Forfeiting HDB BTO

While the original “Singapore dream” was to obtain the 5 Cs, aka car, cash, condo, credit card and country club, it seems like there’s a new addition to this generation. The pressures of BTO culture loom over the heads of our youth today, so it’s more common to hear “BTO ai mai?” in our 20s instead of a proper marriage proposal. 

However, not everyone gets their happily ever after in the form of a HDB BTO flat — but it’s not easy to talk about forfeiting a BTO. On top of dealing with the emotional pain of breaking up, there’s also the consequences of losing money and first time privileges. We spoke to 5 Singaporeans who forfeited their BTO to share with us their experiences and advice for aspiring homeowners. 

Names have been altered to protect the identities of our interviewees.

1. “The other party agreed to pay me $24,000 for a rash decision he made”

Image for illustrative purposes only

“I was 23 and fresh out of uni when I applied for a BTO. After a 5-year relationship, it felt natural as the next step. Furthermore, I wanted to quickly gain independence and have my own place. I think that spurred me to initiate the conversation and to fast-track the process.

We got it on our second try, which is really lucky based on the experience of others’. Among my circle of friends, I was one of the earliest to apply for a BTO and could not really ask around for advice.

Money was definitely a main concern. We forked out $24,000 for the 5% downpayment, as the cost of the house was $480,000 because it was in a mature estate. In the end, forfeiting the BTO was mutual. Initially, I did not feel like it was something that I should be giving up. I even considered fake marrying a friend just to keep the flat, as the location and unit was all perfect.

It took some negotiations to come to an agreement on how to settle the finances. The other party agreed to pay me back my 50% and I did not lose any money — he paid $24,000 for a rash decision he made.

Thinking back, it wasn’t a healthy relationship to start with. But my desire to make sure everything went smoothly in my life and my desperate need for independence pushed me to get it. While it’s harder to get a BTO flat again, at this age, I’ll probably go for Sale of Balance Flats (SBF). I don’t have another 5 years to wait to get my own place.”

Advice to aspiring homeowners: “Wait for the proposal. Think through, very carefully, if your relationship can withstand the 4 years of “limbo”. It’s not worth it to rush. Log every single expense, including whether it came from CPF or cash, in an excel sheet. You’ll never know.”

— Melissa, 27

2. “My girlfriend cheated on me and I should’ve asked her to cover more of the forfeit”

Image for illustrative purposes only

“I applied for BTO when I was 27, as we wanted to move out and couldn’t afford a condo at such a young age. The application process was smooth, but we did SBF, so we had a limited set of flats to select from. We needed to go to the site, see the architecture mockups, and it took a lot of visits to finally decide.

We didn’t get our BTO on our first try, but we got SBF on the first try. Our queue was 25 out of over 100 flats, with around 30 good units. We got all our information from seniors, the HDB website, and advice from parents.

After starting work, my girlfriend cheated on me. Our conclusion to forfeit the BTO was mutual and she paid me back half of the forfeit. I should’ve asked her to cover more, but I didn’t feel like arguing and wanted to neatly close the case. 

I felt like the $26,000 downpayment was wasted, but the fact that I don’t have a life partner anymore was a bigger deal. Also, the property market shot up for condos, and I can’t purchase a HDB while under 35 and single. It was a big setback for me. When the people around me found out, they said it was “only $26,000, much cheaper than a divorce”.

After forfeiting, I also can’t apply again and lost my first timer privileges. I felt that I could have held on and swapped the second applicant to a new girlfriend, especially since the lag time was so long before TOP. But I decided that it was emotionally easier to just cut everything off.”

Advice to aspiring homeowners: “Wait for both parties to settle into the working environment first, and be comfortable with handling your own finances and hobbies before applying.”

— Andy, 30

3. “Our close friends were expecting to attend our wedding, and some even thought that I was joking”

Forfeiting HDB BTO Jason’s BTO queue number
Image courtesy of Jason

“I was 24 years old when I first applied for BTO. As a typical BTO takes about 5 years to complete, I would be 29 years old by then — a good age to move out and start a family of my own. 

Furthermore, both of us were still studying at the time. With our low combined monthly income, we were eligible to secure a higher tier housing grant. It was our first time applying for the BTO but we didn’t face any issues. We managed to get it on our first try, although the forfeited one was the second time. 

