Buyer’s Guide

How to  buy an apartment or house as an expatriate , foreigner or permanent resident in Singapore


Buying versus Renting

Many expatriates decide to make Singapore their permanent home rather than leaving for good after their assignment or returning for retirement back home. The advantages of applying for the Singapore equivalent of the US Green Card - Permanent Residency -are mainly relating to taxes or the Singapore Central Provident fund.

Note: as a PR (permanent resident)  you are entitled to use your CPF savings for financing a home.

But even if you are not a PR you are entitled to buy  non-landed property as Singapore is a very liberal market compared to other countries in the region. Non-landed refers to properties such as apartments and condominiums.

Above all, you basically  need to consider the options available relative to your financial background and lifestyle you intend to lead. You need to determine if you should consider buying a property to stay in, for investment purposes (buy to let) or to dispose of it at the end of your assignment in Singapore.

We have listed the pros and cons of buying a property below:


Why buy?

It is always a desire in most of us to eventually ‘nest’ and make our home somewhere. Buying provides you the opportunity to do so and provides you with the satisfaction of knowing that it belongs to you. Unfortunately, the rapid increase in values in the property market in recent years has pushed home ownership to a point where purchase is available to the selected few.

Home ownerships is a long term goal and investment and requires planning, budgeting and saving strategies. However, not everyone is willing to make sacrifices, hence you need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of such a commitment.


We have highlighted your decision criteria below:

  Financial Criteria
Capital Gains - If invested wisely, in purchasing a property may run you 100% profit within a year.
Saving - Making repayments on your mortgages like a type of forced savings. The more you pay off, the more of your home you will own.
Investment - As long as your property is appreciating or maintaining its value, you are growing an equity (ownerships) in your property. This equity can later be used to secure further loans and will also provide security in retirement.
Capital Gains Tax - There is no such tax in Singapore and all your investment profits are free of tax.
Tax Incentive - If you purchase a property and rent it out for investment purposes ( you become a landlord), the interest on your mortgage payment is tax deductible.
  Security Criteria
Owning your own home brings sense of satisfaction, security and stability. There are no lease conditions to worry about and you are not subject to the whims of a landlord who has control over the length of your tenancy and the rent.
  Lifestyle and Status Criteria:
The satisfaction of knowing you are part of the selected few who owns a home is most gratifying.
Owning a property in Singapore is defined as one of the 5 important  "c": career, car, condominium, credit card, club membership
Provide you with a permanent home which you can find tune and sculpt to compliment your lifestyle. Restriction in leased property restrict you from doing so. Also, additions and alterations to the premises may enhance the value of your property at the same time.



High cash outlay Depending on the market you are hoping to buy in, initial cash deposit may run into hundred of thousand which could be used for alternative investments
High costs:               Home-ownership can be more expensive than renting because you are responsible for the mortgage, maintenance and repairs of the property, the insurance, paying maintenance charges plus any improvement you intend to make.
Low Liquidity               Should you decide to liquidate this asset, it may take up to 3 months to process the sale documents not to mention the time spend in marketing for sale.
Price Depreciation               Like any investment, there is a possibility that market will depreciate and the resale value may be lower than your purchased price. decide to sell.
Interest rates/currency fluctuations               Your mortgage is subject to variable interest rates which makes it difficult to anticipate future commitments. You may be forced to fund your mortgage in your home country currency which may undergo unpredictable changes.
Taxes:               You may be taxed with property gains tax in your home country when reselling the property and moving away from Singapore.
Location bound: Some people like to move around regularly whether is for career advancement or lifestyle thus the thought of being bound to one place can seems boring. Moving regularly is expensive in itself and the transaction costs in buying and selling within a few years is likely to cancel out any appreciation of the property.


Property Sales  Terms


Get to know the "property sales  jargon" used in information provided by Singapore property agents.

