Our First BTO Flat
Sam and I have roughed it out together as a couple for the past three years, and now that we decided to spend the rest of lives together, we need to secure a house before exchanging weddings vows. Instead of renting or buying a resale flat, we much prefer to own a brand new flat which is also subsidized by our government. Such new flats are called Build-To-Order flats or BTO. The BTO flats will only be built if there is a housing demand in that location to be built.
Buying a house is a huge commitment for both of us because it involves a hefty sum of money. As such, there are several decisions to be made, and we do have conflicting opinions regarding this housing issue.
Many of our colleagues who went through the same process also warn us of such impending issues. More importantly, both must compromise and agree.
The journey hasn’t been easy for us, but we hope to share our experiences with any couples who are planning to settle down.
Stage 1: Agreeing to Settle Down
Based on what I observed (from a female perspective), it seems that men usually take some time to settle down in a relationship. They are typically slow to commit. But as long as they have the intention to get into a serious relationship and start a family, it is good to start talking and making plans for the future. It is an important decision and a lifetime commitment to
It is a big decision and a lifetime commitment so it is crucial that both parties must be comfortable and confident with their decision. Both should not rush to make a decision – even if it means waiting for another three years before getting a flat.
I heard of cases where couples dropped out of the BTO scheme because they broke up. Marriage should be the focus and not the house. Don’t apply for BTO now because you know that the property market prices will shoot up in the next few years.
Am I able to spend a lifetime with this person? Do I foresee myself setting up a family with this person? Could I live with his/her strengths and flaws? Are the both of us committed to each other? That’s what couples should be considered first before talking about getting a BTO.
Once you’ve decided to merge both of your pathways and stay committed to each other despite any challenges faced, then head over to stage 2.
Stage 2: Apply for a BTO flat on HDB website
Do keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming sales launch which will be announced on HDB’s website or Facebook page.
It is easy to apply for a BTO flat online on HDB website. The application fee is $10. There is also a list of personal documents (e.g., CPF and income statements) to be prepared and submitted online before the deadline.
Every year, there are new BTO projects introduced. When balloting for a flat, you will need to consider the following:-
(3) Size of flat
Matured or non-matured estates?
Initially, we wanted to ballot for a flat in a matured estate since the flats are usually built close to a MRT station. However, they are usually more expensive and difficult to get. We balloted for the popular matured estates like Clementi, Toa Payoh, and Bidadari.
When we failed again on our third try, I decided to write a letter of appeal to my MP (Member of the Parliament) from my constituency. My MP responded, and HDB also got back to us mentioning that they could not do anything about it.
At that point, we were pretty desperate as we already balloted for a year and we still cannot secure a flat for ourselves. So this time around, we chose a 4-room flat in a non-mature estate. It is quite a distance from the nearest LRT and MRT station, but at least there is a bus stop right next to the flat. Also, there will be more estate and town developments in Sengkang in future, so we think that it is worth a try.
To God be the glory, we got a ballot number on our fourth try. Our ballot number was 159 out of 300 plus applicants. It was quite a good number because there were many flat units to choose from.
How much does a typical HDB flat cost?
It depends on the size and location of the flat. Currently, the prices range between $200k to $500k plus. Thankfully, there are additional grants and subsidies to offset the costs. The cost of housing has skyrocketed over 50 years. Back then, each HDB unit only costs a few thousand dollars.
Which loan to take?
Currently, the cost of HDB flat can be paid using the funds in your CPF ordinary account. If you have insufficient cash to pay, you can apply for HDB loan or bank loan. That begs the question: which type of loan gives you more cost savings? When we asked the HDB officer who was a more popular choice, she said that most buyers would opt for HDB loan.
At this stage, it should not be a major concern yet as long as both you and your partner have got a stable monthly income. I will be writing a separate article on this.
Size of flat
3, 4 or 5-room flat? The cheapest option is to go for a 3-room flat (68 sqm), and there are more government subsidies and grants offered to couples or families living in smaller apartments. Those residing in 5-room flats do not get to enjoy such benefits since the government presumes that owners who can afford the cost of more expensive HDB flats would be better off financially.
