Don't make a bad investment in Singapore

We've created a guide to help you avoid pitfalls, save time, and make the best long-term investment possible.

Buying property in Singapore: scams and pitfalls

Last updated on 

risks pitfalls buying real estate Singapore

Everything you need to know is included in our Singapore Property Pack

Singapore's thriving business environment and high-quality living standards make it a preferred destination for foreign real estate investment.

But it's worth noting that navigating the property market here can be a bit of a complex journey, especially for those who aren't local residents. There are plenty of potential hurdles and hidden pitfalls along the way that could easily catch you off guard if you're not careful.

Both our property-owning customers and our local associates have brought a range of concerns to our attention. We've listed them all in our Singapore Property Pack.

This article provides a brief overview of potential pitfalls that may arise during the property buying process in this country.

Is it safe or risky to invest in real estate in Singapore?

Singapore is widely recognized as one of the safest places to invest in real estate globally.

While scams can occur in any market, the presence of robust regulations and oversight mechanisms in Singapore acts as a significant deterrent.

Specific to Singapore is the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), an authority responsible for regulating real estate agencies and salespersons. It maintains a strict code of conduct, ensuring that property transactions are conducted with transparency and integrity.

For instance, the CEA offers a public register where buyers can verify the credentials of property agents, minimizing the risk of dealing with unscrupulous individuals.

One of the notable pitfalls in Singapore's property market is the potential for overpaying, especially in prime areas. Sentosa Cove, known for its luxury properties, provides an example.

Foreign buyers, enamored by the allure of waterfront living, sometimes pay exorbitant prices without conducting thorough market research. Furthermore, the government's Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) policy, which imposes additional taxes on foreign buyers, can substantially increase the cost of property acquisition.

For example, a foreigner purchasing a second property in Singapore could face an ABSD rate as high as 15%.

Singapore's legal framework and transparent property buying process are commendable. The country's Land Titles Act ensures that property titles are registered and maintained accurately.

This system significantly reduces the risk of disputes over property ownership. Additionally, the government's efforts to digitize property transactions through initiatives like the Electronic Option to Purchase (e-OTP) have improved transparency and efficiency.

As an example, the e-OTP allows buyers and sellers to electronically sign property agreements, reducing the risk of fraudulent paper transactions.

Singapore's reputation for efficient dispute resolution is a noteworthy asset. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is a prime example of a globally recognized arbitration institution.

It offers a reliable and neutral platform for resolving property-related disputes, ensuring that investors have recourse in case of conflicts. However, foreign buyers should conduct comprehensive due diligence, as specific property-related issues can vary widely.

For instance, understanding the intricacies of leasehold properties, such as those with remaining leases of less than 60 years, requires careful consideration, as it can impact long-term ownership and financing options.

Government regulations in Singapore serve both to protect and to moderate the property market. The ABSD policy, while posing challenges to foreign buyers, is an effective tool to prevent speculation-driven price hikes. Additionally, the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework, which limits borrowing capacity, protects buyers from overextending themselves financially.

These regulations have contributed to a stable property market, protecting investors from the boom-bust cycles witnessed in other countries. While these measures may be perceived as barriers, they ultimately serve to maintain market equilibrium and safeguard buyers' interests.

Foreign buyers in Singapore face a unique set of challenges, including the ABSD and ownership restrictions. A specific example is the cooling measures introduced in 2018, which increased ABSD rates for foreigners from 15% to 20% for second and subsequent properties.

These measures aim to discourage excessive demand from foreign investors and maintain housing affordability for Singaporeans.

Additionally, understanding the concept of "en-bloc" sales, where entire residential complexes are sold collectively, is crucial for foreign buyers, as it can affect their long-term investment plans.

