Build-To-Order (BTO) application season – and the last round for 2022 – is here again, along with the bi-annual release (usually May and November) of the Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercise.
If you aren’t already familiar with the term SBF, this is an umbrella term for HDB flats comprising unsold units from past BTO launches, flats repurchased by HDB and surplus flats from the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) projects.
The biggest upside of scoring an SBF flat is that you’re securing subsidised housing with a shorter completion time than a BTO flat. Want to know more? Read on.
Applying for an HDB SBF Flat Has Become More Competitive
Before we dive in, let’s dive into how easy (or difficult) it is to secure an SBF flat. In recent years, it’s been harder to get an SBF flat. According to an article on The Straits Times, even for first-timer couples with at least one party below the age of 30, the success rate for SBF application fell from 52% in 2017 to just 17% in 2021.
Also, due to longer BTO completion times, young families and those with urgent housing needs are pushed into the resale market. Consequently, the demand and prices of resale flats have increased and are currently at a record high, as reflected in the PropertyGuru Singapore Property Market Report Q3 2022. So, more young families who want subsidised housing with a shorter estimated completion time are turning to SBF or Open Booking of Flats units.
A lower success rate aside, there are a few differences when applying for an SBF versus a BTO flat.
Difference between BTO Vs SBF Flat
Occurs four times a year, in February, May, August, and November
Occurs twice a year, in May and November
Takes longer to build, about three to 5.5 years estimated completion time
Shorter waiting period, some are already completed
Only new flats with a fresh 99-year lease
Mix of new flats from HDB (fresh 99-year lease) and units that have already been completed
Fewer sites per BTO exercise, but more units to choose from
More locations to choose from, but fewer units than BTO exercise; more competitive
Favours first-timer applicants, including those applying under the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme
Favours first-timer married couples with children the most (50% of flats set aside for families applying under Parenthood Priority Scheme)
Subsidised housing, most affordable
Can be slightly more expensive than BTO flat launches
For SBF flats, you may also have to live with whatever fittings the couple who gave up the flat opted for (if applicable). Depending on your eligibility, HDB grants are available for both BTO and SBF flats.
You can learn more about buying an SBF unit or read more about the experience of why one of our writers picked an SBF over a BTO flat. Or read on to find out what these 5 Singaporeans who managed to secure an SBF flat have to say.
1. Apply Closer to the SBF Application Deadline
For John, 32, and his wife, they managed to get a flat in Sengkang through the May 2018 SBF exercise. This was their third try; the previous two times saw them getting disastrously large queue numbers or being left with units/projects that they really didn’t want.
“I think what we were doing ‘wrong’ was that whenever the SBF opened, my wife and I would set our alarms and rush in to apply immediately. We also applied for the locations that were more central and hence popular,” the sales manager recalled.
“After failing the first time and getting SBF units in a project that wasn’t ‘new’, we finally realised that the application rate page is regularly updated during the application window and not only at the end of it all. Better late than never, right?
“So for our third try, we decided to literally wait till the eleventh hour, when we checked the numbers and picked the area/unit type with the highest probability, based on the number of units available and lower application rate. Not to say whether it’s a foolproof strategy or not, but this time we secured our flat and we’re quite happy with it.”
Check out the flat supply and applications received for the Sale of Balance Flats Nov 2022 exercise here. The number of applications received is updated at 8am, 11am, 2pm and 5pm, daily during the application period.
2. Use Your Status as a Parent to Secure a Unit
The HDB has a few priority schemes for those applying for an HDB flat. One of these is the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS), which allocates up to 30% of BTO flats and 50% of SBF flats to first-timer applicants with children or who are expecting.
That’s exactly what adjunct lecturer Sandra did when applying for her SBF flat as an expecting newlywed.
“Somehow this PPS is a bit overlooked but a friend who knew about our difficulties in getting an HDB flat alerted us to it when we announced our pregnancy on Facebook. Although it’s just an additional 20% chance, anything helps!” the 28-year-old shared.
“We managed to successfully get a 4-room SBF unit in Bukit Batok from the May 2022 exercise, and we had to submit the doctor’s certification of my pregnancy. We chose Bukit Batok because it was one of the few estates that had 60-plus 4-room flats as compared to other unit types like 2-room Flexi and 3-room flats, which we felt was too small. We want a big family!”
3. Maximise the Use of Priority Schemes
In addition to the PPS, HDB has other priority schemes for couples looking to apply for an SBF flat. According to the HDB, what priority schemes do is to enhance your chances in the computer ballot, and you may apply for up to two priority schemes (even if you may be eligible for more). However, as the computer ballot is randomised, HDB says there’s “no priority or privilege to secure a small queue number to book a flat”.
Other priority schemes include the Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS) and Third Child Priority Scheme (TCPS).