Bankruptcy search search on the status of the present owner to be obtained from the High   Court by a lawyer
Certificate of Statutory Completion (CSC)issued by the building authority that the building has been competed in accordance with all regulations. It also denotes legal completion.
Collective sale/en-bloc sale collective sale of a number of owners of separate units in a private residential or commercial building
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) a report on the value of a home compared to others offered on the current property sales market.
Fixturespersonal property that has become attached to the property so as to become a   part of the property itself.
Flying freehold a freehold building or part of it with the structure below belonging to a different owner
FreeholdA tenure in perpetuity
Housing Development Board (HDB) authority in charge for the purchase of HDB property for those who are Singapore Citizens
Leaseholda property held under a lease
Leasehold value the value of a leasehold right
Non-restricted property property where the purchase does not need any approval by the government
Numbers 4+1+1               (sample)rooms available in a property: living, dining, 4 bedrooms, 1 maid's room, 1 store/utility room. A study or family area are often mentioned separately
Option to Purchase An Option to   Purchase is a right or option given by the vendor of a property to an intending   purchaser to buy the property at a specified price within a specified period of   time (the validity period of the option). The intending purchaser must pay a   booking fee for this right or option. The intending purchaser has to exercise   the Option to Purchase within its validity period if he decides to buy the   property.
Property tenure states the time the owner of a property has the legal right of use
Residential Property Act governing legislation for private residential property for those not a Singapore Citizen
Restricted property property you cannot purchase without prior approval from relevant authority
Sold listings lists homes and prices where a sale has been closed within the last six month
Strata title property title to  a horizontal part of a building with other freehold titles above or below
Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP)The issue of the TOP marks the date, when owners or tenants are permitted to stay in a property
Title deed searchto ascertain the status of the property , whether it is   freehold or leasehold
Vacant land land without structure


Restriction on Foreign Ownership


The Singapore Government has imposed restrictions on foreign ownership of private residential property in Singapore. Such ownership is governed by the Residential Property Act (RPA).


What is restricted residential property under the Residential Property Act

Foreigners including foreign companies cannot acquire or purchase restricted property unless he obtains prior approval from the relevant authority. Such property includes:

- vacant land

- landed property such as detached houses, semi-detached houses, terrace houses

- landed property in strata developments which are not approved condominium developments under the Planning Act

What is non-restricted residential property under the Residential Property Act


What is non restricted residential property under the Residential Property Act

Foreigners are not restricted from acquiring:

- any apartment within a building

- any unit in an approved condominium development under the Planning Act ( foreigner is not allowed to acquire all the units within a building in a condominium development without the prior approval from the relevant authority)

- a leasehold estate in restricted residential property for a term not exceeding 7 years including any further term which may be granted by way of an option for renewal



Financing your Property

Banks do grant loans to foreigners up to 60%-70% of the valuation or purchase price of the property, whichever is lower. If one has a good credit standing with the banks or has evidence of established funds, banks are willing to loan at a higher quantum (case by case basis).

As a Singapore citizen and if you are eligible   for the subsidized loans you  can enjoy the subsidized mortgage rates of the HDB. The HDB can grant a subsidized loan to first time   home buyers and also to second time home buyers who upgrade to another HDB flats.


Interest rates

Beginning of January 2008 ,the Singapore Inter bank offered rate (Sibor) has fallen again and is at its lowest since three years. Analysts believe it is going to sink further during 2008. The Sibor is the rate at which bank lend to each other and influences what you pay for a mortgage. Statistics shows however, that local and foreign banks in Singapore do not pass on the savings at once but rather in a time frame from about two months.

Basically there are two types of interest rates offered by the banks, Floating Rates and Fixed Rates.

However, banks might offer a mixture of floating and fixed rates on different or various situations.

Usually there is a minimum lock-in period of 3 years i.e. penalty on early redemption. Interest rates and mortgage packages vary from bank to bank and are subject to changes.

Keep in mind that property with a limited lease may be more difficult to finance as the shorter the lease period the higher is the interest rate applied.


 Valuation Report

Check the indicative valuation for the property you intend to purchase as valuation directly affects the amount of loan you can get from the bank for the property. For a foreigner, major banks or financial institutions in Singapore can only loan up to 70% of the valuation or purchase  price (whichever is lower)

Note: as a prospective purchaser (owner-to-be) you can apply to view the architectural plans and structural plans of a property. A photocopy of Notice of Transfer or   duly exercised copy of Option to Purchase (the portion of "Acceptance Copy" duly   endorsed) is needed.


Purchase under company name

In the case of purchasing under company name, the interest rate will be 1% higher per annum as compared to purchasing under personal name.

Note: The company has to be a Singapore Registered Company. Local banks rarely give loans to foreign registered company.  However, local banks may consider granting loan approvals to a (British Virginia Island) BVI company but a personal guarantor may be required.


Purchase  Fees


The following additional fees are involved in a property transaction: 

Stamp Fees (Stamp Duty)              and legal fees3% of the purchase price. The stamp fees are chargeable by the government.
Maintenance/Service FeesIt depends on the size of the property and varies from developments.
Property Taxsee below



There are a number of taxes to consider and there is a distinction in tax rates for resident individuals and non-resident individuals. In general you will be treated as a non resident when you are in Singapore less than 183 days in a calendar year. For details check with a  tax consultant and visit the websites below.


Property Tax


Property tax is levied on the registered owner of a property and is payable to the government.

Property tax is imposed on immovable properties and is payable in advance and pro-rated till the end of the fiscal year. The tax payable in respect of a property is calculated base on it annual value. The Annual Value is the estimated yearly rent the property can fetch it it were rented out and is determined by Inland Revenue Authority  Singapore (IRAS).

