HDB should provide forecast of BTO project launches

In January, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan announced that the Government was considering tougher measures to deter first-time HDB flat buyers from repeatedly not selecting a flat when invited to do so.

Under the current rules, applicants who reject a chance to select a flat twice will have their first-timer priorities removed for a period of one year – meaning they will be given one ballot chance instead of two.

Instead of imposing harsher penalties on couples looking for a dream home, perhaps the Housing and Development Board (HDB) can do more to help these couples make better decisions on their flat application and at the same time tackle the current waiting time for a Built-to-Order (BTO) flat that has flat-buyers complaining.

While HDB applicants might turn down the invitation to select a flat due to a number of reasons, such as not being offered a choice flat, perhaps providing an earlier forecast of coming BTO projects can help young couples make more informed choices and reduce the rate of rejection.

Currently, the HDB gives a hint of the location of any BTO projects coming up in the next month only when it launches the BTO projects for the current month. This means interested buyers get only a month’s notice about the coming BTO projects in the pipeline.

Some people may rush to apply for a project they are not really interested in. Their mentality is: “Better seize the chance first and decide later”.

Since it takes about two months for BTO application results to be released, some of these applicants may in the meantime also apply for other BTO projects, creating an unnecessary administrative burden on the HDB.

Then there may be couples who choose to hang on for a BTO in their ideal area to be launched. But by the time they decide that the wait is too long and that they should compromise by considering another location, precious time may have been lost.

Providing a forecast of where BTO projects will be launched every quarter, or even every six months, would mean that couples can plan rationally which project they would want to apply for. And if their ideal location is up for sale soon, it could help them to decide early on a new game plan.

Such better planning would ultimately help reduce the paperwork for the HDB.

One reason that the HDB has given for taking so long to release the application results is that it checks on the eligibility of each applicant.

Last year, BTO launches were oversubscribed by anywhere from two times to more than six times and it is safe to say a number of those signing up were repeat applicants.

For instance, in the Boon Lay Grove BTO project launched last May which saw 4,026 applications for 450 flats, about 1,100 applicants had outstanding BTO applications for which selection exercises had yet to begin.

Those who were eventually given the option to book a flat in another project would have had to give up their shot at one or the other – but not before using up administrative time and resources.

If such repeat applicants can be minimised, this can only expedite the BTO selection process and cut down the wait for other flat-buyers.

The anxiety of choosing a home can be one of the most stressful periods during a couple’s life.

Having applied for three BTO projects and failing to get a queue number each time, I can relate to the emotional highs and lows that come with each month checking the current and coming BTO launches, to decide if one should apply.

For sure, whatever tweaks are made to improve the selection process, it would be unrealistic to expect every BTO applicant to land up with their ideal flat.

As Mr Mah said during the Committee of Supply debate last year: “Buyers have to decide on the trade-offs they want to make – whether they should keep on trying for their ‘choice’ flat and delay setting up their home, or to settle first for one within their budget and move to a better flat later when they have built up their finances.”

But perhaps more can be done to help buyers decide on these trade-offs – such as the information that can let them plan further ahead.

Source : Today – 24 Feb 2011

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