If you are one of the lucky few and have found the love of your life during your university years, you may be thinking of getting a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat with your partner. Since BTOs take about roughly 3 years to be built, applying early may be ideal so that you can move in as soon as possible (or upon graduation) with your partner. However, if both you and your partner are currently full-time students, can you actually apply for a BTO? Would it really be wise to apply for a BTO that early?
The answer to the first question is yes, absolutely. In fact, the government is more than happy to help younger couples obtain their BTO and has rolled out some concessions to accommodate young couples. The answer to the second question will depend on you, and your partner. Buying a HDB flat is a very big and serious commitment, and should not be decided upon lightly.
Before you take the plunge, here are details you need to know about buying a BTO as a student couple:
Deferred income assessment
This is the concession that the government has provided for young couples who are full-time students, National Servicemen or have just recently completed their studies. Normally, first-timer couples have to be continuously employed for 12 months in order to be able to apply for Central Provident Fund (CPF) grants. There is a misconception that since students do not earn any income, they will qualify for the highest quantum of CPF grants. This is simply not true. In fact, having no income will mean you do not get a single grant at all! Additionally, having no income will mean that it is difficult to get a housing loan to finance your HDB purchase.
Therefore, the government has allowed younger couples to defer their income assessment till 3 months before the flat completion. This is good news, because student couples will likely already be working by the time their BTO is ready a couple of years later, so they will be able to obtain a housing loan and apply for the relevant grants. The couple must be at least 21 years old and below 30 years old before they are eligible for the deferred income assessment.
If you are successful in balloting for a BTO, congratulations! Hopefully you have gotten a low enough queue number, so that choice units are within your reach. Once you book your flat, you will be liable to pay the option fee. Within 4 months, you will have to sign the lease agreement and pay the downpayment, including stamp duty and legal fees. This downpayment is no small sum, especially for students.
If you take a HDB loan, the downpayment is 10% of the HDB purchase price, which would be $20,000 assuming you have booked a $200,000 3-room flat (the option fee is part of the downpayment).
Fortunately, younger couples under 30 years old are eligible for the Staggered Downpayment Scheme. This will allow you to split up the downpayment into 2, whereby the 1st payment is 5% upon signing the lease agreement and the 2nd payment is the next 5% upon the collection of keys. You and your partner would then only need to come up with $10,000 upfront, and can pay the rest of the downpayment much later. Although $10,000 is a reduced sum, it is still quite substantial for unemployed students, so be sure to plan ahead should you choose to get a BTO early.
Cost of breakup
This section will address the second question posed in the beginning of the article: Is it a good idea to apply that early for a BTO? The answer would be yes, if you do indeed get married to your girlfriend/boyfriend in the end. However, if you end up breaking up with your partner, then the cost of doing so will vary depending on which stage of the BTO application process this happens.
If you break up before the booking of a flat, the good news is that there is no financial penalty (apart from the $10 application fee). However, you would be considered as having rejected a flat once. If you reject a flat one more time, your first-timer priority will be suspended for 1 year.
Not so bad yeah? Unfortunately, it gets a whole lot more punishing the later in the BTO process if you break up.
If you break up after the booking of a flat but before the signing of the Agreement for Lease, then you will forfeit the option fee, which can be $500, $1,000 or $2,000, depending on the unit type. You are also barred from applying for and being included as an essential occupier of other HDB flats for a 1-year period.
If you break up after signing the Agreement for Lease but before the key collection, you will forfeit 5% of the flat purchase price. In my earlier example, this will mean forfeiting $10,000. In addition to the downpayment, you would have paid stamp duty and legal fees, which you may not be able to get back. You should get your lawyer to write in to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) requesting a reimbursement of the stamp duty, but there are no guarantees. Of course, you will also be barred for 1 year from applying for other HDB flats.
Applying for a BTO with our partner represents a significant milestone in our lives, and is very much part of the Singaporean Dream. It is crucial not to launch headlong into buying an HDB, and consider these factors carefully:
- If you have a student loan to pay off, will you still be able to service the HDB loan on top of that?
- If you are not able to find a job (touchwood) upon graduation, how will you service the loan? This is an additional risk that student couples face.
- Are you and your partner absolutely sure about each other? Applying for a BTO belongs less in the realm of young, passionate – but sometimes fleeting – love and more in the realm of stable, mature – but sometimes – boring love. This is not an iron-cast rule, but generally it will be a better idea to have dated a couple of years before deciding to apply for a BTO.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to apply for a BTO is yours to make. As much as we can approach this logically, since BTO applications are closely tied to matters of the heart, perhaps going with your gut-feel on this one would prove to be the wiser move.