Forum: A battle between prudence and emotion in buying HDB home

That Singapore has a high home ownership rate built upon affordable public housing is a narrative my generation grew up with and eventually subscribed to.

However, with the recent runaway real estate prices, housing has now become a familiar gripe at the dinner tables of 20-somethings and 30-somethings.

My partner and I started searching for our first home in 2019. After one too many failures at the Build-To-Order raffle, we entered the Housing Board resale market with rose-tinted glasses.

Armed with a mentality that this was our primary residence and not an investment, we set a strict budget for ourselves.

But with each search on property portal PropertyGuru, we found ourselves computing the maximum loan to afford a four-room unit in the venerable estate of Toa Payoh.

However, that would mean subscribing to a model premised on income from long, stable careers bolstered by generous bonuses and pay rises. We would be lulling ourselves into complacency that affordability is synonymous with prudence.

If anything, this pandemic has shown us that the threat of economic volatility is real, and I am unlikely to benefit from the model that has served my parents' generation well.

They were the early adopters of the property frenzy and encouraged us to buy into the market because, to them, it is the most familiar way to grow their nest egg.

Meanwhile, I see late adopters like my friends in their late 20s who have spent a staggering $900,000 on a four-room resale flat.

This dissociation of housing prices from broader macroeconomic metrics and the potential to spiral into bubble territory is disconcerting. It makes families vulnerable to the risk of price corrections and unaffordable mortgages once monetary policy tightens.

Government intervention has offered little comfort. As most voting Singaporeans have a vested interest in keeping the values of their homes up, any policy that erodes real estate prices significantly is too draconian to sit well with voters at the polls.

The impact of the recent slew of cooling measures will only slowly trickle down the property ladder to resale flats, while the effects of the new prime location public housing model are too far-flung to affect current sentiments.

No matter what housing prices look like, the desire to own our own home has been hard-wired into the Singaporean psyche. But prudence won out and my partner and I did not buy that flat.

That has not dented my dream of owning a small square foot of the Singaporean dream. In the end, home buying is as much an emotional decision as it is a financial one.

Elgenia Wong Tien Min

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