A step-by-step guide to moving to a new home in Singapore


Whether you’re upgrading to a condo, or just moving to another flat, the paperwork is enough to drive kill an entire office worth of accountants

The key is to take it in small steps – break down the entire process so you handle one thing at a time.

Here’s how to do it without developing chronic high blood pressure:

Step 1: Decide if you are buying the new house before selling the old one, and on the renovation issues

Step 2: Work out the time till you can move in

Step 3: Find temporary accommodation early

Step 4: Handle your furniture and storage

Step 5: Speak to your conveyancing lawyer

Step 6: Update IRAS after the transfer of property

Step 7: Pay the remaining fees

Step 8: Contact your financial advisor

Step 9: Call in the movers

Step 10: Fridge party

Step 1: Decide if you are buying the new house before selling the old one, and on the renovation issues

You’ll realise this step is the longest, because it’s really important and complicated. Brace yourself.

If you decide to buy a new house before selling your old one, you’ll need to make sure you have a lot of cash on hand. This is what you’ll need:

  • If you’re using a bank loan, you’ll need at least five per cent of the property price in hard cash. For those of you upgrading to an Executive Condominium (EC), note that there is no HDB loan for ECs. If you haven’t paid off your previous home loan yet, this amount goes up to 25 per cent.

  • You’ll need at least 20 per cent of the property price in a combination of cash or CPF Ordinary Account (CPF OA) funds. If you haven’t paid off your previous home loan yet, this goes up to 30 per cent.

Also, note that this amount can be even higher, if the bank chooses to lend you less.

  • Within two weeks of signing the sale and purchase agreement, you’ll need to pay the Additional Buyers Stamp Duty (ABSD). Remember, you still have your old house, so you’re technically buying a second home. This costs 12 per cent of the property price, for Singapore citizens.

You may be able to apply for ABSD remission later, if you sell your old house within six months of buying the new one (subject to terms and conditions).

In case you haven’t figured it out, buying the new house before selling the old one can get ruinously expensive – especially if you haven’t paid off the previous home loan.

If you’re going to buy the new home after selling the old one, and paying off the previous mortgage, you’ll just need:

  • Five per cent of the property price in cash, if using a bank loan

  • At least 20 per cent of the property price in cash or CPF OA funds – this amount can be higher if the bank choose to lend you less.

You won’t need to pay the ABSD, as you no longer own a property at the time you’re purchasing the new house.

In addition, note that you can borrow more for your new house if you sell off your old home first, and pay off the previous mortgage.

That’s because your monthly loan repayments can’t exceed 60 per cent of your monthly income (it’s called the Total Debt Servicing Ratio, or TDSR). If you already have an outstanding home loan, you’ll be much closer to hitting the TDSR limit.

Whichever you decide, make sure you have the cash to deal with it.

For a detailed estimate of how much your new home should cost, or for sale and rental rates, check out the DBS Property Marketplace.

Special: What if I’m buying a new house, but also keeping the old one to rent out?

It’s similar to the above, except you’ll definitely have to pay ABSD, and can’t get any remission.

In addition, you have to inform the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) within 15 days when you stop occupying your old house. You can do this on the IRAS website.

Note that your property tax rate will be different, if you are renting out the property. You can use this calculator to work out your new rate.

Decide on the renovation issues at the same time

Renovation costs are highly variable – there are people who end up paying $100,000 to renovate a three-room flat, and people who just spend $10,000 to renovate a whole condo. That being said, you can expect most contractors or interior designers to ask for a budget of at least $30,000.

Why $30,000?

Because most bank renovation loans are capped at $30,000, or six months of your income (whichever is higher). But remember: it’s your house. You don’t have to work with this amount just because its what the contractor wants – pick the renovations that make you happy, and that you can afford.

Finally, be sure to use a renovation loan before using a personal loan, if you need to borrow. Renovation loans tend to have lower interest rates (around three to five per cent per annum), whereas most personal loans charge around six to nine per cent.

You should only use a personal loan if the contractor busts the budget for the renovation loan.

(Or just be prudent, and buy a scheme that you can afford without needing any loans).

Step 2: If you are selling your old home before buying the new one, work out the time till you can move in

For houses that are still under construction, you will usually have to wait for one month after the Temporary Occupancy Permit (TOP) before you can move in.

For resale units, you can usually move in right after the current residents leave. But if you have major renovation works planned, remember to ask your contractor or interior designer how long they’ll take.

As a rule of thumb, always add three months on top of the projected move-in date.

Remember that developers aren’t perfect – there’s recently been two condos that were meant to receive their Temporary Occupancy Permit (TOP) in 2016, but are still under construction.

Your situation is unlikely to be that bad, but it’s best to be prepared.

