Kua Chee Siong

To help home buyers get flats more quickly, the Housing Board will scrap the existing Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF) exercises.

All unsold Build-To-Order (BTO) flats will first be offered through Sale of Balance Flats exercises, and those that remain unselected will be directly offered for open booking, instead of going through another round of balloting.

The move was among various measures that National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced yesterday, to meet the housing needs of different groups, including unwed parents and seniors.

He noted that more balance flats will be offered for open booking earlier by cutting out ROF exercises.

The HDB had rolled out an open booking option last June for unselected flats left over from ROF exercises, to allow buyers to apply for a new flat all year round, instead of waiting for semi-annual sales exercises.

“Now that we have some experience with this open booking system, we are ready to extend it further,” Mr Wong said. “This will enable home-seekers with urgent needs to access flats more quickly.”

Help is also at hand for vulnerable groups such as unwed single parents and seniors.

Unwed single parents aged 21 and above will be allowed to buy new three-room flats in non-mature estates, on top of the existing two-room flexi flats in non-mature estates and resale flats, said Mr Wong.

“For those who have insufficient finances and need a place to stay, we will continue to consider them for public rental if it is in the child’s best interests,” he told the House.

Unwed single parents who need help have to approach the HDB.

Mr Wong also announced improvements to existing schemes that aim to help more seniors monetise their flats to fund their retirement.

The Silver Housing Bonus, a cash bonus given to older flat owners who meet certain requirements when they buy a three-room or smaller flat, will be increased to $30,000 from $20,000.

Introduced in 2013, the bonus helps elderly households supplement their retirement income. But to qualify, they have to sell their current flat and top up their Central Provident Fund Retirement Account with the sales proceeds.

To make the scheme more attractive, seniors will be required to top up their account with only a flat sum of $60,000, with no other top-ups required.

Seniors also no longer have to sell a larger flat and move into a smaller one to qualify for the bonus.

They can sell any existing flat as long as they buy a three-room or smaller flat.

The Lease Buyback Scheme bonus will also be increased by 50 per cent, up to a maximum of $30,000.

Owners can get a maximum cash bonus of $30,000 for three-room and smaller flats, $15,000 for four-room flats and $7,500 for five-room and larger flats.

The scheme allows flat owners aged 65 and above to sell part of their leases back to the HDB, regardless of flat types.

They need to sell at least 20 years of their lease, while still having 15 to 30 years of the lease left after the sale, depending on their age.

The improvements to both schemes took effect yesterday.

Mr Wong also said his ministry will share more details in the coming year on a new model for BTO flats in prime locations.

He noted that in some prime locations, the prices of resale HDB flats are beyond the reach of many young couples just starting out.

“If this trend continues, it will mean that certain public housing estates become exclusive areas that only a few can afford, and will lead to social stratification.

“So we have to do something about this,” he said.

The basic idea behind the new model is to sell such flats at more affordable prices, but impose tighter conditions, he added.

This is a major change that has to be carefully studied as it will also have an impact on the resale market, he said.

Originally published in The Straits Times.