Shorter wait for BTO flats on the horizon: Lawrence Wong

The shorter wait will be achieved by bringing forward construction and building ahead of BTO launches.
The shorter wait will be achieved by bringing forward construction and building ahead of BTO launches.PHOTO: ST FILE

Waiting time will be down to 2-3 years from 3-4 years now but not for all flats: Minister

Young couples will soon be able to move into their new homes quicker, as the Government is looking to shorten the wait for public housing.

When implemented, the move will see the waiting period for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats dip to two to three years, from the current three to four years, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong last week.

He was speaking to The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao in his first sit-down interview since taking over the portfolio a year ago.

Referring to young couples who are buying flats for the first time, Mr Wong said: "We would like to see how we can help them settle down and get their flat faster."

He noted that some couples who urgently need their own flat currently opt for provisional housing or balance flats not sold in previous launches. Such balance flats are closer to completion, but are subject to balloting as well. "The demand for moving in is always there, that's why balance flats are always more popular... People want to move in as soon as possible," he said.

 
 
 
 

The shorter wait will be achieved by bringing forward construction and building ahead of BTO launches. But this will not apply across the entire housing stock, Mr Wong said. "It's not possible because you just can't construct all the flats within such a short period."

Doing so would risk building too much ahead of demand and ending up with a redundant housing inventory, he added.

To be meaningful, the waiting time has to be shortened by one to two years, Mr Wong said.

"There will be a range of BTO flats with different waiting times... so people can pick and choose," he said, adding that this spells more options for more home buyers.

Special education teacher Pearlyn Tay, 25, who is getting married in December, said a shorter wait will help young couples who want their own place after getting married.

"Logistically, it's very difficult for couples to wait four years... So many people are applying for BTO flats first, before they even propose (marriage)," said Ms Tay. She and her fiance, marketing manager Russell Tan, 26, will be moving in with his parents after the wedding.

Mr Wong said the shorter wait will be pushed out as soon as possible, but added that the Housing Board still needs to work out the details. "Exactly how many of these units can we offer, what steps do we need to take in order to advance the construction process - that's something we are all studying now."

Mr Wong said he does not expect prices of flats with shorter waits to be higher, adding that price points are "more location specific".

Shorter waits for BTO flats is one of three areas that Mr Wong's ministry hopes to focus on going forward.

The second involves making it easier for seniors to unlock the value of their flats for retirement. The third will be the rolling out of the Fresh Start Housing Scheme from February's BTO launch. It will help families with young children in public rental flats buy homes again.

Mr Wong also touched on other housing-related issues during the interview. He said that property cooling measures, which have dampened demand for homes and pushed down prices, are still needed to keep the market stable.

Future public housing projects in coveted downtown areas might come with stricter resale conditions, he added, in a bid to mitigate any "windfall effect" from the resale profits and ensure more equity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Shorter wait for BTO flats on the horizon'. Print Edition | Subscribe