7 smart ways to find condos with lower maintenance fees

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Living in a condo is an aspiration for many people in Singapore. But sometimes, you can be too caught up with the actual price of it - and forget about the costs that you'll have to pay each month as well.

One of which is the monthly maintenance fee.

Most condo owners fork out about $300 to $400 a month, but this amount can easily be in the thousands for higher-end projects. This isn't just a pain for homeowners; it eats into a landlord's net rental yield.

Even worse, maintenance fees can be unpredictable - in some projects, the monthly fees may even increase in the future.

And these costs can really add up. For example, at a $400 maintenance fee, this would total up to $96,000 over a period of 20 years. That's a nice chunk of change.

As such, if monthly costs are something that is on your mind, here are some ways you can spot developments that may have lower fees:

1. Look for projects with a higher unit count

The bigger the project, the lower the maintenance cost tends to be. This is due to the sheer volume of homes sharing the cost. The most apt example of this would be mega-developments, where there are at least 1,000+ units.

Treasure at Tampines, currently the biggest condo project in Singapore at 2,203 units, has some of the lowest maintenance costs we've seen to date. The smallest units (one-bedders) have fees of about $150 to $165 per month, whilst the larger five-bedders are still as low as $240 to $264. 

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Compare this to a typical mid-sized development like Penrose, with 566 units. The units of 560 to 1,066 sq ft have maintenance fees of around $331 per month, with larger units reaching about $387 per month. 

For smaller projects of 100 to 200 units, this can be even higher. For example, at the 134 unit Robin Residences, a two bedroom unit can have a monthly maintenance fee of more than $400.

Mind you, we're not saying it's always true that bigger developments will have lower maintenance costs; a lot depends on the nature of the facilities. But in general, having more homes to bear the costs should keep the fees lower.

This also means that, if you intend to buy a boutique condo (e.g., 50 units or less), the price of exclusivity will almost always include higher maintenance fees.

2. Mixed-use developments may have lower maintenance fees, for the residential component

In point 1, we said smaller developments may have higher costs. So Midtown Bay may come as a surprise: despite being small at just 160 units, maintenance fees for its three-bedders can be at around $500, which is decent considering the number of units.

The reason is likely due to the project's commercial component: Midtown also includes office space, eateries, and shops - and it's possible for the commercial side to bear more of the maintenance than the residential units. Typically, city centre condos today also don't usually come with a car park lot - you'd have to factor in additional costs if you drive (see the next point).

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That said, this is far from universal. The sister development of Midtown Bay, Midtown Modern, is also mixed-use; but even its one-bedders have fees of around $327, while its four bedders go up to around $436. 

It's worth querying, for mixed-use developments, if the commercial component will be shouldering most of the cost. 

3. Go for condos with smaller car parks

Marina One Residences has surprisingly low maintenance fees, for a prime location condo. Its three-bedder units have fees of about $372 per month, while smaller units at around $324. This would be considered average for most mass-market condos; but unusually affordable for a District one, CBD-area project.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Part of the reason is that Marina One doesn't provide one car park lot per unit (the other two reasons are the commercial component, and large unit count of 1,042 units; as discussed above). 

Another famous example of this is the People's Park Complex. This project has one of the lowest maintenance fees of any private property ever, as low as $100 per month for some units. The catch? Well, apart from fewer amenities (this is an apartment, see below), the maintenance excludes parking altogether. 

Note that, as of 2019, LTA has allowed projects in some central areas, or near MRT stations, to have smaller car parks. This can help to reduce maintenance fees, and you won't feel the drawback if you don't drive anyway. 

4. Look for pure apartments only

Examples of these would be Lucky Plaza Apartments, Sin Ming Plaza, and the aforementioned People's Park Complex. These residences either don't have full suite condo facilities (e.g., no full-length pools or tennis courts), or no common facilities at all. Another thing to look out for is not having onsite security, as this can often be a big contributing cost.

