How to cope as a tenant in a red-hot rental market

On an uptrend: A view of private residential condominium properties at the Orchard district in Singapore. The exuberant property market has also fed into a surge in rents with Singapore pushing New York off the top spot. — Reuters

SINGAPORE: It was a harrowing ordeal. That was the most civilised sentence I could come up with when a colleague asked about my house-hunting experience earlier in 2023.

Because that statement does not tell you what the worst part of the ordeal was.

I guess renting a residence can be a harrowing experience, any time, anywhere.

And having lived in Singapore for over two decades, it was not the first time I had to see a substantially higher portion of my budget going into rent.

But somehow the way the rental market turned this time around, it brought the worst out of seemingly nice people.

The ordeal started with a shocking phone call from our landlord’s property agent, demanding a straight 80% increase in rent if we decided to renew the two-year lease for a third time.

Our nearly four-year-long quiet and friendly existence in a house that had frequent fixture breakdowns and paint job issues did not really matter as the landlord politely excused himself from the rent negotiations.

The property agent was, of course, very curt. He told us from the outset that there was not much to negotiate – in other words, accept the deal or leave.

At that point, we did not realise that he would not be the last property agent to talk down to us. We found the condescending attitude almost universal as we started house hunting in earnest.

We finally figured out that the agents had to be terse, given they were asking woefully high rents for apartments that were honestly not worth it.

Since our children had moved out of Singapore a few years ago, my wife and I had already decided to downgrade to a smaller condo.

We are not very sporty people so we did not care about facilities, and since we both use private transport we were not too keen to be closer to bus stops or MRT stations.

Yet, none of that appeared to give us any advantage in settling on a reasonable rent because most property dealers were not in the mood to negotiate.

In fact, almost all of them warned us that if we did not take the offer on the table, rents were set to go even higher in the coming days and weeks.

Talking up a property is to be expected, but duping someone into taking up a dark and dingy place with tasteless surroundings is a bit extreme.

Some of these units had at least one room with office fixtures, promoted as being “perfect to work from home”.

The truth, we later found, was that some of these places were actually being used as student dormitories or offices for not entirely legal businesses.

We eventually found a soft-spoken property agent who showed us a small but decent unit. That came as such a relief that we decided to give in.

We took the apartment even though the rent was above our targeted budget and nothing compared with places we were used to living in, in the past two decades in Singapore.

Maybe we just wanted to end the agonising episode. But it was not the end. Not yet.

Just as we started packing, the property agent of our old place showed up with a S$5,000 (RM16,857) bill for paint and repairs.

That was yet another shock because we had taken that place four years ago on an “as is where is” basis.

We had thought that meant we would be able to hand back the property in its current condition.

But the agent pressed upon us some clause in our agreement which apparently makes the tenant entirely responsible for maintaining the property in good condition, no matter the state in which it was handed over.

We haggled and eventually agreed to split the cost in half. Lessons learnt: Be prepared for tough negotiations, accept no verbal promises and read your rental agreement thoroughly. — The Straits Times/ANN

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