Property Stories Why I Chose To Rent Instead Of Buying A Home In Singapore
- June 13, 2022
- 7 min read
Growing up, I lived in a HDB flat my parents owned. During all the social studies lessons we had (you can probably tell my age from this!), I was taught that a home you owned was always an asset to have.
Then I moved to the U.K to study at university.
I didn’t have the money to buy a home. So I rented. That was when I began to find the joy in renting. For one, every year, I had a new place to explore. Live in a home long enough, and you get bored with it. You know every nook and cranny, and everything feels the same. You’re familiar with the neighbourhood, and the food around you gets boring.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy your own home. But I’m saying that there are certain circumstances that may make renting a more attractive option than buying a home. Here’s why.
What price for your freedom?
I was chatting to a colleague a year ago about his recent decision to buy a BTO. He told me about how the BTO was an asset.
I argued about how I felt a BTO would lock me down to Singapore. In essence, I felt it was an asset with many chains. We weren’t very good friends after that.
What is the price of your freedom? Try putting a dollar value to that. There are many who talk about how buying a home would be much cheaper in the long run than renting. I don’t deny that. But what some don’t factor in is the price of flexibility.
Own a home, and you may find yourself having a debt obligation to fulfil. For a BTO you’ve just bought, you need to stay in it for 5 years before you can rent it out. That may lock you to Singapore. Suddenly, you may have a great job opportunity on the other side of the world. You can take it up… but what’s going to happen to your BTO?
Or you may be fed up with the work you’re doing and want to change a career. Having a mortgage to service may limit your options, at that stage of your life. Let’s also be honest. In the first 5 to 10 years of our career, we don’t really know what we are doing with our careers, let alone our lives. Tying ourselves down may not be the best option.
The point isn’t that you shouldn’t buy a house. Rather, it helps that we are more open to the idea of renting. Speaking to many young adult Singaporeans, the idea of renting is almost repulsive. Friends have said it’s a waste of money, or that it’s not building long term assets.
But my encouragement is that we begin to factor in the price of our freedom, before we truly say that renting is ‘expensive’.
Why do we need to own our homes?
I’m not a ‘woke’ capitalist. I don’t deny that having a house is vital for our basic needs. But the idea that we have to own it may not necessarily be true for everyone. If you’ve experienced the wonders of Grab, carsharing, WeWork, Netflix, Airbnb, you may have fallen in love with rental on demand. It may be time to also consider why such an approach to your housing needs may work too.
Ownership of a house does bring with it certain benefits, such as not needing to deal with landlords, and not having to find a new place every few months. But ownership, does not necessarily bring security. That may be what we’ve been looking for when we first consider a home purchase. But it may instead bring more anxiety, as you wonder how to service your mortgage, renovate your home, and pay for fixes.
Ownership, may not always be the solution.
Why not see the world?
I hope you see the world before settling. There’s a tidy Singaporean narrative that proceeds like clockwork:
- Graduate, and work
- Find a partner
- Apply for a BTO
- Get your keys
- Have babies
There’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m suggesting that you see the world before falling into the stepwise narrative that Singapore society offers. You may realise that it’s not something that you want.
When you stroll down the streets of London, lose yourself in the culture of Broadway, or even hike down the Himalayas, it may strike you.
Maybe there’s more to life than owning a house and having security.
When it’s time to leave your parents’ nest
My German friend used to tell me that in Germany, it was a culture for you to move out of your parents’ home once you start university. It encourages independence. Here in Singapore, we don’t often move out until we’re married.
Leaving the safety of your parents’ nest encourages you to make a life of your own, rather than leaning back into the safety of your parents’ providence. This is not about freedom to do whatever you want.
Rather, it’s about encouraging independence. You’re financially able. You can afford to rent. Why not move out? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself.
If I touch my heart, it’s because I want the safety of not needing to pay rent at the current market price. What’s your reason for staying with your parents?
For this article, we spoke to other young Singaporeans who had also moved out. One of them, a journalist who had previously studied abroad, spoke about how moving out gave him the headspace to think more clearly about his decisions. Another spoke about his need to get away from his parents’ constant refrains to close his business and get a ‘real job’.
Staying with your parents may be safe, but it may not be the best way to achieve success on your own terms.
The best and worst of times
In 2018, I went to Xi’An to volunteer with a home that took in abandoned children found with mild disabilities like cleft lips, cerebral palsy and cognitive impairments. They were often found by street corners, rubbish dumps, or doorsteps. One afternoon, as we were walking back, I asked one teen:
Do you miss Mummy?
No I don’t.
I thought I heard wrongly. So I asked again.
Do you miss mummy?
No I don’t. I have friends and aunty here.
Later when I went to his rented apartment, all he had was a suitcase under his bed, and a teddy bear on his bed. In the eyes of the world, he probably had nothing.
But in his eyes, he had everything. Because he had friends and people who cared for him.
It bears noting. So often we focus on the external, physical facade of a home – how nice it looks, where it is, what type it is; without remembering that it’s not the home that makes the people.
It’s the people that make the home.