$1m HDB resale transactions - can your HDB flat fetch $1 million too?

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We're not even halfway into 2019, and there have already been at least 3 super-high-profile HDB resale transactions in the news.

The most recent one is a 5-room flat in Tiong Bahru that was sold at a record $1.2m in April, which trumped the previous record high of $1.185m for a Boon Keng DBSS flat in January.

Heck, even Punggol is close to getting in on the million-dollar action, with an insane $910,888 transaction for a massive HDB loft unit. ("Huh, HDB got loft one meh?")

Just what makes them worth so much on the market? Really got so many rich buyers out there ah? Most importantly, can your own flat actually fetch $1 million too?

Here's a look at the most expensive HDB resale transactions in the past 12 months.

2019 LIST OF HDB RESALE FLAT TRANSACTIONS >$1 MILLION

Below is a summary of the key locations of the $1 million (and above) flats sold in the past 12 months, based on information from the HDB resale prices portal.

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While you were busy calculating the cost of your cai png meal, some enterprising Singaporean folks have been buying and selling million-dollar HDB flats like it ain't no thang.

In the past 12 months alone, there have been a whopping 82 resale transactions at $1m and above!

Not all of them are "premium" flats like DBSS and maisonettes either - we're starting to see more and more regular 5-room flats, and even some 4-room flats, going for this price. It's a crazy world.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN TANJONG PAGAR (21 UNITS)

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Starting with the obvious: With the super-central location and showy, condo-like design, it's not surprising that the units at The Pinnacle @ Duxton consistently fetch $1 million apiece.

I was amazed to learn that even the 4-room flats here - and they aren't huge, mind you - can fetch this mind-boggling price.

They do have to be on high floors though (at least level 30), because Singaporeans like to keep an eye on AXA Tower, Great Eastern Centre, Prudential Towers - basically any building where they have an insurance policy.

(Fun fact: The Pinnacle @ Duxton may resemble a DBSS development - a now-defunct project where HDB got private developers to build condo-style flats - but it actually pre-dates the DBSS programme. It's technically a premium BTO.)

$1M RESALE FLATS IN BISHAN (15 UNITS)

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"When I grow up, I want to live in Bishan," said no one ever. Yet, the shadow town located between Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio actually comes in second for the most number of $1m flats.

If buying a flat in Bishan could guarantee your kid a place in Raffles Institution, I bet this neighbourhood would top the list, and the resale flats would be going for at least $2 million.

But as of 2019, the closest you can get to that dream is to buy a $1m flat in Natura Loft, a DBSS development located just next to the next-best "premium" school - Catholic High, which has a primary school intake while RI doesn't.

Apart from the premium DBSS flats, there are also a few $1m transactions for older two-storey maisonettes within walking distance to Bishan/Marymount MRT stations. Though old, these units fetch high prices due to scarcity - they're the next best thing to a landed house, and HDB doesn't make 'em like this anymore.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN TOA PAYOH (11 UNITS)

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Toa Payoh may not have a cluster of superstar schools, but it's even more central than Bishan. Everyone is just dying to get a home here, but most of the flats here are ageing and of the classic "vintage HDB" variety.

Which makes The Peak @ Toa Payoh (no relation to The Pinnacle @ Duxton) stand out all the more. It's tall, it's got condo vibes, and it's good as new with 92 years left on the lease.

Given how the units here consistently move at the $1m price point, I'm guessing that at least some of the buyers here do have the means for a private condo, but are choosing to opt for an HDB unit since it's better value for money.

Considering you'd have to pay close to $2 million for a similar-sized private condo unit in Toa Payoh, according to this article, $1m does seem sort of like a steal.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN TIONG BAHRU (10 UNITS)

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And here are the HDB flats that so recently made headlines. What's really jaw-dropping about the Tiong Bahru flats that fetched $1m, is that they're neither maisonettes nor DBSS units.

They're just your standard bread-and-butter HDB 4-room and 5-room flats, albeit very fresh from the HDB-mandated MOP (minimum occupation period).

But wait, why didn't your 4-room BTO fetch 7 digits when you sold it?

Because the units at Boon Tiong Road have something special - amazing views. Not only are the flats on very high floors, they also happen to be located where the views aren't obstructed by national progress.

Yet.

If you have one of these flats, better sell it ASAP before some condo developer inevitably takes over and blocks the view.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN QUEENSTOWN (10 UNITS)

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Unlike the other neighbourhoods where the $1m units tend to be concentrated on one or two "superstar" HDB blocks, there's a greater mix in the Queenstown resale flats. Which leads me to think that the main draw here is location rather than hype.

Well, the locations are undeniably nice - who wouldn't want to live in a fancy sounding place like Holland Drive, right?

Another important factor is how new the flats are. Although there's a demand for older flats in premium areas like this, it's not a "$1m" kind of demand. To fetch absurdly high prices, you need to be lucky enough to have gotten a BTO here and flip it once the MOP is up.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN BOON KENG (9 UNITS)

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"Er, Boon… what?" If you think Boon Keng is in the boondocks, I wouldn't blame you. Though very centrally located, it's hardly as high-profile as Bishan or Tiong Bahru.

