There’s been a saying lately that HDBs are the new engagement ring. That “want to buy a BTO flat?” is akin to “will you marry me?.” But just because you succeed in balloting for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat doesn’t mean you’ll actually make it down the aisle. Over the past year, there’s a been a troubling trend of young couples who sign the papers, only to break off the engagement after realising that the investment pressured them into getting married before they were ready.
Dealing with all the debt, heartache, and shame over an HDB-fuelled breakup sounds like a horror story, so be warned: once you’ve chosen a unit and paid the fees, it’s nearly impossible to stop your relationship from snowballing into marriage, unless you go the dramatic runaway bride route that’s been reported in the papers. You can do everything you can to stabilise a tenuous relationship during the waiting period, but we firmly believe that it’s better to prevent a disaster than to repair one.
So are you really ready to settle down, or are you just afraid of missing out on a house? It’s not always easy to discern between “kiasu-ness” and true love, but answering the following questions about your relationship might help. Read on to see the 10 things you need to settle before (we repeat: BEFORE) buying a build-to-order HDB flat with your significant other.
1. Are you mature enough to get married?
HDB’s Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme requires that you be 21 years or above in order to buy an HDB flat from the open market. But as the old adage goes, age ain’t nothing but a number. At age 21 or 22, you’re only a few years removed from adolescence. It wouldn’t hurt to wait a few more years until you were financially and emotionally ready for the commitment. Even if you do experience the hassle of having to wait five years for your BTO, you’d only be 27-28, which isn’t old at all. On the other hand, if you are 28 and have only been dating the other person for 6 months, it’s tempting to be opportunistic and go for the flat since you “don’t have much time left.” But think about the possible consequences: would you rather be 29 and still unmarried, or 29 and a runaway bride (or groom) buried in a lifetime of debt? And speaking of age, have you been working long enough to have a reliable source of income and enough savings for a house? It takes a great deal of maturity to not only understand the different types of housing loans, but to have the wisdom to pick the best one.
2. Where do you really want to live?
When new properties open up, it’s tempting to cast a wide net and tell yourself that you’ll be happy anywhere, ANYWHERE, as long as you have your dream home with your true love. But once again, is it worth it to let desperation dictate a life-long commitment? You should also make sure that your significant other is being honest. She might claim that she’ll be content living in Punggol with no car, while working in Joo Koon, as long as she can be your “wifey,” but try to imagine what that will be like a year into marriage. It might just be worth it to wait awhile until flats in a more desirable location open up.
3. What’s the situation with your parents and in-laws?
Promises, promises. You’d be surprised at how quickly “I swear I won’t invite my mum to live with us” can quickly turn into “how dare you reject my own flesh and blood from our house!” once she complains about being lonely. This is not a problem that you can put aside and deal with later. No matter how happy, healthy, and young your parents are, they’re going to age like anybody else and you’re going to have to either let them into your home, or be sure that they’ll live elsewhere – perhaps with one of the siblings.
4. What will you do during the waiting period?
The waiting period between getting your BTO flat and moving in can get pretty awkward. How are you going to pass the time? Will you get married first, and then live with the in-laws? Or will you rent a flat until your house is ready? Or maybe, just maybe, you’re willing to hold off the wedding for a couple of years – that way, you’ll have more time to just be boyfriend and girlfriend. During this time, it’s likely that people from all sides will pressure you to live with the in-laws out of filial piety or to avoid renting because it seems like a waste of money. It’s tough, but it’s your money. Do what’s right for you.
5. Are you ready for the upkeep of an apartment?
Before buying a flat, we suggest you study HDB’s guidelines with utmost precision, as they are filled with caveats that one might miss during the initial stage of excitement. Currently, HDB give owners of a new flat a warranty period of five years for ceiling leakages in the toilet and kitchen. Same goes for water seepage from the external walls, while spalling concrete has a warranty period of 10 years. Sounds great! But wait – THERE’S A CATCH. For ceiling leaks in the toilet and kitchen, if the owner alters the floor tiles or original waterproofing system installed by HDB, then the warranty will be void. As if doing household chores weren’t enough, you have to deal with inevitable leaks, but you have to maintain the plumping, the lighting, and air conditioning, and more.
6. Why do you feel so pressured to buy a flat?
Is it because all your attached friends are buying one? Is it because your parents keep telling you to buy now while the window’s open? Or is it because you’re truly ready to become engaged? Lots of couples sign up for a BTO flat because they’ve been dating for years and years and feel like it’s the natural step forward. They even pay the S$10 admin fee and ballot before they’re readying, figuring that the housing market’s so competitive that they probably won’t get a good number anyway. But what happens if they are selected? Those months of waiting for your flat to be ready can feel like an eternity when you’re prepared for the commitment, but they can feel like 5 seconds if you’re being rushed to the altar. Before filling out the application, ask each other whether you’d make the same decision if all the other factors, such as family, friends, and “kiasu-ness” were written out.
7. Do you have an emergency savings fund?
Great, you’ve got a steady income. But do you have enough funds to cover three to six months of expenses? You never know when an unexpected illness, retrenchment, an accident, or family obligations will disrupt your cash flow. And money problems are one of the most common culprits of broken marriages. Don’t make decisions based on faith that nothing bad will happen. You always need to be financially prepared for disaster. That way, when trouble comes, you can get the payments out of the way and focus on your relationship.
8. Are you ready to give up your current lifestyle?
Trust us, your life will start flashing before your eyes once that approval letter comes in. Say goodbye to the single life: that is, eating whenever you want, asking your mum to do the laundry, letting your dad take care of the plumbing, and having as much “alone time” as you need on the weekends. Are you really ready to give that up to move in with someone? Are you willing to spend your savings on a contractor, interior design, and of course, a wedding? Don’t apply for an HDB thinking that you’ll be ready by the time you get approved. You need to be ready NOW in case it gets approved earlier than you expect.
9. Have you figured out what to do in the worst case scenario?
And by worst case scenario, we mean…a breakup prior to moving in. How will you split the costs for returning your BTO flat back to HDB? Who will contact the wedding vendors? Where would you both live if you ended up cancelling the engagement? Would your parents be able to accept you back into their home? Discussing all of these consequences might sound like a downer if you are happily in love, but it will also help you understand the weight of your decision before applying for a flat.
10. Are you ready to spend your lives together?
Ah, the most obvious question of all, and yet so hastily considered in one’s rush to ballot. So many couples ignore the stress, figuring that it’s just wedding jitters and that they can deal with it once they are married. But like we said, once you sign those papers, there’s no going back without breaking a few hearts and saddling yourself with debt. Do you admire the other person’s character? Do you have the same convictions and vision in life? Are your temperaments compatible? How do your family and friends feel about him? If you’re answering “no” to all of these questions, then it might be time to reevaluate you relationship before it ends up costing you money.