Unlike the application process, I was totally clueless on the process of forfeiting. Our relationship didn’t work out due to some personal and family differences, and it was deemed that the chances to continue further were low to none. Thus, we decided to forfeit the BTO.

I do not have any regrets forfeiting my BTO. If the relationship is not bound to work out, there is no point in keeping the BTO too. After all, you’ll need to produce proof of marriage in the coming months before you can obtain your keys.

The people around me were shocked when they found out. My ex and I dated for 7 years before we broke up. Our close friends were expecting to attend our wedding even before their own, and some even thought that I was joking.

Besides having to pay for the penalty, which was the price of the stamp duty of around $7,000 to $8,000, the forfeiture of the BTO also suspended both of us from applying to any BTO for a year. I guess a learning point would be to never be certain about anything in life. The unexpected can happen anytime. But at the end of the day, life goes on.” 

Advice to aspiring homeowners: “Do what you think is the best option and do not regret it if the outcome is not what you expected. Just know that you did your best at that point in time, and no one is to blame if it wasn’t a happily ever after ending.”

— Jason, 26

Also read:

BTO Culture: Pressures And Pitfalls Of The Singaporean Dream

4. “I didn’t want to tie myself down to my ex just because of a BTO”

Forfeiting HDB BTO Image for illustrative purposes only

“I applied for BTO when I was 23 and thought I was ready to settle down. At that point of time, a lot of my friends were applying for BTO too, so I felt that it was time for me as well. My ex’s parents were also quite old and were pressuring us to make plans, settle down and think about housing.

The BTO application process was smooth and I got it on the second try. Before forfeiting my BTO, I considered the money, how my friends and family would react, and also whether it was worth it to give up because we got a good unit in a good location.

In the end, I felt that I was too young to settle down now, and I didn’t want to tie myself down to my ex just because of a BTO. I suggested the break up, so I don’t think it was mutual. But in the end, he respected my decision.

I don’t regret the decision. I feel like our BTO shouldn’t have been something to tie me down to someone who I might not want to settle down with in the future. My mum was shocked when she found out we forfeited, and my friends were mostly curious about the money lost.

I think the main point I learnt is to not be pressured into applying for a BTO. Be really sure when you are applying — not the house, but more of the person. Ask yourself: are you really ready to stay with this person your whole life? The downpayment is quite a big sum for people of our age.”

Advice to aspiring homeowners: “Take your time and only apply when the time is right. Don’t be so easily influenced by the people around you, because the person making the decision is you and not them.”

— Ruth, 24

5. “I do not regret forfeiting, but I regret being unable to have my own home now”

Forfeiting HDB BTO Image for illustrative purposes only

“I was 22 when I wanted to move in with my SO and have our own place away from our parents. At the time of applying BTO, HDB came up with a NSF-Student scheme where couples can apply for a house and get deferred downpayment plus loan evaluation 6 months before key collection. It was a great opportunity for us to apply first and worry about the financing later.

It was disheartening to see everyone else getting their BTO on the first try while we could not. There was also stress in worrying about the queue number, hoping that it would be at the front of the line so we can get a more favourable unit. It took us 3 tries in total. 

Unfortunately, I broke up with my partner. I do not regret forfeiting — rather, I regret being unable to have my own home now. Since I don’t have a partner now, I have to wait until I am 35 to get my own home.

As it was a break up induced forfeiture, people were relatively supportive and understanding of our decision. But I am also worried that it might be harder to get if I try to apply again.

Frankly, I didn’t really need a BTO at that time and should have waited until I was more financially secure before applying. I had to take loans from my parents to supplement my financing for the house, which I didn’t need to, as my parents allowed my partner to move in with me at their place.” 

Advice to aspiring homeowners: “Make sure you are going to marry the person you are applying with. If possible, live with the person for at least a couple of years to ensure there are no compatibility issues before making the decision to buy a BTO.”

— Lucas, 25

These Singaporeans Who Forfeited Their HDB BTO Share With Us Their Experiences & Tips

While forfeiting a HDB BTO is a sensitive topic that most are unwilling to open up old wounds and talk about, these Singaporeans have shown us that life still goes on regardless. Things may not always go the way we want it to, but we should never let society pressure our life decisions just to meet their expectations of the Singapore dream.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Cover: Source, image courtesy of interviewee
This article was first published on 1 April 2022 and last updated on 31 December 2023. 

Also read:

7 LGBTQ+ Singaporeans Share The Housing Challenges They Face & Their Plans Around Them