The re­lax­ation of HDB rules has al­lowed sin­gles to ap­ply for new two- room Flexi flats since 2013. Find out how this has led to more di­verse buy­ers, in­clud­ing young pro­fes­sion­als seek­ing a debt- free life­style.

Home & Decor (Singapore) - - PROPERTY -

Once stereo­typed to be the home of re­tirees and less well-off fam­i­lies, two-room flats have been gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years among sin­gles. This grow­ing trend rode on the back of the gov­ern­ment’s re­laxed rules since July 2013 to al­low sin­gles to pur­chase new two-room Flexi Build-To-Or­der (BTO) flats from the Hous­ing Board. Pre­vi­ously, they could only buy flats from the more ex­pen­sive re­sale mar­ket, though they were not re­stricted to the flat type. In 2016, new two-room flats were so well re­ceived among sin­gles aged be­tween 35 and 54, that 6.6 sin­gles vied for ev­ery flat avail­able for book­ing. In com­par­i­son, the to­tal ap­pli­ca­tion rate for fam­i­lies, the el­derly and sin­gles, was only 2.7 per flat. This re­sulted in many sin­gle ap­pli­cants hav­ing “to try sev­eral times be­fore they are suc­cess­ful”, said Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Lawrence Wong to TheS­traits

Times. To meet the de­mand, HDB in­creased the sup­ply of two-room Flexi units in non-ma­ture es­tates from 320 units in 2012 to an av­er­age of 4,000 units per year be­tween 2014 and 2016. About 40 per cent of these flats are set aside for el­derly ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing sin­gles, aged 55 and above. The rest is split equally be­tween non-el­derly sin­gles and fam­i­lies. Any bal­ance flats that are not taken up by the el­derly or fam­i­lies are then of­fered to sin­gles. If you are con­sid­er­ing a two-room Flexi flat, here’s ev­ery­thing you need to know.

How big are two-room flats?

Buy­ers can choose be­tween the smaller Type 1 (36 sq m, or 387.5sqf) and big­ger Type 2 (45 sq m, or 484sqf). Both come with one bed­room, one bath­room, a kitchen and a store­room-cum-bomb shel­ter. Buy­ers can also choose the lease term and fit­tings.

Who qual­i­fies to buy a two-room Flexi flat?

The same el­i­gi­bil­ity con­di­tions ap­ply to both 99-lease and Short Lease units. You need to meet the cri­te­ria un­der any of the fol­low­ing: Pub­lic, Fi­ance/fi­ancee, Or­phans, Sin­gle Sin­ga­pore Cit­i­zen, Non-Cit­i­zen Spouse, or Joint Sin­gles scheme.

For the 99-year lease units, buy­ers must be at least 21 years old and at least one must be Sin­ga­porean, while the other must be Sin­ga­porean or a Sin­ga­pore Per­ma­nent Res­i­dent, if you’re ap­ply­ing un­der Pub­lic, Fi­ance/fi­ancee or Or­phans schemes.

Un­der the Sin­gle or Joint Sin­gles (max­i­mum four sin­gles) schemes, you must be Sin­ga­pore­ans and at least 35 years old. For the Short Lease units, the buyer/ buy­ers/spouse must be at least 55 years old at the time of ap­pli­ca­tion, and the lease must be able to last you, your spouse, and all buy­ers to the age of 95 and above. Any in­come ceil­ing or other re­stric­tions? For the 99-year lease units, your av­er­age gross house­hold in­come can­not ex­ceed $6,000; or $12,000 for Short Lease units. You also can­not own other prop­er­ties over­seas or in Sin­ga­pore and did not sell any of these in the 30 months.

What’s at­tract­ing pro­fes­sional sin­gles to buy two-room BTO flats?

The af­ford­able pric­ing is def­i­nitely a big pull fac­tor. In the re­cent Au­gust 2017 launch, prices at Bukit Ba­tok’s Sky Vista and West Scape projects started from just $87,000. At Sengkang’s River­vale Shores, the two-room Flexi flats start from just $78,000, or $4,000 af­ter de­duct­ing grants.

In the up­com­ing Novem­ber BTO launch, two-room Flexi flats will be of­fered in Sengkang and even ma­ture es­tates like Gey­lang and Tampines, though prices were not re­leased yet at press time.

Af­ford­abil­ity aside, there are other rea­sons, too. Some prag­matic sin­gle­tons,


who don’t see them­selves get­ting mar­ried and need­ing to up­grade to a big­ger home, just want to buy a roof over their head that will last them for a long time. Hence, it makes sense to buy a BTO flat with a fresh 99-year lease.

