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Securing a HDB BTO flat: Young couple finally successful after 11 attempts

True HDB Stories: Lester Nyan speaks about the emotional rollercoaster of facing numerous failed attempts at securing a HDB BTO flat.

Lester Nyan and Cheryl Chua, who finally secured a BTO flat after 11 attempts.
Lester Nyan, 28, and Cheryl Chua, 24, finally secured a BTO flat after 11 attempts. (PHOTO: Lester Nyan) (Lester Nyan)

SINGAPORE — Seven Build-To-Order (BTO), two Sale of Balance Flats (SBF), and two Open Booking of Flats (OBF) attempts – that's what it took for research writer Lester Nyan and his fiancee to secure a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat.

It was a "huge sigh of relief" for the couple who are hoping to settle down and start a family.

After multiple attempts, Nyan, 28, and his fiancee Cheryl Chua, 24, finally got a four-room flat in a central location for S$560,000.

"Since we're going to get married soon, housing is definitely a big concern for us. Having something ready for us in the pipeline is a very huge relief," Nyan told Yahoo Finance Singapore. Nyan and Chua had gotten engaged in June 2023 and plan to marry in March 2024.

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Nyan felt fortunate that they had secured the unit in the early part of the year, as he was already planning to propose to Chua in June. Although the proposal would have gone through regardless, he says that their marriage plans would be delayed if they had yet to secure a BTO flat.

Not having a BTO flat would also mean having to rent from the open market, which is markedly higher than if they were to rent under HDB's subsidised Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS), a temporary housing option for first-timer married couples awaiting completion of their BTO flat.

Both Nyan and Chua grew up in big households, and space was an issue as they had to share a room with their siblings. As a result, the couple were determined to have their own space as soon as possible, even if it meant renting an apartment before their flat's completion. Given that the estimated completion date of their flat is slated for the second quarter of 2028 – five years from now – Nyan said that they plan to rent under the PPHS. This would involve another round of balloting.

Challenging journey to secure a BTO flat

The couple's first attempt at securing a unit was in August 2020, and they have consistently applied since but to no avail. This included applying for a flat in Yishun, which is categorised as a non-mature estate, which would allow them to have a higher chance of securing a unit. On the other hand, buying an HDB flat from the resale market was out of the question as it was beyond their budget.

"One of the biggest factors was definitely because we both just started working. Our income didn't allow us to go for a resale, which required a higher loan. This was why we kept trying for a BTO because we have a longer runway to increase our income along the way," said Nyan, who works as a research writer while Chua works as a social media producer.

For the eager couple who were very sure of their shared goals to build a life together, the numerous failed attempts to secure a flat took an emotional toll.

"For every application, we really envisioned ourselves staying in that estate. Every time we applied, we would be very excited. We'd go look at floor plans and plan our layout. So, every time we got the results back and we didn't get it, we felt very heartbroken.

"In one of the applications, I remember both of us felt really defeated after we didn't get the queue number, and tears were definitely shed," Nyan recalled.

Learning from the BTO process

Nevertheless, Nyan and Chua were elated with the unit that they eventually secured. According to Nyan, it was the most desirable location that they've bid for out of all their BTO attempts. Reflecting on their journey, Nyan said that he believes their chances of securing a flat became significantly lower because they kept trying for a five-room flat in mature estates, which typically has the highest demand but fewer available units.

"From the start, if we were to go for the less subscribed areas or non-mature estates, we might have gotten it earlier," said Nyan in hindsight.

"I think a lot of people in my shoes would have gone for a resale, but the reason why we persevered with the process was because it made the most sense to us in terms of our current situation. I would always tell friends around me that every couple is different. You really have to fully understand your current capabilities and current circumstances in order to make an informed decision," Nyan advised.

Every time we applied, we would be very excited. We'd go look at floor plans and plan our layout. So, every time we got the results back and we didn't get it, we felt very heartbroken.Lester Nyan

To other young couples who are going through the BTO process or are thinking of it, Nyan cautioned against making a huge financial commitment together if they are not certain of their relationship.

"When many people first start dating, they would already be thinking about whether they should start applying (for a BTO unit) since it takes such a long time to get the flat. But if the relationship is not stable, I foresee a lot of stress, and a lot of fights and arguments will come up along the way," he said.

Nyan shared that he and Chua had many conversations about whether they saw themselves spending the rest of their lives together before applying for a BTO within the first year of their relationship. They have been together for close to four years now.

"If you get a BTO unit and you pay the downpayment before you are certain about your relationship, it may be a big financial mistake," said Nyan.

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