For an uncompleted project, property tax is payable only when the project is completed. For details check with a tax consultant or visit IRAS.

Note: There is no capital gains tax in Singapore


Taxation on Rental Income:

Net rental income earned by   non-residents is taxable. Total rent includes charges on the property, the furniture and fittings and   service charges. Property tax, insurance, maintenance and repairs   are all deductible from the gross rental income.


Inheritance Tax/Estate Duty

Estate duty is a tax levied on the aggregate market value of the   deceased’s assets as at the date of his   death. Be aware of possible conflicts with your country of origin and check with your lawyer and a tax consultant and visit the websites below.


Withholding Tax

If you sell your property to a non resident you are  required by law to withhold a percentage of   that payment and remit it to the Comptroller of Income Tax.  For details check with a tax consultant and visit the websites below.


Purchase Step-by-Step Guide


Purchase from an individual owner

You have decided to purchase a property from individual owners  - private treaty

Prepare 1%  (Option Fees) of the purchase price (as a consideration) in exchange for the Option to Purchase from the seller.
Option to Purchase is prepared by the seller’s solicitor or property agent.
Organise your finance (if any)
You are usually given 14 days to decide whether to proceed with the purchase. If you decide to proceed,  exercise the Option to Purchase by signing in your solicitor’s office and forward to your solicitor another 4% or 9% (agreement between the seller and purchaser) of the purchase price. This amount is usually held by seller’s solicitor as stakeholders.
If one decides not to proceed with the sale after receiving the Option to Purchase from the seller, the 1% option fees paid will be forfeited.
 From then on, leave it to your solicitor to complete the sale which will be completed around 8 to 10 weeks (agreement between the seller and purchaser). Your solicitor will:
lodge a caveat on the property
coordinate with the financial institution
prepare the mortgage documents
Stamp fee will be payable to Inland Revenue Authority of  Singapore within 14 days after exercising the Option to Purchase.
On legal completion date, the seller must hand over the property as agreed. The property can be sold with existing tenants or vacant possession.


Purchase from a housing developer

You have decided to purchase a property from housing developers. Payment will be by progressive (stages payment)

Prepare 5% (Option Fees) of the purchase price (as a consideration) in exchange for the Option to Purchase from the developer.
Option to Purchase is prepared by the developer’s solicitor.
You will:
within 2 weeks from date of Option to Purchase,  receive Sales & Purchase Agreement from the developer’s solicitor
within 3 weeks from date of receiving the Sales & Purchase Agreement to proceed with the purchase by exercising the Sales & Purchase Agreement by signing in your solicitor’s office.
within 8 weeks from date of Option to Purchase to forward to your solicitor another 15% of the purchase price
Stamp Duty will be payable to Inland Revenue Authority of  Singapore within 14 days after executing Sales & Purchase Agreement.  Stamp fee payable will be 3% of the purchase price minus S$5,400.
If one decides not to proceed with the sale after signing the Option to Purchase, the developer will only return 75% of the option fees paid.



Info: Progressive Payment
Option to Purchase5% of the purchase priceOption given immediately
After exercising Sales and Purchase Agreement15% of the purchase price8 weeks from date of Option to Purchase
Foundation10% of purchase price 
Reinforced Concrete Framework10% of purchase price 
Brick walls5% of purchase price 
Roof5% of purchase price 
Doors, windows etc5% of purchase price 
Car parks, roads and drains5% of purchased price 
Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP)25% of purchase price 
Certified Statutory Completion (CSC)15% of purchase price1 year after TOP


Info: What to check when buying a second hand home
If walls have been painted recently, check if there is a hidden leakage of water   from bathrooms/balconies of upper floors or seepage of rain water from outer walls.
Ask for the minutes of meetings of the Management Corporation and look for problem areas repaired during the last years. Check the funds requested from owners. Check the "repair" history of the apartment with the management.
Check for unauthorized extensions and get proof that extensions are structurally sound and safe
Check electrical wiring and circuit breakers
Check floor tiling for cracks
Check for termites and white ants
Check if your lawyer has informed IRAS via a notice of transfer of the changed ownership of your new home


  • lf walls and ceilings have been recently painted, be careful as this is a means to hide leaking of water from bathrooms/balconies of upper floors.


Property  Prices

 The prices below are the    maximum and minimum values of the median unit prices per square foot (psf) of the various districts in the different market segments.

The values indicated are in Singapore Dollar.