While many Sin­ga­pore­ans seem to pur­sue the ‘big­ger is bet­ter’ mind­set, some are happy to buy a small flat. “It’s eas­ier to main­tain, for a bach­e­lor like me,” says Tan Jin Meng, who is wait­ing for his new BTO flat in the North. On the other hand, for­mer two-room flat owner Elaine Toh found the new two-room Flexi flats too small for her lik­ing. Hence, when her old flat at Tan­glin Halt struck the Se­lec­tive En­bloc Re­de­vel­op­ment Scheme lot­tery and she had the op­por­tu­nity to buy a new sim­i­lar or big­ger BTO flat, she chose to up­grade to a three-room flat. “Even then, my old bed­room is big­ger than my cur­rent mas­ter room!” says Elaine, a com­mon com­plaint among buy­ers who moved from roomier old flats to the new BTOs. Of course, it helps that she was of­fered com­pen­sa­tion of nearly $300,000 and a $15,000 grant for her old two-room flat. It al­most cov­ered the cost of her new three-room flat’s $320,000, in an en­vi­able lo­ca­tion at Ghim Moh. Others, like BTO buyer Sh­eryl Teo, who is wait­ing for her Bukit Ba­tok two-room Flexi flat that will be ready in 2020, pre­fer to pay off their home in one fell swoop. “It was my sec­ond try bal­lot­ing for a flat; my first at­tempt was in Yishun. With hind­sight, I’m glad I didn’t get my Yishun choice be­cause it’s quite far from my par­ents’ place.”

Sh­eryl, who ini­tially con­sid­ered buy­ing a re­sale flat in more pop­u­lar lo­ca­tions, changed her mind when she viewed a few units. “They were very ex­pen­sive yet very old, and re­quired ma­jor ren­o­va­tion. I’m glad that sin­gle­tons are now al­lowed to buy two-room Flexi BTO flats so there are less prob­lems with wear and tear. Most im­por­tantly, I can be debt-free!” She has enough CPF funds to fully pay off her $118,000 flat that’s 484sqf.

For now, Sh­eryl does not in­tend to move into her BTO flat when it is ready, as she prefers to stay at her par­ents’ place, which is closer to her of­fice. “Al­though it is small, it’s my very own place,” says Sh­eryl, who in­tends to use it as a week­end home. Un­like some buy­ers who treat their HDB flats as an in­vest­ment to flip as soon as they meet the Min­i­mum Oc­cu­pa­tion Pe­riod of five years, she does not in­tend to sell it. “I’m glad to have a prop­erty of my own. In Sin­ga­pore, a prop­erty is al­ways a good in­vest­ment.” In­ter­est­ingly, these two-room Flexi flats are at­tract­ing a more pro­fes­sional de­mo­graphic like Sh­eryl and Jin Meng. Once ob­sessed with climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der, 40-some­thing bach­e­lor Jin Meng de­cided to slow down and gave up his Shenton Way job. He now dab­bles with free­lance con­sul­tancy work. Buy­ing a two-room Flexi flat, espe­cially in a spiffy new es­tate, meets all his needs with­out dig­ging deep into his pocket. “I have seen my peers buy lux­u­ri­ous homes with max­i­mum loan terms, which they spend their whole life­time pay­ing off. That was what I thought I wanted, too, but now, I’d rather be debt-free and en­joy my­self, and have the fi­nan­cial flex­i­bil­ity to choose the projects I want.”

Jin Meng and Sh­eryl rep­re­sent a new, and di­ver­si­fy­ing group of two-room Flexi buy­ers join­ing the usual low-in­come fam­i­lies, se­niors and lower-in­come Joint Sin­gles. With 31.6 per cent of our pop­u­la­tion be­ing sin­gle, and a grow­ing age­ing pop­u­la­tion, it is a laud­able and, per­haps, nec­es­sary move by the gov­ern­ment. It helps even the play­ing field a lit­tle for sin­gles who have been side­lined for years as the gov­ern­ment fo­cused on fam­i­lies in its HDB poli­cies. The flexible short-term leases also help the el­derly who want to down­size and main­tain their cash flow by buy­ing a home with enough lease for their needs. It makes for a more in­ter­est­ing mix of res­i­dents, too, and pro­motes a more in­clu­sive and di­verse en­vi­ron­ment. And that can only be a good thing.

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