When Mr M.K. Wong chose his new Housing Board flat in Choa Chu Kang in 2012, he was looking forward to an unobstructed view.
But changes to land-use plans got in the way - literally.
Instead of overlooking a school, Mr Wong's unit at Block 489D, as well those at Block 489B, will face a high-rise executive condominium (EC) instead.
Experts say home buyers can do little to guard against such surprises. "The authorities always have the right to make such changes," said real estate lawyer Lee Liat Yeang, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson LLP.
Mr Wong had picked his seventh-floor unit in Sunshine Gardens based on plans provided in the Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise.
The plans showed some blocks facing empty land in Choa Chu Kang Avenue 5, with one plot set aside for a future school, and a neighbouring plot set aside for housing.
"I bought it because there was supposed to be a school that would not block my view," said the 38- year-old, who works in operations in the aviation industry.
This year, he got a rude shock. The plots had been swopped.
In August, the tender for an EC on the residential site was awarded.
"Why did they have to change the plans after the point of purchase?" asked Mr Wong.
He and other disappointed residents wrote to their Members of Parliament, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Mr Zaqy Mohamad. A petition with 33 signatures, including Mr Wong's, was sent to
the Prime Minister to voice their unhappiness about not having been consulted.
Mr Zaqy told The Sunday Times that he and Mr Gan worked with the HDB to look at the issue, and gave recommendations on how such situations might be better handled in the future.
Both MPs were also present at a meeting between the HDB and concerned residents last month.
In a joint reply to The Sunday Times, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the HDB said the changes were made after a detailed study in October last year, and were "to improve vehicular access to both sites and for more optimal use of the land parcels".
The residential plot was originally located at the junction of Choa Chu Kang Avenue 5 and Avenue 6. But compared to schools, ECs get more traffic through the day, and visitors face security checks which may affect traffic at the junction, said the agencies.
"Swopping the residential and education land parcels shifts the EC site further from the junction and mitigates potential traffic issues," the statement explained.
As for the reactions from some residents, the URA and the HDB said: "We have assured them that the developer of the future EC is required to design the project sensitively, taking into account surrounding developments, including Sunshine Gardens."
This includes setting back the new blocks at a distance from existing buildings.
Unexpected developments have caused unhappiness before, particularly in the case of private housing. National University of Singapore real estate professor Sing Tien Foo cited Costa Del Sol condominium in East Coast, which blocked the sea view previously enjoyed by residents of The Bayshore.
Experts said there is little buyers can do in such situations.
Mr Lee noted that BTO plans are "only indicative" and have disclaimers.
"From a legal point of view, the authorities are not bound to use the land in any particular way."
Still, Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, believes buyers should have been informed and allowed to back out.
"The HDB should understand that an apartment is likely to be the single biggest expenditure for most people in their entire lives. Let's keep regrets to a minimum if we can," he said.
R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng, however, reckons that most buyers understand that land-use changes are inevitable.
And while buyers might be upset, the value of the flats "will not be changed too drastically", he said. Location, accessibility and the age and condition of a flat are what underpin its resale value.
This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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