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Evolution Of The BTO System: 10 Changes That Singaporeans Applying For New HDB Flats Had To Adjust To

For any system to be relevant, there has to be “shifting goalposts”.

HDB BTO system

The HDB BTO system was introduced in 2001 – replacing the old Registration for Flats System (RFS) by 2002. Under the RFS, HDB ended up with an oversupply of flats in early 2000 after housing demand plunged post- Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

The BTO system can be more responsive, allowing the supply of new flats to be ramped up or scaled down based on real demand.

Over the years, there have been several tweaks to the BTO system. Here are 8 main changes we have found. If there are other changes to the scheme that you think should be included in this article, do leave us a comment on our Facebook Page!

#1 There Will Be Just 3 BTO Launches In 2024

Since BTOs were introduced on the back of an HDB oversupply, the initial launches were slightly lacklustre. Online sources start that 5 projects were cancelled.

BTO projects quickly gained traction though, and property website teoalida claims that 2 BTO projects were launched every month from 2008 to 2015. From 2015 to 2023, there were typically 4 scheduled launches each year – in February, May, August and November.

In 2024, HDB announced that there would be just 3 launches – in February, June and October.

#2 Introduction Of 3Gen Flats In 2013

Larger flat types such as Executive Apartments and Executive Maisonettes had been halted since the mid-1990s. In 2013, 3Gen Flats was introduced to ensure larger families could buy a BTO to house multiple generations (i.e. young parents to live with elderly parents and young children).

However, this housing type places additional restrictions on buyers. Owners can only sell the 3Gen HDB flats to another 3Gen family – potentially limiting the resale potential of such flats.

Read Also: 5 Types of HDB Flats That Are No Longer Being Built In Singapore

#3 2-Room Flexi Scheme Offered Since 2015

In 2015, a “2-Room Flexi” flat, with leases of between 15 and 45 years, was introduced. This provides retirees with an option to rightsize their homes in their senior years – and when their kids have moved out and they may need to monetise their homes for retirement.

Read Also: Guide To HDB 2-Room Short-Lease Flexi Flat For Retirees

#4 Shorter Waiting Time of 2.5 Years For Some BTO Flats Since 2018

While the BTO system was introduced to ensure HDB did not have to build flats ahead of demand, this led to a waiting time of 3 to 4 years, and in some instances, up to 5 years for the flats to be built.

In 2018, HDB announced there would be BTO flats with shorter waiting times to help young couples get their homes earlier. These HDB BTO flats could be delivered in 2.5 years. Ironically, HDB announced that they would commence construction of these flats ahead of their sales launch.

With the first of these flats slated to be delivered between the 4th quarter of 2020 and 1st quarter of 2021, most of them were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2024, HDB announced more Shorter Waiting Time flats – with waiting time of less than 3 years – will be offered. With this, HDB will offer between 2,000 to 3,000 Shorter Waiting Time flats per year.

#5 Open Booking of Flats Offered From 2019

For applicants who have more urgent housing needs, and cannot wait for a BTO project that may take 3 to 4 years to build, HDB introduced an Open Booking of Flats.

First, flats that are not selected during a BTO launch go into the Sales of Balance Flat (SBF) exercise. If a flat remains unselected after an SBF exercise, it goes into the Open Booking of Flat system – where applicants can apply online anytime and receive a queue number for a flat as early as the next working day.

Unfortunately, as demand for new flats has climbed since the pandemic, there are no open booking flats available.

Read Also: Complete Guide To Understanding And Applying Under HDB’s Open Booking Of Flats Option

#6 BTO Applicants Need To Have Valid HDB Flat Eligibility (HFE) Letter Since October 2023

Replacing the old HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) Letter, the HFE streamlines various steps in the BTO application process.

In the past, applicants had to provide relevant supporting documents to HDB for verification at each assessment. Now, applicants can find out their eligibility for a new or resale flat purchase, as well as their CPF Housing Grants and HDB housing loan eligibility in a single assessment.

It takes about a month to process an HFE letter application after HDB receives all the required documents. Hence, those who want to apply for BTOs may need to plan beforehand, and can no longer apply at the last minute. The HFE Letter will be valid for months.

Read Also: Complete Guide To HDB Flat Eligibility (HFE) Letter

#7 Standard, Plus & Prime HDB Flats To Be Offered From 2H 2024

Announced at the tail-end of 2021, Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) flats were introduced to ensure Singaporeans could continue living in central locations without handing out “lotteries” to the buyers. (Think Pinnacle @ Duxton)

A more stringent set of restrictions will apply for buyers of PLH flats, including a one-time subsidy recovery, a longer Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of 10 years, disallowing rental of whole flats, and capping resale buyers at the prevailing income ceiling, among others.

In what would be his last National Day Rally as Prime Minister, Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announced a new classification for new HDB flats.

