HDB speeds up flat-buying process for young couples

Ms Stefanie Mok and her undergraduate boyfriend Gerald Sim, both 24, will benefit from changes to help more young couples get their first home more quickly, such as deferred assessment of their income for housing loans and grants.
Ms Stefanie Mok and her undergraduate boyfriend Gerald Sim, both 24, will benefit from changes to help more young couples get their first home more quickly, such as deferred assessment of their income for housing loans and grants. PHOTO: SAMUEL MOK

Young couples keen on buying their first flat no longer need to push back their plans because of a lack of income history.

Among a slew of measures to help young couples get their first home more quickly, the Housing Board is allowing a group of people aged at least 21 years, including undergraduates and national servicemen, to apply for grants to buy a flat earlier. This would shave off at least a year from their home-buying journey.

The assessment of their income for housing loans and grants will be deferred to just before they collect the keys to their homes, instead of the time of application.

This is typically about three to four years later, by which time the couple should have enough time to build their finances, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said during the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday.

Currently, at least one person must fulfil a minimum period of 12 months of continuous employment to qualify for a grant.

While new flats are already highly subsidised, eligible buyers also stand to get up to $80,000 in additional grants.

Mr Wong said some young couples may find themselves delaying their flat application for one or two years, then waiting for another four years for the flat to be ready. "I think that is too long a wait," he said.

The new scheme will be rolled out at the next sales exercise in May.

The move was welcomed by Ms Stefanie Mok, who is between jobs, and her boyfriend, accounting undergraduate Gerald Sim. The 24-year-olds have been dating for three years, and started talking about marriage last year.

Prior to Mr Wong's announcement, the couple would not have been eligible to qualify for housing grants as Ms Mok had been working for only about seven months. 

Ms Mok said: "Couples like us can apply for a flat earlier so that will definitely save us some time waiting for the flat to be ready."

While the idea will speed up the home-buying process, International Property Advisor's chief executive Ku Swee Yong cautioned that it may encourage young people to take more financial risks earlier.

"How can they be said to have 'carefully considered' buying a flat if they have not started to earn their own keep?" he said.

Besides the deferred income assessment, the HDB is also doubling the number of flats with shorter waiting times it will offer next year.

 

Mr Wong said about 2,000 flats to be offered next year will have a waiting time of two to three years, compared with the usual three to four years. About 1,100 such flats will be launched in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun in the second half of the year.

The minister also told Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) that his ministry is studying how to further reduce the waiting time, but cautioned that it is not possible to do it for all flats as some sites are not ready.

Mr Wong, in response to a question by Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), said his ministry is studying how to "further streamline processes" to make buying an HDB flat quicker and easier, on top of the introduction of the Re-offer of Balance Flats sales launch last August.

Among other things, the ministry is checking whether the balloting process for flats can be halved from six weeks to three, and he hoped he would be able to announce "some good news before too long".


Correction note: This story has been edited to make it clear that the new scheme allows young couples to apply for grants for HDB flats earlier. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2018, with the headline 'HDB speeds up flat-buying process for young couples'. Print Edition | Subscribe