Applying for an HDB flat is the quintessential rite of passage into adulthood for young Singaporeans. There are different sales modes for HDB flats – Build-to-Order (BTO), Sale of Balance Flats (SBFs) and resale flats. In this article, we will focus on SBFs.
While there is a long waiting time of 4 to 5 years for new BTO flats, the demand and prices for HDB resale flats have continued to rise in the recent past. This has attracted young couples who want subsidised housing with a shorter estimated completion time towards other options for their first home, like the HDB Sale of Balance Flats.
The HDB SBF unit is an affordable public housing solution that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.
As the name suggests, the Sale of Balance Flats, or SBFs, are unsold HDB flats during previous sales launches. While the majority of units offered in the SBF exercise are brand new flats left over from past BTO sale launches, the SBF selection also comprises older flats such as:
HDB conducts an SBF exercise twice a year – typically in May and November – along with BTO exercises, with nearly 3,000 units on offer each time.
Please note that older units offered in the SBF exercise will have depleted leases. Make sure you take the remaining lease into account while choosing a flat to purchase from the SBF exercise.
Since the SBF exercise pools unsold flats from many different projects, you can find the Sale of Balance Flats in both mature and non-mature estates across Singapore, which means you have more location choices.
Previously, the leftover or unselected flats from previous HDB SBF exercises were offered through the HDB Re-offer of Balance Flats (ROF) scheme.
However, after a new policy change, the HDB ROF scheme was removed by the government to allow homebuyers to obtain their flats more quickly.
Since the removal of the ROF exercise, all unsold BTO balance units are offered first through the HDB SBF scheme. If the unsold BTO flats remain unselected through the SBF exercise, those HDB SBF units are then offered under the Open Booking of Flats exercise.
HDB flats for sale under the open booking exercise are available on a first-come-first-served basis. In other words, once all units available for open booking are booked, the process stops!
Here is a comparison table showing the main differences between the HDB SBF flats and Open Booking of Flats:
|HDB SBF exercise||Open Booking of Flats exercise|
|Leftover flats from past BTO launches||Leftover flats from previous SBF launches|
|Made available twice a year, typically in||Subject to HDB’s announcement|
|Around 3,000 flats are offered each time||Depends; usually less than 300 flats|
|Most unit types are available||Limited choices for unit size|
|Not offered on a first-come-first-serve basis||Available on a first-come-first-served basis|
|The application period is one week (during sales launch)||Open throughout the year; closes as soon as all units are booked|
|Fairly spread out across different ethnicities||Usually fewer units for Chinese buyers|
If you are very particular about your housing requirements, like a higher floor level or east-facing direction, you might want to give these balance flats a miss.
Unlike the Open Booking of Flats exercise, the Sale of Balance Flats exercise is NOT carried out on a first-come, first-served basis. Successful applicants are determined by a computer ballot, where they get a queue number. The period for submitting your application is usually one week.
The ballot results for SBF applications are available after 1.5 months of the application period. You will be informed of the ballot results through email. Or you may check the ballot results via My HDBPage.
The waiting time for an SBF flat is relatively shorter than for a BTO unit, as the flats are either under construction or already completed. Since there are fewer HDB SBF units available compared to BTO flats, your chances of securing an HDB SBF unit are slimmer.
In recent years, it has been harder to get an SBF home as the competition is notoriously stiff. The success rate of young couples getting HDB flats through Sale of Balance Flats exercises has fallen from 52% in 2017 to 17% in 2021.
Since the number of available SBF units is much less than BTO flats, it is usually hard to secure an HDB SBF unit.
Despite the “leftover” connotation SBFs have, balance flats are slightly more expensive than BTOs as their prices are adjusted to reflect the current market rates. However, they still cost much less in comparison to HDB resale flats.
Another key benefit of buying a Sale of Balance Flat is that you can pay the downpayment via HDB’s Staggered Downpayment Scheme, provided you are eligible for this scheme. Under this scheme, your flat’s downpayment can be split into two instalments.
First, when you sign the Agreement for Lease. Second, when you collect the keys for your new flat. It is a great choice for younger couples who don’t have immediate funds or substantial CPF OA savings.
|Occurs 2 times a year – in May and November||Occurs 4 times a year – in February, May, August, and November|
|Shorter waiting period as some flats are already built||Takes longer to build; estimated completion time is 3 to 5 years|
|More locations to choose from, but fewer units than the BTO exercise||Fewer sites per BTO exercise, but more units to choose from|
|Slightly more expensive than BTO flat launches||Subsidised housing and the most affordable choice|
|More information down to the last detail (BTO details + block & unit numbers)||Information provided in BTO sales includes the location, flat type, size & map only|
|Favours first-timer married couples with children the most||Favours first-timer applicants, including those applying under the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme|
|Mix of new flats from HDB (fresh 99-year lease) and units already built||Only new flats with a fresh 99-year lease|
As with BTO flats, home buyers are eligible for CPF housing grants such as the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG) for first-timers of up to $80,000 and the Step-up CPF Housing Grant for second-timers of up to $15,000.
|HDB/CPF Housing Grant||Income Ceiling||Grant Amount|
|Enhanced Housing Grant||$9,000||$5,000 to $80,000|
|Step-up Housing Grant||$7,000||$15,000|
Please note that only the Sale of Balance Flats (SBFs) with a remaining lease of more than 20 years is eligible for housing grants. HDB flats announced for SERS are not eligible for grants.