Buying real estate in Singapore can be risky

An increasing number of foreign investors are showing interest in Singapore. However, 90% of them will make mistakes. Avoid the pitfalls with our comprehensive guide.

buying property foreigner Singapore

Watch out for mistakes when buying property in Singapore

The concept of "Ethnic Integration Policy"

When purchasing residential property in Singapore, an often overlooked aspect, especially by foreigners, is the understanding of the "Ethnic Integration Policy" (EIP).

This policy is unique to Singapore and plays a crucial role in maintaining racial harmony and balance in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates.

The EIP sets quotas for the proportion of units that may be owned by different ethnic groups in HDB blocks and neighborhoods. This means that when you're buying an HDB flat, you must check not only your eligibility to purchase but also whether the ethnic quota for your particular ethnic group in that area has been reached.

If the quota for your ethnic group is filled, you won't be able to purchase a flat in that block or neighborhood, even if you meet all other criteria.

This policy is particularly relevant if you belong to the Chinese, Malay, Indian, or other minority groups, as each group has a specific quota.

It's quite frequent for prospective buyers, especially those not familiar with Singapore's unique policies, to overlook this aspect, leading to unexpected disappointments when transactions are declined due to EIP limits.

The risks related to the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty

Another less known yet critical aspect to consider when buying residential property in Singapore, particularly for foreigners, is the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD).

This is a tax imposed on certain categories of property buyers and is quite unique to Singapore's real estate market.

As a foreigner purchasing property in Singapore, you should be aware that you are subject to a higher ABSD rate compared to Singapore citizens or permanent residents. The ABSD rate for foreigners can be significantly higher (the exact rate can vary and should be checked against the most current guidelines).

This means that on top of the purchase price and the regular Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD), you will need to pay this additional tax, which can substantially increase the overall cost of the property.

It's a common mistake for foreign buyers to overlook or underestimate the impact of ABSD on their property purchase in Singapore.

This oversight can lead to a significant financial strain, as the additional tax amount can be quite substantial, especially for high-value properties.

To avoid this pitfall, you should thoroughly research the current ABSD rates applicable to foreigners before finalizing any property purchase in Singapore. It's also advisable to factor in this additional cost when budgeting for your property investment.

Consulting with a local property agent or a legal advisor knowledgeable in Singapore's real estate regulations can also provide clarity and help you navigate this aspect effectively.

Don't lose money on your property in Singapore

100% of people who have lost money in Singapore have spent less than 1 hour researching the market. We have reviewed everything there is to know. Grab our guide now.

buying property foreigner Singapore

The concept of the "Lease Buyback Scheme"

Understanding the nuances of the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) in Singapore can be a particular challenge for foreigners, especially those who are not familiar with the local housing policies.

This scheme is unique to Singapore and specifically applies to the Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, which are a common form of housing in Singapore.

The Lease Buyback Scheme allows elderly HDB owners to sell part of their flat's lease back to the government while retaining a portion of the lease for themselves.

This scheme is designed to provide financial security for elderly citizens by enabling them to unlock the value of their homes while continuing to live in them.

However, the complexities of this scheme, including eligibility criteria, the process of selling back the lease, and understanding how it affects the property's value, can be quite challenging for a foreign buyer who might be considering purchasing a resale HDB flat.

As a foreigner, if you're looking at buying an HDB flat on the resale market, it's important to check if the LBS has been activated on that property.

The activation of the LBS can impact the remaining lease of the flat, which in turn affects its value and the potential for future resale. Properties with a significantly shortened lease due to the LBS may not be a wise investment, especially if you're planning to hold onto the property for an extended period.

To avoid overlooking this aspect, you should inquire about the LBS status of any HDB flat you are considering purchasing.

"Good Class Bungalows" or GCBs

A specific and often overlooked aspect in Singapore's residential property market, particularly for foreigners, is the concept of "Good Class Bungalows" (GCBs).

This is a unique classification of residential property in Singapore, governed by specific planning and ownership regulations.

Good Class Bungalows are the most prestigious type of landed housing in Singapore, located in designated areas. These properties are characterized by large land sizes (minimum of 1,400 square meters) and are subject to strict planning conditions to preserve their exclusivity and low-rise character.

