For most young couples looking to buy a home, applying for a BTO flat comes as their first choice for affordable housing. A dual-income couple earning Singapore’s median monthly household income of $3,027 from work per household member, affording a BTO flat – whether it’s a 3-room HDB flat or a 4-room HDB flat – should be relatively achievable.
Especially more so for the increasing group of Singaporean couples choosing to remain childless. These Dual Income, No Kids (DINK) couples have more financial muscle available (if not also taking care of aged parents or upholding other commitments) to comfortably afford public housing. Still, public housing prices have gone up over the years and purchasing a home is no small financial commitment.
So comes the question: if you’re a young couple with no plans for children and want to buy a home, should you go for a 3-room HDB flat or a 4-room HDB flat?
For those who are curious, buckle up. We’re going to deep-dive into the various advantages and disadvantages of buying a 3-room vs 4-room HDB flat.
Buying a 3-Room vs 4-Room HDB Flat: Summary of Pros and Cons
By any means, this is not an article that is biased towards any particular type of HDB flat*. Both 3-room and 4-room HDB flats are great and provide more than sufficient living space for married couples who don’t plan to bear offspring. But before making any decision, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of each choice.
*The writer of this article currently lives in a 3-room flat. She will inject her personal experiences and lessons learnt during her homeownership journey as a dual-income household without kids.
1. Price of 3-Room vs 4-Room HDB Flats
If You Decide to Buy a BTO Flat: How Much Will BTO Cost?
It’s a no-brainer that BTO 3-room flats are more affordable than 4-room units within the respective HDB towns. A quick look at the prices for 3-room and 4-room units from the August 2022 HDB BTO launch confirms this:
Other than size, HDB flat affordability also depends on various factors, such as the location of the flat (mature/non-mature town), age of the flat (freshly MOP-ed, older resale) and proximity to amenities such as MRT stations, shopping malls, and food centres.
The prolonged work-from-home arrangements have changed our home-buying preferences, with more preferring to live in larger flats and/or in mature, city fringe HDB estates. So, it’s likely a DINK couple might go for a home in a mature estate, considering their earning power.
Here’s a quick estimate of how much you might need for your BTO 3-room flat or 4-room BTO flat, assuming that you’re taking the HDB loan at 2.6% p.a., with an LTV of 80% and a loan tenure of 25 years:
Going back to the median household income per household member of $3,027, the employee and employer CPF contribution to their Ordinary Account (OA) is around $696. This means that the couple can comfortably afford a BTO 3-room flat in a mature estate without cash outlay, should they choose an HDB-granted loan to finance their home.
For those opting for a 3-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate, they win the money game by having extras in their CPF OA account, zero cash outlay, and they might even be able to pay off the loan earlier and be debt-free.
For example, the writer and her husband opted for a BTO 3-room flat in a mature estate that cost $350,000. As they had been working prior, they managed to deduct $100,000 from their CPF OA and pay less than $500/month per person with no cash outlay. Since there was no cash outlay, their additional income could be channelled towards savings or investments.
But if a DINK couple opts for a 4-room BTO flat in a mature estate, they’ll need to fork out extra each month. Plus, both parties must ensure they remain employed for the duration of their home loan else they might not be able to afford the monthly repayments.
Don’t forget: depleting your CPF OA monthly will mean your balance won’t be able to grow, meaning you will have less when you retire.
If You Decide to Buy an HDB Resale Flat: How Much Do I Need for HDB Resale Flat?
Prolonged BTO construction delays have continued to push young families into the HDB resale market as more are unwilling to wait out the long BTO completion times, as observed in the PropertyGuru Singapore Property Market Report Q3 2022.
Due to increasing demand, HDB’s resale flat prices have increased by a whopping 12.5% for the whole of 2021 and continue to climb – HDB resale prices have risen for the 28th straight month in October – as supply continues to dip.
As the kids say, it’s mad expensive to buy an HDB resale flat now.
Here’s a look at how the median transacted prices in the various HDB towns have changed over the past four years:
*No data available as there were fewer than 20 resale transactions
From the available data for Q3 2022, we calculated the average median transaction prices for HDB resale prices for 3-room and 4-room, in both mature and non-mature estates (rounded up to the nearest $100). Again, assuming you’re taking a 25-year HDB loan and have an Loan-to-Value (LTV) ratio of 80%, here’s how much you might need to finance your property. This is what it’ll cost you:
It comes as no surprise that HDB resale flats are pricier than BTO flats. For resale HDB flats, prices are determined by market valuation and prices are currently at a record high.
What’s notable is that 3-room HDB resale flats in mature and non-mature estates come up to about the same price. This is largely because the homes in mature estates tend to be much older and experience some lease decay.
