Comparison

HDB vs Condo: How To Choose If You’re The Sandwich Class With A Combined Income Above $16K/month?

9 June 2022 | BY

With brand new BTOs and executive condominiums out of the equation, let’s deep-dive into the resale vs. private debate to see which makes the better investment.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich classimage11

For some of us, the home-hunting process is a fairly straightforward one. Camp for a BTO launching in your location of choice, bid for it. And if that isn’t successful, there’s always the choice of resale units with all the grants to help you offset the cost.

But for the sandwich class in our midst, this seemingly simple process comes with a lot more obstacles and red tape. 

From being barred from purchasing a brand-new BTO and executive condo (EC) to having zero grants on a resale purchase, here’s all you need to know about buying a property if your income surpasses the $16K HDB income ceiling.

The Sandwich Class conundrum: Which property type to choose?

For the sake of comparisons, let’s approach this in the metaphorical shoes of a newly-engaged couple Ashley and Ben. Both Ashley and Ben have jobs in the finance sector and their combined income sits at $17K.

Here are some other factors we know about the pair to help guide their home search: 

  • Open to having children in the foreseeable future and therefore will need a home that has spare bedrooms
  • Both prefer a central location with direct transportation routes to the CBD
  • Prefer to have a home that will be an asset for future generations

With brand new BTOs and executive condominiums out of the equation, let’s deep-dive into the resale vs. private debate to see which makes the better investment for the pair. 

HDB resale flats & ECs vs. Private condos

Resale flats

Price range: From $500,000 for a 4-room resale in a central location

Pros: 

  • More affordable
  • Bigger reno budget
  • Able to purchase a bigger home in a mature estate

Cons: 

  • No housing subsidies
  • No HDB bank loan
  • A depreciating asset in most cases unless you purchase a flat in a prime location with relatively long remaining lease
  • For longer tenure 5-room flats in prime locations, prices creep above the million-dollar mark, without the frills of a condo.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich classimage2
A 5-room resale flat in Joo Seng.
Image credit: @joosenghouse

For Ashley and Ben, the HDB resale market is a sea of opportunity with units of all shapes, sizes and locations to pick from. Even if they were to go with a 5-room flat in a mature estate that is close to central Singapore, this would set them back less than half of what they’d have to fork out for a private condo.

Here are some of the median HDB resale prices for May 2022 in central locations:

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich class HDB median prices

As all flats come with a standard Minimum Occupancy Period of 5 years – double that for Prime Location Housing for future flats to come – this means that the “youngest” flat that a sandwich class folk can get, is a 5-year-old flat.

While this might not seem like too much of a setback since you’re still left with 94 years on the lease, those with a combined income that exceeds $14,000 are not privy to any grants offered by the government. You’re also not eligible for an HDB loan.

What this means for homebuyers:

Where others who qualify can use up to $80,000 in enhanced housing grants to shave down the price of their flat, sandwich class folk have to pay the full asking price on their resale unit.

Not being able to apply for an HDB Loan also means you won’t be able to lower your initial downpayment, so all 25% of the purchase price has to be paid upfront in cash or with CPF

In contrast to an HDB loan which has no lock-in period and a fixed 0.1% interest rate, you’re now at the mercy of the fluctuating market and will have to adhere to the lock-in period your bank stipulates.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich classimage13
Image credit: @itscarolinepang

If Ashley and Ben want to live in the crème de la crème of HDB developments such as The [email protected] and The Peak @ Toa Payoh where 5-room flats have an asking price of $1M, then they would be looking at a downpayment of $250,000 and up

If they’re happy to settle for a city fringe 4-room flat, then they’ll both be able to save more and allocate a bigger budget to completely transform their purchased unit into the home of their dreams through renovation.

Executive condominiums

Median price: $1,228,323 for a unit ranging between 904-1,292sqft

Pros: 

  • More affordable than private condos
  • Fairly new and will appreciate in value when property turns private

Cons: 

  • No housing subsidies
  • No HDB bank loan
  • Usually in a non-central location

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich classimage9
Executive condo The Tampines Trilliant
Image credit: @jeffthefoodierealtor

If the term leaves you slightly stunned, just know that Executive Condos are basically the rare few condos launched that are privately developed and subsidised by the government – grants can be used to off-set your purchase too. 

These hybrid homes usually run cheaper than private condos and units come with a 5-year MOP, but reap the benefit of private condo resale prices once the property turns private after the 10-year mark.

What this means for homebuyers:

While the appeal of a “discounted” condo appealed to Ashley & Ben, their focus on a central home quickly threw ECs as an option out of the window with most of these in locations such as Boon Lay, Yishun, Tampines and Pasir Ris.

But if proximity to the CBD isn’t that big of a deal for you, ECs make good investment properties thanks to their appreciating value once the condo switches to private status in their 11th year. Check out this guide to buying an Executive Condo in Singapore and tips of getting an investment property.

Private condos

Median price: $2,877,326 (freehold), $2,073,020 (999-year leasehold), $1,718,562 (99-year leasehold)

Pros: 

  • In prime locations with atas vibes
  • Freehold and 999-year leasehold options
  • Brand new unit with little to no existing maintenance costs

Cons: 

  • Newer condos might be smaller in size
  • More expensive monthly maintenance fees

Private condos are in the same vein as Executive Condos save for a few differences: you can buy it fresh off the launch, units are usually expensive for lack of a government subsidy, but these are normally in prime locations beside MRT interchanges or in the thick of mature estates where you have got a host of amenities at your doorstep.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich class the seawind
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

These private property types normally come with the full gamut of amenities from air-conditioned gyms and multiple swimming pools to garden terraces, barbecue pits, and even outdoor amphitheatres should you ever fancy a movie under the stars.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich class the seawind
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

With condos, you’ll have your pick from 999-year leasehold condos, 99-year leasehold condos, and freehold condos. And while freehold condos might seem like the obvious choice here, that’s not to say that the former two are bad investments.

