Tell someone you’re renting a place without plans of marriage in this day and age, and chances are, they won’t even bat an eyelid. After all, the Gen Z wave has brought along with it an undeniable desire for independence that can only be attained by breaking free from the family nest and having your own crib.
For Frank, however, the call to move out of his family home almost 2 decades ago wasn’t his, but his parents’. At the age of 18, he packed up and left. After renting for 15 long years, here’s some advice he has for young ones fleeing the coop.
Growing up with parents with Western ideologies
While most Asian parents are more than happy to house their children past the age of 25, Frank found himself gearing up for a life of renting at the mere age of 17.
Having an American mother and a very Westernised Singaporean father who had spent most of his life overseas, Frank was told at an early age that he’d have to forge his own path in the world when he reached 18 – the same way most teenagers do in Western countries.
His family was well to do, but his parents were extremely strict about money, not once giving him more pocket money than he needed growing up. They didn’t have many concerns about the steadily rising cost of living in Singapore, and naturally assumed that he’d be able to support himself once he got a part-time job.
Moving out at 18 while in NS and struggling to make ends meet
With absolutely no way to afford purchasing a home of his own and little knowledge of the rental climate in Singapore at the time, Frank found himself on the internet googling “cheap rental flats”. His first rental unit was a simple 2-bedroom HDB in Holland. At the time, he’d managed to secure a part-time job as a retail assistant in the area and was excited about the prospect of finally having his own place without having to abide by any house rules.
The first few months of renting came as a shock to him as he had to learn how to sort out his daily meals, manage the general upkeep of the home and basically learn how to adult. The house was pretty bare, so it did cost him a couple of hundred dollars stocking up on home appliances and necessities such as a microwave and washing machine.
There was an influx of bills to pay, and he was learning the hard way that he’d have to dig into his savings to cover rent and utilities as his part-time pay just wasn’t enough.
Subletting rooms as a way to earn money
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Image adapted from: iRoommates
Out of desperation, Frank turned to forums and other websites advertising for roommates as a solution to his cash flow problem. And while it seemed like a great solution, subletting rooms in a rental flat was 100% illegal. His only other option was to move to a condo or landed home.
Once his HDB lease was up, he made the move to a private condo unit and successfully managed to find a roommate but living with strangers brought its own set of problems.
There were disagreements about how the utilities were split, who would do the chores and considerable noise levels in the house. Some of these disagreements resulted in people leaving in a huff and him scrambling to find replacement roommates in time to pay the rent.
It wasn’t until Frank graduated from university that he managed to secure a full-time job with a decent pay grade. Having learnt to live with roommates for the past couple of years, he also made the decision to rent a landed house in the same area and sublet the extra rooms to 4 additional tenants to help him cover rental costs.
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Image credit: Singapore Land Authority – SLA
Using this strategy, Frank did manage to pocket some extra money each month, but after a couple of years, he grew to dislike living with too many people and home started to feel more like a hostel than a peaceful sanctuary.
Facing unforeseen costs and inconveniences along the way
While Frank had fully planned for the monthly rental and utilities, there were other obstacles that popped up along the way that caused him a great deal of stress and money. For one, rental contracts usually span a period of 1-2 years, so he found himself at the mercy of his landlords’ plans and constantly having to find a new place to live in.
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Image credit: Christian Chen on Unsplash
There were moving and labour costs for all the furniture and appliances he’d accumulated over the years, the cleaning costs before returning the keys, and even unscrupulous landlords who wouldn’t return any of the security deposit citing “repair work” even though the condition of the unit at the end of the lease term.
More than $180,000 spent on rent and utilities over 15 years
Frank had pretty much grown into the rental life, and it wasn’t until he proposed to his partner that he started to think about buying a place of his own. While searching for resale flats that could potentially be their forever home, he was hit by the hard realisation that he had spent over $180,000 in rental and utilities over the years.
If he’d had the choice and the luxury of living with his parents until marriage, he would’ve been able to save that money and put it towards the downpayment of his own home instead.
Learning lessons after 15 years of renting
After living independently for over 15 years, Frank, on the cusp of turning 40, reveals that he has more regrets about his rental journey and wishes that in an alternate reality, things would’ve been different. He shares that living at home with your parents, sheltered from most of the heavy costs that come with independence, is a luxury most younger ones take for granted.
Frank wishes that his parents had been more understanding of the harsh realities of living alone as a young adult, fresh in the corporate world. While the ideologies of parents are definitely not shared by many Singaporean parents at any point in time, it is the young Singaporeans who are eager to gain rightful independence living away from their parents.
Frank cautions younger Singaporeans to weigh the pros and cons of renting and their long-term housing plans before making the decision to leave home. The prospect of having your own place without the incessant nagging of your folks might seem exciting, but living on your own does come with its own set of responsibilities and costs, which might work against you in the long run.
Tips for those looking to rent
Prioritise your bills, leisurely spending comes second
Renting practically unlocks the status of “full-fledged adult”, and you can expect to pay around $100 and more per month for utilities – especially if you’re fond of sleeping with the air-conditioning on at night. It’s smart to set aside more than enough for rental and utilities each month, groceries and necessities come next. If you were one to dine out a lot before renting, you might want to consider minimising social outings in a month to spend within your means.
It’s great practice to pay with a debit card, rather than a credit card unless you have amazing self-control. That way, you’ll be able to keep a tight watch over your expenditure, be it on groceries or shopping.
Rent a place close to your workplace
While some people are happy to prioritise a centrally located rental unit over one that’s closer to their workplace, living further away from your office can mean high travel expenses – both from taking public transport and taxi rides when you’re running late or just lazy to make the long journey home.
Find like-minded individuals to room with
Rather than just posting an ad online in search of a roommate, Frank recommends looking for people who are in similar life stages as you – and better if your interests align. Imagine having a roommate who works as a bartender and comes home in the wee hours of the morning, while you’re trying to catch up on precious sleep for the 9-6 grind.
Interview potential roommates, ask tons of questions about hobbies, daily schedules and habits. This will help you get a better idea of what living with this person will be like.
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