Unsold HDB flats to be offered all-year round

From about the middle of this year, homebuyers in a hurry will be able to apply for a flat online all year round and make a booking by the next working day.

These are flats that have not been picked up after the biannual Re-offer of Balance Flats (ROF) exercises, which typically take place in February and August.

Announcing this in a blog post on Thursday (Feb 7), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the move will benefit homebuyers “who may be less particular about location and other flat attributes, or who have more urgent housing needs”.

“This will effectively reduce their waiting time to book a flat to just one day,” said Mr Wong.

WHAT IS THE ROF SCHEME?

Flats offered in the ROF scheme, which was launched in August 2017, are those left over from both Build-to-Order (BTO) and Sale of Balance exercises.

Applicants under the ROF exercise need not indicate the flat type or location when they apply for a flat, and can book any available units according to their eligibility.

New ROF flats will still be introduced periodically in batches.

With the change, flat buyers can apply for remaining ROF units online anytime on a first-come, first-served basis, and book a flat by the next working day.

This open booking will start around the middle of the year, with the first batch of about 120 flats.

Currently, flat buyers only have a one-week window during which to apply for an ROF unit, and applicants will only know their ballot result about one week after the application period closes.

NO MORE CHOOSING BETWEEN BTO & ROF

Mr Ku Swee Yong, the chief executive officer of real estate agency International Property Advisor, said this move was “the logical thing to do”.

“It was a bit artificial (for HDB) to hold back the returned or leftover flats in storage, then once or twice a year, take them out to sell. Since they are available, why not just offer them to the public?” he said.

Mr Ku also pointed out that under the current system, ROF exercises coincide with two of the quarterly BTO exercises. These take place in February, May, August and November.

This means that buyers who enter the market in February or August have to choose between the BTO or ROF exercises.

Demand for the ROF flats has been healthy.

In the first ROF exercise in August 2017, a total of 1,394 units were offered, but 5,587 applicants vied for the units — an oversubscription of four times.

In the subsequent exercises, the oversubscription rate jumped to more than seven times, with 4,707 applicants vying for 717 units last February and 5,320 applicants applying for 726 units last August.

Of the total offered so far, about 2,500 units have been bought, Mr Wong said in his blog post, adding that nearly two-thirds of these households have collected the keys to their flats.

ROF FLATS NOT NECESSARILY 'BAD'

Mr Nelson Lim, the key executive officer of real estate agency C&H Properties, said the new ROF procedure will be useful for people who do not want to buy a resale flat but are not keen on taking the multi-year route of balloting for a new flat either.

“People enter the market at different times of the year, and this allows them to look for new flats at a timing and pace that suit them.”

Judging by the locations of flats being offered in the ROF exercise, Mr Lim added: “People may think that these balance units are actually bad units, but that’s not true. Balance units in certain places are actually quite good.”

Flats in the last batch of ROF flats offered in August last year included those in mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bishan, Bukit Merah, Tampines and Toa Payoh.

Mr Eugene Lim, the key executive officer of real estate firm ERA Realty Network, said the option will be most useful to first-time buyers with urgent housing needs who are not particular about flat attributes.

These remnant flats typically lie on low floors, do not offer good views, or can only be bought by certain ethnic groups, he noted.