What this means for homebuyers:

For Ashley and Ben, their first home won’t be their forever home by any means. This means that a leasehold condo in a prime location is still very much as attractive, if not more than a freehold condo in a more ulu location. 

Should Ashley and Ben decide to sell their leasehold condo after staying in it for a period of 10 years, they could still make a profit on the sale of their condo if it is situated in an attractive, central location.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you edit 1

You won’t have to worry about MOPs with private condos, but you’ll have to pay a Seller Stamp Duty (SSD) of 12% should you sell your private condo before 4 years have passed.

Homebuyers looking to purchase a condo as their first home should note that should you decide to downgrade to an HDB resale unit in the future, you’ll need to sell your condo within a period of 6 months from buying your flat.

Whereas, if one upgrades from an HDB resale to a condo, you’ll be able to keep both properties if you’ve got the financial capacity to do so.

Bonus property type: Walk-up apartments

Price range: From $1.1M

Pros: 

  • In heritage-rich locations
  • Freehold and 999-year leasehold options
  • No monthly maintenance costs

Cons: 

  • Older properties which require more long-term maintenance and bigger renos
  • No lift access
  • Restrictions on reno on the facade of building

Image credit: @living.upstairs

Another property type that the sandwich class can consider is walk-up apartments. These are normally older apartments that are only accessible by stairs. These apartments sit atop commercial shops or come as part of older private apartment developments in hip neighbourhoods, rich in heritage such as Joo Chiat, Tanjong Katong, East Coast, Tiong Bahru and Jalan Besar.

HDB vs. Condo how to choose if you're in the sandwich classimage7
Image credit: welovewalkups

Price-wise, walk-up apartments fall between the $1M-$2M range and are often freehold or have 999-year leaseholds with larger square footage as compared to modern condos and HDBs. 

What this means for homebuyers:

While location and the opportunity to grab a freehold in a prime location and worthy draws, these apartments come with their own set of drawbacks.

Some of these are the high maintenance costs that come with a building that’s more than 40 years old and will cause reno bills to explode. That, and the trouble and extra labour costs that come with not having lift access. 

The nostalgic charm of walk-ups might be a little hard to resist, but Ashley and Ben both lean more toward the direction of a younger property with little to no maintenance to worry about. 

They also cannot come to terms with the fact that they’ll be faced with a flight of narrow stairs every time they return home or leave the house. 

Landed properties

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Image credit: @the_sensible_house

Median price: $3,589,031

Pros: 

  • Freehold
  • Large square footage with private parking and yards
  • No monthly maintenance costs

Cons: 

  • Older properties which require more long-term maintenance and bigger renos
  • Costly investments

While some might rejoice at the fact that they have every reason to finally fulfil that landed home dream, do note that the booming property market has also translated to a median price of $3,589,031 for a terrace house

Not only does the median price increase based on the type of landed property you’re going for – whether it’s semi-detached or detached, the prices here reflect all terrace houses sold in the month of May and also include homes that have tenures from 99-999 years.

What this means for homebuyers:

Take that median price with a pinch of salt, especially if you’re looking for a freehold terrace in a good location. You can also expect to pay more if the home you’re looking to buy is a dated one in need of a thorough overhaul. 

Furthermore, landed estates can sometimes be quite a walk away from bus stops and MRT stations, and this might result in you contemplating the need for a car to get you places.

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Image credit: @magxmcwhorter

On the bright side, if you do have enough money to sink into a landed property, this investment will likely only appreciate in value in the years to come, based on the performance of the property market. A landed home will also be able to meet the needs of a growing family and serve as a crisis-proof asset for future generations. 

Should you ever have to downsize in the future, you need not worry about forking out extra since the sale yield should be more than enough to cover the move to a condo or a resale with change to spare.

In our newly-engaged homebuyers shoes, the leap to a landed property is one that comes with substantial financial risks. Assuming that our couple set their sights on a $4M landed home, the 25% downpayment and stamp duty would set them back more than $1M

Moreover with a combined income of just $17K, Ben and Ashley are looking at a maximum bank loan of around $2M. This means that they’ll have to cough up or conjure whatever the loan can’t cover. In addition, a $10K monthly mortgage cuts it close and makes the pair heavily reliant on their jobs to ensure that they can pay off the property in the long run.

Should you choose HDB or private condos?

With all those facts laid out on the table, it’s safe to say that for a couple like Ashley and Ben who barely exceed the income ceiling for HDB and ECs, their next best bet will be a private condo  – and a freehold one at that if they don’t mind forking out a little bit more. 

With the property market at a high, and HDB resale prices only projected to increase, a 5-room HDB in a prime location such as Toa Payoh, Bishan or Cantonment can easily cost more than $1M at present. Factor in the reno you would need, and you’ll have spent close to what is required for a freehold walk-up apartment. 

Top up just a few hundred thousand more, and a private condo with a lease is on the horizon. Sure, for a reasonably priced private condo unit, you might have to sacrifice a little square footage, but a freehold or 999-year leasehold condo will serve as a good appreciating asset for years to come. 

And should you choose to sell their condo a couple years down the road, they’ll still be able to jump ship to an HDB resale when the property market cools and have money to pocket from the move.


Cover image adapted from: @itscarolinepang, TheSmartLocal

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