Like many other couples in Singapore, Imee Lim, 32, and her husband, Randall Wong, 35, started their home journey by first securing a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat. However, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, resulting in construction delays and a long backlog of BTO projects.
In the six years they spent waiting for their flat, the couple got engaged, married, and even had their first child. Eventually, they decided to forfeit their BTO flat and move to an HDB resale flat.
Striking the BTO Lottery with Bidadari
Back in 2016, when they were still dating, Imee and Randall decided to apply for the Bidadari BTO.
“It seemed like the natural next step for us because we were already talking about settling down together and starting a family. Bidadari was really hyped up then, so we jumped at the chance to apply for Woodleigh Village,” said Imee.
With some luck and ‘strategy’ – they waited until the last day of the BTO application exercise to ballot and chose to apply for 3-room flats because they were still undersubscribed – they successfully secured a home in the coveted neighbourhood.
Subsequently, Imee and Randall got engaged on the Christmas of 2016 and got married in 2018. Everything was going smoothly… until the COVID-19 pandemic derailed their plans.
Playing the Waiting Game
“When the ‘lockdown’ happened and construction manpower was very limited, we expected the delay and understood the circumstances we were all in. It was nobody’s fault and inevitable. So, we told ourselves to just wait it out,” said Imee.
Their BTO flat was expected to be completed in 2021, but by mid-2021 there was still a lack of progress which left the couple frustrated. “Each time we passed by the area, it seemed like it was still not even halfway completed,” Imee recalled.
During the wait, the family lived in a rental flat, under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS).
Around this time, Imee and Randall’s family had also grown to include their first child. That meant that their new home would now need to accommodate the three of them, plus a helper. They also had plans for a second child.
Continuing with their original plan to move into the 3-room BTO flat grew less feasible by the day.
It was then that their friends started bringing up the idea of forfeiting their BTO flat and opting for a resale flat instead.
A Tricky Change of Plans
After much consideration, they decided to heed their friends’ advice and appeal to HDB to allow them to forgo their Bidadari BTO flat. Thankfully, they successfully managed to forfeit their unit without incurring any penalties. The couple then started keeping an eye out for potential homes.
As most home seekers would know, HDB resale prices have been at record highs since Q4 2020. Because of this, Imee and Randall had to relook their finances. The transition between moving out of their rental unit and into a new home was also slightly complex – after obtaining approval to give up their BTO flat, they would be ‘homeless’ while looking for a new place.
Initially, Imee and Randall browsed property ads from different channels on the internet. However, despite spending all her nights shopping for properties and reaching out to multiple agents, they had no luck.
To help with sourcing and negotiations, the couple decided to hire a property agent too, but still to no avail. They came close to buying one unit, but the seller rejected their offer.
“Back then, we viewed about eight to 10 houses, and there wasn’t even one that we both really loved,” said Imee.
“After about one week of inactivity and feeling dejected, I was scrolling through PropertyGuru when I saw a listing that seemed to fit all the criteria we had,” said Imee. There was only one problem: it was in Hougang, which was, in Imee’s words, “an unknown land” to the couple.
In their eagerness to secure a roof over their heads, they decided to keep an open mind and view it the very next day.
It’s A “Yes” From Everybody
When Imee, Randall, and their baby went to visit the 4-room flat, they were slightly daunted by how unfamiliar the neighbourhood was.
“When we alighted from the taxi, we had no idea where we were, what the neighbourhood was like, and had zero expectations. I don’t think [Randall and I] had visited Hougang more than five times in our seven years of being together!” said Imee.
But all that changed when they stepped into the flat.
“As we walked around the 30-year-old flat, I could feel myself getting excited about the possibilities of the house,” said Imee.
They loved the size and layout of the flat, and that there was only one direct neighbour to the unit, promising some privacy. They left the house feeling hopeful, and for the first time in their house-hunting journey, Randall said, “Let’s place an offer for this unit.”
Imee was overjoyed because she loved the flat too. In fact, they had to actively control their excitement and keep their cool because they were still at the lift landing and didn’t want to seem too eager.
“We loved it enough to take the risk of living in a district that we had no clue about,” said Imee.
Putting the BTO Drama Behind Them
Fast forward to today, Imee and her family are happier than ever.
They have come to love Hougang’s heartland vibe and enjoy exploring the neighbourhood. At 500 sq ft larger than their almost-BTO flat, the couple’s toddler also has enough space to play and run around freely.
But above all, they are most relieved that they no longer have to struggle with worrying about their BTO flat.
“Even to this day, the BTO development is not ready. I remember that we expected to get our keys in mid-2021, but the rest is fuzzy. I think I might have intentionally ‘removed’ this information from my mind!” shared Imee with a laugh.
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