How to Pay Lower Maintenance Fees for a Condo Unit
August 24, 2020
One of the biggest differences between a condo and a HDB flat is maintenance fees. If you’re a home owner upgrading from a flat to a condo, it’s important to include this in your budget. If you’re an investor, you must take into consideration the effect it has on your rental yield, or eventual resale gains. In this article, I’ll explain a little about maintenance fees and how to keep their costs down:
What are condo maintenance fees?
Owners of condo units are required to contribute to the upkeep of the overall development. This is done through maintenance fees – often collected on a quarterly basis – by the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) of the condo.
Condo maintenance fees vary greatly between developments. They can be as affordable as $250 a month, to well over $2,000 a month (but that’s usually for luxury condos with concierge services, private lifts etc).
Maintenance fees are also not the same for every condo unit. In general, the larger the unit, the higher the maintenance fees you’re liable to pay; I will explain more of this below.
As maintenance fees are a significant cost over time, it’s important to factor them in when you’re working out your rental yield, potential gains, etc.
Sometimes the lower maintenance fees of an older resale property can give it an edge over new launches; or some buyers may find a landed property to be ultimately preferable, as the upkeep is less than paying the maintenance fees over a few decades.
Consider condos that don’t offer the full suite of facilities
Attend the AGM and vote
1. Take note of the unit’s share value
Every condo unit is assigned a share value. The share value is used to gauge how much you pay in maintenance fees, and it increases with the size of your unit.
For example, if your unit is given a share value of 7 / 500, this means there’s a total share value of 500 in the whole development, and your unit is allotted seven share value.
Share values increase based on your unit’s size. For example:
50 square metres and below = 5
51 to 100 square metres = 6
101 to 150 square metres = 7
And so forth. Every 50 square metres will increase your share value by one. Note that this means picking a slightly smaller unit (e.g. 97 square metres instead of 102 square metres) can result in having a lower share value, and slightly lower maintenance fees.
On the other hand, there’s more efficiency if you buy larger units. For example, a 100 square metre unit is twice as large as a 50 square metre unit, but the share value is only higher by one.
2. Never fall into arrears
Maintenance fees are not like HDB conservancy charges, where you’ll simply get reminders if you forget to pay. Most MCSTs will impose interest, if you fail to pay within 30 days – this is a substantial amount, around 18 per cent per annum for most condos.
(By contrast, a personal loan from a bank averages six to nine per cent interest.)
If you’re in arrears for a long time (e.g. six months), the MCST can issue a letter of demand, and subsequently a fine of up to $10,000. As such, you should never be in arrears on your maintenance fees, as doing so will result in paying even more money.
3. Look for larger developments
Boutique developments are well regarded for their exclusivity and privacy; such as Van Holland with only 70 units, or Killiney 118 with only 30 units. However, boutique developments are not for every buyer; and they are definitely not for buyers who want lower maintenance fees.
This is because boutique developments have fewer units among which to spread the cost. A huge development like Parc Esta, for example, has around 1,400 units sharing the maintenance costs; so they can be much lower even though they have more facilities.
Note that this isn’t to say boutique developments are somehow bad. For example, if you rent them out, the higher rental income for such exclusive units may more than cover the maintenance fees. It’s just that you have to pay more attention to maintenance fees as a cost, when investing in such properties.
4. Consider condos that don’t offer the full suite of facilities
The more facilities you enjoy, the higher the maintenance fees tend to be. This means that in some condo developments, which don’t offer a full suite of facilities (e.g. there may be no swimming pool or gym), the maintenance fees are lower.
The most famous example of this is People’s Park Complex; the maintenance fee can be as low as $100 a month. But there isn’t a nice gym or clubhouse, and even parking is not included.
(Don’t laugh at People’s Park Complex though – its architects were highly original in their time, and it’s the first ever mixed-use development in Singapore’s history).
You may also find lower maintenance fees in older walk-up apartments, as these typically don’t have condo-style facilities. These are favourites among some thrifty home buyers, who are more focused on higher square footage and lower costs.
In any case, do contact me if you’re looking for properties beyond the typical condo; I can probably find something that fits your needs.
5. Attend the AGM and vote
At the condo’s Annual General Meeting, they will often bring up issues such as the sinking fund, the need to switch service providers, upgrading attempts, etc.
Many of the decisions made at AGMs can impact the overall maintenance fees; so if you want to keep them low, it’s a good idea to take part and have your say.
Like any democratic process however, you may not always get things your way!
Do ask about maintenance fees when comparing between properties
This is one of the most commonly overlooked factors. Sometimes, two condo units can be similar in almost every respect; but the one with the lower maintenance fees will represent better value.