More help for seniors to monetise their flats

PHOTO: More help for seniors to monetise their flats

SINGAPORE - The Housing Board is stepping up efforts to help the elderly understand the various monetisation options available to them, including the two schemes which were tweaked on Thursday following public feedback.

It will mail out brochures on the Silver Housing Bonus and the Lease Buyback Scheme, and hold financial counselling sessions at its branch offices for those who want to know more. A video will also be produced, to be broadcast in locations frequented by seniors, such as polyclinics.

Elderly flat owners who could benefit from the revised schemes said the changes would make them redo their sums, although they would not be too hasty in deciding as they wanted to understand the schemes better.

Both schemes, which target those earning $3,000 and below, will now require home owners to put less of their flat's sale proceeds into their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, and will give out more cash upfront.

It is hoped that this will enable more Singaporeans like Mr Teo Kim Siang to take advantage of the schemes.

The 63-year-old security guard has been living alone in his three-room Hougang flat for the past 25 years since his mother died. He is now applying for the Lease Buyback Scheme, which allows him to continue living in his flat for another 30 years, and get the remainder of his flat's lease purchased at market rate by the Government.

The net proceeds will then be used to top up his Retirement Account, and he will get $20,000 in cash. Mr Teo said: "I am not an investor, so it is better for me to get some cash now, and leave the rest in my Retirement Account."

Others, like Madam Indarani, 56, who goes by only one name, said they needed more time to suss out their options.

The 56-year-old logistics supervisor is considering the Silver Housing Bonus and downsizing her five-room Bukit Batok flat, as her adult children have either moved out or are overseas.

"The cash is very welcome because medical expenses climb as we get older, but I have not found a suitable flat worth leaving this one for yet," she said.

Those who opt for this scheme can get a $20,000 bonus, on top of a share of the net proceeds of the flat.

ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim said that although the schemes are more attractive now, it is unlikely that the elderly will take them up in droves.

"The elderly are most times sentimental, and many would not want to leave the neighbourhood they are familiar with," he said.

Mr Chris Koh, director of property consultancy Chris International, said the Silver Housing Bonus was likely to be the more popular option. "Having less money tied up in forced savings and more cash upfront could nudge the elderly towards monetising their larger flats, but at the same time also allow them to gain a smaller asset to hold on to."

But he acknowledged that there would be some who would rather sell their flats on the resale market, cash out and use the money elsewhere. "These are groups that, perhaps, aren't thinking long-term," he said.

SLP International head of research Nicholas Mak said that there are also other options available to the elderly, such as subletting their flats.

"But the downside is that you might have a stranger in your home, or face vacancy risk if the rental market is weak," he said.

Mr Lim noted that if more senior citizens take up the offer to downsize, it could mean more resale flats being placed on the market.

He estimates that the elderly own at least 237,000 flats which are four-room or larger. "This could free up the bigger flats for other home buyers, and also help the supply crunch," he said.