HDB to be flexible on new rules for first-timers
Jessica Cheam
Sat, May 24, 2008
The Straits Times
FIRST-TIME buyers can be assured that they will get to select new flats from a reasonable pool before they are sent to the back of the queue, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday.

And, in a separate assurance, the Housing Board said it may exercise flexibility if applicants at the back of the queue have good reasons for rejecting available flats.

The comments came after HDB changed application rules on Thursday, leaving some first-timers worried that buyers offered leftover flats by the HDB will effectively be penalised.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Mah said that for first-timers, a new home is a 'big investment, so you don't want HDB to say take it or leave it...This is also why HDB will make sure there's a reasonable number of flats for couples to select, and it's not the last flat in the whole development'.

The new rules are aimed at tightening HDB's application process to deter first-timers from applying frivolously.

A first-time buyer who rejects an offer to buy a flat twice at HDB's build-to-order or balloting sales exercises will now lose his first-timer priorities for a year.

That effectively puts him at the back of the queue with the second-timers.

HDB's move came after recent reports highlighted the relatively low take-up rate of new flats despite thousands of applications.

The problem is that more serious buyers in the queue are being pushed further back. For the HDB, a lot of time and effort is wasted on administering and managing these people, said Mr Mah.

'We're trying to move those with urgent needs to the front of the queue,' he said.

Some first-time home buyers whom The Straits Times spoke to, however, were concerned that the rules were too strict.

Technical support engineer Sharlina Mohd Sahak, 28, said it was unfair if only leftover flats were on offer or if they were in an undesirable location. 'There are pros and cons to this new rule as it sieves out insincere buyers, but overall I find it a bit harsh,' she said.

When contacted, the HDB said it expects genuine buyers to book a flat if there is still a unit available.

Even if they do not, they are given a second chance to buy before stringent measures are applied, said HDB. 'For applicants at the bottom of the queue, HDB may exercise flexibility if they have very good reasons why they did not select any of the last few available flats.'

Housing experts, such as PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail, said the latest changes were 'timely, given the increasing number of unsuccessful take-ups'.

But others, such as Chesterton International head(research and consultancy) Colin Tan, said there could be other reasons such as higher prices to explain higher dropout rates.

Mr Mah said there was 'no evidence' to support this argument. It was not likely, he said, because prices are publicised before buyers make their applications.



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