Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More housing options for buyers now

SICK of being held to ransom by ever-ballooning rents, Ms Michelle Lim, 31, and her husband have been on the hunt for a home of their own for a year now.
But they have not found the going easy, with the prices of HDB resale flats and private properties - the only types of properties open to them - at eye-popping levels.

She and her husband, who are both in sales and make a combined income of about $10,000, were thus cheered yesterday by the lifting of the income ceiling for new flats and housing grants.

Unchanged for the last 17 years, the ceiling is now $10,000, up from $8,000.

The couple now have several options: They can apply for a new build-to-order (BTO) flat, consider an executive condo (EC) unit, or buy a resale flat with a housing grant from the HDB. They are also eagerly awaiting HDB's sale-of-balance flats (SBF) exercise next month, which offers completed or almost completed flats. This is their preferred option for now.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that a record 8,000 flats under HDB's BTO and SBF schemes will be launched next month.

Ms Lim said: 'We can't wait three to four years for a home, so we hope to get lucky. If not, we'll have to consider other options, such as buying a resale flat with the grant.'

Yesterday's changes to the rules also opened up an alternative source of financing for the couple: HDB now allows couples earning up to $10,000 to apply for HDB loans, which typically have more stable or lower interest rates.

Ms Valda Lee, 29, and her fiance are among the many who have appealed to the Ministry of National Development about their housing situation.

The couple, who earn above $10,000 monthly, have been house-hunting in the resale and private property markets for more than a year.

'But now, at least ECs are an option too,' said Ms Lee, a manager who was also unsuccessful in her application for a flat under HDB's Design, Build and Sell Scheme because she and her fiance bust the $10,000 income ceiling.

But some couples are not exactly popping the champagne yet. For example, Mr Jeffrey Cai, a 30-year-old who works in IT, foresees that the higher ceiling will mean more competition for flats.

'We've applied more than three times and did not even get to select a flat. Now, with even more people applying, the chances will be even slimmer,' he said.

Two other groups of home buyers - the single and the elderly - were also cheered yesterday.

Graphic designer Toh Siew Peng, 37, who earns slightly more than $3,000 and has been living with her aunt, said she was very happy to hear that she 'finally' qualifies for a grant to buy a flat.

She has set her heart on a three-room one, but it all depends on the price.

Mr Colin Tan, who heads research at Chesterton Suntec International, yesterday commended the income ceiling revision as timely.

'Many people have been calling for the ceiling to be raised for many years. Now that it has been raised, people will have more choices,' he said.

He said he expected the immediate impact on the housing market to be minimal. In the longer term, however, the changes may remove buyers from the private property market, since BTO flats lock people in for several years.

'Even if private property prices correct, there may be fewer buyers,' he said.

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