Buying your HDB flat in Singapore: How to set your top priorities right

buy hdb flat tips - price, location, family planning guide

Buying a HDB flat is a huge commitment, and we’re not gonna lie, a really daunting one as well, especially for the first-time homebuyer. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you probably don’t want to only find things out the hard way when we’re talking about a $500,000 purchase.

So we’ve put together a list of important factors to consider when searching for your new home:

If you want to prioritize price:

This is an obvious concern – your house will be a huuuge purchase! For a $500,000 HDB flat, for example, just a 1% difference in price is already $5,000.

If you haven’t thoroughly worked out how much house you can afford, now’s the time to figure it out. When buying a HDB flat, there’s a minimum down payment of 10% of the purchase price, while the remaining 90% can be paid with a combination of a home loan and housing grants.

Here are a few useful resources to do your research related to all things money and property-buying:

And when filtering for properties in your house-hunt, it doesn’t hurt to set the maximum price a little higher – for instance, $520,000 if your budget is $500,000. This way, you’ll get a glimpse of what’s just beyond the horizon so you’ve got a better gauge of what’s in the market; and for all you know, you’ll be able to negotiate that $520,000 asking price down to $500,000.

If you want to prioritize location:

Perhaps you want to stay as close to the CBD as possible so it’s easy to get to work. Or perhaps you’ve sworn yourself in as Eastsider 4ever.

First things first, if you have a specific neighborhood in Singapore you want your house to be in, this would affect whether applying for a BTO flat is a viable option for you at all. If you’re eyeing mature neighborhoods like Marine Parade where there are no new BTO projects, you’ll want to be searching for a resale HDB flat in that neighborhood.

And even if you’re planning to BTO, popular neighborhoods are often oversubscribed, which means your chances of successfully balloting for a flat are pretty low. Take for instance the recent August 2020 BTO launch: there were 14 applicants vying for every 1 4-room flat in Geylang. Tough.

We all have preferences for where we’d like to stay, and for the most part, you can definitely find affordable resale options in any neighborhood. Take Bishan, one of the more expensive towns in Singapore, for instance. The average price of a resale 4-room HDB flat is $542,000, but HDB’s transaction history shows that several of the older HDB flats (mostly with 50-60+ out of 99 years left on their lease) sold for less than $400,000 in the past year. You’ll be making that trade-off in terms of lease years, but it’s literally hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper:

bishan hdb flat for sale singapore price

And speaking of location, what’s equally important is accessibility. If you live 2 MRT stops away from town but it takes you 15 minutes to walk to the bus stop, a grumpy wait for a bus that arrives only every 20 minutes, and a bus ride to even get to your nearest MRT station… Maybe it’s better to consider expanding your radius and check out HDB flats located slightly farther away, but right next to an MRT station.

Read more: Mature vs non-mature estates in Singapore: Which is better? »

If you want to prioritize atmosphere:

Proud, independent young adult moves out of her family home into a new flat. 2 weeks in, she begins to think, “Nowadays the weather getting quite hot hor?”

Soon, she realizes that it’s because she had gotten so used to the natural breeze streaming into her 26th floor family home, and the ventilation was much poorer in her 3rd storey new flat.

Yes, this proud, independent young adult is me 🙁 So take a page from me – the atmosphere of the home is something you need to intentionally look out for when house-viewing, or you might not realize that certain qualities of the HDB flat are less than ideal.

For example, ventilation. Is the house/ room facing the West? If so, you’ll get lots of sun. You would ideally want the room to be facing East, so the sun brightens up your day and keeps your evenings cool.

If you’re a home MasterChef, pay extra attention to the kitchen, as poor ventilation can cause food odours to linger.

If you want to be extra sure, arrange for a second viewing in the day if the first viewing was in the evening, for instance, to observe the air flow and warmth levels for yourself at different times of day.

High rise units tend to be more cooling, but don’t immediately assume so – if the unit is surrounded by other high rise HDB blocks, it might affect the smoothness of the air flow as well.

Monitor noise levels as well. Is the unit near a school or a busy road, for instance, that might be noisy at certain times of day? And can you live with the noise?

If you’re looking for a home to stay in for the long term, these are the seemingly little things that might end up frustrating you big time, so you’ll want to identify these no-nos so you can avoid them.

If you want to prioritize family planning:

Then there are a few things to consider here.

For instance, the BTO vs resale debate. If you’ve already got a baby on the way, do you have the time to wait 3-5 years for your BTO project to be move-in ready (plus you can’t guarantee you’d be successful in your ballot at all)? As such, you might want to go for the much quicker process of buying a resale HDB flat.

And if you’re a married couple planning to expand the fam in the next few years, you might want to look for a 4- or 5-room HDB flat, at the very least. You might find the home a little large for two now, but down the road, you’ll have extra space to convert into a nursery for your new baby, and you won’t find yourself space-strapped and forced to move after a few years.

Furthermore, keep in mind that there’s a Minimum Occupancy Period (MOP) of 5 years before you’re allowed to sell your HDB flat. You’ll be there for some time, so note what you need in a house for at least the next 5-10 years.

Ultimately, you want a house that feels like home.

At the end of the day, buying a house is as much an emotional process as it is a practical one, and the dream home is one that not only meets your functional needs but also simply, you know, feels like it.

And as much as conventional wisdom tells you to prioritize your needs and not your wants, sometimes, it’s a very fine line between a need and a want. For instance, is an extra study room really a need when you could technically just work at the dining table?

If your idea of home is a place where you’re functioning at your best, and having a study room means you’ll be twice as productive and more capable of increasing your earning capacity, you might note it down as a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.

Even if that means postponing your home-buying plans for a year to give yourself time to save up for a bigger HDB flat.

But if price is the biggest consideration by miles, and having an entire extra room will outrightly bust your budget, then think about how you can work around it: is there a space in the bedroom or living room that you can partition to create a productive workspace? Or how can you renovate the flat so that it’s optimized for working from home?

Setting your priorities right

Hopefully, this has helped you to rationalise what you’re looking for in a house in Singapore. And with that, happy house-hunting!

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