5 Things I found out while buying a HDB flat

I don’t know how or when we started talking about getting a place together, but somehow the idea popped into our heads and it stayed. Frankly I had gotten used to shuttling in between 2 houses, which was made easier when we got the car, where the drive on KJE (expressway) wasn’t too bad either. However the thought of owning a place together was rather sweet and soon we began arguing over the layout of our games room. Note it’s games room, we don’t even pretend to call it “study room” when it’s really used for not so studious purposes.

However in our research for suitable lodging I realised that while there’s a lot of information out there, you just need to know where to find it. there are numerous property websites and blogs that have a lot of information but not quite the information you’re looking for. it’s like trying to find a needle in Google. A lot of times it was through pure chance that we come across the right site for information or it was through sheer persistence that I finally collected enough information after hours of filtering out the nonsense sites. Half the time I wished there had been a dummies’ blog to tell you step by step what are the things you have to look out for when you’re thinking of buying HDB flat.

1.HDB.GOV.SG is your best friend – Do you qualify?

I started trawling through HDB website for rules and regulations on public housing but you can get really lost in there especially when it’s around the time the government decided to put in place new measures to cool the property market to help poor fools like myself, AND these new regulations might not be updated on the website as yet (ah you now see where the problem begins). But then I’m also a lazy reader (I gloss over the facts and don’t read stuff thoroughly as it’s boring) so that could be the problem.

For HDB, the housing comes in qualification / price tiers. For us, we didn’t meet lowest and cheapest tier of BTO (build to order flats) which are reserved for lower income people (below household income for $8,000). We’d have been forced to buy an overpriced condo which we don’t really need, but luckily for us the government raised the combined household income ceiling for DBSS / EC flats to $10,000 around the time we were looking. This means to get a flat before either one of us gets a pay raise. time to get slacking.

In a bid to ostracise those who refuse to cop out and fall for the government’s “get married and make more babies” campaign, they reserve public housing for those who are either already part of a family nucleus or are going to form one (except for those aged 35 and single – the government accepts that by that time you’re a gone case for sure). Bryan and I would fall under the “fiance/fiancee” scheme although he really hasn’t proposed. my tongue trips every time I had to refer to him as fiance, and I shudder every time I fill in the form as such, like I just swallowed a large serving of slug sashimi.

2. What is out there? New vs resale

since we were first-timers and still qualified for some form of public housing, we had a few options: (1) HDB flats (albeit the more expensive DBSS / EC ones), (2) private apartments (to the tune of ONE MEEEEELLLEEEEEON DOLLARS) or (3) resale flats (or pre-owned flats, like pre-owned LV bags). Because I’m all for checking out all options before deciding on something (which sometimes is the downfall for my indecisiveness), I first checked HDB’s site to see what new HDB property is available.

For resale flats, I went onto Propertyguru to check out what’s available. I still haven’t figured out the trick to Propertyguru, if there’s any. but man, are there some really badly furnished houses in this world. I found one with pink walls. PINK WALLS! no amount of new paint is going to wipe out that monstrosity. While resale flats negates the long wait a new flat demands, the amount of renovation required to change someone else’s idea of a dream home into yours is challenging.

Another useful site I found was h88, although this site tends to focus more on new private condominiums and upmarket HDB flats. it gives rather good insight on certain properties and the web owner goes so far as to do market analysis on property prices at the area of any particular launch of the moment.

The last way to search for new property is to flip through Saturday’s edition of The Straits Times. apparently Saturday is the day where people wake up early to see show flats for fun so developers have taken to putting up full colour full page spreads to publicise their property.

3. Home loans

When it comes to calculating finances, I’m really bad at it so thank goodness Bryan took on the duty of reading up on available loans and consulting his banker friends. You could either go to a bank branch and ask for a home loans banker, or go to a sale launch and there will be a few banks represented there.

There were too many things to take note of:
(1) length of loan is apparently usually 30-40 years long.

(2) there are 4 kinds of interest rates (fixed, variable, SOR, SIBOR), which different banks adopt.  fixed rate means your interest rate is fixed for all time, some feel safer with it but it’s usually high. variable means it varies according to the board. I wanted to ask the banker what board is she referring to (board of bankers? board on the wall?) but I decided to pretend I knew. hopefully someone reading this could explain. SOR rates depend on the world economy (US currency) while SIBOR rates depend on local currency. Please note I’m using very layman terms here and I’m repeating whatever I’ve been told but to get a true meaning of both rates, you can get it here.

(3) when your loan repayment actually kicks in which is the day the foundation is laid apparently, I always thought it was when you got your key. time to start eating grass for a few years.

most people would choose a bank based on the terms above plus a few perks (like no lock-in clause and such). but given a choice, I’d not go with UOB because I didn’t like how pretty the UOB banker was and she seemed to be making eyes at MY “fiance”. Instead I like the DBS guy coz he’s so unassuming and nice and not wearing too much eyeshadow on his face, unlike the UOB banker.