Due to their prestige and scarcity, GCBs are highly sought after and are among the most expensive residential properties in Singapore.

As a foreigner, you should be aware that purchasing a GCB is subject to stringent restrictions.

Foreigners generally cannot purchase landed residential property in Singapore, including GCBs, without obtaining specific approval from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

The approval process is rigorous, requiring the foreign buyer to make significant economic contributions to Singapore, and the criteria for approval are strict and often not publicly detailed.

Many foreign buyers, even those who are familiar with other aspects of Singapore's property market, are not aware of the unique status and restrictions surrounding Good Class Bungalows.

If you're considering such a high-end investment, it's crucial to understand these limitations.

The mistake often lies in underestimating the difficulty in obtaining approval for such purchases, leading to a significant investment of time and resources in a process that may not result in approval.

Get the full checklist for your due diligence in Singapore

Don't repeat the same mistakes others have made before you. Make sure everything is in order before signing your sales contract.

buying property foreigner Singapore

The concept of "en bloc" sales

In Singapore, a unique and often overlooked aspect for foreigners buying residential property is the concept of "en bloc" sales, also known as collective sales.

This is particularly relevant if you're considering purchasing older condominium units or apartments.

Enbloc sales occur when a collective group of property owners in a development agree to sell the entire development to a developer. This can be lucrative for the owners but poses risks for potential buyers who are unaware of the process.

When considering purchasing a unit in an older development, you must check whether there is potential for an en bloc sale.

Such sales can sometimes force owners to sell their property, even if a minority is against it, provided certain legal thresholds are met.

The risk lies in purchasing a property without realizing that it might soon be subject to an en bloc sale, potentially at a price lower than the market value or at an inconvenient time for you. This can be especially problematic if your intent was long-term residence or investment.

To avoid this pitfall, conduct thorough due diligence on the property's en bloc potential.

This includes understanding the age of the property, the sentiment among the residents about an en bloc sale, and any previous attempts or discussions about such a sale.

The concept of "Decoupling"

In Singapore's unique property landscape, the concept of "Decoupling" is an important aspect for foreign buyers to understand, especially when it comes to joint property ownership.

Decoupling is a legal process where one co-owner of a property transfers their share to the other co-owner. This is often done for financial or strategic reasons, such as to avoid or reduce Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) on subsequent property purchases.

If you're considering joint ownership of a property in Singapore, understanding the implications of decoupling is crucial.

It's often assumed that decoupling is a straightforward process, but there are significant legal and financial considerations.

The process involves legal fees, stamp duties, and possibly a reassessment of the property loan.

In some cases, banks may not approve a new loan to the remaining owner if their financial standing doesn't meet the bank's criteria.

To navigate this, you should consult with a legal professional experienced in Singapore's property laws. They can help you understand the feasibility and implications of decoupling for your specific situation.

Additionally, engaging a financial advisor to assess the financial impact, including potential savings on ABSD for future property investments, can be beneficial. This ensures you make an informed decision that aligns with your long-term property investment strategies in Singapore.

Don't sign a Singaporean document you don't understand

Buying a property in Singapore? We have reviewed all the documents you need to know. Stay out of trouble - grab our comprehensive guide.

buying property foreigner Singapore

The issue of "lease decay"

In Singapore, the issue of "lease decay" is a unique and crucial factor for property buyers to consider, particularly when it comes to older HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats or leasehold properties.

Lease decay refers to the diminishing lease period of a property.

Most HDB flats and some private properties in Singapore are leasehold, typically with 99-year leases. As the lease gets shorter, the value of the property often depreciates, which can significantly impact your investment.

If you're eyeing older HDB flats or leasehold properties, you need to be particularly mindful of the remaining lease. Properties with significantly shorter leases may not only lose value over time but could also face restrictions when it comes to using CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings for purchasing or receiving housing loans.

