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A tale of two singles – buying an HDB flat together

June 13, 2017
Bird's eye view of Singapore's residential district

Source: Pixabay

So, the two of you are madly in love. And you think that it would be a good idea to buy a place together – perhaps an HDB. What better way to seal your love? Well, we can think of many other more romantic ways, but if you really want to take the plunge, then there are some very important matters to discuss and agree on before doing so. Some of these are:

  • Are you going to register the property in one or two names?
  • If you are registering the property in two names, are you registering yourselves as joint tenants or tenants-in-common?
  • If you are registering the property in one name, but the other person is contributing cash towards the payments, how are you going to treat or recognise those payments?

A sole single person under the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme (SSCS) or two singles jointly under the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS), are eligible to buy a new 2- room BTO flat in a non-mature estate (subject to ceiling income) or a resale HDB flat in any size (no income ceiling).

Buying a HDB flat in one name under SSCS

If the two of you are intending to buy a HDB flat in one name (i.e. under the SSCS) but with the intention that person who is the registered owner of the flat holds a share of the flat on trust for the other person, do note that this private arrangement is not recognised in court:

  • Trust over a HDB flat is prohibited and is null and void without the written consent of HDB (see section 51(8) and (9) of the HDB Act)
  • It does not matter that you may have gotten a trust document drawn up by a lawyer – it is not recognised in court unless HDB had given its written consent
  • Any cash contribution you make towards the down payment or monthly installments for the HDB flat which is not in your name will not be recognised by law such as to give you a beneficial interest in the flat. If the two of you break up one day after you have made substantial cash contributions towards the flat which is not registered in your name, you cannot claim for a share of the HDB flat. You will have to try to claim the money back from the other party as a debt and they may argue that you had paid the money as a gift to them.
  • As it is registered in the name of one person, the flat will not automatically be transferred to you upon the other person’s death.  If the intention is for you to be given the HDB flat should the registered owner die, you must ensure that he or she makes a Will leaving the flat to  you. However, you should note that a Will can be changed any time by the maker without your knowledge, unlike having your name on the title deeds.

If you have no choice but to buy the HDB flat in a single name under SSCS (for example, because one of you is not yet 35 years old or is not a Singapore Citizen), then you can consider getting a loan agreement drawn up which provides for the cash to be contributed by you to the flat to be recognised and repaid as a loan to the registered owner. This way, if things don’t work out, at least you are in a better position to get your money back.

Buying a HDB flat in joint names under JSS

If both of you are Singapore Citizens above 35 and do not own a private property, the best option is for both of you to apply for a HDB flat together as joint owners (under the JSS).

What’s the difference between a joint tenancy and a tenancy-in-common?

A joint tenancy (JT) means that the entire property is owned by both of you jointly; there is no demarcation of percentage. Both of you own 100 per cent of the property.

For a tenancy-in-common (TIC), you specify the percentage of the ownership of each owner, for example, 50 per cent-50 per cent or 60 per cent-40 per cent according to your contribution or agreed percentage of ownership.

Survivor takes all, or not?

In a joint tenancy, when one owner dies, the property automatically passes to the remaining owner. For a tenancy-in-common, there is no automatic right of transfer of the deceased’s share of the property to the surviving owner.  

For a tenancy-in-common, the other person must transfer their share of the property to you before their death or leave it to you in their Will. If neither of this is done, then under intestacy laws, the deceased owner’s share of the property will pass to immediate relatives. The surviving owner may then find that the deceased person’s relatives now own say, 50 per cent of the property together with him or her.

The relatives may demand that the surviving owner pay rent or even sell the property and split the sale proceeds.

Which arrangement should I pick?

It all depends on your wants, needs and circumstances. Everyone has a different way of looking at things and there’s no one-size-fits-all way of doing things.

If one of you paid a much larger share of the down payment and/or the monthly instalments and you wish to ensure that this translates into a larger share of the property than the other person, then you should register it as a tenancy-in-common according to your contributions to the property.

If you have been in the relationship for many years, then a joint tenancy may be more appropriate to ensure that the surviving owner has a roof over his or her head without the need for a transfer of your share before your death or in a Will.  A gift in a Will can sometimes be challenged by family members.

