Residents of first studio apartment block disappointed by deal

SINGAPORE - When Tampines resident Lee Yi Qin heard about a new flat type for seniors in her neighbourhood more than 15 years ago, she was instantly drawn to it.

She visited the showroom and was impressed by the flat's elderly-friendly features. They included handbars, support railings, light switches and peepholes at a lower level, and alarm cords that could be activated during an emergency.

Each flat was also in move-in condition, with floor tiles, wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, a stove top and a water heater for the bathroom in place.

There would also be an array of activities to keep her occupied, as there would be a centre on the second storey for communal activities.

Madam Lee, 79, who applied for a flat with her husband, is a resident of Golden Pines, Singapore's earliest studio apartment block.

While the block is largely well-kept with brightly lit and clean corridors, as well as benches at each level for residents to rest, Madam Lee, who downgraded from a four-room flat, admitted she has some regrets over the switch.

Speaking in Mandarin to The New Paper at the void deck of the block, she said: "I was in such a rush to sell my flat so I could move in here and I didn't get a good price. My old place was near the MRT station. If I sell it now, imagine how much money I would have made."

She had sold her four-room flat for $250,000 and bought the studio apartment for $70,000. Her husband died about 10 years ago.

Madam Lee added with a laugh: "Now, not much of the money we made is left."

Her concerns were shared by several elderly residents at the studio apartment block, a sentiment which National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser did not find surprising.

Dr Tan said: "These seniors are regretful because they feel they now have less savings than expected and a smaller flat, where they previously had a larger flat."

But Dr Tan said they might not have taken into account the fact that they could possibly not have been able to afford the goods and services they had bought if they had not monetised their previous properties.

OPTION

Studio apartments were introduced in 1998 to provide a housing and monetisation option for the elderly.

The Government has since introduced other monetisation options.

Golden Pines, a 15-storey and 208-unit block located at Tampines Street 81, was the first studio apartment block to be completed in 2001.

Of its buyers, a third were Tampines residents, according to reports then.

From 2003, HDB introduced studio apartments integrated with other flat types to achieve a better resident mix and to promote social interaction between elderly and younger residents.

A Golden Pines resident, who wanted to be known only as Madam J Leong, 75, feels that the rule which permits the flat to be returned only to HDB is a bit "unfair."

She moved in from a three-room flat in Queenstown which she sold for $160,000, some 14 years ago.

She bought the studio apartment for $60,000.

"A resident just moved into a unit next to mine and paid more than $100,000 for the studio apartment. I was aware of the 30-year lease when I bought the flat, but it's a pity we cannot sell it to another buyer," she said.

Madam Leong added that she is also disappointed by the lack of activities for elderly residents.

Nonetheless, Madam Lee admitted that she enjoys the convenience of the facilities in the area. She has also made many friends within the neighbourhood.

One of her friends, Madam Ho Qiu Ying, 81, who was chatting with her at the void deck, wants to continue living at Golden Pines.

Her children asked her to move in with them after her husband died three months ago, but she declined.

She is now living with a domestic helper. She said in Mandarin: "It's better to have my own space so there will not be any conflict with my children and their spouses."

Elderly should learn financial planning: Expert

The elderly who sold their flats between 2006 and last year made about $200,000 in net sales profits after they downgraded to a studio apartment, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post last month.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser felt that financial planning should be introduced to these seniors.

Dr Tan said: "It is important to know their motivation for wanting to right-size in the first place. Is it to help someone pay their debts? Is it to give to their children who promised to take care of them?

"The former reason is a formula for disaster, while the latter may be no guarantee of future support."

Besides downgrading to a studio apartment, the elderly also have other options.

The Enhanced Silver Housing Bonus gives seniors a cash bonus when they downsize their flats, while the Lease Buyback Scheme allows elderly households to sell part of the lease back to the HDB.


This article was first published on June 14, 2014.
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