Nonetheless, it's one of the top-performing neighbourhoods when it comes to moving $1m flats.

Somewhat like Toa Payoh, Boon Keng is a very old neighbourhood, which makes the DBSS development, City View, stand out. Units here have been selling like hot cakes since the MOP ended in 2016, and it's still going strong even now.

As the name suggests, the units here offer a view of the city, so it's unsurprising that the $1m units are all on high floors. Never mind that you have to add another 10 minutes (lift wait time) to your commute / GrabFood delivery lead time, at least you can get a nice breeze if you ever turn off the air con.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN BUKIT TIMAH (5 UNITS)

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There were a handful of $1m transactions in the Bukit Timah area within the past 12 months, but they're of the more "traditional" variety - massive old maisonettes within walking distance of Beauty World MRT station.

Though they're not as hyped up as the Boon Keng, Bishan or Tiong Bahru flats, I expect demand for these XL-sized units to stay quite strong for the simple reason that they're in short supply.

$1M RESALE FLATS IN CLEMENTI (1 UNIT)

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The sole $1m transaction for Clementi in the past 12 months happened in June 2018, and we haven't heard a peep from that part of town since.

There was a bit of a fuss in the previous years about Clementi Towers, which was a rare cluster of HDB flats integrated with a shopping mall and MRT station. A number of 5-room flats here were sold above the $1m mark, but the excitement has mostly died down since.

COULD YOU BE SITTING ON A $1M HDB FLAT?

For most of us HDB dwellers, selling our flats for a cool million dollars is probably still going to be a fantasy. Just 'cause there are buyers willing to shell out big bucks doesn't mean your flat is worth paying for.

But here are some signs that your flat might fetch an unusually high price on the market, based on the data we've looked at earlier.

- You live in a DBSS development. Most of the units consistently sold at or above the $1m mark are DBSS properties. DBSS was a shortlived scheme by HDB to get private condo developers to "Design, Build & Sell" HDB flats.

The resulting bastard children are usually sold at high prices, partly because they originally cost a fair bit more than HDB flats, and partly because they look like a good deal compared with fully private properties. HDB has stopped this scheme, so there's a limited supply of DBSS units - which keeps prices high.

- Or a maisonette near an MRT station. The other recurring type of unit we often see in the $1m club are the maisonettes, those rare, massive, 2-storey flats that HDB has stopped making. When you consider the cost of these in psf, even the $1m ones are not really that expensive.

But only the ones that are walking distance to a major MRT station can hit the $1m mark.

- You have amazing, unobstructed views. If your flat isn't of the premium variety, you might still hit HDB resale jackpot if you regularly get comments like "OMG WHERE IS THIS" whenever you post a window selfie on Instagram.

Your flat must be located on a high floor (level 30 good, level 40 better) and the view must be of something glamorous, like Sentosa Cove or MBS. It doesn't count if all you can see from your 40th floor unit are your neighbour's granny panties hanging out to dry.

- Your flat has 90+ years on the lease. Though some of the $1m flats are older units, most of them are "freshly MOPed," i.e. the minimum occupation period of 5 years has just passed.

Buyers these days are very aware of HDB lease issues. They also know that older flats, while usually more spacious, typically need a lot more renovation work. So, you have a greater chance of selling at a high price just after the MOP.

- Someone in your estate has just sold a $1m flat. Singaporeans are like lemmings about buying properties, as with everything else. We seek security in numbers and validation from the crowd. So if someone gets the ball rolling in your block, you can bet property agents will start knocking on your door faster than you can say "monkey see, monkey do."

Just don't sit on it too long because the tide can turn pretty swiftly too - just think of the short-lived Clementi Towers craze. Before you know it, those fanatics would have turned their attention to the next hot estate.

PLANNING TO BUY A $1M HDB RESALE FLAT? BE PREPARED

A million bucks is no small sum for housing (or anything else). In Singapore, where you can get a flat for as little as $200,000 or $300,000, paying an entire mil for an HDB flat is still not the norm.

If you're considering a $1m flat, I assume that you have no problems funding your new pad - ideally, with the proceeds of your old home (en bloc, perhaps?) rather than borrowing every last cent you can get your hands on.

You may have the means to purchase it, but should you need to sell it at some point, you might find it less easy to find a buyer who's willing to stomach the price.

Don't forget to factor in the costs of renovation, especially for older flats which may require a complete re-do from inside out. With a large flat, you're looking at upwards of $100,000 for the reno.

Another practical matter is the service and conservancy fee. Town councils do charge more for DBSS units compared to normal HDB flats of the same size. For example, Bishan-Toa Payoh TC charges $79/month for a 5-room HDB flat, but $104/month for a 5-room DBSS. Not a big deal, but don't be caught off guard.

Finally, it's all too easy to be caught up in the hype while neglecting to think about the things that actually matter to you.

I mean, if you're usually too glued to your smartphone screen to notice your surroundings, you're not fooling anyone when you say you got your $1m flat "for the views". If you want to show off your newfound wealth, then just say so lah, don't bedek. But whatever you do, at least make sure it's liveable, because that sweet view is no substitute for actual amenities.

This article was first published in MoneySmart