Moving away from the existing Mature vs Non-Mature estates, new BTO launches from 2H 2024 will carry a classification of either Standard, Plus or Prime flats. Standard flats are what we are all used to – normal BTO flats that require a 5-year MOP before we can sell or rent the entire home.

Plus flats will be HDB BTOs in “choosier” locations compared to Standard flats – and require more intervention from HDB to keep prices affordable. Correspondingly, tighter restrictions will be placed on such flats, including a 10-year MOP, not able to rent out the whole flat even after MOP, resale buyers must meet the prevailing income ceiling (currently set at $14,000), only Singaporeans can buy Plus flats, and there will be a one-time subsidy recovery upon sell of flat.

Prime flats are what we have become accustomed to as PLH flats that were introduced since 2022. Prime flats will be in central locations (i.e. better than Plus flats), and since HDB have to provide even more subsidies to keep these flats affordable, a higher rate of subsidy recovery will be applied compared to Plus flats. Other conditions are similar to Plus flats.

Read Also: Standard, Plus & Prime Flats: Guide To Understanding The New Framework For HDB Flats

#8 First-Timers And First-Timer Families Have Gotten Increasing Priority

First-timers will typically have a greater need for homes compared to other types of buyers. Over the years, the government has continued to give First-Timers and First-Timer families more priority when it comes to BTO flat applications.

Since August 2022, at least 85% of 3-room BTO flats and 95% of 4-room and larger BTO flats in non-mature estates were set aside for First-Timer families. For mature estates, at least 95% of BTO flats are set aside for First-Timer families. At the same time, up to 65% of the non-senior 2-room flexi flats in non-mature estates were also set aside for First-Timer singles – and increase from 50% previously.

At least 95% of the BTO flat supply was set aside for First-Timers in November 2009. Additional chances were also accorded to first-timers who were unsuccessful in two or more times when applying for a BTO flat in non-mature estates.

Subsequently, in 2022, First-Timer families who turn down one chance to book a flat in the BTO will see their additional ballot chances accumulated from past unsuccessful BTO applications in non-mature estates reset to zero. Those who turn down two chances to book a flat will be considered as Second-Timer applicants in the computer ballot for one year, and may find themselves taking a longer time to secure a new HDB flat.

In August 2007, First-Timers were given two chances in the ballot over Second-Timers. At least 90% of the BTO flat supply was also set aside for the First-Timers.

From May 2004 to July 2007, the priority system was tweaked and First-Timers were given twice the weightage in the ballot over Second-Timers.

From 2001 to April 2004, 85% of the BTO flats were set aside for First-Timers.

Read Also: 5 HDB BTO Application Tips For Young Singaporean Couples To Get Their Homes

#9 Couples Receive Up To $80,000 In CPF Housing Grants

To help First-Timer families afford a roof over their heads, the Government provides an Enhanced CPF Housing Grant of up to $80,000 for those applying for a BTO. This scheme replaces the Special CPF Housing Grant and Additional Housing Grant (AHG). Couples who have a monthly income of less than $9,000 will be eligible for this grant.

Average Monthly Household Income (Over a period of 12 months) Enhanced CPF Housing Grant Amount
Less than $1,500 $80,000
$1,501 to $2,000 $75,000
$2,001 to $2,500 $70,000
$2,501 to $3,000 $65,000
$3,001 to $3,500 $60,000
$3,501 to $4,000 $55,000
$4,001 to $4,500 $50,000
$4,501 to $5,000 $45,000
$5,001 to $5,500 $40,000
$5,501 to $6,000 $35,000
$6,001 to $6,500 $30,000
$6,501 to $7,000 $25,000
$7,001 to $7,500 $20,000
$7,501 to $8,000 $15,000
$8,001 to $8,500 $10,000
$8,501 to $9,000 $5,000

Those who buy resale flats are also eligible for other grants, including the CPF Housing Grants for resale flats and Proximity Housing Grant (PHG).

#10 BTO Flat Designs Have Enhanced Over Time

From the June 2024 BTO launch, an open-concept will be piloted HDB flat will be piloted in the Kallang-Whampoa project. Termed “White Flat”, there will be no walls or beams that partition the living and bedroom spaces – allowing buyers to have a blank slate in how they design their BTOs.

This is not the first time that BTO flat designs have been upgraded either. Since June 2019, new BTO flats come with better finishes such as larger tiles and concealed floor traps. In addition, steel gates will be used instead of wrought iron gates and more durable glazed porcelain tiles will be used in the kitchen and bathroom instead of ceramic tiles.

Since February 2018, new BTO flats come with an open kitchen concept (i.e. no partition wall between kitchen and living room). Instead, buyers can pay for a kitchen wall partition if they wish to have one.

Read Also: Complete Guide To HDB Housing Grants In Singapore For Different Types Of Flats

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