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This makes it possible for maintenance fees to be much lower; and on average they can fall to as low as $200 a month (with some exceptions; old ones with very large units may still rack up high maintenance, due to share values). 

If you consider walk-up apartments a viable alternative to condos, these can also have maintenance fees of around $200 or under. This is, again, due to the lack of common facilities, and there being no elevators to maintain. 

5. Look for condos where the unit size falls just under the next share value category

The maintenance fee is determined by share value. So if the fee is $75 per share value, for example, and a unit's share value is five, the monthly maintenance would be $375. 

The share value starts at five, for units of 50 sqm or below. This increases by one for every 50 sqm. So a unit with 51 sqm through to 100 sqm., for instance, would have a share value of six. 

Now each project has its own mix of units of different sizes - but sometimes, you'll find a project where a desired unit size falls just under the next rise in share values. For example, you might find all the three-bedders are exactly 100 sqm, whereas in another they're slightly over (e.g., 103 sqm). 

For example, at the recently launched Amo Residence, here's the maintenance fee structure:

Unit type Size No. of units Est maintenance
Two bedroom 614 – 678 sqft 92 $414
Two bedroom premium 743 sqft 92 $414
Three bedroom 958 sqft 47 $414
Three bedroom + study 1,044 sqft 47 $414
Three bedroom premium + study 1,141 / 1,367 sqft 24 $483
Four bedroom 1,292 sqft 45 $483
Five bedroom  1,475 sqft 22 $483
Penthouse 2,293 sqft Two $552
Penthouse 2,497 sqft One $621

From here, the smaller three bedroom units do represent better value from a monthly maintenance standpoint.

Note that the share value is not determined by the MCST, it's always worked out by the Commissioner of Buildings (COB). 

Reducing your share value by one can knock off a small amount of your monthly maintenance; at the time of writing, many mass-market condos have fees of around $70 to $75 per share value. 

This isn't a huge amount, but remember it all adds up over time; and if the two condos you're comparing are neck-and-neck, this could be one of the tie-breakers. 

6. Examine the nature of the facilities

The biggest determinant of maintenance fees is the types of facilities available. The fewer the facilities, the lower the cost (as is the case with apartments, in point 4). 

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While the pool, gym, and clubhouse are standard, look out for the following facilities which tend to cost a bomb:

Concierge services, which are usually only for luxury condos - it's impressive that your front desk can arrange for a restaurant reservation, but consider if you really need to be paying for this 

Unusual facilities like bowling alleys and rock-climbing walls. These are innovative for sure, but the cost of maintaining them is seldom cheap; and how long will the novelty keep you entertained? 

Private elevators, or rare elevators like the sort used for vehicles. 

Multiple large pools, or exotic theme pools. If you see faux waterfalls, beaches, and other elaborate pools, there's a good chance they'll take up a bigger chunk of the maintenance budget. 

If you're not big on condo facilities, choosing a simpler development will usually lower maintenance fees. 

7. Condos built around 2019 or later may be more cost-effective, in terms of maintenance

This is due to initiatives by BCA to improve our built environment, and the implementation of systems like MIDAS scores. 

Prior to this effort, there was a greater divide between the developers, and later maintenance. To generalise a little, developers were inclined to make projects highly marketable, rather than being concerned with future maintenance costs. 

This meant facades that used excessive power to light up (often for no reason other than looking majestic at night), elaborate floor-to-ceiling windows that are costly to maintain, or ventilation systems that are so inaccessible, that special equipment is needed just for monthly cleaning. 

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But BCA's efforts in the past few years - which include the Green Mark award for sustainability - have changed things a bit. Developers are better incentivised to build with downstream maintenance in mind, and that can mean that more recent projects have easier upkeep compared to older ones.

 Projects like Jervois Mansion come to mind, which include the addition of solar panels and smart energy systems for common facilities, extensive roof gardens to dissipate heat, and an automatic water irrigation system with rain sensors.

This is definitely worth considering before you buy an older project. 

ALSO READ: Condo maintenance fees and unit sizes: How much is too much?

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.