why we always hear about investment opportunities in the city, more than rural areas. No surprise then the populous central area leads rentals, followed by city fringes.
13. Close to amenities
As for buying to stay, convenient for you means convenient for tenants.
14. Proximity to commercial hubs
Who’s going to rent from you? One pool of tenants are probably foreigners from other countries who have come to Singapore for work. They thus have limited knowledge of our country. In unfamiliarity, they usually rent from areas close to their workplace.
15. Proximity to school
Another group are parents, who come to Singapore in pursuit of a good, world-class education for their children. Often, the father remains in the home country for work while the mother accompanies the kids over. This was so prevalent it even has its own Wikipedia entry.
16. Rental Yield
Ultimately, the numbers matter, and rental yield is one of the most commonly used metrics when discussing property investment. Basically it’s the percentage return a landlord gets from the property through rent. Calculation guide here.
For Capital Appreciation
17. Right entry price
Just remember the famous saying, “You make your money when you buy, not when you sell.”
18. Who are you selling to?
If you buy 1 bedders, your potential buyer is an investor looking for yield. 2 bedders, singles who want an extra room, or young couples. 3 bedders, small families. And so on. Different areas have different demographic demands. Make sure there would be buyers for your property type.
19. Area Transformation
The hot topic now as the newly updated Master Plan 2019 has been gazetted. New commercial hubs, new transport links, new anything. Brings hype to an area and can potentially lead to appreciation in capital values.
20. Development Transformation
You may be confused here… how can a development transform? Well, I mean from new launch under construction to completed. Some buyers simply can’t buy off-plan and will therefore rather wait for it to be complete and knowingly pay the first owner a premium for undertaking construction risk.
See a case study on the TOP-effect using The Clement Canopy as an example.
21. Age of home
Looking at the low price tag vs new properties, it can be tempting to think that the price would ‘catch up’. While that is possible, be wary of buying into properties that are too old. For properties that are too old (landed excepted), obsolescence and structural issues will set in and cap the upside.
Not just a factor for leasing, a unit’s high rent-ability indicates a unit in demand. Often, the attributes which lead tenants to choose a unit are similar to the ones buyers use.
23. En bloc
Every home owner’s dream. Who doesn’t want that multi-million dollar payout? That’s what draws us to lotteries. Regardless of why you think a property is going to En bloc, ask yourself this question: if it doesn’t En bloc, how then? Only buy for en bloc if you can answer that confidently.
Always popular and pretty to look at in the show flats… very enticing. Just make sure you don’t get carried away by the bells and whistles and focus on the real stuff. If you don’t need a home urgently, good choice.
Certain buyers will only buy what they can see, feel and touch. These are the resale properties that are immediately available for owner-occupation. Can be a bit dated, but renovations can spruce it up.
These refer to transactions by owners who first bought from developers, and then resold before legal completion. Used to be more common, but less so now because of the seller’s stamp duty. Note the differences.
Also known as public housing, more than 80% of the resident population live in HDB flats. Hot topics are: decaying 99-year leases and no ‘real’ property title ownership. However, the lowest entry point housing in Singapore with numerous grants available.
Suspended in 2011, you will find newly MOP 5-year old DBSS’ entering the market in 2020/2021. These are premium flats which possess some features usually only reserved for private properties such as balconies, full-height windows, gated entry, and designer facades. For homeowners who want to stay in something more premium than a regular HDB flat but don’t find it worth to pay for a private property and the associated maintenance costs.
Created to fulfil the needs of the sandwiched class, who can’t buy new HDBs due to high income, yet private properties are a step too far. Even at >$1,000psf as of 2020, still the cheapest entry price for new private property. Only fully privatized after 10 years from TOP.
30. Private Apartments
Built on land sizes below 4,000sqm, private apartments usually have fewer units and facilities compared to their condominium counterpart. While it may instinctively seem like this would be a good choice for homeowners who want to stay in private property and not pay for facilities (because they don’t use them anyway), apartments often have equal or even higher fees than condos! Reason? Such fees are paid by the owners, apportioned by share value. Fewer owners, more costs to go around.
31. Private Condominiums
Luxurious, full facility sites. These are the most premium category of high-rise housing in Singapore. They range from premium developments at Orchard road such as The MARQ on Paterson Hill, waterfront living at Reflections at Keppel Bay to more heartland options like Parc Clematis, Parc Esta, The Interlace etc… Basically, any condo you see with hundreds of units, are likely private condominiums.
32. Mixed Developments
Or, in layman terms: A condo above the shopping mall. While convenient, note noise pollution, high human traffic and lesser privacy. Still, mixed development projects in Singapore are popular with buyers, who are willing to pay a higher premium for the added convenience.
