Singapore has always been known for its high property prices, but even among the city-state’s expensive real estate market, million-dollar resale HDB flats used to be unthinkable. That is because HDB flats are government-built and subsidised housing units that make up the majority of residential properties here.
In September, HDB flats that have sold for over a million dollars hit a record high, on top of nine HDB estates recording their first million-dollar flats in 2022. This has caused a stir in the local media and sparked debates about housing affordability in Singapore. These million-dollar HDB flats used to be located in prime areas such as District 9, 10, and 11, which are known for their proximity to the Central Business District (CBD) and their high demand for housing. However, some outliers in non-mature estates in the OCR such as Woodlands, Hougang, and Yishun have also managed to cross the million-dollar mark this year.
In this article, we examine the trend of million-dollar resale HDB flats, and whether it would continue beyond 2023.
Increasing demand for larger homes
One of the main reasons for the rise of million-dollar HDB resale flats is the increasing demand for larger homes.
As Singapore’s population continues to grow, more and more people are looking for spacious and comfortable homes to raise their families in. This demand was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic when work-from-home (WFH) or hybrid arrangements became the new norm, creating the need for more personal spaces at home or even home offices.
Newer HDB flats have been getting smaller over the years, even though they are more affordable than private properties. With the increased demand for larger spaces, 5-room HDB flats, the biggest flat type offered by HDB today, have been the popular choice of homeowners. Those who are unable to secure these flats from Build-to-Order (BTO) launches typically gravitate towards older jumbo flats, executive apartments, or executive maisonettes, all of which are no longer offered by HDB and only available on the resale market.
As more buyers opt for bigger flats since the start of the pandemic, prices have started to climb steeply in tandem. Average PSF of 5-room HDB flats have grown by 21%, while HDB executive, jumbo, and terrace flats have grown by 23% since 2020.
Earlier in February, a 2,012 sqft jumbo flat in Yishun with a remaining lease tenure of less than 70 years was sold for S$1.038 million. It was sitting on the fourth floor of the 12-storey block, making it even more impressive that it managed to cross the million-dollar mark. Property analysts at that time said that it was an outlier and such transactions will not be common. However, just months later in May and June, two more executive HDB flats in Yishun transacted at a million each. Both were low to mid-floor units with less than 70 years left on the lease.
This reflects the strong sentiment of this particular group of buyers to secure a more spacious home, and they are often willing to compromise on living in a more central or prime location. Coupled with the scarcity of such properties, is the reason why we are seeing more jumbo flats and executive maisonettes transacting for more than a million dollars in non-mature estates.
Buyers willing to pay premium for prime locations
Location is still a huge factor when it comes to a property purchase. This is evident by the increasing number of 4-room flats crossing the million-dollar mark and the fact that all of them were transacted in prime and central areas. Buyers are becoming increasingly willing to pay high Cash-over-Valuation (COV) amounts to live in close proximity to the city.
In September, Singapore introduced new cooling measures targeted at private property owners (PPO) and ex-private property owners (ex-PPO) who are downgrading to HDB resale flats. Ex-PPOs (with the exception of seniors aged 55 and above) who wish to downgrade to a non-subsidised resale HDB flat will now have to wait for 15 months before being able to do so.
This measure, introduced when million-dollar resale HDBs hit a record high, seems timely enough to deduce that this group played a part in the increasing number of million-dollar resale HDB transactions in recent years – and for good reason. HDB downgraders are typically cash-rich after selling off their private properties and do not mind paying the COV as long as the unit they are buying fulfils their requirements. With the 15-month wait-out period, it prevents ex-PPOs from purchasing a resale HDB immediately, leaving them with the option of moving back in with parents, renting in the meantime, or downsizing to a smaller private property.
Aside from the resale market, buyer sentiment for central and prime location housing can be seen from the latest BTO application rates. In particular, looking at the August 2022 BTO launch, the demand for 4-room and 5-room flats in mature estates is overwhelming. Application rates of first-timers vying for Sun Plaza Spring in prime Tampines was 17.2 for 4-room flats and 18.5 for 5-room flats. This means that for every unit available, there were around 17 to 18 couples vying for it.
The August 2022 BTO launch also saw the launch of Central Weave @ AMK, which offered 5-room flats – a rarity for new flats in the central region. Despite the price points starting from S$535k (4-room) and S$720k (5-room) before grants, the project saw more than 11,500 applicants by the end of the application period. This shows that despite high prices, many Singaporeans are still willing to pay a premium for a home in a desirable location.
Will this trend continue into 2023?
As the debate regarding the affordability of HDB flats continues, the term “lottery effect” has emerged as Singaporeans compare getting a BTO flat to striking the lottery.
While many aspiring first-time homeowners are applying for BTO flats with the intention of their own stay, the element of investment and lottery has creeped into the housing scheme. BTO flats are made available to buyers via a computer ballot, and those who apply for prime locations and are successful are likely to get a windfall after the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) if prices surge beyond the million-dollar mark.
Last year, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee mentioned that the government was considering raising subsidies and imposing clawbacks to keep flats in prime locations affordable. This later manifested as the Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) model, which included measures such as a 10-year MOP, additional subsidies, and subsidy clawback upon resale of the flat.
While the September 2022 cooling measures were meant to address the trend of million-dollar resale HDB flats, it remains to be seen whether it was effective in doing so. The government is also watching the HDB resale market very closely, so it is likely that more measures could be introduced.
Despite all that, million-dollar resale HDBs will likely continue to emerge due to the scarcity of certain flat types that are no longer offered by HDB and buyers’ desire for central and prime location housing. However, it is important to remember that even though these million-dollar transactions are often highlighted by the media, they are not the norm and only make up roughly 1.5% of overall resale HDB flat transactions.
If you are considering buying a resale HDB flat or are looking to sell and would like a second opinion on market trends, do not hesitate to contact us. See you in the next one.