HDBs are Singapore’s affordable and abundant archetypal apartments.
Many support the housing scheme we have in place, but, as with everything, there are haters.
One Facebook user has pointed out that HDB buyers aren’t owners of the flat, and Ho Ching has responded.
Ho Ching Explains
To contextualise, a user on Facebook claimed, in Ho Ching’s words, that HDB flats are not owned by the people who buy them. “We are merely paying rent upfront for long-term leases,” she said.
Further questioning our housing system, the user asked: “So why are we paying property taxes for flats we do not own?”
Her post on 14 December prompted Ho Ching’s lengthy reply on 16 December.
Distilled into short form, Ho Ching credited these points to why HDB flats belong to buyers and not the government:
Why Bird Paradise Suddenly Became Singapore’s Yishun:
- Any appreciation in the flat’s price is reaped by the flat owner.
- Any money collected from the rental of the flat goes to the flat buyer.
Basically, the government doesn’t collect anything.
Additionally, she mentioned how the original accusatory post hinted at the lack of value of leasehold property as compared to freehold.
With respect to this, she highlighted that the terms “leasehold” and “freehold” were but names for the properties, which do not fully guarantee the status of said properties.
What does this mean?
Essentially, even if your property is “freehold,” future governments may still seize it back, or it may fall into the hands of another country should Singapore lose in a war.
Simply put, the term “freehold” does not promise the permanence of property.
Ending her post, she explained the importance of paying taxes, describing it as a “duty for everyone.”
Use of Singlish and Analogy
In her address, some were shocked that she used Singlish.
Starting, she said: “Aiyoyo, Serene,” as if in light disappointment. off
As her post progresses, she adds in informal English occasionally to lighten the mood.
Sandwiching the whole statement with colloquialism, she ended by saying: “As old taxi drivers will say: Xiao ah! Manna oo everything free, gai?”
Apparently, her use of the Singaporean tongue wasn’t the only thing that left readers pleasantly surprised.
Because some might be puzzled by the chaos of information, she provided an analogy to simplify the situation for readers.
She compared an HDB flat to an apple.
When speaking on judging the price of the flat, she said to “look at recent transactions of similar apples.”
As for varying demand for flats, she stated that “we (might) like the colour, shape, or other special “good luck” features of the apple and would be willing to pay more.”
Lastly, on renting flats, she pointed out that deriving more value from the apple was like saving its seeds and growing an apple tree for more apples.
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The following is everything Ho Ching wrote in her post:
It’s fine if you have a different opinion, but it is not honest to put words into someone else’s mouth, ya?
Think of it this way:
Suppose we pay $1 for an apple.
If we eat the apple, it’s gone in a jiffy!
If we don’t eat the apple, it may go to rot in a few days and would be gone too!
Or we can slice the apple and bake an apple pie for our family for the weekend.
Either way, we don’t rent the apple for 1 minute, 1 week, or 1 month – we bought and own the apple, even if it has gone into our tummy with bits converted into our cells and the remnants passed out!
And if we eat the apple, but save the seeds, we could plant and grow an apple tree or more for more apples, provided the climate is right and we continue to care for the apple tree/s.
But how do we value the apple?
There are so many varieties of apples, thousands of them!
So one way we try to put a market value on the apple is to look at recent transactions of similar apples.
Another is to figure out what we can sell an apple pie for and so work backwards to decide if it is worth $x.
Or if we are dying of hunger and there is only one apple available, we may pay a lot more.
Or we like the colour, shape, or other special “good luck” features of the apple and would be willing to pay more?
Same for HDB flats.
We can look at the recent transactions whether for land or for flats, to figure what the current market value would be worth.
Or we can think in terms of converting the price into a rental stream and assess if we are willing to pay for that.
And surprise, surprise!
If we convert the price of an HDB unit into a rental stream, we find that it is very very worthwhile.
This is one reason why some 85% of our population are HDB owners – the sums do work out unless we overrstretch ourselves.
In any case, no 2 units are exactly alike, and the market price is ultimately on a willing buyer willing seller basis.
But it is not advance rental payment, yo!
While we can impute a rental stream, we own the flat that we bought.
If the flat appreciates, we collect the capital gain.
If we rent a flat, the owner collects the capital gain, not us!
The opposite is true too!
If we have a lousy govt, or a quarrelsome people, people will lose trust and confidence and property prices will fall.
And we eat the loss in value as an owner, unlike a tenant who would be protected from such capital loss and could even bargain for lower rental when market is down!
And the converse is true.
If Singov builds an MRT station near us, the value of our flat increases, as demand for a flat close to MRT will be higher.
And who collects that increase in value?
The flat owner, lah! Not the tenant who rents the flat, right?
And worse, the landlord will say rental will go up bcos someone else is willing to oay a higher rent for tbe proximity to the MRT if we as tenants don’t want to pay more rent!
So if we are only “renting” the flat, whether HDB or something else, we will have a landlord who will benefit from the asset appreciation.
In Sg, we also benefit from the goodies handed out to HDB flat owners from time to time like GST vouchers and CDC vouchers and such like.
Ask anyone who is renting a HDB flat from the owner/s of the leasehold flat – they don’t get these extra goodies that are provided for HDB owners from time to time, funded by all manners of taxes from us too!
Kind of like govt collects taxes not just to use for public good but also to redistribute in the form of Workfare Income Supplement, GST vouchers or CDC vouchers for all SG families, or utility rebates skewed towards lower income folks.
Also, no owner would do a long term rental for more than 2-3 years, without putting in some kind of escalation clause or willing buyer willing seller for rental renewal after a few years.
So in a rising market, landlords can increase rental.
But when we impute the equivalent rental value in assessing the worth of a flat purchase, we don’t have to worry about landlords increasing their rents on us!
As owners, we don’t need to pay extra if our flat appreciates in value, ya?
So trying to assess if a flat, whether HDB or non HDB, is worth the price, we can do a quick estimate what the price translates to as a stream of rental flows.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t own our leasehold property, anymore than we don’t own a freehold property.
Even for freehold property, the future is really too far off, and future govts may nationalise our property, or there could be a war and all properties taken over by a hostile country.
So even for freehold, the right is not absolutely perpetual, much as we hope so.
So let’s not play games to try to make leasehold property owners unhappy, by making false claims that HDB flat owners are mere tenants and not owners.
And potential property owners can all do their own calculations.
If they don’t think it is worth it, no one can force them to pay for their property, right?
So don’t spin cock and bull about land for HDB should be free so that buyers can enjoy a bigger windfall than they already have.
And don’t spin an excuse not to pay taxes.
Taxes are a duty for everyone, to fund and support common essential services for the common good.
We cannot want low cost housing on the one hand, and free education, while paying no taxes.
As old taxi drivers will say:
Xiao ah! Manna oo everything free, gai?
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