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To all the newlyweds who’ve been in limbo, patiently waiting for the keys to your BTO flat amidst the excruciating COVID-19 delays and wondering if you should forfeit their partially-paid-for unit, the heavens have heard your cries. 

Recently, the government has announced that couples who are in urgent need of a house can now appeal to cancel their BTO application without any penalties for the first time ever. That is, they will fully reimburse you whatever costs that you’ve forked out if your appeal is approved (cue the confetti).

So if you’re planning on giving up on the ultimate Singaporean dream of getting a BTO as your first home, here is the breakdown of what you need to know.

Why was this announcement made?

The labour crunch and restrictions that the pandemic has forcefully put in place have taken a toll on the construction industry, causing huge delays from six months to more than a year in the construction process and delivery possession date in a number of BTO projects. On top of that, couples who have applied for newly launched BTOs are also suffering from the prolonged waiting time, with some projects expected to be completed in 2027!

However, this becomes a problem when couples want to start a family ASAP because of their ticking biological clock, or worse, because they already have a baby on the way. Additionally, with WFH being the default working arrangement, not all of us are lucky enough to have a conducive space to work and be productive (without the naggy parents-in-law).

With the new restrictions in place, couples are now allowed to appeal to cancel their flats without having to forfeit their payments, which could have resulted in up to tens of thousands of dollars before the announcement. Instead, couples are now able to look for other options that can grant them a roof over their heads in a shorter amount of time.

What can be waived?

Basically, most of the fees that you’ve already paid for can be waived. This includes the option fee (S$500-S$2,000) that you would have already paid when you went down to HDB to choose your flat, as well as the 5% upfront payment that you would have made in advance.

These fees are all dependent on which stage of application the couple is at.

Moreover, cancelling your BTO application if you’ve successfully chosen a unit would incur a one-year wait-out period. During this time, couples are not eligible to apply for a new flat, a resale flat with CPF housing grant or an Executive Condominium unit. Now, however, HDB will also waive the wait-out period, meaning that couples are free to apply for alternative housing and even get a housing grant for a new flat if they are eligible.

What are my housing options if I do cancel?

Here’s the price breakdown of housing options in Singapore:

Room sizeLocationPrice
HDB3-room

4-room

5-room

Executive Apartment (EA)
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
S$310,000- S$499,000
S$320,000 – S$650,000
S$350,000 – S$688,000
S$350,000 – S$970,000
S$488,000 – S$740,000
S$520,000 – S$1,300,000
S$550,000 – S$800,000
S$610,000 – S$1,200,000
Condominium2-bedroom

3-bedroom

4-bedroom
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
S$750,000 – S$1,700,000
S$780,000 – S$3,000,000
S$890,000 – S$2,300,000
S$1,100,000 – S$3,200,000
S$920,000 – S$3,300,000
S$1,600,000 – S$4,100,000
Sale of balance flat3-room

4-room

5-room
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
Non-mature estate
Mature estate
From S$134,000 
From S$154,000
From S$206,000
From S$220,000
From S$300,000
From S$363,000
Source: PropertyGuru and HDB
*prices are approximate and subject to change

1. HDB resale flat

An HDB resale flat could be your best bet at getting a home ASAP, though with a slightly larger price tag than your average BTO unit. Because of the greater availability (since you’re able to get the unit immediately) and the wider selection of location options, prices tend to be higher. 

(Read also “How To Choose An HDB Flat That Have High Resale Value“)

Aside from the S$80 flat resale application fee for units that are three-room flats or bigger, there is sometimes an additional lump sum on top of the flat price known as the Cash-Over-Valuation (COV), which can range from S$0 to S$50,000 depending on the location (according to The Straits Times, one in three HDB resale buyers paid COV in 2021).

On top of that, most resale flats would not have the Instagram-worthy aesthetic that you might have in mind so a good amount of money has to be devoted to renovation costs as well. Resale flats usually require more work like rewiring and hacking down of walls – compared to a BTO flat that provides you with a blank canvas to work on – resulting in higher costs that could amount anywhere from S$40,000 to S$65,000 (and possibly up to 40% more, according to Qanvast).

(Read also “Storage Hacks: 8 Ways To Keep Your New Home Clutter-Free“)

Buying a HDB resale flat would also take a considerable amount of time before you receive the keys. House viewing, negotiations, the Option To Purchase (OTP), valuation, completion of resale application and then renovation – the whole process could take anywhere from six months up to a year, and perhaps even longer.

2. Private property (Condominium)

If you’re thinking of moving into a condominium, be prepared to fork out a significantly larger sum than for your BTO unit – you may even have to compromise on the location and size of your unit if you’re on a tight budget. 

Though you’ll have access to a range of amenities all day every day, you’ll be subjected to a monthly maintenance fee as well (usually S$250-S$350 but can cost way higher for higher-end properties). 

Taking into account the property taxes (S$1,200/year on average), renovation fees of at least S$30,000 and a rough estimate of S$3,000 for monthly loan repayments, the prices for a private property can be pretty steep. And just like a resale HDB flat, the whole process would probably take about six months to a year too.

3. Sale of balance flat

Sale of balance flats are essentially leftover units from previous BTO launches that are up for sale, and they are usually launched twice a year – in May and November.

When it comes to the costs, you can expect to pay a similar price to your BTO unit, though they vary in terms of the location and other factors. With more choices that are not limited to the handful of projects, you have a higher chance of selecting a unit in your desired neighbourhood. However, don’t bank on getting a high-floor unit with a sea-view that’s near the MRT – chances are the good units have already been snatched up during the BTO launch.

In terms of the waiting time, these flats usually take a shorter time as they are probably already in the midst of construction, and may also be move-in ready, but they vary from project to project.

Should I cancel my BTO application?

Though you wouldn’t want to miss this never-before golden opportunity to cancel your BTO application without incurring any penalties, you should weigh out your priorities, options and the remaining time before you jump on the bandwagon.

If you’ve only got your BTO application approved recently and have the what-is-one-more-year-if-I’m-willing-to-already-wait-six-years mentality, you can just patiently wait it out. Better make all the hassle of the BTO application worth it, right? This should only apply to young couples who are in no rush of starting a family and moving into their new abode.

However, if you and your spouse have already been delaying the timeline of starting a family or are close to breaking point because you can no longer stand living with your in-laws, then maybe it’s time to throw in the towel and look for a house somewhere else – especially if you’ve been subjected to delay after delay. 

But do note that even if you opt for a resale flat, the whole process of looking for a suitable unit, getting the paperwork done and renovation can take anywhere from three months to a year.

This article was first published in SingSaver.

SingSaver is a personal finance comparison platform that allows users to easily compare credit cards, personal loans, and insurance for free, while helping empower people to lead healthier financial lives through increased financial literacy.