They made $100,000 in cash proceeds, paid off their debts and even had some left to start a business.
But the logistics venture failed.
Within two years of selling the flat, the family of five ended up living on the beach.
The couple - Mr Sam, 32, and Madam Mary, 28 (not their real names) - are not alone. There are now more families who cashed out their homes for short-term gains, but ended up with longer-term problems.
Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman said in Parliament earlier this month that nearly six in 10 public rental flat applicants today were former home owners who had sold their flats.
He cited an example of a woman who sold her flat in 2010 and got cash proceeds of $198,000. But she frittered it all away in two years due to bad decisions, and stayed at void decks and the beach before getting a public rental flat in 2013.
Mr Sam and Madam Mary have a similar story. They were married in 2006 and bought a flat in Woodlands. The couple had a son soon after and both were working - Mr Sam on a ship, Madam Mary as a patient care assistant - earning a combined household income of more than $2,000.
Things changed when Madam Mary's family members - her father and grandfather - fell sick one after another.
Caregiving duties fell on Madam Mary's shoulders, and to help her cope, her husband took on a job as a courier service driver, taking home half of what he used to. To make ends meet, he even worked as a valet at night.
Still short of money, they borrowed from illegal moneylenders.
Madam Mary said: "We were so desperate. We couldn't cope any more and nearly divorced."
They sold their flat in 2012 and moved in with Madam Mary's grandparents. But the cash proceeds were used up to pay their debts and daily expenses.
When her grandfather died last year, they had to move out as her grandmother did not want them living with her anymore. They ended up at the beach, with their three young kids in tow. By then, Mr Sam had begun working again as a delivery driver.
They moved around to avoid detection and he took his two younger kids along on his delivery rounds. Their nomadic life affected his eldest son's studies and he stopped going to school.
Their big break came when a stranger pointed Mr Sam to the ComCare hotline. The family of five now share a three-room flat with another couple with five children, and their eldest child is back in school. With help from social workers, the couple are working towards getting their own flat soon.
Other cases of cash proceeds being used up
She struggled to pay the mortgage on her three-room HDB flat and ended up selling it. Her husband was in jail and her adult children had debts to clear.
The mother of five could have used the $172,000 cash proceeds from the sale of their flat, after returns into her Central Provident Fund, to apply for a studio apartment or rent a room from the open market. Instead, she spent the money on daily expenses and to help her children pay off their debts.
A social worker from Thye Hua Kwan Family Service Centre at Tanjong Pagar said the woman and her family had lived in an Interim Rental Housing flat in 2011 and 2012.
They were evicted after they could not pay the monthly $1,500 rent. She went on to stay with her eldest daughter. Five adults and four children were crammed into a one-room rental flat.
Says the social worker: "Her children also face similar financial difficulties. They give (money) whenever they can, but it's not too stable, so she can't plan to set aside money for a mortgage or rent."
In another case, a couple sold their four-room HDB flat after the husband's business failed. They used part of the $150,000 cash proceeds to pay the bank and creditors.
"Unfortunately, instead of exercising prudence, they first rented a private apartment for $3,000 a month, and went on trips to the US and China," recounts church welfare worker Jonathan Soh.
He adds: "In under 18 months, they had no money left. They were homeless too because their disapproving parents refused to help, and the couple ended up approaching the church for an interim shelter."
The man is now employed as a caretaker for the church and their accommodation needs are taken care of. Mr Soh adds: "But we are also finding other means for them to get help from the government agencies."
This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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