SINGAPORE — They say the third time's the charm, but it took more tries than that for bachelor Zachary Loo to secure a ballot for a Housing and Development Board (HDB) Build-to-Order (BTO) flat. After seven unsuccessful applications for a BTO flat under the singles scheme, 38-year-old Loo finally obtained a ballot on his eighth attempt.
"I have never given up hope. Honestly, I expected to ballot 20 more times at least, because from what I've heard from other singles who are older than me, they only started seeing success in their 40s," Loo share with Yahoo Finance Singapore.
"I really didn't think I would get a ballot before I turned 40 because I thought that the HDB would assume that I still had a chance to get married and have a kid," Loo said with a laugh, alluding to the complex balloting process for BTO flats.
Do singles get any HDB housing grant?
Singaporean singles are eligible for new HDB flats when they are at least 35 years old and not earning more than S$7,000 per month. They have to pay an additional S$15,000 on top of the booked flat's selling price.
They are also restricted to buying 2-room flats in non-mature estates.
Then there is the balloting process when applying for new BTO flats. Typically, BTO launches happen four times a year and are often oversubscribed given the high demand by Singaporeans from all walks of life vying for a slice of public housing.
Once an application is made for a BTO flat, applicants are subject to a computerised balloting system that takes into account their household status, the flat type they are applying for, and the priority schemes that the government sets out.
In Loo's case, his ballot number was in the 800 range – there were more than 1,100 2-room flats available during the November 2022 Yishun BTO launch. He had hoped to secure a unit on the higher floors to avoid insects but acknowledged that he was not in much of a position to choose given his ballot number. In the end, Loo secured a unit on the ninth floor although he would have preferred a unit on a higher floor which he said came with a better view.
The price range of the units, from S$84,000 to S$122,000, was within Loo's budget, although he lamented the price inflation from past BTO launches. In addition, Loo had to pay a singles premium of S$15,000 – something he discovered only upon making his flat selection. The premium is levied on all singles applying for a BTO flat and will be refunded only in the event that they get married.
In Loo's case, the housing grant that he received – about S$15,000 – was effectively negated with the S$15,000 singles premium he had to pay. "It's tough for singles," said Loo who added that he sees being single as a lifestyle choice.
Applying for BTO near parents
Despite the stacked odds and numerous conditions, Loo was always determined to try. Like most Singaporeans, Loo lives with his parents and siblings in an HDB flat. Being the eldest, he was given his own room – some may consider this a luxury in Singapore – while his two younger brothers share a room in their 4-room flat.
"That's just how it is. We have to share the living space," said Loo. "I'm so old already, yet I still have to stay with my family. Lucky for me, they are understanding, and they are okay with me staying till I get my own place. That's the only option that makes financial sense."
"I have already done everything from the moment I could, which was to start bidding for a BTO flat at age 35," said Loo, who works as a full-time music instructor. "But it's a pressure that's coming from myself. My family has never said anything." He added that he has always wanted to move out since he started working at 24 years old.
I had the luxury of waiting for a flat. Other singles may not have that option.Zachary Loo
As he grew up in Hougang, he tried applying for BTO projects within the vicinity when they were launched. "I tried for those, even though there was high demand. So, I might have failed with a lot of bids because I went for it like everyone else," said Loo. The Hougang BTO exercise in August 2021 saw more than 10,000 applicants for a total of 1,335 units.
Having the right location was also a big factor for Loo. "To be fair, if I had tried for a location like Tengah, I might have gotten it right away as it's not very popular," said Loo.
"For some of the launches, I felt limited by the location choices, so I didn't bid," Loo recalled. "I guess it's supply and demand. Relocate if you want to get a flat."
HDB flat vs private property
On whether he thinks the public housing policies in Singapore are fair towards singles like him, Loo said that he understands why they have been oriented that way. "I understand why the government does it. Fair or not fair, I am just an individual," he said.
"I can always try to go for private property, but I won't be able to do much else if I do that," said Loo, citing his desire to live comfortably while having enough money to travel the world.
"Back then, I was thinking of getting a condo. But I looked at it as 'I'm going to be indebted for the next 30, 40 years.' I won't be able to do what I can now. Even the resale HDB flats are too expensive," said Loo.
"The only thing that I'd maybe wish for is for HDB to consider lowering the minimum BTO age for singles to 32 years old, perhaps even 30," Loo contemplated. "I had the luxury of waiting for a flat. Other singles may not have that option."
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