Sunday, December 26, 2010

Short Term HDB Rental

Accommodation in Singapore is quite expensive especially for a short term visit. If you are looking for a cheap room / flat rental you have limited alternatives and when you browse classified ads in internet, you will likely come accross some short term HDB room rental or flat rental advertisements.

Can a foreigner rent HDB? The answer is yes if you are a valid visa holder. So the answer for this common question, can you rent hdb on tourist visa, is simply no! It is illegal for a tourist to rent HDB room or flat! Only the following are eligible to rent an HDB room or flat:
  • Singapore citizens
  • Singapore permanent residents
  • Employment Pass holders
  • S Pass holders.
  • Work Permits (Construction workers who are Work Permit holders should be Malaysians)
  • Student Pass holders, 
  • Dependant Pass holders, 
  • Professional Visit Pass holders, 
  • Long Term Social Visit Pass holders (6 months and above).
Source: HDB Guidelines for Renting Out the Whole FlatGuidelines for Renting Out Rooms

Still there are some flat owners carrying out this illegal business. Here is an article on the topic HDB flat owners turn hoteliers:
A room in Bukit Batok advertised on a website. Often these ads target tourists – a move which the HDB says is an infringement of the lease and could lead to a fine or even a compulsory acquisition of the flat.

ROOMS in some Housing Board (HDB) flats are being marketed like hotel rooms to tourists looking to save money on accommodation.

About 50 posts can be found in room rental and classifieds sites online, offering such rooms. As
with hotels, rates are higher on weekends. Housekeeping is available, for an extra fee, as is an airport pick-up.

Tourists on short-term visits have their pick of rooms across the island – from Kallang and Geylang to Jurong and Sengkang. The posts state the location, ‘room rate’ and facilities; some even come with photographs to give interested parties a preview.

The problem: It is all illegal.

When contacted, HDB said its flats are not to be let out to tourists, and home owners who do this risk being fined and served compulsory acquisition orders.

The spokesman said the board has received queries from flat owners about subletting rooms to tourists, but has advised them against doing it.

"A tourist’s length of stay is usually short, and the turnover of such 'occupiers' is expected to be high. This may lead to high human traffic to and from the flat, which will disrupt the pleasant living environment and ambience in our HDB estates," the spokesman said.
So what are your alternatives? If you are looking for cheap short term rentals rooms and apartments in Singapore, you can check out our article here. As I have previously written Cheap Singapore Hotels - Geylang Area article, there are hotels for around 50 SGD per night around Geylang area. Prices goes up to 80-100 SGD range once you go out this area.

A quick Hotels Combined Search showing cheap Singapore hotels

Backpacker hostel is another option. Most of these hostels have 1 or 2 private rooms along side the dorms for rent for 60-70 SGD per night. I quite like Fern Loft, its Chinatown hostel is very well located and in my opinion its East Cost hostel is the best in the town.

For 100 SGD - 150 SGD per night range Victoria Hotel has a very good rating. Metropolitan YMCA is another option which is a little off Orchard Road and is a quaint little retreat surrounded by greenery.

For the hostels in Singapore see Hostels in Singapore article.

See also Average HDB Rental Prices and 1+1 HDB for Rent Are Not For Foreigners  articles.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Singapore Property Price rise slows down

Since it is introduced in 2010, I am watching Singapore Property prices from NUS Singapore Residential Price Index (SRPI). This transactions-based index tracks the month-on-month price movements of private non-landed residential properties in Singapore so it does not lag too much.

Below is quoted from NUS Institute of Real Estate Studies describes to describe the index:
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Singapore Residential Price Index Series (SRPI) is a transactions-based index that tracks the month-on-month price movements of private non-landed residential properties in Singapore. Developed by a team of researchers at IRES, the SRPI provides a resource for the development of property derivatives that would help to expand the suite of financial products offered in Singapore, particularly in the context of obtaining exposure to and managing risks associated with the real estate market. It will also complement existing property information on the state of the residential market.

