The Interesting Origin of BTO & It Wasn’t to Promote Marriage Proposal

There’s a running joke in Singapore.

If you want to marry a woman, you don’t get down on your knees with a ring. You ask her to go BTO with you.

And it’s somewhat true—that’s how I proposed to my wife.

But here’s the question: do you know why the scheme Built-To-Order (BTO) was started by HDB?

I got curious about this question so I went to dig on the net for a little bit. And oh boy, it was interesting as heck.

So much so I had to share it with you immediately.

BTO isn’t actually as old as we thought it was.


I asked my colleague in the office and he told me that it was launched back in the 70s when HDB was trying to build enough houses for Singaporeans.


The scheme was actually pretty recent, only started back in 2001. Okay, maybe it’s recent because I was in secondary school at that time, but oh well.

Before BTO was the Registration for Flats System (RFS) scheme.

Buyers under the scheme can choose the area which they want to live in (think east, west, north, south), but they won’t know the exact location or cost of their flats.

There was a huge demand for HDB flats in the 1990s and HDB was building as many flats as it could.

However, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis struck and demand for HDB flats dropped sharply. They had over 3,000 units of flats left unsold, which took them 5 years to sell.

They learnt their lesson and started building to real demand instead


And that was when they decide to go for the Built-To-Order (BTO) system instead.

Instead of operating like a cai png stall where food is cooked and placed on heated surfaces, they decided to go the zi char route and only cook the food when an order is placed for it.

First, they got potential buyers to ballot for a chance to select their flat in a proposed site. Then these buyers are brought down to HDB for a booking exercise where they had to place a down payment to book their flats.

HDB will then assess the demand and only start construction if 70% of the flats are booked.

Unlike RFS, BTO let buyers know exactly how much their flat cost and its location

One advantage of the BTO scheme is that unlike the past, you now know how much your flat will cost and where it’s located at.

For HDB, this means that more people are able to save up and successfully pay for the flat.

But on the other hand, BTO also reduce the chance of Singaporeans getting a flat. Because when you suay, you suay max.

HDB might have given first-timers more ballot chances but it doesn’t matter if you had to cancel because all you have left are units on the second floor.

I know of a guy who balloted for a flat 8 times and still couldn’t get it. #Legit


Whichever it is, I’m just happy there’s a BTO scheme because it makes proposing so much easier.

Guys, agree?

If you want to know more about BTO, check out this video that we’ve done:

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