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Govt may extend buyback scheme to bigger flats

SINGAPORE — Despite the low take-up rate so far, the Government is considering expanding a scheme that allows the elderly to sell part of their flat’s lease back to the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

SINGAPORE — Despite the low take-up rate so far, the Government is considering expanding a scheme that allows the elderly to sell part of their flat’s lease back to the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday his ministry is looking to extend the Lease Buyback Scheme to those living in four-room and five-room HDB flats.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a dialogue session with grassroots leaders on the Budget, Mr Khaw was responding to questions on what to expect at his ministry’s upcoming Committee of Supply (COS) debate next month.

While he said there would be no major changes in housing policy — given the “big moves” already made over the last two years — his ministry is looking at helping the elderly monetise their homes. It is also looking at doing more for second-time home buyers, such as divorcees with children and single parents.

The Lease Buyback Scheme, introduced in 2009 and enhanced last year, is currently applicable only for three-room and smaller flats, and has seen a low take-up rate. Last year, about 240 owners made use of the scheme.

Asked about the poor take-up of the scheme, Mr Khaw said it simply meant “people are not financially desperate to need to take advantage of those options”.

Mr Khaw also said while downsizing had practical benefits, residents do not want to move from their current neighbourhoods due to their emotional attachment.

Mr Khaw noted, however, that he had received feedback from four- and five-room flat residents requesting to get on the lease buyback scheme.

Head of Consultancy and Research at SLP International Property Consultants Nicholas Mak said with the lease buyback value for bigger flats worth more than that for smaller flats, the scheme could interest some owners, in particular, those who are asset rich but cash poor.

“So maybe they bought a bigger flat, they put in a lot of their life savings into that bigger flat … but they need the money because lifespan is longer and their CPF may not be enough to meet their retirement needs, so I guess this (scheme) is helpful as a way for the Government to help people in these circumstances,” said Mr Mak.

Managing Director of Chesterton Singapore Donald Han said extending the scheme to bigger flats would see a higher take-up rate.

“If you cast the net a bit wider to capture the four- and five-room flats, I think that would probably see a greater participation amongst those who are in need for cash,” he said.

Noting that the take-up rate for Build-To-Order flats have started to stabilise, Mr Han also felt that it is an “opportune” time for the HDB to tackle housing hardships felt by minority groups such as divorcees and single parents.

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