Why we chose a BTO over an EC (even though we could technically afford it)
Note: I found this blog article I wrote over 3 years ago (in 2020) in my drafts, and after reading it, I felt that the article still carried some weight. As such I've decided to publish it (for real this time). I have also updated this article but adding an additional section reflecting on this blog post, 3 years after.
I recently read an interesting article about how the author and her fiance ended up purchasing an EC, and about how it may actually be a pretty decent idea (barring certain caveats (https://cnalifestyle.channelnewsasia.com/trending/why-executive-condominium-not-bto-or-resale-12479526).
As I read the article, I found myself being able to relate to the act of house-hunting as ours took me along different paths and considerations. In fact, the houses mentioned in the article (Bidadari, Kallang/Whampoa, Hundred Palms) were incidentally those that I also considered and tried to bid for.
Being the contratrian, however, I thought I could write a supplementary post to the article by sharing why I did the exact opposite: choosing a HDB over an EC.
How the journey started
A little nugget of information here to set the context for the article: my fiance and I decided early on in our relationship that we would not follow the mainstream idea of BTO-ing before the proposal, because that, for us, was instant kill-joy. As such, we only started looking at potential houses after almost 5 years of courtship (and after the proposal).
Naturally, we first started to look at BTOs. As I live in the west and she in the east, we wanted something more central. As HDB only releases information and bidding for BTO flats quarterly, we always looked forward to seeing if the newly released ones had good locations. For the most part, however, the locations were either too west (Bukit Panjang, CCK, etc), too north (Woodlands, Punggol) or too East (Tampines, Pasir Ris).
Sometimes, however, gems like Bidadari, Dakota, Toa Payoh, etc would appear, and we would go for those.
For all of them, however, we would eventually receive this lovely message in our inbox:
Bidadari was the worst, though. We managed to get a queue number for a Sale of Balance flat, and we would anxiously refresh the HDB availability page throughout the day for the entire week before our appointment. In the end, disappointment only awaited us on the day of appointment as the couple before us took the last available flat. Yes, we were so unlucky that we were actually rejected while seated inside at the flat booking (?) counter.
Feeling a bit fed-up we then started to look at ECs. Since the flats were wanted (4-room central location) were going to cost us about $500,000 - $600,000, a back-of-napkin calculation showed that we would actually stretch our budget a bit more and get an EC.
This was where projects like Hundred Palms Residences came into the picture. It was a pretty good EC at a great location. As ECs are usually located at the more ulu locations (Sembawang, Punggol, Pasir Ris, etc), HPR was actually a good snatch. We went for the showroom preview, signed ourselves up, and as such our names were thus threw into the hat (or glass bowl).
I would never have imagined how much preparatory work we had to do prior to the booking session. Over the course of a few days we mugged the entire booklet (containing the stack information, cost prices, etc), and tried to decide on a few factors, which were the best flats to get. It wasn't that straight-forward though. For a unit that had a decently affordable price, we would have to choose either one where the windows would be facing a less-than-ideal location, or, the other one where the main door was located too close to the central rubbish bin. Which were more important to us? In the end things got so complicated that we had to use an excel sheet, input the unit details, including prices, and give a rated score for each of the factors, and see which scored the highest.
Why did we do such preparations? It was because we heard that on the booking day, we would get less than a minute to decide on the unit we wanted. If we took too long, we would be asked to step aside and let the next couple in line choose first.
In the end, all that prep work came to naught as our ballot number was only called about 10 hours after the start of balloting and within 15 minutes of ours being called, HPR was already fully sold.
Oh well, back to the waiting game.
Again, it was a blessing in disguise really, because the units we wanted at HPR was almost costing $900,000, and we felt that we were stretching ourselves a bit thin. Our CPF and current salary could maintain the mortgage without us feeling a pinch, but the risk was that we had to stay in a job that could pay us the same or a higher salary. To us, that was unacceptable risk as we felt that we would lose the flexibility of taking a short break from work, or doing something we love but at a lesser pay.
In the end, we decided to wait and pray hard for a HDB flat.
Salvation came in the form of a successful ballot, 2 years after the HPR incident.
We finally managed to book a 3-roomer BTO situated at Boon Keng in 2019. Despite the relatively small-size, the location is really great (just beside the MRT), with access to full amenities. The cost? About half of what we would have paid HPR. Is that a lot for a 3-roomer? Most definitely. What we're paying is more than what some 5-room flats are going for in other parts of Singapore, and almost at the same price of an EC in ulu parts of Singapore.
Following the real estate maxim of location, location, location, it'd probably be easier to find tenants in future if we were to decide to shift out (or out of Singapore) in the near future after our MOP is up.
And so, as astute investors, we look at value right, not price?
I felt, and still do feel, that this would be a good value-play, and thus we decided to go with this. With the few hundred thousand dollars saved (from buying HPR), we would have liquidity to perhaps invest in more equity, or even put that as deposit for a small, second property in future. In short, we would have the flexibility to do the stuff we want, without locking it up in a real estate. Would we be missing out on the gains from real estate appreciation? Sure, most probably, but we can live with that.
In short, it was partly a decision made given the cards that were dealt in our hand, but looking back, I feel that we have been blessed in a special way. The right doors for us were opened, and the wrong ones closed at the right time. And that, my friends, is why we chose a BTO over an EC.
Reflections in January 2023
Since this post was written almost 3 years ago, a lot of have changed in our lives. We got married, and in April 2023 we'd be celebrating our 2nd wedding anniversary together.
Career-wise, I've also been promoted a few times to now be a software engineering manager, and with that came a nice boost in income, and of course, financial security. My wife decided to leave her job as she got a sponsorship for a mid-career switch. She has since gone back to school and will graduate in 2026 as an occupational therapist.
Looking back, I think we were able to make a lot of the decisions that we've made since then, because we did not overly squeezed ourselves by buying an EC. Because we were not tied down with the stress of maintaining a higher 'minimum salary', we were able to open ourselves to other options, and to explore alternate routes.
If we had gone ahead to get an EC, life would have been different, of course. We'd be staying by ourselves (and not with the in-law), we'd have a condo to our name, and potentially net a nice profit in just a few more years if we were to sell the place. Would we be happier? I'm not sure. Maybe, but maybe not.
At the end of the day, we live with the consequence of the decisions that we make. And as I type this out on my laptop, I'm happy with the ones we've made so far. We may not become millionaires (or even super rich) after all, but at least the household is happy and safe. And I'm blessed.