For the former, the quota of flats given priority under MCPS for SBF applicants is 30%. In the SBF context, this means that applicants who apply for a flat under MCPS intend to live together with their parents only (for normal BTO ballot in non-mature estates, this priority extends to couples who want to live close to their parents).
For the latter, it’s for families with three or more Singaporean/Singapore Permanent Resident children, the youngest born on or after 1 January 1987. The application will be included in the first ballot round with other TCPS applicants; only if unsuccessful, will there be another round with the public ballot. The flat allocation for TCPS applicants is up to 5% of SBF flats, and all three children must live with you in the flat till after the Minimum Occupancy Period (MOP).
Gail, 43, managed to get her SBF flat via the TCPS. The mother of three, with children aged 13, 10 and 1, had been living with her in-laws but the space was getting too crowded, especially during the pandemic when everyone was stuck at home and each others’ faces.
“It has always been a wish of ours to have our own home, but it was not a pressing issue till the pandemic and all of us were just stuck at home. Previously, we had just been trying our luck at the BTO/SBF ballot but never seemed to get a good result,” she said.
“I grew anxious in late 2020, when I found out I was expecting number 3, our ‘COVID baby’. It was then I realised that we qualified for the TCPS. I was waiting for the May 2021 exercise but somehow that was skipped due to the pandemic. So I had no choice but to try for the Nov 2021 SBF exercise, although I was extremely worried as everyone else who had wanted to apply in the earlier cycle would be ‘fighting’ with me as well.”
“Somehow we got lucky and I managed to get a flat of our own in Canberra.”
4. Settle for a Compromise, Go for a Smaller Flat
It was by sheer luck that Meiling and her then-boyfriend got a flat in Toa Payoh. They just happened to visit the HDB portal one day “for fun”, and the SBF application was open, which included Toa Payoh. This was in 2015.
“What are the odds? We just visited the website on a whim and my dream location, Toa Payoh, was one of the SBF options. We didn’t even tell my parents we were dating, so we bypassed all of the priority schemes, although my family lives in Toa Payoh (the main reason for wanting to stay there),” the 37-year-old shared.
“Somehow, after months of saying ‘won’t get it, lah!’, we got a decent queue number and managed to book our flat. It’s quite surreal. However, we had to lower our expectations.”
“A 4-room flat was what we wanted, but seeing that there were just 20 available, our chances of securing one would likely be very slim. In comparison, there were slightly more than 100 available 3-room flats, so it was worth a shot. Given that the pool of flats also included old flats from Joo Seng, we were really hoping we didn’t get those as the area is an issue to me. But we just put down our $10, because, why not?
“Anyway, it kinda worked out. We weren’t earning much when we applied, so we even managed to get the additional grant as our income was below $5,000 a month. Although we are earning more now, getting a 3-room flat means that the monthly mortgage is super affordable and is totally covered by CPF,” the freelance designer added.
“We also only waited two years for the flat, while our neighbours had to wait five years. The house isn’t big but we don’t plan to have kids so it’s an okay size, although we do wish there was a larger kitchen and an open sun-facing balcony. The location, however, is fantastic, with so many MRT lines and amenities. Plus, it’s near to my mum’s.”
5. A Home Is What You Make of It
Last but not least, we have Shah, 35. All he wanted was a place of his own with his then-fiancee. So when his application for the Nov 2019 SBF exercise was successful, his first reaction was to jump for joy and hug his partner.
Although the unit they finally got was not a “fresh” flat with a 99-year lease, the couple is still grateful to have a place to call their own.
“Although we got one that had TOP-ed some years back, we are happy because we can finally have a home together. The price was good, the location is still okay for us as Singapore is already very convenient. And we feel ultra-lucky because we managed to get a unit just before the pandemic hit. Our friends have not been so lucky and are still trying to find their dream place,” the finance professional explained.
Admittedly, there are things that Shah isn’t completely satisfied with, such as the layout, the distance from the nearest station, and the unit being situated on a low floor; the surrounding amenities could also be better. But these are small matters when all you want is a house.
“Some who are ‘pantang’ (superstitious) may find SBF flats to be unfavourable, as they may think the house got repossessed by HDB due to divorce, the owner passing away, and so on. But to us that’s not important; the house becomes a home by our effort – it’s just a structure for us to fill with the things that truly matter.”
Buying an SBF Flat
Most Singaporeans own an HDB flat, and the few pathways to owning public housing include balloting for a BTO flat or an SBF unit, applying for an Open Booking of Flats unit, and buying one off of the resale market. The last option could be a tall order for those without financial muscle, given that HDB resale flat prices are at a record-high.
A BTO flat is by far the most affordable option, but the wait time of up to 71 months (that’s almost six years) can be tough, especially for couples who want to quickly settle down. Therefore, applying for an SBF unit is an affordable option, but with significantly less wait time.
The November 2022 launch of BTO and SBF flats is also now. But do cast your ballot mindfully, as rejecting a successful ballot could mean extra waiting time for you and your partner. All the best!
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