• A Solicitor’s Advice to Singapore Property Buyers: By Eben Ong

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    solicitor-singapore

    Buying property in a transparent market like Singapore’s is a relatively easy task.

    But even if the buying process is straightforward, it’s important that you seek help from a Solicitor that understands the conveyancing process and foreign ownership regulations in and out.

    Today, I have Eben Ong with me from Loh Eben Ong LLP, a reputable Singaporean law firm that works in a wide range of areas, providing services in Conveyancing & Property, Trademark, Deed Poll and more.

    The firm was established in 1994 and has a long experience of helping foreigners buying property in Singapore.

    Thanks for having you here Eben. First, can you please tell us more about yourself and your current business in Singapore?

    I am a practicing lawyer in Singapore, and one of the founding partners of LOH EBEN ONG LLP, a boutique law practice in Singapore.

    Our law practice has an established real estate legal practice for more than 20 years. More information about our law practice can be found on our website (see link above).

    It gets increasingly popular for Singaporeans, and many other foreign buyers, to look for information themselves, relying less on services from agents. Is this something you’ve noticed while working in Singapore? How do you think the real estate industry will change in the coming years?

    With more property websites and mobile apps being available in Singapore, prospective buyers are increasingly searching for properties online in addition to classifieds in newspapers.

    As most of these online advertisements are put up by estate agents, and sometimes one property advertisement appears in multiple property platforms, prospective buyers will still have to contact the estate agents to arrange for viewings, negotiation, etc.

    At the moment, I believe the role of estate agents is still strong in Singapore. There are some websites and mobile apps (past and present) that may enable sellers of properties to put up their own advertisements, but I don’t think that they still not very popular yet, but things may change in the near future.

    For example, Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB) is simplifying the resale process of HDB flats (public housing flats) for buyers and sellers, and this may increase the trend of direct liaison between sellers and buyers of HDB flats in the near future, and hence reducing the reliance on estate agents for HDB flats in the future. The question is to what extent.

    In the private property scene, at the moment, I think there are no dominant online sites or mobile apps (“DIY” sites) as yet to disrupt the traditional role of estate agents. But I think this will definitely happen in the very near future, and DIY sites will definitely gain traction and acceptance.

    Are there any benefits to start working with a Solicitor, instead of looking for a Real estate agent? Can you help foreigners to find agents?

    Real estate agents and Conveyancing Lawyers have very different roles, although serving the same or similar clientele.

    Conveyancing Lawyers do not perform the role of estate agents, such as advertising clients’ properties for sale, providing viewing services, etc.

    We provide Conveyancing services to our clients once the real estate deal is about to close or has closed, and then the Conveyancing process will commence.

    In general, we do not assist clients to find agents. However, if foreigners requested us to recommend, we may do so out of goodwill and good faith.

    The buying process is fairly straightforward in Singapore and less risky compared to developing countries in Asia. But are there any particular issues that foreigners should beware of, before buying a property in Singapore? Any common pitfalls?

    From our experience, many foreigners have faith in the Singapore real estate market and our Conveyancing system. However, Singapore’s real estate market has a fair share of “boom and bust” over the past decades.

    Foreigners who are not familiar with purchasing properties in Singapore should engage an experienced and competent Conveyancing Lawyer in Singapore for advice, and not just based on how much a lawyer charges.

    Some of the issues that foreigners should be aware are:

    a. Type of property – foreigners cannot purchase certain types of property such as landed residential property, except with relevant government approvals

    b. Stamp duties – to curb speculations in real estate in Singapore, the Singapore Government has over the years introduced a range of stamp duties’ measures on real estate transactions, such as Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) for residential properties and Sellers’ Stamp Duty (SSD) for residential and industrial properties.

    Certain nationalities, such as Citizens of USA, may enjoy the same status as Singapore Citizens, but remission application is still required

    c. Financing – if a foreigner wishes to obtain mortgage loan financing to part-finance the purchase price, he should contact his preferred financial institution on how much loan quantum he can borrow prior to buying a property in Singapore

    Can you explain how the buying process works in general? Do foreigners find you online and then visit you in person, before making the purchase?

    Commonly, the sale and purchase of a property in Singapore commence with an Option to Purchase is granted by a seller of his property to a Purchaser for an option fee, typically at 1% of the sale price.

    There are other modes such as Sale and Purchase Agreement, Auction and Tender.

    For our foreign clients, apart from our existing clients, some may find us through our websites and mobile app or through recommendations from existing clients and our contacts.

    How can foreigners get a housing loan in Singapore and what are the general requirements? Is this something you can assist them with?

    We are solicitors and don’t usually get involved in our clients’ financing requirements unless they request our recommendation of financial institutions and we will introduce them to the bankers that we know.

    Subject to the individual’s credit ratings, we believe that foreigners can approach financial institutions in Singapore for loan financing for their property purchases.

    It’s popular among foreigners to buy off-plan property overseas. Is this something you recommend in Singapore?

    The sale of properties under construction in Singapore is well-regulated by the Singapore Government, balancing the rights of buyers and developers, but more pro-consumers.

    In my view, the purchase of off-plan properties is fairly popular with Asian buyers, especially in the boom cycles.

    Some Singaporeans look for opportunities to buy property in Johor (Malaysia), mainly due to lower prices. Johor is also predicted to grow much in the coming decade. Do you assist Singaporeans buying property in Johor, or do they need to hire a Malaysian Solicitor?

    We do not assist clients in Conveyancing matters outside Singapore, and they will need to engage a Malaysian solicitor to assist them.

    Thanks Eben. Finally, is there anything you want to tell our readers before we finish the interview?

    What I have stated above are my personal opinions and for general guidance and not meant to be legal advice.

    For any reader who wishes to purchase a real estate in Singapore, you should contact an experienced and competent Conveyancing Lawyer in Singapore to advise you based on your specific circumstances and requirements.

    Foreigners should consider the stamp duties payable prior to committing to a property purchase.

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