Once you’ve decided on the kind of business you wish to pursue, you should start thinking about the place at which you want to base your operations. Before rushing into signing that office lease agreement, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need to rent a place immediately?
  • What options are there other than renting a traditional office?
  • Do I need to rent a place in the long term when I expand my team?
  • What premises are most suitable for my needs?
  • How much will renting a place going to cost me annually? Can I afford it?

In this Office & Retail Spaces In Singapore series, we’ll explore the various options available for your business operations, ranging from home office (including HDB flats), virtual office, HDB retail and office space to light industrial premises.

Copywriting for HDB commercial spaces in Singapore

What Types Of HDB Retail & Office Spaces Are Available?

Many of us think of the Housing & Development Board (HDB) as a builder of affordable residential homes. However, they also manage a substantial number of commercial and industrial units in Singapore. According to data.gov.sg, there are 17,771 commercial units in 2018 and 11,184 industrial units in 2017 under the management of the HDB. Here’s a breakdown of these units:

(a) Commercial Properties under HDB Management

Type of Commercial PropertyNo. of Units in 2018
Kiosk & Shoplets678
Eating Establishments930
Supermarkets & Emporiums295
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs)147
Civil Defence Shelters370
Radio Equipment Rooms150

(b) Industrial Properties under HDB Management

Type of Industrial PropertyNo. of Units in 2017
Terrace Workshops2,328
Industrial Workshops/Shops4,883
Flatted/Ramped-up Factories /  Industrial Complexes3,116
Prototype Factories203
Canteens/Eating Houses/Cafeteria45
Land Leases520

See those tuition centres, beauty salons, provision shops, dentists, clinics and other small retail shops on the ground floor of HDB flats or town centres? HDB manages those, and depending on the location, the rents of some of the units are highly affordable, especially for small or first-time businesses.

Let’s break down the types of commercial properties further.

(1) New Generation Neighbourhood Centres (NGNCs)

Built in newer HDB estates such as Punggol, Sembawang and Hougang, NGNCs’s commercial spaces are designed for supermarkets, food courts, restaurants, enrichment schools and retail shops. NGNCs are also directly connected to transport nodes, such as an MRT/ LRT station or bus stops and linked to the surrounding residential blocks via covered walkways and pedestrian thoroughfares. Some of these NGNCs include:

  • Northshore Plaza in Punggol
  • Canberra Plaza in Sembawang
  • Buangkok Square in Hougang
  • Oasis Terraces in Punggol

To rent these spaces, you’ll need to submit a tender via the HDB’s website. Past successful tenderers paid between $3,000 and $10,000 per month for a unit (depending on the size and location). The larger units, such as those reserved for supermarket, can go beyond $100,000 per month.

(2) Other Commercial Units

HDB also has plenty of commercial units in older HDB estates. These include shops with or without living quarters, offices, Civil Defence Shelters, eating houses, minimarts and supermarkets. There are also HDB shopping and office complexes, including:

(3) Other Retail Spaces

Here’s a little known fact – you can actually rent retail spaces in HDB malls or bus terminals for events, roadshows, pop-ups and others. Spaces available include:

Malls – Concourse spaces at HDB Hub Mall (next to Toa Payoh MRT station and bus interchange), Dawson Place (Queenstown) and Kitchen Complex (above Lavender MRT station)

Bus Terminals – Bishan and Bukit Batok bus terminals

You can check the availability and e-book these spaces at HDB’s e-booking of Facilities and Space e-Service.

How Do I Rent an HDB Commercial Space?

There are three ways to rent an HDB commercial unit:

  1. Rent a unit directly from HDB;
  2. Rent a unit from HDB’s Marketing Agent; or
  3. Rent a unit from the open market.

(1) Renting Directly From HDB

To rent directly from the HDB, you have to e-bid through the website Place2Lease. You can see the latest list of units available at “View Properties”, including details such as the unit’s address (with a map to pinpoint the exact location), usage (shop or office), floor space and the opening bid (which starts from as low as $1,000). Be sure to check the website regularly to see the latest and updated availability.

To bid for a unit, you need to have either a SingPass or a CorpPass ready. After making your bid, you can monitor it through “My Watch List” under “My Services”, or check “View Results”. You can also receive your bidding results by email or SMS. If your bid is successful, HDB will send you an official Letter of Acceptance within two weeks from the date the final bidding results are published on Place2Lease.

(2) Renting Units Let By HDB’s Marketing Agent

Certain commercial units are only let by HDB’s marketing agents. You can check the various units available on the HDB’s website, although you need to contact the marketing agent to find out the specific tender procedure. Like above, if you have successfully bid for a unit, you’ll receive an official notification within two weeks from the date the final bidding results are published.

(3) Renting From The Open Market (HDB’s Tenants/Owners)

Of course, the property rental market is always there if you can’t find anything suitable from HDB or their marketing agents. Here, you can either rent a unit from HDB’s tenants or shop owners or take over an HDB commercial unit from an existing tenant.

HDB tenants are allowed to rent out up to 50% of the trading area or living quarters (for residential use), but each shop is limited to only one subtenant. This is, however, subject to HDB’s approval, and your business activities must be an allowable trade within the premises (for example, if the unit is only for office use, you can’t use it for any other business activity).

For retail shops, both the tenant and you (the subtenant) should be sharing the shop frontage, and your trade must not duplicate the businesses that are already available in the same cluster of shops.

If you wish to rent an entire commercial space from the open market, you can only look for HDB sold shops. Owners can rent out their whole shop to you, provided you operate the approved retail/service trades. No application to or approval from HDB is required since this is purely a rental transaction between the shop owner and you unless it involves a change in the use class of trade. In this case, consent from the HDB is needed and has to be obtained before applying to the other relevant authorities, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, for approval. While the onus is on the owner to get the necessary permission, you need to make sure this is done. After all, you don’t want to have to move after spending a fortune on the renovation!

What Are the Requirements?

There are certain documents to prepare and requirements to take note of if you’re renting directly from HDB or its marketing agent. Before you execute your Tenancy Agreement and collect your keys and floor plan, you need to:

  • Register your business with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). (For more information on how to register your business, please read our article here.)
  • Prepare the following documents for submission:
    • For Partnership: (1) Identity cards/passports of all partners, and (2) a letter indicating the share percentage and appointment of one partner to sign the Tenancy Agreement (all partners must sign this letter);
    • For Registered Company: (1) Company’s Resolution authorising a representative to sign the Tenancy Agreement; (2) Identity card of the representative; (3) Deed of Guarantee to be duly executed by one guarantor; (4) Company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association and (5) a copy of the company information from ACRA.
  • Make payments for:
    • 1 month’s rental, including GST;
    • 1 month’s deposit;
    • Stamp fees; and
    • First month’s service and conservancy charges, including GST.

About the Writer:

Judy Tham is a writer and founder of One Elephant, a copywriting firm in Singapore. She co-authored Are You Brand Dead?, one of the few books on branding in Asia that focuses on SMEs.