The common oversight among buyers, including knowledgeable foreigners, is underestimating the impact of lease decay on resale value and financing options in the future.

This can lead to a situation where you're stuck with a property that's hard to sell or refinance.

To avoid this, carefully consider the remaining lease term of the property and how it aligns with your long-term plans. Assess the potential resale value as the lease shortens and understand the CPF usage and loan eligibility rules for properties with shorter leases.

The risks related to the "Mixed-Use Developments"

In Singapore, a specific and often overlooked aspect of the property market is related to the concept of "Mixed-Use Developments."

This is particularly relevant if you're interested in buying a property that combines residential and commercial elements.

Mixed-use developments in Singapore are unique in that they blend residential living with commercial activities, such as retail shops, offices, or F&B outlets, within the same complex. While this offers convenience and a dynamic living environment, some complexities and considerations are often missed by foreign buyers.

One key factor is the assessment of maintenance fees.

In mixed-use developments, the apportionment of maintenance and conservancy charges can be significantly different from purely residential developments. This is because commercial units often incur higher fees due to factors like increased usage of common facilities or additional services.

Another aspect is the potential for increased noise, traffic, and privacy concerns.

The commercial activities within the same complex can lead to a bustling environment, which might not align with your preferences for a residential living space.

It's also important to understand the management structure of these developments. The presence of commercial entities requires a more complex management approach, which can impact the decision-making process for maintenance and development issues.

Before purchasing a mixed-use development, thoroughly research the structure of maintenance fees, understand the management committee's policies, and consider the lifestyle implications of living in such an environment.

Thinking of buying real estate in Singapore?

Acquiring property in a different country is a complex task. Don't fall into common traps – grab our guide and make better decisions.

buying property foreigner Singapore

"Right of First Refusal" or ROFR

In Singapore, a unique aspect that often goes unnoticed by foreign buyers in the residential property market is related to the "Right of First Refusal" (ROFR) in some leasehold developments.

This is particularly relevant if you are looking at properties in developments that have a leasehold tenure.

The Right of First Refusal is a clause that can be found in the lease or management agreement of some leasehold properties.

It essentially gives the developer or management corporation the first option to purchase the property if you decide to sell it. This means that before you can sell your property to an external buyer, you must first offer it to the developer or management corporation at the same price and terms.

For foreign buyers, this might be an unfamiliar concept, as ROFR clauses are not common in all property markets.

Neglecting to consider this clause can lead to complications and delays when you decide to sell your property.

The impact of ROFR is significant as it can affect the liquidity and marketability of your property. If the developer or management corporation exercises their right, it may limit your ability to sell to a wider market, potentially affecting the sale price or time on the market.

Before purchasing a leasehold property in Singapore, you should thoroughly review the lease or management agreement to check for an ROFR clause.

"Total Debt Servicing Ratio" or TDSR

In Singapore, a unique and often overlooked aspect for foreign buyers in the property market is the impact of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework on property financing.

This is especially important if you're considering taking out a loan to purchase property.

The TDSR framework was introduced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to ensure that borrowers are not over-leveraged in their property purchases. It limits the amount that individuals can spend on monthly debt repayments to a percentage of their gross monthly income.

For foreign buyers, this can be a significant factor because the TDSR calculation includes all existing debts, not just in Singapore but globally.

This includes car loans, student loans, mortgages, and other personal loans. The oversight often lies in underestimating the impact of existing debts on the ability to secure a loan in Singapore.

The TDSR requirement can potentially reduce the loan amount you're eligible for, affecting your property purchase plans. It's crucial to calculate your TDSR accurately before committing to a property purchase, to ensure that you can secure the necessary financing.

Before proceeding with a property purchase, you should consult with a financial advisor or a bank in Singapore to understand how your global debt profile will affect your loan eligibility under the TDSR framework.

Make a profitable investment in Singapore

Better information leads to better decisions. Save time and money. Download our guide.

buying property foreigner Singapore