Bucking this trend is one of the newer mixed development projects on the market now, The Woodleigh Residences. After launching at a higher price than a neighboring (non mixed development project), it had to relaunch at discounted prices. I made a video on it too 🙂
Every Singaporean’s dream (Only Singaporeans are legally allowed to purchase without approval)… There are only about 75,000 of these. Landed houses provide buyers with customization option to make it truly unique. Mostly freehold, they make good stores of long term wealth for generations to come. Also, no maintenance fees.
34. Strata Landed
A downside of landed properties, is the lack of facilities. Also known as cluster houses, strata landed has the common facilities you’d see in a condominium, but in a landed housing setting. However, you don’t own the land, and maintenance fees can be very high.
You own the land forever, awesome? Certainly yes. But don’t let the freehold dream hold you back from buying a place you truly love. Many beautiful developments are also leasehold, especially if they are near MRT stations. Also, there’s that freehold price premium.
36. 999-year leasehold
Often regarded as the same as Freehold in buyer’s minds. That’s because our history isn’t very long, and so there’s still much to run on the 999 years. No more 999/freehold lands are released by the Singapore government, so new properties with such tenures are all en blocs.
37. 99-year leasehold
The most common property type in Singapore as all our HDBs and government land sales are on 99-year leases. Affordable and often in good locations, a bulk of Singapore’s real estate transaction volume lie in this category. The land returns to the government after the lease expires. CPF and loan restrictions also apply.
38. 60-year leasehold
Not too many of these around, as of NOW, but good to know they exist. The first, Hillford, was sold out in day 1. As Singapore’s population ages further, and new property prices continue to rise, I won’t be surprised to see more of such developments coming up.
39. Leasehold on freehold land
Here’s the one to be careful of. If you buy such properties, make sure you’re aware. Because there’s a much less chance of en bloc. This happens when the developer, who owns the freehold title of the land sells you the property at leasehold status.
40. Full payment with Cash
For own stay properties, by all means. Especially since your home is a liability. However, for investment properties, I believe that the less cash you pay, the better. Ever heard the famous hook: Learn How to Own Multiple Properties with No Money Down?
41. Using CPF
On one hand credited with allowing us to afford homes which we otherwise might not be able to. On the other hand, CPF usage comes with a cost, known as Accrued Interest, and excessive use can potentially drain ordinary Singaporeans of their retirement income. Should you use CPF or not is a common question.
42. HDB Loan
Pegged to the CPF OA rate, the HDB loan’s concessionary interest rate is 2.60% p.a. Not great when you compare to current bank’s interest rates of less than 2%. However, HDB is considerably more lenient when it comes to mortgage repayments. The loan to value is also higher at 90%, vs a cap of 75% for banks.
43. Bank Loan
Lower interest rates with more flexibility package flexibility and perks, bank loans have gotten favour with the public since the 2008 financial crisis. Beware though of rate jumps after the lock-in period, higher rates when loan quantum is reduced, and strict policing on mortgage repayments.
44. Family loan
Can’t qualify for loans for whatsoever reasons? Or qualify but can’t afford the hefty down payment especially for private properties? It isn’t helping that choice BTOs are like participating in the lottery. Here’s where family come in to resolve the issue.
Applicable for public housing, the new Enhanced CPF Housing Grants (EHG) announced from September 2019 provides eligible applicants up to a whopping S$160,000 for buying resale flats.
Important, and one of the main reasons to use CPF; it eases cash flow. Make sure you don’t over commit yourself, and always reserve funds for rainy days. Subject to personal risk appetites, Investopedia recommends no more than 36% of your gross income for debt repayments.
While positive cash flow is great, know that negative cash flow isn’t necessarily bad either.
Working Out Your Budget
47. Loan first approach
Work out how much you can borrow by speaking to me, a banker, or using an online calculator like OCBC’s. From there, work out your maximum property price using the current loan to value. As of writing, 75%.
48. Down-payment first approach
What you can’t loan, you have to pay using your existing assets. That minimally includes 25% of the property value, 3-4% stamp duty, S$2,500 legal fees, misc. fees and any agent fees if applicable. From there, work backwards to determine the max purchase price assuming loan isn’t a problem.
Confused? I wrote in more detail at: Understanding Your Private Housing Affordability
49. Big swimming pool
Almost a given these days for most respectable developments, a nice swimming pool doesn’t just provide a place for relaxation and exercise, but also adds to the grandeur of a project. It’s one way for your development to stand out. Just check out these pools.