Currently, SRPI indexes are published in the form of value-weighted indexes. The SRPI is the index for the overall non-landed residential market in Singapore based on the whole SRPI property basket. Two sub-indexes are also produced for the Central and non-Central regions. The Central region sub-basket comprises properties within the overall SRPI basket located in Postal Districts 1 through 4 and 9 through 11 while properties in the other postal districts are in the non-Central region sub-basket.
Below is the latest Singapore property price index chart as of Jan 2011:

NUS Singapore Residential Price Index (SRPI)

You can see the trends clearly from the chart above. After spectacular rises faced between 2005 and 2007. A steady decline by early 2008 turned into a sharp drop by end 2009 due to the global financial crisis and the economic slowdown.

Near zero interest rates and crazy money printing by major economies to combat "The Great Resession" floated the global market as well as Singapore with cheap money and house prices recovered quickly in the 2nd half of 2009. House prices sharply rised then. As far as I can follow this rise is fuelled by:
  • Relatively narrow HDB condo price gap during this time plus near zero interest rates encouraged HDB owners to upgrade to condos.

  • HDB prices were supported during this time with influx of foreigners who got their PR and preferred to buy a house instead of paying high rents.

  • Influx of foreigner investors with money earned from stocks which jumped from bottoms to new hights.
  • Speculation (See below)

The surge in housing demand prompted renewed fears of a property bubble. Goldman Sachs warned China, Hong Kong and Singapore for an asset bubble early this year.

Real estate prices in China, Singapore and Hong Kong need monitoring for signs of bubbles forming as Asia continues to grow rapidly this year, said Fred Hu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s chairman of Greater China.

Property prices in 70 cities in China rose at the fastest pace in 18 months in December and new bank loans reached a record $1.3 trillion in the first 11 months of 2009. Hong Kong home prices are at the highest in almost 12 years, while in Singapore, a record number of private homes were sold last year.
Source : Business Week

This led Singapore government to implement measures to cool down the property price growth:

Measures announced in Singapore at the end of August to cool the property market are starting to have an effect in terms of slowing property prices.
But prices are still rising as the latest figures from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) showed private home prices rose by 3.1% in the third quarter of the year to push its index to a high of 190.

But the price increases are slowing, down from a 5.3% increase in the second quarter of the year. While in the public housing sector the Housing and Development Board (HDB) said prices of HDB resale flats increased 4%%, the sixth quarterly gain in a row.

Analysts said that the slowdown in the pace of price increase for private homes occurred despite the URA flash estimate being based on the first 10 weeks of the quarter and therefore did not capture the full impact of the cooling measures.

According to agents sales are down by between 10 and 20% as both buyers and sellers retreated to the sidelines to assess the implications of the Government’s announcements.

Experts believe that the fourth quarter of 2010 will be a better gauge of the impact of the cooling measures and they already expect the rise in private home prices to drop below 3%.

‘Without the policy, we estimated that possibly we would close the year at maybe 16 or possibly 18% higher. But now with the policy, we are likely to rein in growth to a more sustainable level of 2 to 3% on quarter growth, so we should see the full year coming in at about 15 to 16%,’ said Chua Yang Liang, head of research for South east Asia at Jones Lang LaSalle.
Source: Property Wire
You can clearly see this trend in the chart above. Price rise slows down immediately after these measures.

There are also free-market forces against further price rises. First of all, if you take a look at the index chart, you can see that the index is approaching the hights of "everything will rise up and sky is the limit" times of 2007. Back then it looked like there was no reason to believe that rents and prices rise will end. I remember real estate agents were warning the people to buy now or houses will be too pricy to buy in a year. Now we know that financial crises are not ancient miseries and prices can go down, economy can go down and I cannot see any reason to beat 2007 hights now given the fact that although Singapore economy is doing very well USA is still not out of the woods and Europe is still on the edge.