Whoever said my choices had to be rational?

4. Timeline

The timeline in purchase of a new flat is critical coz there are so many processes involved, especially when registering things with a government agency and you know these agencies work at the speed of a crippled snail.

Day 1: E-application day – where you apply for HDB flat.

4 weeks later: Letter of Yes You Got it. HDB takes an extraordinary amount of time to check if you’re eligible, but once they’ve figured out you are, apparently you get a ballot number to determine which place in life (or rather in the queue to get your dream home).

2 weeks later: Booking. The day you go down to decide on which unit you want, and to pay the option fee. For most it’s between $500 – $2000. for us, it’s 5% of sale price which could go as high as $30,000. I think this is bollocks as I’m penalised for studying hard as a child, getting good grades and a good job. If I had  a choice I’d tell future generations not to study too hard. just be stupid and poor, the government will somehow find a way to help you (see how bitter I am).

Here is where you get your home loan too because only after picking your unit would the bank know how much you’d be forking out for the rest of your life.

8 weeks later: after booking, next comes the 15% downpayment, which fortunately can be covered by CPF grant $30,000 for first-timers and your CPF (so if you marry late, you have more CPF to cover this. take my advice young paduans, don’t marry early).

2-3 weeks later: Stamp duty. turns out I now have to pay $14,000 to the government for doing nothing except to allow me to buy a house. WTF?

9 months after Day 1: foundation is laid. home loan repayment starts. The beginning of the end, as my boss likes to tell it.

5. Property smart friends

These people are very useful to have around. I’m truly lucky that my boss loves to teach me stuff about how HDB and loans work. he was also the one who taught me how to finance a car. We spend our long drives in between meetings talking about these things. He also regaled me with stories of his own property hunt, how his stupid wife didn’t know how to pretend she didn’t like the unit they were viewing to get a better rate (“this one has sea view. I want.” Gua Gua), and how his property agent said Malay homes are better to buy coz it’s always in good condition coz Malay owners are house proud.

My other colleague treats every home purchase as an investment so he was the one who told me to go visit showflats to get a feel of it. Thank goodness I took his advice coz now we have a 2nd option in case the 1st one falls through, and we now know that all HDB flats built at the same time albeit different districts, have the same look and finishings. all 3 show flats i looked at, all had the same grey / white exterior with the same boxy balcony. their floor plans are THE SAME. They even use the same cupboards and kitchen cabinets. so in the grand scheme of things, if you’re buying a new place at a particular time, you’re really paying for the location, not the look of your house.

another guru I sought advice from was my friend’s husband, who’s a property agent himself. Often joking and full of shit, imagine my surprise when he replied my emails in a formal professional manner. I thought I’d emailed the wrong person. but he was very much in tuned with the government’s cooling measures and was the one who advised me on the regulations.

These are the sort of friends you need around you when you’re making your decision on your new home. Those who give you the WTFOMGBBQ look when you say you’re saving for a flat, probably aren’t planning to move out of their parent’s homes soon, those you can ditch coz they are obviously of zero use to you. they are the ones who would probably come to your house warming and buy you a totally useless gift, like Tiffany & Co crystal ashtrays.

so these are the things I figured out in the past 3 months. Hope it’s of some use to any of you who are first timers to HDB buying.

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15 comments

  1. I’m glad James, like Bryan, has a bit more inclination to deal with the numbers. I really can’t bloody stand all the acronyms and details, they make my brain upset.

    (So – does this mean it’s no longer a secret?)

    1. haha it remains a secret to those who don’t read this blog 😛

      I try very hard to understand the financial bit as I think it’s good to learn. I have a colleague who knows nuts about her finances. she depends on her husband to do everything for her. she doesn’t even know how much money she has in her own bank account! I think that’s not a good idea just in case something happens to her husband and she’d be left financially crippled.

  2. Hmmmmm… Did I miss something?

    Lots of pple advised us to get a flat too but kinda hard to do when we r nt in SG!

    Which area are u hunting?

    1. anywhere outside of Jurong is Bryan’s consideration since he’s been living here for years and he hates it. we call it Boon Docks for fun.
      Our choices in location are currently limited to whatever new launches pop out, which unfortunately are mostly in Ulu Sengkang and Ulu Punggol, which in Bryan’s mind map, is a black hole, even as a geography teacher. the one we applied for is in Yishun which I really hope to get as it’s near my mom at least. failing which, we have to wait for other launches at other locations. if our luck is bad, we might have to look at resale. anywhere is fine I guess, depending on price.

