How Not to Get Ripped Off Buying Your First Condo in Singapore

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 21 March, 2017

Before you commit to buying a condo in Singapore, make sure you're getting exactly what you're paying for.

Buying a condo in Singapore can be a nerve-wracking experience. For many Singaporeans, it’s a once in a lifetime decision that represents a loan they spend most of their lives paying off. You want to make sure you get things right the first time.

To avoid being misled by a slick brochure or showroom, we suggest you look out for the following before you make a decision:

The Developer’s Name Does Not Guarantee Quality

You will often be told that a condo is “safe” to buy because the developer is well known. Never trust this, and always retain a healthy skepticism. For example, in 2016 residents of The Seaview condominium were caught up in a lawsuit with the developer over defects; and the developer was none other than the prestigious Wheelock Properties.

It is a common misconception that the developer “builds” every part of the condo. In reality, the developers hire many different subcontractors, all of which are of varying quality. A top developer can choose to use a new or cheaper subcontractor, which may deliver poor quality.

For this reason, it’s best not to place too much belief in the developer’s brand name. For example, you might want to reconsider the risk of buying an under-development property (i.e. the property is not built yet), simply on the trust that the developer can deliver.


The Showroom Looks More Spacious and Lit Than the Actual Unit

Since 2015, there have been new rules for showroom flats. These “sample units” must now indicate where walls or partitions will be built, and must mark off air-conditioner ledges.

However, even with these measures, the lighting and spaciousness of showroom flats are often exaggerated. For example, certain partition walls may be removed in the showroom (although there will be labels indicating it). This will allow more light into the area, and present an illusion of greater space. Even if there’s a label along the floor telling you a partition will be there, it’s easy to be misled.

Another common trick is to use mirrors in a showroom so that the junior suites (a fancy name for smaller rooms) look bigger. It’s also common to see track lighting (a series of lights placed in parallel) along showroom floors; these can make the unit seem better lit than it really is.

Whatever you see in the showroom, take it with a heavy dose of salt. It’s almost never exactly what you get, unless you pay for expensive interior decorations.

Check the Walking Distance to the Train Station

It is common for brochures to claim a train station is in “walking distance”, or “five minutes away”. These statements are actually quite meaningless, as you do not know who they apply to.

To a fit 25-year-old, a train station that is located five minutes uphill may indeed be in “walking distance”. However, the same may not be true of an elderly person, or someone who can expect to be carrying a young child and four or five grocery bags. You need to make the actual walk to the station to get a sense of its true accessibility.

Also, note that some developers are rather liberal with the term “walking distance”. Remember that something located 20 minutes away, while brisk walking in Singapore’s tropic heat, is still technically in “walking distance”.


Check the Surrounding Property Prices

It doesn’t matter what the agent or brochure says about “a good price”. Always look up nearby properties, and check their prices. You can use the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) transaction history to check prices going back a few years.

In particular, note that some “discounts” really just bring the property down to a normal price. For example, a property may be priced at S$1 million, but with a 10% discount, S$100,000 may sound like big savings. But if you check prices in the area, you might find S$900,000 is about the median price for the neighbourhood. The developer is just overpricing the condo, and then putting in a “discount” as a marketing gimmick.

Amenities You Can’t Use Now Should Be Treated Like They Don’t Exist

When a condo is in an out-of-the-way area, one trick used to convince you is that amenities are going to be built. You’ll be told that over the years, various retail, entertainment, or dining businesses will all open up nearby.

Now there is an easy way to check this: you can look up the URA master plan online. However, even if it checks out, don’t let non-existent amenities sway you. Remember that they may not be what you expect. For example, there may indeed be eateries opening in the area; but what if it’s a mall packed with S$40 per head restaurants, or designer boutiques which aren’t of everyday use to you?

Also, beware of developers who exaggerate the extent of amenities opening nearby. An “integrated next door” might turn out to be a tiny two-storey building, with maybe two florists, a candle shop, and one boring canteen (and all the rest are enrichment centres or offices).

If you don’t see the amenity, assume the worst and treat it like it doesn’t exist.


Make Sure the Materials You See Are the Materials You Get

The materials used in show flat countertops and floors may be the exact ones you get, or they may be “creative license”. Just because you see marble stovetops in the show unit, never assume that’s what you’re getting in the real property. Always ask the developer first. A proper developer will always have a list of the exact fittings and materials.

The same goes for flooring material. Even for vinyl flooring, the sort used in the show unit could be a much more expensive version than the one you’ll get.

If the unit comes partially furnished, check if there are clauses that let the developer change these furnishings. Sometimes, the expensive cabinetry that’s supposed to come with the unit might be switched for something cheaper (or uglier), with the contract explicitly allowing for such contingencies.

Get All Your Answers In Writing

When you ask the developer a question, try to do it via email. This is to get their responses in writing, in the event that there’s a dispute later.

It’s easy for anyone to claim they did or didn’t say something to you, but not when their response is written proof. Be a little wary if they avoid your questions via email, and want to speak in person instead; this may be a sign that there’s something they don’t want to commit to in text.

You can also get the agent to text you confirmations (e.g. text “Can I confirm that the unit is closer to the parking lot”, and save their response on your phone).

Read This Next:

5 Ways the Contractor You Hired Can Screw You Over

Who Should Buy an Executive Condominium?

Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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