Retirement can be expensive, and many do not have sufficient savings for it. One way to save up is to use what you already own (hopefully) – your HDB flat.

Design: Design Channel


The most common and arguably easiest option – renting out a spare room or an entire flat – allows retirees to earn rental income without having to sell their home. They sublet their flat or a spare bedroom for a myriad of reasons, including financial difficulty and wanting some company.

Y.K. Chan, a widow, has been subletting the spare bedroom in her three-room HDB flat to a female Malaysian tenant for the last year. Still spritely, Y.K. prefers to live alone instead of moving in with her sons, who are married and have set up their own homes.

“They give me a monthly allowance, which covers my daily expenses,” she says. “I save the $550 I collect in rental income for medical emergencies and short trips with my friends.” She gets along well with her tenant and sometimes treat her to home-cooked food. An added bonus: “Although I’m still strong and healthy, it’s always good to have someone around the house to look out for me and contact my children in case of an emergency.”

What you need to know:

  • Elderly homeowners (Singaporeans or Permanent Residents) can sublet their bedrooms – the storeroom, bomb shelter and living room do not count – anytime they wish to tenants of any nationality, and for as long as they wish, without seeking HDB’s approval. They do, however, need to log their tenants’ details with HDB online ( within seven days of their subletting’s commencement
  • Only owners of three-room HDB flats (or bigger) can lease out their spare rooms. Three-roomflat owners can rent out one bedroom, subject to a maximum number of six occupants in the entire unit. Owners of four-room or bigger units can rent out a maximum of two bedrooms (regardless of the number of bedrooms they have), housing a maximum of nine people. 
  • If you choose to sublet a whole HDB unit – only Singaporeans are allowed to do so – make sure you fulfil the Minimum Occupation Period of five years (or three years if you bought an unsubsidised HDB flat from the open market before Aug 30, 2010). You need to seek prior approval from the HDB ( Also check for certain terms and conditions.

Design: 1967


First launched in 1988, these apartments were built and sold by the HDB to offer citizens aged 55 years or older the option to sell and cash in on their bigger homes. It is open only to Singaporeans and PRs, whose average gross monthly household income does not exceed $10,000. Married buyers must include their spouse in the application, though unmarried, divorced or widowed buyers can still apply for a studio apartment. Retirees can also choose to apply for such an apartment with a non-family member, provided that person is at least 35 years old.

These apartments, available in 36 sq m or 45 sq m, come with full amenities like floor tiles for the whole flat, wall tiles in the toilet and kitchen, window grilles, a built-in wardrobe, and a complete kitchen with cooker hood and stove. They also boast elder-friendly features such as grab bars and pull cords linked to an alert alarm system. 

On paper, a smaller, cheaper home for the elderly in a specially built environment sounds like a good idea. However, some buyers complain about the high prices, compared to a similarly sized two-bedroom build-to-order apartment. At the recent May 2015 BTO sales launch, a studio apartment in Tampines starts from $86,000. In comparison, a two-room flat in Sembawang costs $75,000. However, if the buyer receives the maximum amount of grants, it can be as cheap as $15,000. 

What you need to know: 

  • Unlike two-room flats, studio apartments cannot be sublet for rental income or resold on the open market. It must be returned to the HDB if the owner chooses not to live in it any longer.
  • Buyers must pay for the studio apartment in full (with CPF and cash) and cannot take a loan. 
  • Besides the much shorter 30-year lease versus a two-room flat’s 99-year lease, buyers of studio apartments are also not eligible for HDB grants.

Design: Project File


Similar to the studio apartment scheme, this also encourages elderly homeowners to downsize, but dangles the attractive Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) carrot. As long as you use some of your net sale proceeds to top up your CPF Retirement Account and join CPF Lifelong Income For The Elderly (CPF Life) to ensure a regular stream of retirement income, you can apply for the SHB. You’ll receive $1 for every $3 top-up, or up to $20,000 per household. Those who didn’t get any net proceeds – and thus did not top up their CPF Retirement Account – won’t receive any SHB.

Like the Lease Buyback scheme, the Right-sizing plan requires you to top up a minimum of $60,000 (or all your net sale proceeds if you received less than that) to any of the owner’s CPF Retirement Account (RA) before you can receive the rest in cash. If your net sale proceeds is between $60,000 and $160,000, you can keep up to $100,000 in cash. Received more than $160,000? You’ll first need to further top up the CPF RA of the flat owner with the lowest RA balance up to the prevailing full retirement sum (depending on your age, at a maximum of $161,000 for those aged between 64 and 69). Only then can you keep the excess cash on top of the $100,000.

What you need to know: 

  • Seniors can choose to buy a smaller (three-room or smaller) and cheaper flat from the resale market or directly from the HDB, as long as it’s a three-room flat or smaller, or a studio apartment. 
  • To qualify, at least one owner must be a Singaporean aged 55 or above, with a maximum household income of $10,000. Your existing HDB flat must meet the Minimum Occupation Period for resale. If you’re downsizing from a private property, its annual value must be $13,000 or less (this scheme aims to help the elderly from lower-income households – hence those in more high-value private properties are excluded). Of course if you own a second property concurrently, you’re not eligible either.
  • Your smaller HDB flat cannot cost more than the selling price of your existing property. That means you can’t “downgrade” from a cheaper four-room flat in, say, Jurong West to move to a pricier three-room apartment in a more central location like Redhill. 

As with all schemes, the four currently offered by the HDB each comes with its pros and cons. It’s never easy to adapt to change, be it accepting a stranger into your home when you rent out a room or choosing to downsize to a smaller flat, though seniors can choose to age in place and join the Lease Buyback scheme.

To pick the scheme best suited to your needs, find out more about these monetization methods on the HDB’s website (www.bit. ly/1xki1Zf) and make an appointment to speak to an HDB officer for more details.