50. Children Facilities
Kids love to run around and have carefree, joyous fun. If your condo is a playground, there is less of a need to travel about for entertainment. Also, a great place to build friendships. Whistler Grand is one project which stands out as having almost half of its sprawling facilities catered for kids.
Enjoy the occasional workout but don’t fancy the commitment of a full-blown gym membership? A well-equipped gym is your answer. Take note whether there are free weights! Always useful to have.
52. Tennis/Squash/Badminton courts and other sporting facilities
If you play any of these sports, you’ll love to have easy access to them. Not just that, simply due to the rarity of some of these facilities, it ensures your condo project’s unique selling point for years to come. Beach volleyball or artificial turf futsal anyone?
53. Function Room
Like hosting your friends? A good-sized, well-equipped function room can make all the difference. It really beats hosting at your own home as setting up and cleaning up is much easier.
54. Outdoor Pavilions
BBQ areas, pizzerias… or any fancy name, basically means other gathering areas besides the main function room. You may not think about it now, but they’re essential. Because come peak season when everyone’s fighting for the facilities, it’s helpful to have many to choose from.
55. Large development
Worth its salt, a large development can cover the many needs of individuals and families. Especially the latter, who are willing and able to pay more for desirable units. One of the classic comparisons below:
A seasoned mortgage professional also once said, the larger the development, the more transactions, which typically enables property values to rise quicker.
Not always though…
56. Small project
Conversely, you may prefer smaller projects for its ‘boutique feel’, exclusivity and privacy. Ultimately, the density and unique factors matter too, and not just the size of the project.
57. Parking availability
As Singapore progresses towards a car-lite future, private developments with more connectivity to public transport and alternative travel options have reduced parking lots from the previous minimum of one parking space per residential unit. To that extent, some projects even use mechanized parking systems. If you own multiple cars, make sure you ask about the car park allocations!
58. New vs Old
Aside from investment considerations, older properties tend to have higher monthly fees as more maintenance is needed due to age, plus sinking fund has kicked in. Also, caveat emptor for resale properties, where the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality of the unit. Hidden negatives need not be revealed by the seller. New properties have a 1-year defects liability period from the time temporary occupation permit (TOP) is received.
59. Building materials
Not something you hear often, but a friend whose interest lay in building materials asks me what a development was built with every time he hears me mention something. According to him, stone, brick, wood, lime mortar, limewash i.e. traditional materials are the best. Pretty particular about what he wants, so I tell him – ‘buy land and build your own house bro’. 😀
700sqft, 1000sqft, 1200 sqft. How accurately can we understand what size we need in terms of square footage? Are our eyes sharp enough to accurately assess the size of space visually? As houses today become more compact, I encourage my clients to think of size with reference to their needs, and not the absolute square footage. The good thing is shoebox apartments are now a thing of the past!
Common ones are 4, to Chinese, because the pronunciation is similar to the word ‘death’, and 13, in many western countries; famously Friday the 13th. Tip, don’t read too much into it as one man’s meat is another man’s poison. 4 is a good number in Christian numerology, and 13 isn’t really cared for in Asia. For extra reading…
62. Number of rooms
A real need. Got 3 kids? 2 extra bedrooms needed. Have a helper? Maid’s room is essential. Really can’t stray much. Tip: try planning further than you expect. I’ve known new homeowners who just a year after moving in, realised they needed an extra room.
63. Open/Closed Kitchen
Open kitchens are a relatively new concept in Singapore driven by not just modern design, but also smaller homes. From experience, the more traditional families who cook often like it closed, which the younger generation who mostly eat out or order delivery can be accustomed to open. If you have a choice…
64. Separate Living & Dining area
Some houses are so small their living and dining areas are 1 and the same! If you have big families or plans to host guests, it’s recommended to be adequately separate. The layout is also important, with most falling into an I or L shape. The former, living and dining areas in line with each other, and the latter separated.
65. Bomb Shelter/Store Room
Used to have one of these in your existing house but visit a new home and realise they’re noticeably missing? While I agree they can be a useful space to keep stuff, don’t you think that sometimes when you have additional space, it always fills up regardless? Maybe the KonMari method is the way.
Some hate it, others swear by it. Think your big balcony is useless? Maybe you just haven’t thought of ways to best utilise the space. Qanvast has some tips.
Also known as the high ceiling. Y’know, that apartment where buyers will ask: ‘Can build a loft?’. It’s very pretty and can make your home look very spacious. However, you could be paying a premium for space if the extra space is included in the total floor area.
68. Floor level
The allure of high floors is every present. Sometimes when I’m marketing a lower floor unit, the buyer would be disinterested the moment I reveal the floor level. But is that all to it? See the infographic below.
