By now, you’ve probably heard of someone trying to sell their Build-To-Order (BTO) flat after leaving it empty for five years to fulfil the five-year minimum occupation period (MOP).
I mean, even Singapore’s favourite blue cat has already heard of the news:
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Yup, it’s illegal to sell your house even after it’s legal to sell it if you don’t live in it.
It sounds like an insane tongue twister, but the TL;DR version is that you must live in your BTO flat for five years of MOP before selling it.
And if you’re wondering where in Yishun (of course, it’s in Yishun) someone tried to sell their BTO (and ended up with not a successful sale, but a call-out by a minister instead), it was at Yishun Street 51.
The listing, which has since been removed from PropertyGuru, claimed that the BTO flat has been left vacant for eight years as the owners chose to move into their family’s landed property instead.
The asking price of the flat was $690,000 before it was taken down.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee also clarified that you cannot sell a BTO that you’ve left empty for five years in a recent Facebook post uploaded on Monday (19 December).
In his post, he pointed out that BTO owners are not allowed to “buy an HDB BTO flat, not live in it or move into it for [five] years, and then sell it as “almost brand new” on the resale market”.
“A BTO flat must be owner-occupied for the full MOP period. If the owners are unable to fulfil the MOP, then the flat needs to be returned to HDB. HDB will then put up as a balance flat for other home buyers to apply for,” he added.
He also mentioned that the Housing Development Board (HDB) will investigate those who do so and that doing so may result in a breach of HDB rules.
However, it seems like even after Mr Lee’s announcement, there are still people trying to “cheat the system” and sell their brand new BTO flats.
In broad daylight some more.
And here’s what these units entail.
Vacant BTO Flats Still Listed on PropertyGuru
On Tuesday (20 December) evening, there were still three “new” BTO units on sale on the PropertyGuru website.
The listings, which were at 292B Bukit Batok East Avenue 6, 95A Henderson Road and 110A Depot Road, all looked almost brand-new, according to the images attached to the listings.
Other phrases that the agents tagged to these flats included “blank canvas” and “never stayed in before, brand new”.
The unit at Bukit Batok, a four-room HDB flat, was removed from PropertyGuru after netizens alerted Mr Lee and the relevant authorities of the listing in the comments section of his Facebook post.
Before being taken down, the listing, which was described as on a high floor with an unblocked view, was priced at $688,888.
The photos attached to the listing revealed that the unit, which had just fulfilled its MOP earlier this year, had an empty kitchen and bedroom.
Even the toilet bowl was wrapped in plastic, a testament to just how new and untouched it was.
“[N]o need [to] spend money to hack anything” was how the agent described the unit, and it was also shared that the seller was “motivated” and would hand over the unit right after the completion of the transaction.
A reporter from The Straits Times attempted to contact the agent for an in-person viewing of the flat and was able to schedule an appointment, but the agent cancelled it just one hour before the scheduled time.
The agent did not return any calls after that either.
Well, it seems like the agent has some really good prediction skills, went to a super zai fortune teller, or got caught. I’ll let you decide which was more likely to have happened.
As for the unit at Henderson Road, it was a three-room HDB flat listed at an asking price of $750,000. Based on the images, the only furniture added to the flat was the ceiling lights.
The agent even included a walkthrough video of the flat, which showed that the spare tiles provided to homeowners by HDB were still left in the household shelter of the unit.
However, it seems like the listing has been taken down by PropertyGuru over the past day or so.
On the other hand, the unit listed at 110A Depot Road is also a three-room flat that has “never [been] stayed in before, brand new”.
The asking price is $650,000, and the flat is slightly over five years old.
It seems like the listing might have been taken down as well, although there is another listing with an identical asking price and size that only includes photos of windows and establishments near the area and a floor plan.
Why HDB Flats Might be Left Vacant
As for why BTO flats might be left entirely unrenovated and vacant, property agents have pointed to several reasons.
However, you might be surprised that using them as an “investment” might not be the most prevalent reason.
According to Anne Ho, a property agent from ERA Realty, there is an extremely high opportunity cost for owners to purchase a BTO flat and leave it empty for five years before selling it. The owners’ names are also tied to the flat, meaning they cannot buy other properties.
In contrast, other options, such as investing in a private property to earn immediate rental income and potential capital appreciation, is “better” for homeowners.
Other agents also pointed out that other issues, such as a change in family plans, relocating overseas for work or other unexpected circumstances like the passing of a spouse, may also contribute to why homeowners leave their BTO flats empty.
Susan Mariam, a property agent at OrangeTee & Tie, also added that owners usually choose not to move into their new BTO flats for “emotional reasons”, such as the reasons mentioned above or the belief that their unit is haunted.
As for what selling unrenovated and vacant BTO flats can lead to in the market, ERA Realty’s head of research and consultancy, Nicholas Mak, mentioned that it might anger those unable to secure a BTO flat via balloting.
Additionally, the fact that the flat was left vacant when it could have been used as a home for the past few years also means that there may be a “problem” in Singapore’s housing allocation.
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Featured Image: PropertyGuru
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