Second, between 2008 - 2010 all the West could do / or blindly did was to print money and pour it into the market and hope that this will recover the economy without a major negative effect. There was a very obvious negative effect which was expected later but looks like it is coming sooner: Printing money only transffered the huge debt from private sector to the public and governments in major economies are now struggling to borrow money to finance this debt. One of my favorite investors, David Einhorn summarizes this situation perfectly in his latest interview:
“I think what we did in the last crisis in resolving it was rather than go to the root of the crisis, tally up the damage, allot the losses, clean up, fix things, and move on, I feel like a lot of what we did was sort of sweep things under the rug and put short-term bandage fixes on things. And I think we managed to transfer a lot of the problems sort of from the private sector to the public sector. The problem is that it’s such a large problem that eventually, I’m concerned that will eventually threaten the public sector as well.

…what we decided to do was sort of paper over the problems. We bailed out a lot of institutions. We bailed out a lot of people that had positioned themselves incorrectly — ostensibly incorrectly in the crisis, whether it was individuals, whether it was institutions, whether it’s investors and so forth.

And because we weren’t willing to go through that, we haven’t been able to effectively clean up that mess, and it’s created a very, very large budget deficit. And it’s created a monetary policy that is extremely easy, and it seems to be perpetuating itself into a way that I think is going to eventually come to a tough spot.”

Well as insider monkey blog writer states, if Mr. Always Pessimistic Roubini was warning us about this crisis, I wouldn’t be worried. It’s a different story when a credible hedge fund manager like David Einhorn is pessimistic about the world economy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Expat Living Singapore - The Expat Explorer Survey 2010

According to HSBC The Expat Explorer Survey 2010, Singapore is ranked 4th among 25 hot expat destinations in terms of key economic elements, income, disposable income and luxuries:

Singapore acts as an attractive location for high earners, which is unsurprising as it tops the economic league table on income score with nearly half (45%) of expats earning over $200,000 per annum compared to the worldwide average of just 21%. Expats based in Singapore benefit from lower tax than in their country of origin – only 8% believe they spend more on tax than they did at home. Of those surveyed, 61% also think that they have more disposable income than when living in their country of origin compared to an overall average of 42%.

However, with higher salaries and higher disposable incomes come higher costs; many think they spend considerably more than in their country of origin on accommodation (72% in Singapore vs. 46% overall) and food and drink (60% vs. 47%).

Expats in Singapore also believe they are already seeing signs of an improved economy, with over half (51%) agreeing that the economic situation in Singapore has improved since last year (compared to 22% overall). They are also much less worried about having to monitor spending (8% in Singapore compared to an overall average of 23%) or reduced career opportunities (15% vs. 20%).

[Expat Exlorer Survey 2010, Page 22]
Taxes in Singapore are very attractive. Actually, one of the main reasons behind Singapore's huge percentage of expats with higher disposable incomes is Singapore's tax system. Singapore imposes one of the least rates of personal and corporate income tax, enabling its residents to retain a higher portion of their income. Singapore's personal income tax rate starts at 0% and is capped at 20% (above S$320,000). The corporate income tax rate is approximately 8.5% for profits up to S$300,000 and a flat 17% above S$300,000. The Expat Explorer survey cites that 61% of the 109 expats surveyed in Singapore think that they have more disposable income than they would had they been living in their country of origin[1]. Last year I have paid around 6 percent of my gross income with a salary just below 100K (yes I do not belong to the >200K expats group yet). Around 20% of the same income would go as tax in my country of origin. Also I pay 7% VAT in Singapore which is 18% for most of the goods in my original country.

I agree with the cost of accomodation, it is very expensive and eats up a considerable amount of your income. But for me, the food and drink are cheaper in Singapore. I do not drink alcohol a lot (which is very expensive in Singapore due to taxes) and I eat in cofee shops and food courts a lot where you can find good and cheap food.

Singapore is also getting costlier. According to Expat-Essentials Singapore is costlier for expatries now. ECA International found that Singapore is the eighth-most expensive city in Asia for expats. Singapore was placed No. 9 last year. Globally, Singapore is the 42nd-most pricey a huge jump from from 79th last year. In Asia, Singapore is behind the likes of Japan, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul. And things will get costlier according to ECA. Inflation and a strong currency will continue to drive expats’ costs in Singapore ever higher next year.