Mass    Market


In General the purchase price depends on the following circumstances: 

Quality of development
Profile of developer


Top Locations

You have heard it all before:selecting the right location is the key to successful property investment. Watch out for homes in the new and upcoming areas of Singapore

Marina Bay: district 1 is the future heart of the lion city and the centerpiece of the efforts to seemingly extend the existing city into the new downtown.The  360ha development is becoming the home of the highly anticipated integrated resort with world-class hotels, the casino Marina Bay Sands by the developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation, convention, leisure and entertainment facilities and residential and commercial developments A garden. There is a huge park planned at Marina Bay South and off course a Golf course! The Singapore Flyer - a sister of the London Eye - is already up and running providing visitors with a breathtaking radial view over Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.


Orchard Road :districts 9,10,11 are the present most prestigious areas close to the famous Orchard road - the shoppers' paradise of Singapore and a showcase for one continuous street of shopping malls, entertainment and lifestyle. There are a number of high profile projects in the Orchard Road area which are expected to fetch even higher prices than those in Marina Bay. The developers expect foreigners to represent 50- 60% of the buyers. The 40 million rejuvenation of Orchard Road is well on its way and will probably attract more than 7 million tourists each year. Three zones have been identified to have enhanced road and pedestrian mall lighting, featuring either a flower theme, forest theme or fruit theme ensuring it remains a world class pedestrian friendly shopping experience.  


Sentosa Cove: this island is marketed as the world's most desirable address for a reason as it combines living in lush tropical settings in a modern convenient lifestyle as close to a vibrant city as you can possibly be. Sentosa Cove is set at the Eastern coast of Sentosa island off the South Eastern tip of Singapore mainland.

Where else can you watch international sport events such as the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix or the Volvo Ocean Race practically from your doorstep while you enjoy Sentosa Island's ' many tourist attractions and the beach, resorts and hotels and a casino. With your office set in the new financial district in Marina Bay commuting time is reduced to a few minutes across the bay and a short drive  let's you to set off from Singapore's Changi Airport to any destination in the world.


Resale Step-by-Step Guide


You property has appreciated and you decided to sell.

Engage a property agent. If you are represented by an agent, you need not be around at any viewing.
Appoint a solicitor.
You have accepted an offer
your solicitor or your agent will draw up an Option to Purchase. This Option to Purchase is to be signed by you and to be given to the purchaser in exchange for a deposit of 1% (Option Fees).
The purchaser has 14 days to decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase and to org anise finance.
There will not be a caveat lodge on it at this stage but the seller can’t sell to anyone else.
Once the purchaser has decided to proceed, they will then exercise the Option to Purchase and put down another 4% or 9% (agreement between the seller and purchaser) of the purchase price. This amount is usually held by your solicitor as stakeholders.
If one decides not to proceed with the sale after receiving the Option to Purchase from the seller, the 1% option fees paid will be forfeited.
Once the Option to Purchase has been signed it is unconditional on both sides.
Complete of Sale & Purchase will be around 8 to 10 weeks (agreement between the seller and purchaser).
On legal completion date, the seller must hand over the property as agreed. The property can be sold with  existing tenants or vacant possession.
Sellers do not pay stamp duty or capital gain tax.
Agency commission is paid solely by the seller which varies from 1% to 2% of the selling price.


Case Study Reference

The following table shows estimated costs when

Case 1 : Unit is purchased for own stay

Case 2 : Unit is purchased for investment purposes (ie. Lease/Let out)

Case 3 : Unit is to be disposed or sold off

ConsiderCase 1Case 2Case 3
 Own stayLeasing outDisposal
Stamp Duty and Legal feeApproximate. 3% of purchase priceApproximate. 3% of Purchase PriceApproximate. 3% of Purchase Price
Holding costTo be advised by bankerTo be advised by bankerTo be advised by banker
RenovationIf applicableIf applicableNot applicable
Property tax10% of annual value, payable in advance and pro-rated till year end10% of annual value; payable in advance and pro-rated till year end10% of annual value; payable in advance and pro-rated till year end
Maintenance feesPayable quarterly, in advance on a pro rated basisPayable quarterly, in advance on a pro rated basisPayable quarterly, in advance on a pro rated basis
Check for Property Gains Tax in your country!
Commission to agentNot applicable1 month gross rent for a 2 years lease term1% of selling price
Cost of tenancy workNot applicableTenancy works such as painting, cleaning, rectifying/ repairing/ replacing of items, purchasing of items, etcNot applicable


Capital Gain Tax

There is no capital gain tax in Singapore


Withholding Tax

If you sell your property to a non resident you are  required by law to withhold a percentage of   that payment and remit it to the Comptroller of Income Tax. Check with your lawyer!

The local payer in Singapore is required to withhold tax at:

  • 15 percent of the gross income/fees payable to the non-resident   professionals or
  • The non resident rate if the non-resident professional elects to be taxed on   net income