By Heartland Boy (guest contributor)

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It was not too long ago that I participated in an HDB BTO (Housing Development Board Build to Order) exercise. For the foreign readers, this is a public housing system in Singapore that allocates new HDB flats to aspiring home owners. For first-timers, this can be a pretty harrowing and confusing experience. This is especially so when everyone claims to be an “expert” when it comes to property. Over-zealous parents, well-meaning relatives and friends who have gone through this baptism of fire would chip in with their golden nuggets of advice on how to game the HDB BTO exercise.

For Heartland Girl (that’s my wife) and myself, it was indeed a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Not to exaggerate, tears were shed and fault lines were drawn, all unnecessary experiences that does not have to happen to other couples out there when shopping for an HDB BTO. Therefore, having emerged better and stronger as a couple from our own HDB BTO exercise, I wish to share a few tips for aspiring home owners out there.


  1. Propose as early as possible if you have “decided” on the one

I had long decided on asking Heartland Girl to be my wife early on in our relationship in 2013. For practical reasons, I felt that the wedding proposal and marriage could wait as the HDB BTO would require approximately four years to be built and ready. Therefore, like every Singaporean guy out there, I asked Heartland Girl if she would like to buy an HDB flat before proposing to her. But I never expected the backlash.

I was put to the guillotine and almost never lived to see another day because in that moment, I obliterated the perfect white knight in shining armour wedding proposal dream she had since she was a kid. To her, this was akin to putting the cart before the horse. It was taking her for granted.

So instead of time spent participating in HDB BTO exercises, I spent months appeasing the queen. Meanwhile, HDB BTO launches for Toa Payoh, Kallang and TelokBlangah all flew by. These were all ideal locations. It was too heart wrenching for me to watch and I finally nipped the problem in the bud by proposing to Heartland Girl in July 2014. Thankfully, the stars remained aligned as shortly after, there was an HDB BTO launch in September 2014 that featured Boon Keng!

Of course, another more practical reason for proposing early is to take advantage of financial schemes from the HDB when you are still not earning much.

  1. Separate needs from wants

Besides Tip No.1, which may not be applicable to everyone, the other equally important tip is to separate needs from wants. If you ask Heartland Girl what her dream house looks like, it would be as follows:

“I want a house that is centrally located, has a walk-in closet, big enough for my Barbie doll collection, near to an MRT stop, near to amenities, has a big balcony, big enough to accommodate a kennel for a Golden Retriever etc.”

Honestly, the list would have gone on had I not stopped her. That was a good wish list to have for the future, but definitely not for now. It is important that the couple sits down to have a proper, mature adult conversation and sieve out the needs from the wants. In the end, we settled on the following needs:

  • Minimally, the HDB BTO has to be within the city fringe
  • It has to be truly accessible by MRT, buses and expressways
  • It has to be near a hawker center and wet market (you can never take the Heartlander out of both of us)
  • It has to be sufficiently big for a family

We settled on this set of needs so that we had the most exit options when the Minimum Occupation Periodis up.

  1. Prioritise your needs

After you have separated your needs from wants, it is important to rank them in order of importance. Some of the most common needs are:

  • I want a big house (5 room flat)
  • I want to stay near my parents
  • I want to be in a mature estate as the amenities are better
  • I want to be within walking distance to the MRT
  • I want a central location
  • I want an affordable HDB BTO flat

For myself, the need to stay in a central location far outweighs any of the other needs. The commute to the Central Business District is drastically reduced when staying in a city fringe location compared to a suburban location. I value time as much as money. For Heartland Girl, being within walking distance to an MRT was the most important. Therefore, when the Boon Keng HDB BTO was launched, it was a dream location for us as it was exactly what we needed.

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Picture 1: Location of St George’s Towers HDB BTO Project

To some couples, the need to stay near their parents could be the most important. The convenience of having trusted adults babysit their child in the day may be something that cannot be bought with money. It is OK to have different needs; what’s most important is to fully rationalize, and understand as a couple, why both of you had bought a specific HDB BTO in that particular location.

Another piece of advice: this set of needs should be unique to the couple, not to the couple’s parents!

  1. Remember that the HDB BTO is a demand-supply game

Allocation of the HDB BTO flat is ultimately a mathematical exercise based on demand and supply. Thus it is important to understand how the demand and supply factors affect your choice.

Some demand factors to consider include:

  • Is the HDB BTO in a mature estate?
  • Is the project located near to the MRT?
  • What is the impact of the salary ceiling revision by the government?

Some supply factors to consider include:

  • What is the size of the current launch and the preceding launches?
  • Whether a Sale of Balance Exercise is concurrently launched at the same time?
  • When was the last time there was an HDB BTO exercise conducted in that location?
  • Within the project, were both 5 room and 4 room flats being offered?

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Picture 2: St George’s Towers Artist’s Impression

We eventually decided to bid for a 3-room HDB BTO flat at Boon Keng instead of a 4-room flat. This was to give us a 10X better chance of landing an HDB BTO flat at that location. Accordingly, this meant giving up on the need for the flat to be “sufficiently big for the family.” This was a painful decision and not a decision popular with their family or friends. But remember Tip No. 3 – only the couple truly knows their own set of needs.

Allocation of an HDB BTO is also not based on a “first come, first serve” basis, so it would be wise to monitor the demand first during the exercise period. This allows you to test your hypothesis before making the final decision.

So here you go, roll the dice and good luck!

By Heartland Boy, a young working heartlander who blogs about his chase for financial independence.

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