During the SBF sales launch, HDB provides a lot of information about the available flats, right down to the block number, unit number, flat type, location and number of units available.
Interested homebuyers must select a flat and submit their application for the SBF exercise within a week.
If you are applying with your fiancé/fiancée/spouse or as a family nucleus, here are the eligibility requirements you must fulfil:
Family nucleus. You will need to qualify for a new flat under one of HDB’s existing eligibility schemes:
Citizenship. At least one of the applicants must be a Singapore Citizen, while the other applicant has to be either a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident.
Age. Either of the SBF applicants must be 21 years or older.
Income ceiling. Applicants’ combined income should not exceed:
Property ownership. All the applicants must fulfil the ownership requirements:
Can singles buy Sale of Balance Flats? Yes, singles in Singapore can buy an HDB SBF flat. Since 2020, unwed parents can buy a 2-room Flexi or 3-room flat in a non-mature estate if they have adequate funds and/or stable employment.
If you are a first-timer applicant getting a BTO unit as a single, you can receive up to a $40,000 HDB housing grant.
Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process explaining how to apply for an HDB SBF if you successfully meet the eligibility requirements:
To apply for an SBF flat, you can submit an online application on HDB’s website within the application period (generally one week).
Take your time to weigh all factors and carefully review the available options before making your decision, as the process is through a ballot and not on a first-come, first-serve basis.
You can also check the number of applications received to choose which SBF project you should go for! Note that a non-refundable administrative fee of $10 is also payable for your SBF application.
If your application is successful, you will be notified via an e-ballot in about six weeks (1.5 months).
If you are lucky to get a short queue number, you are a step closer to getting the flat you want. As the demand for SBF housing is high, you can improve your ballot chances by factoring in the HDB priority schemes you are eligible for.
If successful, you will be invited to book a flat as per your queue number and unit availability. Be sure to arrange your finances and prepare for a home loan for your flat purchase.
If you plan on getting a HDB bank loan, you will need to request an Approval-in-Principle (AIP) letter from your bank. For an HDB loan, apply for your HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) letter.
You will be shown the available flats at the HDB Hub, and if you like what you see, you can book one on the spot. You will have to also pay the option fee depending on the flat size you choose.
|Flat Type||Option Fee Payable|
|2-room Flexi Flat||$500|
At the next HDB appointment, you will sign the Agreement for Lease. You are required to bring along some original documents – the details of the documents required will be communicated beforehand. At this time, you will also need to decide on the structure of ownership, i.e., Joint-Tenancy or Tenancy-In-Common.
You will need to pay a downpayment for your SBF flat – 10% of the purchase price for an HDB loan and 20% for a bank loan.
Once you have signed the lease agreement, you can collect the keys to your new flat if it is already built and move in within three months. For flats that are already under construction, you can get the keys as soon as the flats are ready.
With all-time high resale flat prices and work-from-home arrangements, SBF flats have become a more popular option for Singaporean homebuyers looking to find their own place sooner.
Since the HDB balance flats are actually leftover flats from projects that are under construction or already completed, you can anticipate receiving your flat much sooner.
The shorter waiting time of SBF flats and more flexibility in terms of choice makes them an ideal choice for homebuyers who are in a hurry to own a new home but are wary of Cash Over Valuation (COV) and lease decay at the same time.
The Sale of Balance Flats is particularly great for young couples who do not want to delay marriage until they have a home or don’t want to spend on renting a house while waiting for their BTO unit.
Some people might consider these leftover or unsold flats from previous sales exercises ‘undesirable’ for several reasons, for example, obstructed views, facing the centralised rubbish dump or on a lower floor level.
However, this is not the case for every unsold flat. If you are lucky, you might find some desirable units with fantastic views in the SBF exercise left due to previous buyers’ sudden change of mind or perhaps due to financial constraints, indecisiveness or break-ups with a partner.
If you are an expecting newlywed or already have children and want to improve your chances of securing an SBF unit, you can apply under the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS). It is a type of HDB priority scheme that allocates up to 50% of SBF flats to first-timer applicants with children or who are expecting.
You may also consider applying for an SBF flat with other HDB priority schemes, such as the Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS) and Third Child Priority Scheme (TCPS).
Unfortunately, no! You can only apply for either the BTO or SBF exercise, not both.
You can only submit one application for one town and one flat type during the sales launch. If there is a concurrent SBF exercise, you will have to choose which mode you want to buy a flat through.
Carefully review both exercises and weigh your preferences before applying. Take note of the expected waiting time and the completion date for BTO projects with the remaining lease years for some of the available balance flats.
Therefore, if you are planning to apply for the upcoming HDB BTO launch, you can’t put in an application for the next HDB Sale of Balance Flats exercise.
As discussed, one of the few affordable options for owning public housing in Singapore is getting an SBF unit. If you are looking for lesser waiting time, SBF units seem to be a more favourable choice when compared to other HDB housing options.
If you are not too fussy about the location and looking to grab a good SBF deal from the limited choices, SBF housing is worth taking a chance!
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