Singapore: On the lookout for opportunities amid anxieties

Some rethink BTO plans, current living arrangements

For Ms Charlotte Wang and her boyfriend Matthew Lee, a longer wait for some Build-To-Order flats means they would have to live with their parents or rent a flat - neither of which appeals to them.
For Ms Charlotte Wang and her boyfriend Matthew Lee, a longer wait for some Build-To-Order flats means they would have to live with their parents or rent a flat - neither of which appeals to them.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHARLOTTE WANG

First apply for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat, then have a wedding three to four years later.

Such is the plan - one might even call it a template - for so many young Singaporean couples that the pragmatism has passed into urban legend here.

But in a time of Covid-19, the "BTO first, marriage later" path in life has come under strain.

In the August sales exercise of these flats, which are available to Singaporeans who do not own any other property, the expected completion date of some BTO projects was pushed back to four to five years, instead of the usual three to four.

For content creator Charlotte Wang, 27, and her boyfriend of two years, Mr Matthew Lee, the longer wait for a BTO flat means they would have to either live with their parents or rent a flat - neither of which appeals to them.

On top of that, Ms Wang quit her role at a marketing agency at the beginning of the year to take a two-month break, which then turned into a period of extended unemployment when she could not find a new job.

Mr Lee, also 27, who works as a financial consultant, saw his income dip as well.

The couple are now forsaking their BTO plans and thinking of buying a resale flat next year.

Says Ms Wang: "The pandemic made things a little uncertain for us financially. So we agreed we would save up for a year and, hopefully, by the end of next year, we will be able to afford a resale flat and a small wedding."

Their target is to save $100,000.

"My own spending has gone down significantly as I'm fixated on saving up for bigger things such as the house," she says, noting that she now puts aside about 75 per cent of her income, compared with 50 per cent in the past.

Several other young Singaporeans interviewed by The Straits Times expressed similar concerns about the long waiting time for a flat, as well as their ability to pay for one.

  • 7,787

    Number of HDB resale flats sold in the third quarter of this year, compared with 3, 426 in the second quarter.

  • 30%

    Proportion of respondents in a recent survey commissioned by the National Population and Talent Division and the Ministry of Social and Family Development who said they were likely to delay marriage or have a child later because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy.

Ms Christine Sun, head of research and consultancy at real estate agency OrangeTee & Tie, says the reluctance to wait - for those who can afford it - could have fuelled the recent spike in demand for resale flats.

She adds: "Many BTO launches were also heavily oversubscribed, and unsuccessful candidates may have bought resale flats as an alternative."

Data from the Housing Board (HDB) showed a total of 7,787 HDB resale flats were sold in the third quarter of this year, compared with 3,426 in the second quarter. This is a 127.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter increase.

Prices of HDB resale flats also rose by 1.5 per cent across the board in the third quarter, compared with the previous quarter.

Dr Sing Tien Foo, director of the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS), says the pandemic may have led some young people to rethink their finances and adjust their spending and saving habits so that they can buy a home.

This is particularly true if they do not want to wait for a BTO flat and are thinking of a resale flat, which may continue to increase in price, he adds.

Dr Sing notes that there is also the added worry of not being able to find a full-time job with steady Central Provident Fund contributions, which may affect their ability to afford the flat.

Still, experts feel that the demand for a BTO flat before marriage is a cultural norm that is not likely to change any time soon for the majority of young Singaporeans, even in a post-Covid-19 world.

But, says Assistant Professor Jeffrey Chan, from the Singapore University of Technology and Design's humanities, arts and social sciences faculty, they may have to make adjustments and adapt to situations such as a longer waiting time.

Temporary arrangements could include taking short-term rental or delaying marriage, says Prof Chan.

A recent survey commissioned by the National Population and Talent Division and the Ministry of Social and Family Development found about 30 per cent of respondents said they were likely to delay marriage or have a child later because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy.

The survey polled about 4,100 Singaporeans, of whom about half were aged 22 to 32 and in serious relationships, while the rest were married individuals aged 21 to 45.

The pandemic has also caused others to rethink their current living arrangements.

A week into the circuit breaker in April, 19-year-old Zoey (not her real name) decided to start saving up for her long-time goal of moving out of her family home.

The experience of being cooped up at home with her parents and younger brother in what she described as an "unconducive living and studying environment" spurred the second-year polytechnic student into action. She currently has a "couple of thousands" stored away for future rent.

"I had thought about moving out since I was 13 but it was not possible, so I stuck it out. But now that I'm older, I can work towards this goal by saving more and working part time," says Zoey, who declined to be named for fear of her parents finding out.

She acknowledges that it may be one or two years until she can realistically move out, and even then, she may have to "live uncomfortably", such as in a backpacker hostel. But she does not mind.

However, Adjunct Associate Professor Steven Choo, from the department of real estate in NUS, says many young Singaporeans are typically "quite pragmatic" and are unlikely to move out of their parents' house if they do not have the financial capacity to sustain themselves in the long term.

"The last thing you want is to have to move back home when you run out of money. Usually it's the more enterprising ones who will take the opportunity to get out of their homes," says Prof Choo.

Zoey says that while she knows some of her peers may entertain the idea of moving out of their parents' homes, not many will take the practical steps to do so.

"A lot of my friends are very content living with their parents, so when I tell them I plan to move out soon, they are shocked.

"I'm going to face difficulties whether I stay at home or move out, so I choose to move out and face real-world problems instead of my parents."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2020, with the headline 'Some rethink BTO plans, current living arrangements'. Print Edition | Subscribe