I think that we could make do with a 3-room flat, but Sam prefers a slightly bigger home. In the end, we compromised and settled for a 4-room flat (93 sqm).
Stage 3: Choose Your Flat Unit
After all the excitement about securing a good ballot number, we were already looking forward to the day where we get to choose our flat unit. Both co-owners will need to be present during the appointment with the HDB officer at HDB Toa Payoh Hub. We waited for a few months before they sent us an SMS to check out flat application status on My HDB page.
During the meeting, you can also ask the HDB officer questions regarding the purchase of the HDB flat. After all, it is probably your biggest investment at that point in your life, and you would want to know what you are in for.
Applying for HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE)
You should try applying for this even if you are not so sure about getting an HDB or bank loan. There’s no harm in applying for this as it does not cost any money either. However, I would advise you to only apply for HLE after you have got a ballot number because the HLE expires after six months. Previously, we went to apply for HLE at the same time we applied for a BTO flat. But we did not secure a ballot number until our fourth try so we had to apply for HLE again once it expires.
The Day Before Flat Selection Day
A day before your selection date, you should log into My HBD page and check which are the remaining units left to be balloted online. For instance, Sam and I narrowed down to a few units which we are interested based on the location, block number, and price.
Documents to Prepare
In the letter, we were also told to bring original and hard copies of our documents. You can also submit them online via their portal so that you do not have to print them out. Should there be any missing documents, they would ask you to submit them online.
You would also have the option to apply for Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG) and Additional CPF Housing Grant (AHG). To apply for both grants, you will need to print out the grant application form and submit the relevant documents online.
Do make sure to be punctual for your appointment. We did not have to wait that long before our queue number went flashing on the screen.
Paying of Option Fee
The option fee is $2, 000 and it could be paid via NETS. This option fee is refundable.
Stage 4: Sign Agreement for Lease
The next meeting at HDB will take place in another four to five months’ time where you would be asked to sign the agreement for Lease. At this point, you will need to decide if you will be taking HDB or Bank loan. If you’re taking the bank loan, you will need to submit the Letter of Offer during the meeting. For us, we went ahead with HDB loan.
Making Down Payment for Your Flat
Yes, you will need to start paying for your flat from this point, and that is why they would return the option fee to you. For those taking HDB loan, you will need to pay 10% of the housing costs (which includes conveyancing and buyer’s stamp fees), and for those taking bank loans, you will need to pay 20% of the total cost.
For both of us, we decided to use our CPF to pay our down payment. I will also be writing a separate article on whether to use CPF or cash to pay for your HDB flat. But once I’ve decided to use my CPF, I am not allowed to use the funds in my CPF for investments.
We were given an Additional CPF grant of $20, 000 which was also used to pay our 10% down payment.
Joint Tenancy or Tenancy-In-Common
We were also asked if we would like to opt for a Joint Tenancy or Tenancy-In-Common. They require us to sign the document on the spot, so we did not have time to discuss or contemplate about it. It only seems right to opt for Joint Tenancy where both co-owners have an equal share of the flat. On the other hand, under Tenancy-In-Common, each co-owner will have a different and separate flat ownership shares. For instance, the husband owns 60% of the ownership shares and the wife owns the remaining amount of the shares, that is, 40%.
You might want to consider Tenancy-In-Common especially if one of you decides to pay more for the flat. And you might have to produce a lawyer’s letter which would indicate the ownership shares for each co-owner. It might seem a little trouble for most of us so as you would expect; many would go for Joint Tenancy.
Stage 5: Collect Flat Keys
We’ve yet to reach this stage yet. And we are looking forward to collecting our keys in another three years’ time. Our flat is expected to be ready by the third or fourth quarter of 2021.
I will be back to update more on this section once we’ve reached this stage. At this stage, HDB would require you to pay off the balance of the purchase price. You can pay the balance with your CPF, cash, mortgage loans or both.
Three years seem like a long time. The last construction site update we saw on HDB website is a photograph of our BTO site. The site looks barren now, and we can’t wait for the construction of the flat to be completed!
Hope this article have helped you to be mentally prepare as you are planning for your first flat purchase.