Thursday, 10 March 2011

engaging you own professional property agent

We recently had a "wake up call" regarding renting in Singapore and I need to pre warn others that may find themselves in a similar situation at some stage.

Let me go back to the day we arrived in Singapore - Friday February 9 2007. We were to stay in a serviced apartment until we could locate a suitable apartment for ourselves.

(this is turning out to be a long posting, feel free to stop reading now if renting in Singapore is not of interest to you!)

We had no one to help us or guide us as to what to do, what the expectations were or what we needed to know about  renting in Singapore. We knew nothing about the process at all.

We 'assumed' we would just contact an estate agent and they would have a list of properties for rent, if we didn't like what they had we would then move on to another agent and keep doing this until we located an apartment that was suitable for us.

This is not the case in Singapore.

Most property companies share the same database of property listings in Singapore. Therefore you should only use only ONE agent at a time. If you approach many agents at the same time, very likely that they will show you the same property. Much confusion and embarrassment will arise if you engage many agents. 

Also by using one agent, you will save valuable time for yourself and the agent. He or she will then understand your needs and requirements after a few viewings. 

But the day after our arrival here we bought the newspaper to look for properties ..... we found a few that might be a possibility, so we got on the train at Orchard MRT going towards Jurong East MRT and stopped at stations along the way until we found an area that we felt comfortable with.

That was how we decided to start with the looking process. We already realised that we would need to be close to the Jurong East MRT as John was to work close by.

By the time we reached Bukit Batok MRT by late morning (Saturday February 10 2007) we felt we had found the 'area' we liked. We wandered around the MRT are and the West Mall Shopping Mall. 

Close by was the condo named THE JADE.

Now this is where we came unstuck, purely because we did not know the correct procedure of contacting an agent.

We liked the look of the condo so asked at the security gate if there were any apartments for rent. They didn't know but gave us the business card of an agent that was close by. They phoned him for us and he came over within 10 minutes with his wife!

He showed us two apartments and the one we liked was on the 18th level with a nice outlook. We said that we would like to rent it.

But it is not a simple yes or no.

First of all we needed to sign a "letter of intent" or LOI for short, is a letter proposing your intention to lease and your requirements to the landlord.  Never knew about this! Not that it was an issue, but comes in handy IF you know what is expected of you ahead of time!

He had to contact the owner who also needs to meet us and we needed to make an appointment for this. So the appointment was made for the following week. We needed to have with us THREE MONTHS RENT. That is a security deposit, one month as good faith deposit and one months rent in advance. This added up to $10,500.00 and we were certainly not expecting to part out with such a large sum of money at that point!

Our mistake was that we did not have our own agent. One that could have explained all this to us, why it was needed etc. But we still did not realise this at that time, we just assumed that this agent (named A) was helping us. Little did we know "A" was actually the owners agent and we had no 'claim' on him at all.

Anyway, we had the appointment with the owner (named "H") and his agent (named "A"). The cheque was given to the agent and we signed the contract for the usual two years.

We were happy at The Jade, we never asked for anything of "H" (The owner) nor of his agent. The owner used our address for private mail and we left it out for him to collect about once a month. One time the shower leaked and he repaired it immediately. So we really had no problem.

He put the rent up from $3500.00 per month to $3750.00 per month when the lease came up for renewal after the two years.

We expected this as most apartments were being rented out at similar prices.

Towards the end of the four years of us being at The Jade, we contacted "H" and "A" to ask what they intended to do as we would be happy to re lease the property if the rental amount was agreeable. But "H" had not decided what he was going to do and he would get back to us by mid December.

I was getting anxious at that point as I knew we needed to locate another place to move to if "H" decided not to lease the property to us again ...... this is also where an agent would and should have helped us. We were still relying on the owners agent.

The end result was that by December 18 the owner told us he wanted the apartment for himself and that we would need to move out. John was overseas at this time for work so I had to think about what we needed to do with moving.

By chance one of our friends here in Singapore is an agent and we made contact for her to help us locate an apartment, which she did. 

In the meantime we had other things to concern ourselves with .....

Moving out of The Jade.

After we packed and moved everything, we still had a month left on the lease, so we spent that time making sure everything was super clean. Even to the extent of employing two cleaners for 8 hours to wash all the walls, windows, doors, floors etc .... we requested that they make the place look like new!

Which they did.

On February 19 we had an appointment with the owner and his agent (A and H!) at the apartment to hand over the keys. They went through everything with a fine tooth comb. 

We were stunned.  
I think what amazes us firstly is that both owner and agent need to be there with us!