There was an analysis done of 39 housing board flats in 5 different locations. Results show that units which face above-ground MRT tracks or expressways could be disadvantaged in the resale market due to the noise. Full article in The Straits Times (subscription required).
70. Space Layout
Seen bedrooms like this before? Others have bay windows and planter boxes. A great home designer can probably make good use of the space… On the other hand, most modern layouts are squarish. They call it ‘efficient layouts’. Which do you prefer?
71. Renovated or original
Buy original and you might need to incur high renovation costs depending on the unit’s condition. Buy renovated, and the renovation costs might be priced in. If you like it, great. If not, you still have to pay additional to tear down the existing works before doing it up again. Sometimes on the resale market, no choice!
72. Dual key
Buy 2 units without paying ABSD! Introduced by developers to meet the needs of extended families who still want to retain privacy, they also make good investments for buyers looking for yield. A few years back, 1 developer even launched triple-key units! (with some hiccups)
73. West Sun
A huge bugbear to some, especially in hot and humid Singapore. A common misconception is that the sun’s direction falls directly west-ward. That is not as true as the diagram below details.
More subjective, as requirements can differ based on an individual’s birth dates and even timing, depending on the level of depth adhered too. A source of such information which google often leads me to is https://www.geomancy.net/ don’t let looks deceive you. Forum is still being updated!
What Fengshui is to Chinese, Vastu is to Indians. My personal encounter with this was in International Plaza, a commercial building at Tanjong Pagar. There are many Indian owners there, and all their units are Vastu facing!
Good views, potentially unblocked. Price differences can be significant, with outwards, unblocked and quiet facings usually commanding the highest premium. However, can potentially also be noisy.
Pool facing at best, and at worst, directly into a wall or within a short distance of another unit. Pool facings are usually the ‘safe bet’ as your view is unlikely to change.
78. Am I overpaying?
After shortlisting a property, you don’t want to be the sucker who pays more than everyone else. Or at least not unless there’s good reason to. And especially not if you’re an investor. Watch the video below to learn how to determine the fair value of Real Estate.
First, a comparison between the options:
79. Quality of Advice
A licensed professional (if you get a good one), will in most cases, know more than you. As a result, they can give better quality advice and ensure a smooth transaction. It’s not a small sum, and so trusted end to end support in this area is very valuable.
When a buyer agent says he can show you properties at no cost, does he really earn $0 for his efforts? Definitely not. His fees are paid by either the sellers or their agents… which, depending on the scenario, can result in a conflict of interest or unethical behaviour. Having said that, the best buyer agents who put your interests first can help you make better buying decisions by providing quality advice, and potentially save you from costly mistakes in the long run.
Winner: Professional whom you can trust 100%
On one hand, an agent can keep an eye on property listings and arrange for viewings on your behalf… at times even providing transportation as required. On the other hand, you will need to match your schedules, which can sometimes be a little restrictive.
Do you like to talk to many different agents at once, or prefer things to be streamlined through just 1 person? How about negotiating on price? Certain things may be easier to manage via an intermediary.
Verdict: Agents are used to all the awkward communication that can accompany a housing transaction. Advantage, professional.
I do agency work myself, so I admit I’m a little biased. Still, If you decide to DIY, here are some tips:
83. Friends and family
Start with inner circle deals. The easiest way is to buy from someone you trust. If there exists though… because while I hear it all the time with 2nd hand cars, people usually aren’t so open with their home sales, and it isn’t appropriate to ask either.
The undisputed king of property classified ads. If you can’t find it here, you probably can’t find it anywhere else. Just click on an ad, contact an agent to arrange for a viewing. In most cases, that agent is the seller’s agent, and you wouldn’t be expected to pay any commission. Make sure you understand the new launch and resale purchase procedures.
Back with strong funding and a great team, 99.co is the second choice for property listings in Singapore. With a focus on technology, 99.co has a pleasant user experience for home buyers. It is unfortunately plagued by outdated listings, with the occasional gem.
Part of The Edge Singapore, Edgeprop is a good source of property news and updates. It also has a number of useful free tools you can play around with.
A hub of statistics, their data is often quoted in the local newspaper reports. X-value is a good reference point to valuing a home.
88. Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
Don’t forget the mother of all real estate information, the government. Did you know that all real estate information on the web, like the sites mentioned previously, are all sourced from URA? Don’t miss out their publicly available information.
Then if you decide to engage an agent…
If you’re going to have to give someone business, why not give it to friends or family instead? It’s definitely good, and certainly true that you trust this group of people more… (I too have transacted for friends/family multiple times). Still, consider privacy, the possibility of things getting sour, and also that he/she may simply not be the right professional for the task.