January 29, 2009 Thursday

Tougher rules cut queue for new HDB flats

By Jessica Cheam

THE queue of buyers for new Housing Board flats has become shorter and it is moving faster too.

Serious house-buyers are getting the flats they want sooner because a group of 'frivolous' buyers, who used to clog up the queue and waste everyone's time by rejecting flats offered to them, appear to have dropped out.

The change has followed new HDB rules introduced last May to deter time-wasters from applying for flats they are not really keen to buy.

The HDB says that since the change, the number of applications has dropped. It now gets two to three times the number of applications than flats available; previously, the number received could be 5.6 times the number of flats.

Fewer are also turning down the flats offered to them. The rejection rate used to be between 22 and 77 per cent; now it is between 14 and 50 per cent.

The changed behaviour of applicants is seen as a vindication of the HDB's 'two strikes and you're out' approach to discourage frivolous applications. People appear to be more selective when applying and more likely to say yes when offered a flat.

The rule change meant that a first-time buyer who rejects an offer to buy a flat twice or more in any HDB sales exercise, loses his first-timer priority for a year. That effectively moves him to the back of the queue with second-timers.

Mr Mark Zhou, 26, a first-time home buyer working in the financial industry, said the change made him think twice before applying. 'I think the new rules have changed the behaviour of home buyers for the better,' he said. 'It makes getting a flat more efficient, and people give it more serious thought before applying.'

Chesterton Suntec International head of research and consultancy Colin Tan said the change has likely 'shortened the whole booking process'.

Property agency ERA Asia-Pacific's associate director Eugene Lim said latest data has proved that the new rules do work. 'Demand has stabilised due to the tweaking of rules, and also due to market sentiment. First-timers are shown to be taking their applications seriously,' he said.

The changes have also reduced the HDB's administrative load considerably.

Previously, a new HDB project would see many more applicants than units, but the high rejection rate would see many flats still available for sale in the end.

After the rule change, projects such as Compassvale Pearl in Sengkang last May saw no units left over.

The tougher HDB regime was put in place to allay growing concern that the thousands of applications for HDB's build-to-order (BTO) projects bore little relation to the actual take-up rate.

Demand for new flats picked up at the end of 2007 and shot up last year after young couples priced out of the resale market swamped the HDB with applications for new homes.

Such homes are only built when a set demand level is reached, take up to three years to complete, and are typically cheaper than flats in the resale market.