SINGAPORE: Over the last four years, demand for new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats has risen – particularly for those in mature estates.

The overall number of applications received for each Build-To-Order (BTO) flat climbed from 2.3 in 2017 to 5.8 in 2020, according to a release by HDB on Sunday (Jul 25).

For units in non-mature estates, these rates more than doubled, from 2.1 applications per flat in 2017 to 4.8 last year. Examples of non-mature areas include Punggol, Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang and Woodlands.

But demand for new flats in mature estates rose even more sharply – application rates swelled from 2.8 per flat to 6.7 in the same period.

READ: HDB launches nearly 3,900 BTO flats; ongoing projects could face further delays amid COVID-19 border measures

Such strong demand has been observed in recent projects, such as Telok Blangah Beacon in Bukit Merah, which was offered in the May BTO exercise this year.

“(It) recorded an application rate of 49.6 times for its four-room flats … in part due to the small number of 70 units of four-room flats offered for this project,” said HDB.

The Housing Board also cited the Dakota One project in Geylang, launched in August last year, as having more than 19 applicants vying for each four-room flat.

Demand for new flats in these mature estates has remained strong, despite the increasing proportion of new flats being launched in these areas over their non-mature counterparts, said HDB. Specifically, this proportion grew from 44 per cent to 55 per cent from 2017 to 2020.

HDB added that the number of BTO projects in mature estates also went up from nine to 13 – an almost 50 per cent increase – in the same period.

READ: Commentary: Is housing still affordable for first-time homeowners?

SALE OF BALANCE FLATS

Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises in the same period told a similar tale of demand for new units in mature areas. These exercises offer unsold BTO flats from past launches, among others.

Average SBF application rates for mature areas stood at 5.4 applications per flat, compared to 4.8 for non-mature ones, said HDB.

In particular, over the past four years, some mature towns such as Clementi and Queenstown have seen application rates of 8.3 and 6.4 respectively – higher than the average of 5.4 for all mature estates.

In the May SBF exercise this year, application rates in Clementi went as high as 21.4 applications per flat, HDB added.

“Besides the good location of these mature estates, the high demand is likely due to the comparatively fewer BTO projects launched in Clementi and especially Queenstown in recent years.”

WHY IS DEMAND RISING?

The Housing Board said that the strong overall demand for public housing has been driven by several trends, such as an increase in married couples.

It noted that between 2015 and 2019, there was an average of 23,600 citizen marriages registered each year. This is higher than the 22,400 registered each year between 2010 and 2014.

“In the near term, higher demand for housing is expected from the larger cohorts of ‘echo baby boomers’ (born in late 1980s to 1990s) as they reach marriageable age,” said the Housing Board.

It added that “changing lifestyle and social aspirations” have led to a growing trend of smaller households.

Data from the latest census showed that average household sizes fell from 3.5 in 2010, to 3.2 persons in 2020. 

“Today, more young couples, singles and their parents prefer to live in their own flats instead of with their extended families.”

But while there were fewer multi-generational families living together, more couples were living near their parents, according to the HDB Sample Household Survey from 2018.

READ: More HDB households but average size shrank, with fewer multi-generational families living together

The proportion of married couples, aged 54 and below, choosing to live within close proximity to their parents grew from 21 per cent in 2013 to 24.3 per cent in 2018.

One such couple – Mr Garrett Chong and his wife Tan Pin Rong – got a five-room BTO flat in Clementi to live near Mdm Tan’s parents, under the Married Child Priority Scheme.

Under this scheme, up to 30 per cent of flat supply is set aside for families buying their first flat, while up to 15 per cent is set aside for families doing so for a second time.

Mr Chong, 30, said the plan was for his parents to move in with them as they got older. But the couple also wanted to live near Mdm Tan’s parents in the West Coast area to be able to care for them too.

“Now we can just visit them. They’re just (a five-minute walk) away … It’s good to live near parents because it provides the opportunity to expose the children to grandparents too,” said Mr Chong, who has an 18-month-old child.

READ: Smaller homes, shorter-lease units: How Singapore’s housing landscape might change amid population shifts

HDB added that the desire to stay close to family is also reflected in the higher take-up of the Proximity Housing Grant over the years. The grant provides up to S$30,000 for flat buyers who want to live with or closer to their families.

The proportion of resale transactions with the grant rose by about 21 per cent from 2017 to 2020, across both mature and non-mature estates, said HDB.

“While the majority of past BTO supply have traditionally come from the non-mature estates, there is a continued need to provide for more new flats in mature estates as well, so that the children of HDB residents living in mature estates can also have the opportunity to live close to their parents or parents-in-law for better family support,” it said.

FUTURE SUPPLY

The Housing Board also reiterated plans to launch about 17,000 BTO flats this year, adding that this is higher than the 14,600 and 16,800 flats launched in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

“This upward supply trajectory is necessary to meet the increasing demand for BTO flats in recent years.”

It also recapped its plans for upcoming BTO launches in August and November, with projects spread across non-mature and mature areas.
“Given the traditionally high BTO application rates in mature towns/ estates, flat buyers are encouraged to consider BTO flats in the non-mature towns/ estates for a better chance of securing a home,” it said.

Read More