We have properties we lease out in Australia and we know what it is like to lease them, but we NEVER interfere with what the agent needs to do. This is why we pay the agents fee's. We NEVER meet the tenant either. So we find it odd here in Singapore that they 'have to meet the prospective tenant'. 

Why do they have an agent then?

Same when we leased the place where we are now, the owners had to come and meet us!

Anyway, I digress.
The owner and agent continued going over every square inch of that apartment. Then they said "what happened to the spa" as one of the plugs was not working. So we explained that we had never turned it on so have no idea. 

Then they went in to the kitchen, one of the gas burners wasn't lighting.  It was when we left a month ago ... maybe it is clogged?

This went on and on for over an hour.

Then the key was handed back, we were told we would receive our deposit in the mail next week and we left.

 BUT ..... we recieved an email from them saying they would deduct $2000.00 from the deposit to pay for the damage!!!

Here is the email with my comments as well:

a)Deep scratches on the parquet flooring in front of the  bedroom no 1  ( entrance)  (nearest to the master bedroom) and deep localised  scratches below the beds of bedroom no  2, master bed room    and  front of wardrobe ..

I accept the one small surface scratch in study area done by the cleaners ..... I do not know of ANY scratches on the floor in the master bedroom. None at all.

b) Cooker hoob at kitchen  - one  main burner cannot be lighted up and missing part with holes - see photos  

Accept burner not working as it was not working at inspection. It WAS working at time of leaving the apartment on Jan 14.

The 'missing part' I accept as I threw it out. It was the small manufacturers label, it never stayed on ... ever. Every time it was cleaned (from day one) it fell off. It NEVER was fixed. It was loose.

c) Spa Bath at master bathroom  - One Pump jet,  strainer and pop up waste not working

Do NOT accept this, but I have to as it did not work at time of inspection. We NEVER EVER used it. It probably did not work when we moved in. But we have no proof.

d) There is a crack at the edge of wall color glass - bedroom 2 -see photo

I see this and have seen it there for 4 years. It was not done at time we lived there. Certainly not done by us. That I know. It may have 'happened' due to shift in the building. Again, no proof!

e) Scratches in the  front main door - see photo

Yes ... I know about this. The very small surface scratches have been there for 4 years. The reason they now 'stand out' is that after the doors were 'repaired' by the management at The Jade (re rusting of metal strips) I cleaned the doors down thoroughly and then used furniture polish to brighten them up. Unfortunately, the scratches became 'visible' due to the polish on the doors. Perhaps I should NEVER have cleaned them or tried to make it look nice!

These should have all been picked up while we were there during inspection time.     Not AFTER!!!!
My reason for bringing this up is to pre warn others about leasing / renting in Singapore. We had no proof that the damage was not done by us, we felt we were badly treated over the whole issue.

The most important lesson we learned over all this is that you MUST ENGAGE YOUR OWN AGENT and not rely on the owners agent as his priority is to the owner not you. 

Unfortunately we never realised this, not once were we told that he was the owners agent and by being so, he could not stand by us or support us in any way.

By engaging you own professional property agent in Singapore who will assist you and protect your interest throughout the purchase, secure the offer for you at the best possible price will you be treated fairly. With a much better knowledge of Singapore, the agent will be in a better position to recommend and advice on the choice of property. He or she will also ensure that all documents are in order and you are dealing with the rightful owner of the property.

Only if they are incompetence, unresponsive or not showing the correct property you wanted, then start to look for another agent.

They are there to help YOU where and when possible.
I know this is a long posting and in part a bit of a gripe from me, but if it helps just one person here in Singapore obtain their perfect apartment with the help of a good agent, then I am happy!

Feel free to contact me if you would like the name of the agent we used for the apartment we now live in. We were very happy with the service provided and felt that she was there to support us through the whole procedure.


Anonymous said...

Wow! It's awful you had to go through this. We didn't meet our LL/owner until months after we moved in and were having such problems with leaks he had to come and look. I'm surprised your LL/owner had to meet you. Control issues, perhaps.

Definitely get an agent you like! We secured one for us before we moved here and then our company said we couldn't use her because she wasn't "company approved". We fought that and won. She is now company approved. Problem with the main "company approved" agent is that she worked for one developer and was only showing properties by that developer. Newbies had no idea until after the fact.

Research. Research. Research.

Leone, you post is very helpful. I will be linking it to my Helpful Info page if you're fine with that. Which I'm sure you are.

Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

Laura said...

Thanks for a helpful post, I shall be sharing this with my fiance as our landlord is looking to sell our flat at the moment.

Leone Fabre said...