However, if you don’t mind the shorter remaining lease, 3-room flats in mature estates may be a good choice for you. These HDB resale flats are often located in a well-developed neighbourhood that has a chockful of amenities and is close to the city centre.
The plus points of buying an HDB resale flat are you get to move in immediately and there is a wide choice of properties available. For those with urgent housing needs, it could be easier to find a flat suited to your budget from the many units available.
Need help budgeting for your new home? Calculate your affordability with our PropertyGuru mortgage calculator and home loan tools or approach one of our friendly mortgage experts for help. Aside from providing you with tailored financial advice, they can assist you in finding the best home loan.
2. Price Appreciation for 3-Room vs 4-Room HDB Flat
HDB BTO Flat Price Appreciation
It’s common practice for many BTO flat owners to sell their HDB flat on the open market once the five-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) is up. Some do it to make some extra dough for retirement. Others are HDB upgraders and do so to move to a condo or Executive Condominium (EC). Hence, you also want to consider the HDB resale appreciation for BTO price vs HDB MOP resale price five years later.
While 4-room BTO flats are pricier, they can also be resold on the open market after MOP for a higher absolute profit than 3-room flats. This is also partly due to demand and the need for more rooms/space for families with young children.
For those intending to make your first home your forever home, you can skip to the next point. But if you’re interested, this is how much you could potentially earn from selling your freshly MOP-ed BTO flat.
For example, the writer’s 3-room flat is reaching MOP this year and tons of property agents are knocking on her door with fliers. Based on the information they have shared, her 3-room BTO flat, which she purchased at $350,000 can be sold for $600,000+. Meanwhile, the 4-room BTO flats in her block were bought at around $500,000 and can fetch at least $900,000 or even break the million-dollar mark.
If the writer sells, she can afford a larger BTO flat in a non-mature estate with the balance to spare for a possible investment property in the near future. But she’ll need to forego her existing convenient and central location.
HDB Resale Flat Price Appreciation
Looking at the prices of resale flats in the past four years, in terms of absolute numbers, 4-room flats have grown way more than 3-room flats.
But do the math and you’ll realise the estimated median transaction price growth in terms of percentage for 3-room and 4-room resale flats are almost the same.
What does this mean? 3-room and 4-room HDB resale flats seem to appreciate at almost the same rate.
However, if you zoom out and look at the big picture, you’ll realise that 3-room flats didn’t see huge price jumps, as compared to 4-room flats over the years. Over the course of the pandemic, the big ‘winners’ for price growth were 4-room HDB resale flats in Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Kallang/Whampoa, Queenstown, Sembawang, Sengkang, Woodlands and Yishun.
These are the neighbourhoods which also saw many freshly MOP-ed flats, which probably helped pushed up prices. So, we say: if you want to buy a resale flat, consider the remaining lease and how long you’re going to stay in the flat, not so much it’ll appreciate.
3. BTO Balloting: Much Easier to Ballot for a 3-Room BTO Flat
Due to the space and future price appreciation offered by 4-room flats, more applicants tend to gun for 4-room flats over 3-room flats during the BTO application process. Hence, the success rate of obtaining a BTO flat is higher if you ballot for a BTO 3-room flat.
Here are the number of applications received for the August 2022 HDB BTO launch, for 3-room flats and larger (non-elderly):
If you’re buying your first home, you’re guaranteed to get a BTO ballot for 3-room flats in Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) project in Bukit Merah. Likewise, in the Sales of Balance Flats (SBF) exercise in May 2022, 3-room flats were easier to ballot for across all HDB towns. View the number of applications received for the May 2022 SBF exercise here.
When balloting for her home, the writer applied as a first-timer for an SBF unit in a mature estate. There were over 100 units of 3-room flats available, and only a handful of 4-room flats. The choice was obvious as she really wanted to live in the estate (same as where her family lives) and she managed to snag a 3-room BTO flat on her first try with a queue number of 100+.
4. Rental Income from 3-Room Vs 4-Room HDB Flat
To afford the nicer things in life, making extra income such as renting out spare rooms is common practice (about $600 to over $1,000 per room). Of course, rent depends also on the location of your flat, and how close it is to amenities and public transport.
A couple living in a 3-room flat has only one spare room, while a couple living in a 4-room flat can rent out their two extra rooms for twice the amount of rental income. And of course, an entire 4-room flat can be rented out for more. It’s easily $2,500+ versus $2,000+ for a 3-room flat.
After the MOP, if the couple’s flat qualifies (cannot be under the PLH scheme), they can rent out their entire flat if they’re able to find alternative accommodation or decide to head overseas as digital nomads.