If you register the property in joint names and you break up, you are not stuck with the other person for life – you can still buy out the other person’s “share” or sell the property and split the profit or loss.

If the relationship is new, then it may be better to register the property with the two of you as tenants-in-common so that it is clear how much of the property is owned by each person. This way, if you break up, there will be no doubt as to how many percent of the property is owned by the party who wants “out”, which may make the administrative aspect of splitting up easier. If you sell the property, the sale proceeds will be divided according to the percentage of ownership. Should one party want to buy over the other person’s share, he or she will know exactly how many percentage he or she needs to pay to “extract” himself or herself from the relationship and property arrangement in the event of breaking up.

Purchasing an Executive Condominium (EC) together

Under the HDB rules, two single persons who are Singapore Citizens and above 35 years old can also buy a new EC together under the JSS. An EC is considered a private property after the 11th year i.e. it can only be sold to a Singapore Citizen or PR who qualifies to buy an EC between the 6th to 10th years, but can be sold to anyone, including a foreigner, from the 11th year onwards.

An EC is hybrid of high end public housing and private property. Since a new EC can only be purchased by two singles under the JSS (but not a sole single person), both of you will be registered as owners and will not have issues where only one person is reflected as the owner. However, issues which are relevant in a private property context may also be relevant for an EC since it is privatised from the 11th year.

Q&A

Still not entirely sure about the whole process? Check out our Q & A section below portraying a few different scenarios.

Sole Single Buyer

QuestionAnswer
1. I am single, a Singapore citizen and above 35. Can I buy a new HDB flat?
Yes, you can buy a new 2-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate under the SSCS.
2. I am single, a Singapore citizen and above 35. Can I buy a resale HDB flat?
Yes, you can buy a resale HDB flat in any size under the SSCS. If you are a first time applicant, you are entitled to a grant or grants provided that you do not purchase a flat bigger than a 5-room flat.
3. I am single, a Singapore Citizen, above 21 but below 35 years old. Can I buy a HDB flat, whether new or resale?No, you cannot unless you fall under the Orphans Scheme.
4. I am single, a Permanent Resident and 40 years old. Can I buy an HDB flat whether new or resale?
No, single PRs cannot buy a HDB flat whether new or resale.
5. I own a condominium. Can I apply for a HDB flat without selling it or immediately after selling it?If you intend to apply for a new HDB flat or EC (only for JSS), you are not eligible to buy a new HDB flat within 30 months from the date of disposal of your private property, but you can appeal to HDB for an exemption to this rule.

If you are buying a resale HDB flat, you do not have to wait for 30 months to pass after the disposal of your private property before doing so, but you must sell the private property within six months from the completion of the purchase of the resale HDB flat. If you or your joint applicant is/are first time applicant(s) and want to benefit from the grant or grants, you should only apply to buy a resale HDB after 30 months from the date of disposal of the private property.

 

Two Single Buyers

QuestionAnswer
1. I want to buy a new HDB flat with my partner. We are both single, Singapore citizens and 35 years old and above. Can I do so?Yes, you can buy a new 2-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate or a new EC under the JSS.
2. My friend and I are single, Singapore citizens and 35 years old and above. Can we buy a resale HDB flat together?Yes, you can buy a resale HDB flat together in any size under the JSS. If both of you are first time applicants, you are entitled to a grant or grants provided that you do not purchase a flat bigger than a 5-room flat.
3. We are two unmarried singles below 35 years old who are both Singapore citizens. Can we buy an HDB flat together, whether new or resale?No, you cannot, unless both of you are related and fall under the Orphans Scheme.
4. We are two singles, Singapore Citizens and above 35. One of us own a private property. Can we buy a HDB flat, whether new or resale?
If you intend to apply for a new HDB flat or EC (only for JSS), you are not eligible to buy a new HDB flat within 30 months from the date of disposal of your private property, but you can appeal to HDB for an exemption to this rule.

If you are buying a resale HDB flat, you do not have to wait for 30 months to pass after the disposal of your private property before doing so, but you must sell the private property within six months from the completion of the purchase of the resale HDB flat. If you or your joint applicant is/are first time applicant(s) and want to benefit from the grant or grants, you should only apply to buy a resale HDB after 30 months from the date of disposal of the private property.

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