Step 3: Need to rent? Start the process of finding temporary accommodation, as early as possible

Use property listings sites such as Property Guru or 99.co to start hunting for suitable accommodation, if you need to rent. The earlier you start looking, the better the odds of finding a good deal. Never wait till the last minute before start searching. That’s the number one reason people get rushed into overpriced or inconveniently located units (it’s not easy to break the lease).

You haven’t experienced pain until you’ve had to rent a temporary flat in Choa Chu Kang, while your office is in Changi.

Step 4: Start selling off your furniture, or budgeting for storage

Remember that bulky furniture, like dining room tables or sofa sets, will probably require storage (unless you rent an unfurnished unit and bring it along).

Typical costs range between SGD 265-400 per month, depending on the company you choose. This means paying to store that sofa set for a year can cost you thousands of dollars. And if the storage cost is enough to buy you a brand-new sofa set by the time you move in, is it really worth keeping?

If you just need to store the stuff for a few days though, contact moving companies (see step 9). Some of them offer free storage for up to three to five days.

As a rule of thumb, it is more cost-effective to sell off your old furniture than to pay for storage, unless you can move in very quickly (e.g. within a month or two). But there are exceptions to the rules, such as antiques.

Also, if you’re moving it to your temporary accommodation first, bear in mind that you’ll have to pay to move it twice: once more when your new home is ready.

Do use sites like Carousell to sell off the unwanted furniture. You may as well make what you can out of your old stuff.

Step 5: Speak to your conveyancing lawyer

Before the transfer of property to your name, you should speak to your conveyancing lawyer (typically, the law firm will be picked for you by the bank unless you specify you want to choose a law firm of your own).

Your lawyer will check on any outstanding property tax on your new home, as well apportioning such taxes between you and the seller. The lawyer also helps to arrange for the payment of stamp duties, such as the ABSD, within 14 days of the transaction.

Your lawyer will let you know when the transfer of property is fully completed.

Step 6: Update IRAS after the transfer of property

Inform IRAS, and update your address at the closest police post. You should receive an acknowledgement notice from IRAS within the week.

You can check your new property tax rates here; they will be applied once you get the acknowledgement letter.

Call IRAS if you don’t hear from them. Don’t act blur and end up dodging your new property tax; you don’t want to become a criminal tax dodger by accident!

Step 7: Pay the remaining fees

The law firm (see step 5) will usually charge between SGD 2,500 to SGD 3,000. This may be payable through your CPF – ask the law firm in question.

(If you used a law firm picked by the bank or HDB, you can almost definitely use your CPF).

Then there’s the issue of agent commissions. If you bought a resale unit, the seller is usually the one who will pay their real estate agent’s commission (who will in turn spilt it with your agent).

If you bought a new property from a developer, the developer will usually pay your agent. The amount is about one to two per cent of the property price, if you’re curious.

In any case, prepare about SGD 3,000 in cash, or ensure you have it in your CPF. This is mainly to cover the legal fees, but there may be other small fees such as charges from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

Step 8: Contact your financial advisor

Basic fire insurance is mandatory, and it’s quite common for some banks to buy this for you (ask the mortgage banker). But you’ll need to find your own home content insurance, and (for private properties) your own Mortgage Reducing Term Assurance (MRTA).

A financial advisor should help you source for the best-priced home content insurance policy, as well MRTA.

Home content insurance cover the items inside your new house, should there be a fire or break-in. The policy includes third-party insurance, in case someone like, say, your neighbours decide to sue you for damages (hey, your flood or fire can wreck their house too).

You can get coverage of up to SGD 320,000 for home contents, and it usually just costs around SGD 200 a year.

The MRTA pays off your remaining mortgage if you pass away, are disabled, or suffer from a critical illness. For HDB flats, this is the automatically included Home Protection Scheme – but you need to buy it yourself for private properties. MRTA is important so that your family isn’t saddled with the mortgage, if you’re not around to

Step 9: Call in the movers

Separate high-value items from cheaper stuff, and pack them in specially marked cases. Make sure your mum’s jewellery or dad’s Rolex don’t go missing, in the moving process (you may want to store them in the bank for the time being, if you have a deposit box).

For other items, remember to label every box, and write down the list of items you’re expecting – use your phone and store the inventory list on a cloud.

Moving companies charge very different prices, but as a rule of thumb, moving out the contents of a five-room flat will cost around SGD 450-550.

If you can drive a van, and are happy to do the heavy lifting, a popular alternative is to rent one; that’s usually just SGD 80-120 per day, not including petrol.

Step 10: Fridge party

Clear out the contents of your fridge. A big party is a good way to do this.

Also, prepare to be grossed out. You’ll be amazed at what gets left in there to expire.

Finally. Now all you need to do is sit back and wait for your keys.

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