5. Household Chores Are Typically Fewer for 3-Room Flats
Here comes the fun part, what couples love to do in their free time, household chores… NOT! And that is why having a smaller home means less to clean. That’s unless everything is exposed and dusty every day, or there are spills and crumbs to clean up daily.
6. Subsidies/Perks Tend to Be Greater for Smaller HDB Flats
There are a bunch of costs you need to pay as a homeowner, which includes the Service & Conservancy Charges, paid to your Town Council. Those living in 3-room flats pay lower S&CC than 4-roomers. For example, the writer pays $48 a month for her 3-room BTO flat, while her 4-room flat neighbours pay $64 a month.
In addition, there appear to be more perks given to those living in 3-room BTO flats, such as GST Voucher – U-Save rebates. You get $680 in total for 3-roomers compared to $600 for those in 4-room flats. In 2020, the government also gave out e-vouchers for 1- to 3-room households to buy energy- and water-efficient appliances.
7. Household Bills Are Typically Lesser for a Smaller Home
When there’s a smaller space, you’ll need less energy to cool or illuminate it. The writer often pays nothing for her utility bills, thanks to the U-Save rebates. Electricity bills average about $30 to $40 a month and were even $20 or lower before the electricity tariffs rose.
However, someone living in a 4-room who relies on the natural wind and sun for light versus someone living in a 3-room who turns on every switch and blasts the aircon 24/7 will pay very vastly different bills.
8. How Much Space You Get
An HDB 3-room flat size these days tend to measure about 65sqm, while a 4-room HDB size is around 93sqm. Based on current HDB flat layouts, the difference is an extra bedroom, a larger kitchen, a larger master bathroom and room for the dining table.
Two people can certainly live comfortably in both configurations. It’s popular for couples to knock down walls, especially in a 4-room flat for a larger dining area to host friends or for their pets to roam. Some may want an open-concept home to fit in a bar, music studio, surround sound movie or gaming cave.
For the writer, living in a 3-room is indeed comfortable for two household members. However, it does get kinda cramped when hosting friends, with a lot of ‘Excuse me’s when trying to get past a chair or to the toilet. The dining table can’t be too big either, so having six friends over is probably the max for a proper sit-down meal.
In a 3-room flat, there are also plenty of walls that can’t be hacked, which means that the kitchen cannot be opened up and expanded. The only option is to knock down the spare room to extend the living room. As for the toilet, one must harbour zero bathtub dreams.
Nevertheless, a 3-room is enough for a couple who aren’t planning to have kids, but it’s always nice to have more space. The writer’s spare room doubles up as a music/study room and storeroom.
9. Renovation Costs
We won’t go into the deets of renovation, but by and large, due to the smaller size of a 3-room flat, renovation costs of a BTO 3-room flat tend to be lower than that of a BTO 4-room flat. The price will be driven up, however, by factors such as hacking, choice of materials and fittings, any extensive electrical or piping works, and so on.
According to Qanvast, the estimated renovation costs for 3-room and 4-room BTO flats are $35,000 to $38,000 and $40,000 to $46,000, respectively. The writer spent about $35,000 on renovation, furnishing and other misc costs for her home.
With resale flats, renovation costs may go up to six figures if the flat is old and in dire need of refurbishment. However, newly MOP-ed flats may mean your home will be in move-in condition, requiring little or no renovation.
If you’ve decided on the 3-room route, here are some tips from the writer on living in and decorating a smaller space:
- Do away with the false ceiling and oversized furniture, it could make your home look smaller than it actually is
- Go for lighter, brighter colours and incorporate mirrors to make your home look larger and more spacious
- Get multifunctional/extendable/foldable furniture to maximise your compact space
- Plan for lots of hidden storage (inside a bench, on the sofa, under your bed)
- Maximise the upper spaces of the home for shelving, storage or decor
- Make it a habit to get rid of unwanted items in your home regularly, either by giving them away, throwing them away (if unusable) or donating
Should You Buy A 3-Room or 4-Room HDB Flat?
3-room flats, especially a BTO 3-room flat located in a non-mature estate, are best if you want to live under your means and pay off your loan quickly. If you don’t mind a shorter remaining lease, you can get a 3-room resale flat in the desirable city fringe or central areas such as Bugis, Rochor, Little India, or Chinatown.
4-room flats are more suited for couples who want the luxury of space and have a larger budget. Those who can wait for the BTO completion times and see their first home as an investment opportunity can try balloting for a BTO flat in a mature estate.
For those looking for a resale flat, you can find homes by browsing all 3-room flats for sale or 4-room flats for sale on PropertyGuru. We hope this article has been useful!
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