Real estate in land-starved Singapore attracts buyers from across the world. The country is known for its political stability and is a favoured location for a host of multinational companies. Although property prices have been in decline for almost four years, flats in prime locations sell at rates that compare with those in the capital cities of the west.
Over three-quarters of Singapore’s population of 5.6 million lives in government flats developed by the Housing and Development Board. Even though these have been developed to provide Singaporeans with an affordable option, they can be expensive. A four or five-bedroom HDB resale flat in a prime location can set you back by S$1 million or more.
But HDB properties are not for sale to expats. Foreigners are permitted to buy flats, which are also known as non-landed properties, in private developments. If they want to buy a standalone unit, which Singaporeans refer to as a landed property, they need government permission.
Sentosa, a new development off the coast of Singapore, has attracted a large amount of investment. Its upmarket residential areas are a big draw for overseas buyers as they do not need government permission to buy landed properties here. Flats here can cost upwards of S$4 million, while the asking price for luxurious standalone residences can be ten times as much.
In addition to paying the seller, a purchaser also needs to contend with several types of government duties as well as other costs. Here is a listing of the expenses connected with buying real estate in Singapore.
Buyer’s stamp duty
The government levies a buyer’s stamp duty ranging from 1% to 3% of the property value.
What if the seller provides a cash discount on the property? This practice is followed by developers as an incentive to buyers. If the cash discount is given immediately, BSD will be calculated on the purchase price as reduced by the discount. However, if a non-cash discount is offered, it cannot be deducted from the purchase price.
What is a non-cash discount? This could be a benefit in the form of a furniture voucher or a chance to participate in a lucky draw.
BSD is payable to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. Here is how it is calculated.
Source: Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore
At what stage of the purchase transaction is BSD to be paid? If you have entered into an option to purchase (OTP), then you must pay BSD within 14 days of exercising the OTP. In any event, it must be paid prior to the signing of the sale and purchase agreement.
Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty
Duty rates under this category can range from nil to 15% on the market value of the property. Additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) can vary based on the residency status of the buyer.
Singapore citizens pay the lowest rates of ABSD. Permanent residents are in the next category, while foreigners are liable for the highest rates.
Your ABSD rate can also vary if you purchase multiple properties. For example, a Singapore citizen’s first residential property does not attract any ABSD at all. The second residential property that a Singapore citizen buys attracts 7% ABSD, while the rate for third and subsequent properties is 10%.
Here is a summary of the ABSD rates payable.
Type of buyer
ABSD rate as a percentage of the market value of the property
Singapore citizen buying first residential property
Singapore citizen buying second residential property
Singapore citizen buying third and subsequent residential property
Singapore permanent resident buying first residential property
Singapore permanent resident buying second and subsequent residential property
Rate for foreigners
Singapore’s citizens are required to pay ABSD only if they buy a second property. For their third property, they pay an enhanced rate. How is the number of properties calculated?
Say, a Singapore citizen owns a flat jointly with his wife. Let us assume that he also owns a 20% share in another property. For the purpose of calculation of ABSD, this will count as two properties even though the ownership is partial.
Seller’s stamp duty
As its name implies, seller’s stamp duty (SSD) is payable by the seller and not the buyer. Strictly speaking, it is not a buying cost at all. However, it impacts buyers for two reasons.
A higher SSD will discourage sales. The sellers will regard this as a cost of sale and try and recover it from the buyer.
A buyer who is making a purchase for investment purposes will need to take SSD into account when making a decision.
What are SSD rates? A residential property that is sold more than three years after it was purchased does not attract SSD. Sales that are made within a three-year period attract SSD at rates that range from 4% to 12% of the property’s market value.
The highest rates are reserved for sales made within one year (12%), while sales in a one to two year period attract a lower rate (8%) and sales in the two to three-year period attract the lowest rate (4%).
The government recently reduced SSD rates in an effort to boost the property market. Till March 11, 2017, a seller was required to hold on to a property for at least four years to avoid paying SSD. The current minimum holding period if you want to avoid paying SSD is three years.
Legal fees and mortgage duty
There are two other costs that a property buyer has to bear. You will need to pay legal fees to verify the ownership and other details of the property that you intend to buy. In the normal course, the bank that is financing your purchase will specify the lawyer to be retained for this service. Fees can amount to about S$3,000.
The mortgage document prepared by the bank that is making the housing loan will attract a mortgage duty of 0.4% of the loan amount. By signing this document, you are transferring the interest in the property to your lender to secure repayment. Mortgage duty is capped at S$500.
Total costs can add up to a substantial sum
Property prices in Singapore are among the highest in the world. Government levies can increase the amount that you have to pay by as much as 18% for foreigners (BSD of 3% + ABSD of 15%). Citizens and permanent residents will pay slightly less. It is important to factor this component into your calculations.
If you are buying real estate with the intention of selling it at a profit when prices rise, you need to build in the SSD component as well. You also need to consider other costs like the fees payable to a property agent.
In view of the large financial outlay involved, a decision to buy real estate cannot be taken lightly, especially as Singapore’s residential property market has been in decline for several years.
(By Ravinder Kapur)
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