May 27, 2007

No roof for expats

With HDB flats in great demand, those without housing allowance find high rents hard to bear

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi & Cheryl Tan

RENTING a home is becoming near impossible for many expatriates.

Spikes in property rentals - especially for government housing - have mostly affected those who do not receive housing allowance and generally make less than $5,000 a month.

It does not seem to matter if units are in far-flung locations, nowhere near amenities, and far from MRT stations.

The situation has got to such a point that it is driving some, such as Indian national Yogesh Powale, to give up altogether and send his family back to India.

But not for want of trying.

Mr Powale spent three months searching for a rental flat when he arrived in November last year.

He found a three-room Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in Bishan, which he rented for $1,500 in January.

But after four months of living there, the 37-year-old IT consultant has found costs too high.

'I'm earning $4,000 and paying $1,500 for rent alone. It's not feasible,' he explained.

Now, without his wife and one young daughter, he has moved to another Bishan three-room HDB flat, which he shares with two other friends, and pays $450 of the $1,350 monthly rent.

Like Mr Powale, others too are having problems finding rentals within their means.

Property agents say they are mostly from China, India and the Philippines, and are usually here with their families.

The problem is supply.

Since HDB eased rules to enable more residents to rent out their flats in March, as many as 1,780 home owners were given approval - 570 more than would have been allowed to do so under the old policy.

However, newly arriving expatriates have increased demand for such flats.

Last year alone, the expat population here grew by 9.7 per cent from 798,000 to 875,500.

Not all can afford to rent private properties, which are in abundance, because rental options can cost more than their wages.

A 760 sq ft apartment in the East Coast - puny for families - can start at about $2,500, while a two-bedroom Jurong apartment can easily cost $3,000 a month.

As many as 20 property agents reported that demand for HDB is now so high, they sometimes have trouble coping with calls, which can number as many as 30 in an hour.

Units are snapped up within two days of being advertised in The Straits Times, and interested parties start calling as early as sunrise.

Property agent S.C. Ong said: 'Even when the flat is in Jurong, my phone can start ringing from as early as 7.30am.'

Singaporeans themselves are competing for HDB rental units, many sold their private property to make a quick buck from the boom and are looking for a place to live, said Ms May Tan, a rental specialist.

'They are waiting for prices to dip before buying a new house. While waiting, they rent HDB flats,' she explained.

Exacerbating the problem are picky landlords, who reject potential tenants based on where they are from.

Mr Willy Chua, a property agent who has been distributing fliers door-to-door to encourage people to let their homes, said: 'Some landlords claim they don't recognise their houses after letting them to people of certain nationalities.'

Until more flats come up for rental, finding a place to stay will remain tough.

Indian national Raj Ragavan, a project manager, spent two months searching before landing himself a three-room flat in Bedok.

Said the 42-year-old: 'Whenever I viewed flats, there would be at least 10 other expats viewing the same unit at the same time.'

[email protected]

[email protected]

Fighting for same flat

'Whenever I viewed flats, there would be at least 10 other expats viewing the same unit at the same time.'
- INDIAN NATIONAL RAJ RAGAVAN, 42, a project manager

Big chunk of pay goes to rental

'I'm earning $4,000 and paying $1,500 for rent alone. It's not feasible.'