Experts back options for flat lease buyback scheme

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said his ministry is studying whether elderly flat owners may be given the option to retain more or fewer years on their flat's lease. Details of the changes are set to be announced this week.
National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said his ministry is studying whether elderly flat owners may be given the option to retain more or fewer years on their flat's lease. Details of the changes are set to be announced this week.BT FILE PHOTO

They say this will attract more seniors to the scheme, but call for safeguards

More elderly flat owners are likely to be interested in the Lease Buyback Scheme if they have a choice of how many years of their lease to retain and how many to sell back to the Government, said property experts.

But they also warned about allowing too much flexibility and suggested pegging such options to the flat owner's age.

On Sunday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that the Government is looking at ways to create more flexibility in the Lease Buyback Scheme.

Currently, the scheme lets Housing Board flat owners keep 30 years of their lease and sell the rest back to the HDB.

The sales proceeds are used to top up their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Retirement Accounts, with any extra being received in cash.

Mr Khaw said his ministry is studying whether elderly flat owners may be given the option to retain more or fewer years on their flat's lease.

A longer lease would mean that flat owners do not have to worry about outliving the 30 years.

A shorter lease would let them get more cash upfront.

Details of the changes are set to be announced this week.

Experts were upbeat about the the proposed move, but highlighted the need for safeguards.

Offering a shorter lease to an 80-year-old, for instance, will free up more cash for these older flat owners who might have more medical costs, said R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng.

But allowing too short a lease to be left on the flat runs the risk that flat owners will outlive it.

"I believe that there should be a minimum cap on how many years the owner can retain, and the cap should be adjusted according to their age," said OrangeTee managing director Steven Tan.

If too much flexibility is offered, he added, some might take advantage of it by keeping a very short lease and counting on the Government to not evict them.

The Government has guaranteed that no elderly Singaporean will be made homeless under this scheme.

"But this guarantee will cost taxpayers' money to fulfil" if many flat owners do outlive their leases, noted SLP International Property Consultants' head of research Nicholas Mak.

Mr Ong thought that the target age should rely on projections by medical, elder-care and sociology experts on possible life expectancies in the coming decades.

The Lease Buyback Scheme is one of several options which four-room flat owner Teo Hup Seng, 71, is considering.

The retiree, who lives with his 66-year-old wife, welcomed the option of keeping a shorter lease: "It would be good if they allowed it. Thirty years is more than enough for us."

janiceh@sph.com.sg