      I don’t know what’s HDB’s ruling now on people buying a flat while living overseas but if you could circumvent that somehow, you could get your parents advice and help on this.

      miss what? 😉

  3. LMAO! I showed Yusri this (pointer 5) and all he did was just grinned from ear to ear. i turned to him and cupped his face telling him: Darling, you’re full of shit. (but i kissed him after). his reply to all of these, mmm *with silly grin on his face*.

    1. hehe please remind him I like his crap. he’s really fun to talk to!

  4. OMG u are buying a HDB flat!!! lol we bought a resale in the end cos a new one will take just too long. And yes there are some horrible looking resale flats ou there but there are also the plain simple kinds which are relatively cheap to renovate. Just make sure there’s no loansharks ard lol

    1. ah longs should keep a forum listing the flats that are targeted so these debtors won’t run away coz they can’t sell the flats coz future buyers beware!

  5. Punggol seems to be the new hip and happening place. so maybe it’s a sign! 🙂

    1. they are really doing a lot to make the place more appealing to new families! but it’s still too far off for me :/

  6. iceman79 · · Reply

    Hi there. I’m in a dillemma now too. Got lousy number for sales of balance but I think I can’t wait for the next Sales of Balance to be out. I’m in my early 30s. Now dillemma between Clementi DBSS and Tiong Baru resale…..Just like to find out, did you get your DBSS in the end or you got resale? Is it worth to get low floor resale vs high floor DBSS? They are about the same price now.

    1. I went for the Yishun DBSS. at that time it was the first DBSS launched this year and I didn’t know whether to wait for the Bedok / Clementi ones (both good locations) or not, considering my peers around me were all complaining about over-subscription of BTOs and stuff. my brother himself tried 5-6 times and is still unable to get a BTO. so at that time we were deciding whether to wait for the other DBSSes or not risk it and just apply for Yishun. we were quite lucky, our ballot number was in the low hundreds so we got our flat. we didn’t even consider resale at that time.

      i think when it comes to resale vs new flat (be it BTO or DBSS), if the price is the same, there are many considerations which may be of different priority for different people.
      one thing you have to consider is cash-over-valuation, which is the amount of cold hard cash you’d have to fork out to pay the seller for the resale flat, but for a new flat you don’t have such a thing coz you buy direct from HDB.
      location, resale flats mean better range of locations to choose from as compared to DBSS where you’re stuck to the places that HDB decide to develop. you’re lucky they are selling DBSS at old estates coz mature estates means more established amenities.
      size: resale flats may means older flats and older flats tend to be a bit bigger than the newer DBSS.
      other minor considerations for resale flats such as the condition of the flat (whether the seller managed it well) or the entire block (older walls, pavements, etc) vs a new DBSS. resale flats also run the risk of loanshark problems that you may not be aware of.
      as for low floor vs high floor, we had a limit, nothing below 5th floor. I’ve lived on mid-level floors all my life so I don’t need a high floor but my fiance was insistent we get one if we could. I on the other hand, had very silly concerns like high floor means it’d take forever to reach our flat if i really needed to use the toilet.

      so if you were to ask me between the 2 which would I go for? I’d take the Tiong Bahru resale purely based on location, but only if i can afford the COV, and how low the floor is. below 5th floor, maybe not. I hope this helps somewhat though 🙂

      1. Hi thanks. I think the bloody balloting system is screwed up. I also tried 5th time. Wife’s friend just ROM stay Yishun got 145 for sales of balance flat. I think I can only say we are damn suay. I think another option is getting EC at that kind of price…EC become Condo, DBSS become HDB. Think Clementi’s Trivellis doesn’t make sense. Anyway, thanks for the insight 🙂

      2. for us, EC was another 200K more for facilities we probably won’t use (I currently stay in a condo so I know :P) but some people think further such as future resale value, etc which are good considerations. however at the time we were looking, the ECs available were all in *barf* Punggol so it wasn’t really an option.
        our Yishun DBSS was 3 times oversubscribed. I think the sales of balance flat is due to people dropping out, changing their minds and so on, not the after effects of a poor balloting system. our sales agent said she had a lot of interest at the start, only managed to secure 4 complete sales at the end. some changed their minds coz their BTO application went through. which means there are people who apply for more than one flat.

        if you really cannot wait after trying 5 times, do consider resale then. it’d have been my option if I didn’t get Yishun because we don’t qualify for BTO so our options are smaller.
        are you currently staying with your parents or in-laws?

      3. Yah, staying with parents now. In-laws are not in Singapore. Concern is parents are old. 70+ for both. Quite worried the longer I wait, the shorter I can stay in new place in event of “touchwood events” as I won’t be able to owe 2 HDB and will be forced to sell one unit…..

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