This article was contributed to us by Julia Chan and June Lim. Perspectives shared in this article are their own.
More than 80% of Singapore’s population live in HDB flats, with about 90% owning their own homes, but many of us may not be familiar with the answers to housing issues.
Here are some common questions which we attempted to find the answers to.
#1 Are Singaporeans HDB Homeowners Or Merely Tenants?
With HDB leases of up to 99 years, there has been much debate over whether we really own our HDBs or are simply long-term renters.
HDB homeowners do have clear privileges over mere tenants, adapted and summarised from this DollarsAndSense article on HDB Home Ownership in the table below.
|HDB Owner||HDB Tenant / Renter|
|Having a roof over your head||Owners can stay in your home, without having to pay a rent for it
|Tenants have no guarantee of being able to rent the home from the landlord.|
|Ability to rent out HDB||Owners can rent out a bedroom, or your whole flat (if you meet the Minimum Occupation Period).||Tenants cannot rent out the flat to others.|
|Payments||Based on loan amount and period. Once owners have finished paying your mortgage, you’re housing-loan-free!||Tenants have no guarantee of rental price. The landlord can choose to increase the rent as and when he/she wants to.|
|Grants & Subsidies||Owners can tap on various CPF housing grants and subsidies for your HDB.||Tenants do not have access to these grants and subsidies.|
|Inheritance or sale||Owners can pass the HDB down as an asset or sell it.||Tenants cannot pass HDB down or sell to others.|
|Profiting from HDB||Owners could profit from selling their HDB.||Tenants cannot profit financially from HDB (as you cannot rent the flat to others).|
|Monetising your HDB||Owners can tap on the Lease Buyback Scheme, Silver Housing Bonus or renting.||Tenants cannot access these options to monetise the rented HDB.|
|Bankruptcy||Your HDB (and CPF) is protected from your creditors.||Your cash will be used to repay your debts and you may need to find a new place with cheaper rental.|
So, while we have limited 99-year leases on our HDB flat, we get to enjoy the many privileges of home ownership that tenants do not. This includes being able to monetise our HDBs or pocket the profits from selling them.
#2 Are HDB Flats Getting Smaller And More Expensive?
According to HDB, “The typical HDB flat today is indeed smaller in size than what it was 20 or 30 years ago. However, it has remained constant in size for the last 15 years, since 1997.”.
HDB flats are smaller now due to increasing land constraints. With our tiny red dot being home to an increasing population, Singapore faces land scarcity. But despite having significantly less land than Hong Kong, Singapore has more land set aside for residential purposes and also managed to ensure over 80% of the resident population are living in public housing.
Source: Hong Kong Planning Department, MND
This success is due to several factors, such as our public housing policy of providing affordable, quality homes, with universal homeownership as an overarching policy principle, and the disbursement of grants and subsidies which reduce the costs of home ownership.
Another perspective to this question is looking at the living space per person, which has increased across the board from 1980s to 2000s. So even though HDBs have generally decreased in size, on average we have more space per person.
Source: ST Graphics
Our median monthly incomes have also risen over the decades, which helps us afford our HDB flats.
Source: MOM Graphic
Although HDBs are smaller and more expensive due to land constraints and inflation, we do have more living space per person and HDB flats are more affordable due to higher median monthly incomes.
#3 How Do We Unlock The Value Of Our HDB Flats When We Get Older?
When we get older, we may need some cash for our retirement. We have a few ways to unlock the value of our flats.
As the leases of our HDB flats run out, the government has also announced schemes like the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), which gives us the opportunity to move to a new home with a new 99-year lease, and Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS), where the government will buy back older flats before the 99-year leases run out and compensate residents for the remaining lease so they can buy new flats with the proceeds if the majority of residents of the estate vote for it.
Source ST Graphics
To help preserve the habitability of our flats and estates as they get older (and retain its value), there are also other schemes like:
– Home Improvement Programme (HIP) – to resolve common maintenance problems and make our flats more elderly-friendly
– Home Improvement Programme II (HIP II) – to upgrade flats which are 60 to 70 years old
– Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) – to upgrade our lifts and give us access on every floor
– Lift Enhancement Programme (LEP) – to modernise our existing lifts for better safety
– Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) – to enhance our common and community areas
In short, there are several options to unlock the value of our HDB flats before our lease runs out, and enjoy better quality of life as upgrades to our estate happen.
#4 Why Do We Have The BTO System Instead Of Just Buying HDB Flats When They Are Nearing Completion?
In 1997, before the Build-To-Order system was launched, the Asian Financial Crisis struck and demand for HDBs fell sharply. This left the HDB with 31,000 unsold units that took more than five years to sell.
When the BTO system was launched in 2001, buyers benefited from knowing the flat’s completion date, exact location of their flat and other detailed information which enabled them to decide if they wanted to take part in that particular BTO exercise.
If a BTO site demand exceeded 70%, HDB would know there is sufficient interest for this project and could start construction with the assurance of committed buyers, which reduces wastage of public funds and lessens the risk of unsold units.
Aspiring homeowners who prefer not to wait for BTOs can also buy HDB flats nearing completion via the Sale of Balance Flats, Re-Offer of Balance Flats, and Open Booking of Flats.
With the BTO system, buyers are better off knowing where they will be staying and how much to save in advance. However buyers also have the option of buying flats which are nearing completion or via the resale market if they need a flat soon.
Editor’s Note: If you had one question you’d like ask HDB, what would it be? Let us know at [email protected]!
Julia Chan is a working mother who intends to survive till she can retire and travel around the world. She likes to explore diverse perspectives and uncover hidden treasures on her blog Jules the Traveller.