According to the survey the wealth gap between East and Europe is widenning. This survey shows that the wealth is moving to the East. The Middle East, Singapore and Russia dominate the top quartile of the Wealth Hotspot leader board, while expats in mainland Europe and South Africa are accumulating the least amount of financial wealth:

Expats in Russia remain the wealthiest in the world, with 36% of expats in Russia earning over $250,000. This number has actually increased over the past year – 30% of expats based in the country earned over $250,000 in 2009. Both Singapore (32%) and Bermuda (27%) also have a much higher proportion of expats with an annual income of over $250,000, significantly higher than the overall average of 13%.

Mainland Europe, however, dominates the bottom five positions on the Wealth Hotspot league table. Almost two-thirds (62%) of expats living in Spain earn below $60,000, as do almost half of the expats living in France (47%), the Netherlands (47%) and Germany (45%). This is much higher than the global average of approximately one quarter (26%) of expats earning below this figure across the world. In fact, the only other country to join mainland Europe in the bottom quartile was South Africa, where around one-third (36%) of expats earn less than $60,000.
[Expat Exlorer Survey 2010, Page 5

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Find My iPhone Application

According to The Straits Times, Singapore police have arrested a serial snatch thief after a valuable lead from an Find My iPhone application:

Early on Sunday morning, the 36-year-old victim was walking along Lim Liak Street when an unknown man approached her from behind and snatched away her iPhone which she was holding.

After the victim lodged a report, the 'Find My iPhone' application was used to help the police track down the suspect.

The suspect was arrested on Monday evening, and is believed to be also responsible for several other snatch theft cases in the Tiong Bahru and Kim Tian estates.

The suspect, an 18-year-old Malaysian man, will be charged in court on Wednesday.
Find My iPhone is an iPhone application which can help you to locate your lost iPhone. If you lose your iPhone or iPad in a house, you can tell MobileMe to play a sound that overrides the ringer volume or silent setting on your device. If you left it somewhere you can write a message that will be displayed on your iPhone or iPad. Something like, “Left my iPhone there. Please call me at bla bla.” Your message will appear on the screen, even if it’s locked.

Although real world experiences like this proves that this application works, it requires a MobileMe account which is sold for 99 USD/year; it is quite expensive for just using this feature (although the MobileMe service offers more than just Find My iPhone).

You have a chance to open a MobileMe account free for 60 days trial and continue to do this every 60 days but you are forced to give your credit card details upon subscription so do not forget to cancel your account if you are not willing to pay for it.

Find My iPhone - Source: Apple

There is a cheaper alternative to Find My iPhone. It is GadgetTrak® for iPhone: Anti-Theft App. The iPhone version of their application is free of charge, but has limited functionality due to the hardware access limitations Apple impose on application developers. Still it worths to have it if you currently do not have anything like this on your iPhone.

GadgetTrak® for iPhone - Source: GadgeTrak

Monday, December 13, 2010

Flight Experience Singapore

Have you ever wonder how does it feel to be an airliner pilot? Sitting in the captain's seat, planting your feer on the ruder pedals, right hand clamped to the thrust levers, left hand on the control column.With permission from Air Traffic Control, you advance the throttles and your Boeing 737 hurtles down the runway and takes off, climbing to 2000ft before banking into a 45° turn away from the airport.

Well if you are not a real pilot or an extreme Microsoft Flight Simulator addict with a home-made flight deck in your living room, there are very few places you can do this. One of them is Singapore Flight Experience located in Singapore Flyer.

After trying Flight Experience Australia, Captain Michael Caston and his wife Joanna Caston brought the Flight Experience franchise to Singapore which is a must do in Singapore. This is the next best thing to be in a real commercial airliner cockpit for many of us. The flight simulator is based on Boeing 737-800NG cockpit. You will experience flight with a fully qualified instructor who will take you through all aspects of your flight with as much or as little guidance as required. So this is not a game. As Captain Caston says "this is an edu-teinment". The simulator is a legitimate training ground, it has auto pilot, auto-throttle and fully functioning flight management system.