Andrea, there was a bit more to all this, but the posting was already getting far too long!

The message I am trying to get across to the unwary, is to make sure they have their own agent from day one. One they feel comfortable with and one that really knows their needs. It is only very recently that the agents have to be 'registered'. In the past anyone could be an agent and a lot of problems happened due to that. A lot of 'double dipping' went on too.

But that was not the case with us, ours was different, though no less stressful.

and yes, feel free to link to your page!

Laura.... yes, saw that your LL maybe selling. It will take time to find the "right" apartment, do not rush into it as I had to do for the one we are in now.... reason being was that my mom was very ill and I had to fly back to Australia at a moments notice. My aim was to get the apartment sorted prior to departure. My mom died the day we were to move in here. So was happy that I got something before I had to fly back.

But cannot stress enough to make sure you get an agent for yourself, one that you feel comfortable with. Make sure they understand YOUR NEEDS. Do not be fobbed off with comments like "you will be happy here" or "the cupboards are very big".... only you will know. So take pen / paper / tape measure / camera etc.

Do not make a decision until you are both happy and you know what the area is like as well as the actual apartment.

email me if you want the contact details of the agent we used for this apartment. She was VERY helpful indeed. Could not have asked for more.

suzie said...

Leone, We had the same problem in our last final inspection. Everything was checked with a fine tooth comb as well.
So we decided that when we moved into this condo which was a much older one we would take pictures of all the defects and keep them on disc for ourselves and also give one copy to our agent and one for the LL agent.
So when our time comes to hand over the property we would have proof that all these defects were here before we moved in.
This propety was not handed over to us in a clean state so I have taken photos of before and after.

In Singapore, you always have to be one step ahead.
Thanks for your post as it will help other newcomers.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this helpful information. I've just started following your blog as I'm inspired by your walks and hope to join you on many, if you don't mind having me + a 1 & 2 year old to trod along.

We are in the long process of googling lots of apartments in Singapore for our relocation in May and although the company my husband works for, has offered to put us in a serviced apartment, we'd like to find our own 'home' quickly.

The whole 'agent' thing in Singapore amazes me and I've found this information very useful as there seems to be many agents jumping through hoops to help us.

Tanya :)

Stacey said...

So good to read this. Our agent and the landlord went through a similar song and dance and we have this absurdly detailed list of defects written up by our agent to protect us in future. I'm so glad we had her.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leone,

I'm so pleased to have come across your blog. We are moving to Singapore in May (like tanya!) and I had no idea about any of this! We have a Relocation Service (Asian Welcome) who will be helping us with our property search but I'm now cutious about also using an agent for us. I will make sure tot ake photos of any existing damage when we tak eover whatever property it is we choose!
Such an insight. Thanks very much!

Oswald Chong said...

I rented out my flat too but I live overseas. My first experience isn't the greatest as the renter basically destroyed my furnitures. I requested that they pay for the damages but I didn't get any. In reality, the landlord doesn't have to be on site with their agents unless they want to see for themselves. You have to bargain and try to reduce the charges they impose on you, if not, it'll be taken as is. I totally understand the frustration, but as a "landlord" myself, I become very wary of certain renters. Just like you should be wary of certain agents. You should not use any agents, but one that you think you can trust. It differs by the agents, and what they've been doing. Unlike the consistency I get here in the US, the system in Singapore functions with less consistency. I had three agents and they're very different... I'm stuck with my current one cos I enjoy her service a lot... if you need some recommendation, I can definitely forward her contacts to you. My first was the worst.... So be very careful of who you engage. We also learn from friends that some renters can be really horrible (I'm not saying about you). As you read from local newspapers... they can subdivide their homes and rent them out individually or worst.... made them into brothels. So landlords in Singapore are extremely careful of who they rent to, and are normally more engaged in the process. In addition, landlords need to be careful of who is/are occupying their house. If the authority found out that an illegal is occupying your house, you'll go to jail.... so unlike here in the US, you get no punishment even if you rent out to illegals. So culturally.... people look out to themselves and are more engaged... just some food for thoughts.

SwonderfulW said...

Hi, thanks for all your information.
We go to singapore in next July or August and my big concern is about the accommodation.
Since it´s only a month, what do you consider best? An hotel, a service apartment, or a apartment in a condominium?
And also in what area of singapore...
Can you give me the contact of the agent that you like, the link of your contact doesn´t appears.
Thanks a lot!

Leone Fabre said...

The agent we used is Sylvia Yong and we found her to be the most helpful out of all the ones we came across in the six years of living in Singapore. Her email is: