Developers here have been warned to be careful when marketing properties as "small office home office", or Soho units.
They should make it clear to buyers that the term Soho does not refer to any official planning status, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in a circular yesterday.
Units marketed as Soho have planning permission for either residential or office use, but not for both, the URA said.
It issued the circular to professional institutes, including the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, after receiving feedback on the issue.
When "Soho" is used in marketing, it usually refers either to small offices, or homes with design elements such as high ceilings aimed at buyers who may work from home.
It is more often used to refer to residential units rather than office ones, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of real estate agency Century21.
But as for what exactly a Soho residential unit allows, "the market has been confused for a while already", he said.
Many employees may legitimately do some work from home. What is not usually allowed is running a business out of a home.
Small-scale businesses can be run out of homes only if owners register for the "home-office scheme".
The business must meet guidelines such as not hiring more than two foreign employees.
The URA strongly urged developers to insert a clause stating the approved use of the property in the Sale and Purchase Agreement.
As for all office properties - even if marketed as Soho units - they are not meant for residential use.
Developers should not give a different impression, and "should refrain from using the term 'Soho' for office developments in any of their advertisements".
Far East Organization said it is not marketing any commercial developments under its dedicated 'SO/HO' brand at the moment.
"We support the greater clarity on the use of the 'SOHO' term as set out in the latest circular by the URA," said executive director of property services Chng Kiong Huat.
He added that Far East has "made it a point to highlight" that buyers must comply with regulations if they want to use their residential unit as a home-office.
A call for such clarity was made in April when Mr Daniel Choy wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page, saying the term 'Soho' confuses potential buyers.
His job as a real estate agent is made harder by such confusion, he told The Straits Times yesterday.
He would like developers to be barred from using the term.
Mr Ku sees the circular as aiming "to make our developers a little more disciplined" and raise awareness among agents. But he doubts it will clear the air: "I think the confusion will still go on because there aren't any real punitive measures."
The URA also said developers should "provide estate agents with accurate information".
Regardless of how projects are marketed, agents should be clear on the facts, said Mr Jeffhery Foo, president of the Institute of Estate Agents, Singapore: "There is an onus on us to make such clarifications upfront."