Flight Experience Singapore

Flight Experience is similar to the flight simulators that airlines use to train their commercial pilots, and its 100% authentic replica cockpit delivers a total immersion virtual reality environment. The 180° wraparound visuals, high-fidelity sound and cooling systems, along with a slight seat vibration, all combine to fool your senses into believing you are actually captaining a jet airliner.

A 30 minutes flight experience package will cost you $175 while the most popular package, 60 minutes fun is around $275. You do not need prior flying experience and you will fly the simulator as much as you can cope with. Each flight is conducted one on one with you and your instructor. But you can bring a friend with you, there is seating for two extra people to join you for your flight and there is no extra charge for it.

If you have fear of flight, the flight experience has a program, named Fear of Flying, which can benefit you. Joanna Caston, co-owner of the flight experience with pilot husband, has experience helping the people overcome their flight fear and uses her experience in the simulator.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Japamala Resort on Tioman Island is listed as one of The Worlds Top 10 Ultra Boutique Resorts

Japamala Resort, an exclusive boutique resort located on the South West corner of Tioman Island off the east cost of Malaysia, is one of the best places you can have a tropical island holiday experience on Tioman Island. Japamala Resort is composed of only a dozen of malay village-style villas and chalets. Rooms (called Sarangs,which means'nests') lie remotely hidden amidst luxuriant jungle, or are perched high on stilts above the turquoise lagoon. The place offers luxury in a remote location and is especially ideal as a hideaway location for honeymoon.

Japamala Resort is one of the world's top 10 "ultra-boutique" hotels according to the luxury travel site Globorati includes only the hotels with a dozen rooms or less into boutique category.

Japamala Resort Tioman Island
Japamala Resorts

Tioman island is one of the most beautiful location in Malaysia. It is a small island located 32 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Pahang. It is 39 km long and 12 km wide.It is densely forested and sparsely inhabited, and is surrounded by numerous coral reefs, making it a popular scuba diving spot.

There are more island resort escapes nearby Singapore:
Dive with giant turtles in Tioman IslandParadise Island just3 hours away from SingaporePrivately owned paradise Nikoi Island

Tioman Island

In Singapore, you will sooner or later hear about Tioman IslandTioman Island (Pulau Tioman) is a small tropical island located 32 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Pahang. It is 39 km long and 12 km wide.It is densely forested and sparsely inhabited, and is surrounded by numerous coral reefs, making it a popular scuba diving spot. This island is not for you if you are looking a beach holiday with night life. It is for you if you would like the idea of a tropical island escape with minimum connection possible to the outside world.

Tioman Island is a very popular destinations for Singaporeans and Singapore expats. It is relatively near Singapore. Even if you do not live in Singapore but you will have a relatively longer vacation in Singapore or a long business trip, pay a visit to Tioman.

Although it is relatively closed to Singapore, going to Tioman Island from Singapore by bus plus ferry takes a lot of time. By MRT go to the Woodlands MRT station and take a bus from Woodlands to JB (Johor Bahru). When you take this bus you need to leave it twice once in Singapore customs and then in Malaysian customs. Same bus takes you to Johor bus station. People shouting "KL (Kuala Lumpur), KL", "Mersing, Mersing" will surround you there. You will head to Mersing and take a ferry to Tioman from this city. Do not forget to ask does the bus drops you in the jetty going to Tioman.

Bus ticket is highly negotiable. It costs around 20-30 ringit with negotiation and a bus can take you to Mersing in around 3 hours. You can also take a taxi to there. Do not forget to negotiate in advance. They start from 180 ringit for 3 pax and can go down to 110 ringit. For a single person the asking prices is around 130, try to negotiate down to 80 ringit.

Tioman island map, Malaysia

Map of Tioman Island - Photo from

My wife and I chose to buy a Tioman tour package last month and went to Tioman from Singapore by bus and ferry. The tour has an advantage that they arrange your bus to Mersing and book everything in advance. But it does not necessarily mean that you travel with a group.

