Two-room flats may not appeal to many singles

GOING by the numbers alone, the next launch of two-room Housing Board flats in July could be massively over-subscribed as a result of the recent move to allow singles to buy the units.

Eight in 10 working singles – some 150,000 Singaporeans – are now eligible to buy the smaller flats, which make up only a small fraction of the units launched each year.

But property watchers and singles themselves also say many of those eligible may give the flats a wide berth because of their small sizes and far-flung locations.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said last Friday that the two-room flats for singles will come in two sizes – 375 sq ft and 485 sq ft – and be located in non-mature estates like Sengkang.

But Propnex Realty chief executive Mohamad Ismail pointed out that someone earning $5,000 – the income cap for singles who want to buy a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat – could get a mortgage loan for up to $350,000.

This would cover the price of three-room resale flats in most areas, he noted – big enough to entertain friends and host guests.Some singles agree. Mr Desmond Goh, 37, for example, is eschewing the new flats.

“Two-room is out of the question as my parents want to be able to stay with me when they’re older,” said Mr Goh, who works in customer service. He is likely to hunt for a three-room flat on the resale market instead.

Ms Stacey Cheo, 34, who works for a non-profit organisation, said the flats for singles should also be located in mature, central estates.

“I think families would like to stay in residential estates like Pasir Ris where there is the beach and the park for children. It’s singles who want to go to town more often,” she said.

It is unclear how many two-room flats will be launched in July now that singles are eligible, but they have traditionally been in short supply from HDB.

Last year, out of 27,000 flats launched, only 424 were two- room units. The bulk of them were in non-mature estates.In its Sale of Balance Flats exercises last year, 1,755 flats out of 7,153 from HDB were two-room.

Even so, only about half are taken up at initial BTO launch on average, said HDB. SLP International research head Nicholas Mak said the HDB’s July launch will likely include a bumper crop of two- room flats for singles. But they should be mixed with flats of different sizes.

“There are two groups of buyers for two-room flats, singles and lower-income families,” he pointed out. “When these flats go onto the resale market, they may form a kind of ghetto if they are bought over by lower-income families and all in the same block.”

In response to queries from The Straits Times, HDB said it is still working on details of the singles scheme, and will monitor the response to the new projects in July. It will consider building more two-room flats if demand is strong, said its spokesman.

Magazine writer Lance Lim, 40, will be in line come July. 

“I really want to own property of my own,” he said.  “And until they start paying writers better, this is my only option.”

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 13, 2013

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