Going to Tioman Island by bus plus ferry is not a very good idea. You expect a short travel from Singapore to Tioman but it is long and tiring. As I have mentioned Tioman is known to be near Singapore but actually it took a long and tiring 7 hours to arrive to our Tioman resort from Singapore. Taking a flight from Singapore to Tioman is a better alternative to go from Singapore to Tioman. Berjaya-air operates 48 seat Dash-7 turboprop flights to Tioman from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore daily peak season and several times a week during the monsoon season. It is a 35 minutes and costs around 160 SGD per person for a round trip. Next time we will choose to fly.

We were warned that it is difficult to exhange money on the island so we have exchanged Singapore Dollars to Malaysian Ringgits in JB. I am sure if you really need it they would except SGD but we prefered to use a market currency exchange rate so bought our ringgits on our way to Tioman.

We have stayed in a resort named Panuba Inn which is located at a very small kampong about 200 metres north of Air Batang village. This resort is the second last ferry stop so it takes some time to reach it. For about 50 USD per night we have got a room with en-suite, air con, kettle (but no tea or coffee) breakfast, and a spectacular view from a balcony that just hangs over the ocean (see the photos below)!

Panuba Inn Resort Tioman Island, Malaysia
Panuba Inn at Tioman Island - © Asia Singapore blog

Panuba Inn has a 100 meter beach which is great for swimming at the top half of the tide, and a huge home reef for snorkling. The restaurant food is ok and service is good. There is a large dive shop named Bali Hai on the jetty and a variety of diving craft moored in the vicinity. They offer the usual programs including night dives on the home reef from the jetty.

Panuba Inn Resort jetty from Super Durian room, Tioman - Malaysia
View from Panuba Inn Resort - Tioman Island Super Durian room - © Asia Singapore blog

Snorkeling is fantastic in front of the hotel and the cheapest alternative to any activity in Tioman. There are several activities you can do in Tioman and most of the hotels have access to these activities. We have joined a speed boat trip to Tulai Island for snorkeling. Reefs there are fantastic! The trip ended in Salang Village where we had a chance to lunch and then go back to Panuba Village.

Enough for advertisement. There were two problem we had with this resort and thay are important problems. The first room reserved for us was very dirty and smelly. Our request to change the room is immediately honored. The second room was clean except the pillows. Although pillow covers were clean, the pillows inside were very dirty and smelly. We have requested to change the pillows but they did it 2 days later which made us to sleep without them. Although I honestly think our experience was an exception and the hotel staff were very helpful, this was a really annoying problem.

Second problem is that they do not have proper lockers. We had to put our passports and money into a steel box which is locked by the receptionist into her locker! It is always a bad idea to leave any important belonging in a Malaysian hotel room but this also did not feel safe. Anyway, later we have seen that it was still better than taking our money to diving. 2 Malaysian couples who went to diving with us later told us that some but not all of their money were missing from their bags while we were diving. The bags stayed in the boat with boat driver and he begged them to not report to the hotel otherwise he would loose his job (he told them he did not get any money). But the bags were left to him, even if he did not get the money, he was responsible to look after them. One couple lost 100 USD, another 50 SGD! Next time I will check what kind of lockers the hotel provides.

Tioman Island is a relatively undeveloped island so trekking and sea taxi as well as ferry are the only means to get around. Many resorts in Tioman have their own boat which can be rented on an hourly or per day basis.

Next time in Tioman we will try Berjaya Tioman Beach Golf & Spa Resort about which we have heard good things. A friend of mine went to stay there for a weekend escape from Singapore. He paid more money then we did to our Tioman tour package from Singapore. This was even he provided his own transport to Tioman.

Below is a photo from the first beach on Pulau Tulai ,we have visited by speed boat. You can see the main island of Tioman in the background. The reef was OK, the white sand on the beach and crystal clear water were just great. This place is just an overheated paradise.     

Tioman from Tulai island, Malaysia
 Tioman Island from Tulai Island (Pulau Tulai) - © Asia Singapore blog

Below is another photo from the Tulai Island. The reef and fish population here is the best around Tioman. Do not forget to bring a large bag of bread because the fish around the reef can be hand fed while snorkeling.
Tulai island tour photo, Tioman - Malaysia
Pulau Tulai - © Asia Singapore blog.

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