BTO or resale HDB flat: First-timer dilemma

8 min read

The classic BTO story goes like this:

man proposing a woman to apply for BTO
Classic story: Boy meets Girl. Boy proposes. Girl accepts. They apply for a BTO flat together and get married in three to five years.

Why three to five years? Because that’s how long it usually takes for a bunch of flats to be built and be liveable. Conventional wisdom says: get engaged, live with your parents, and when your flat is almost ready, get married and then move in together and make lots of babies. (That last part is untrue.)

It’s a typical Singapore love story for good reason.

Every now and then, we get young 20-somethings asking us whether they should buy BTO or resale.

As much as we hate to admit it and despite the fact that resale HDB flats have their good qualities, HDB BTO flats are the most affordable option and definitely should be considered first.

You gotta believe us, because we absolutely do not benefit when you buy a BTO flat. After all, we’re a property portal; our website only deals in private property and resale HDB flats. 

But anyway, you wanted reasons? Here they are.

Yes, generally resale flats are bigger. But they are also more expensive.

resale flats come with a higher price tag than a bto flat

BTO flats are always cheaper than resale flats, as they aren’t being sold by owners looking for capital gains. On the other hand, almost every Singaporean expects to make money by selling their flat, sometimes way above the valuation. Especially now, given that resale demand is outstripping supply.

During the recent May 2022 BTO launch, a 4-room flat in Yishun has a median price of S$373,000. In comparison, the median price of a comparable resale flat nearby is S$520,000.

And yes, while older HDB resale flats tend to be bigger and more convenient, they are also more expensive.

If you want to check whether you’re getting value for money, it’s best to assess the property in terms of its price per square foot.

That said, even taking different apartment sizes into account, BTO flats are still substantially cheaper than resale flats.

Sure, both of them have grants, but BTO still wins in cost.

both resale and bto flats come with grant

For BTO flats, there’s the option to apply for the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG), which can come up to S$80,000.

And for resale flats, the maximum grant amount is actually double at S$160,000 – from the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG), Family Grant and Proximity Housing Grant (PHG).

Whether you can get the grant, and how much of it depends on whether you meet certain eligibility criteria, such as your household income.

But given the higher resale prices for the past two years, BTO flats are still generally cheaper even after taking into account the grants.

Let’s assume you get the maximum grant amount. Using the above prices as an example, you’ll be paying S$293,000 for the BTO flat, which is still lower than the S$360,000 you’d have to pay if you’re buying a resale flat instead.

In this case, BTO flats are still cheaper, by a landslide.

If you can wait long enough, BTO flats having a good location is only a matter of time. 

The location of non-mature BTO flats will be more attractive in future

Resale flats are sold on the market and can be found about anywhere on the island, granting you ample choice in terms of location.

For the location of a BTO flat, you are dependent on HDB launch sites. Over the past one year, HDB has started increasing BTO flats in mature estates — some of which are even in prime locations such as Rochor.  This can make the projects in the less mature estates less attractive.

Still, as argued in a related article, less mature estates, while often viewed as less appealing to their mature counterparts, do not necessarily have a worse location.

Indeed, with the government set on extensively developing every inch of the island, your BTO area will sooner or later come to flourish, such as Jurong East with the plans for it to be a second CBD.

There’s also less traffic and noise pollution in less mature estates (quiet enclaves). So if you can bear with initially living in an ulu neighbourhood, you may very well be looking at some healthy property appreciation in the future.

BTO flats will last you a lifetime. Resale flats might not (unless you die early).

BTO flats have longer lease than resale flats

Lease terms matter. Why? Because we are all homeowners, right? Well, kind of, or rather – kind of not. BTO flats come with a 99-year leasehold.

Older HDB flats can easily have only 60 to 70 years left on their lease, and by any standard of logic that – everything else held equal – should be making them worth less than newer BTO flats with 99 years of lease.

While few people may at this point yet be factoring it in, there will probably sooner or later be a point when the end-of-lease factor is locked into our collective consciousness, and when that time comes, homes with little time left on their lease will see their value take a hit.

Here’s one way to think about it.

Think of your HDB flats as rented apartments, and calculate how much you’re paying monthly for rent.

For a 4-room resale flat with 93 years left, costing around S$500,000, that’s:

S$500,000 ÷ 93 years left ÷ 12 months = S$448 per month

For a 4-room BTO flat with 99 years left, costing S$373,000, that’s

S$373,000 ÷ 99 years left ÷ 12 months = S$314 per month

Also, it’s harder to resell your resale flat 15 to 20 years down the road  due to the decaying lease.

Based on this, BTO flats win. 

Be prepared to pay more for reno for a resale.

Resale flats generally entail a higher renovation cost

BTO flats come in a vanilla state, unfurnished and without any decor. Good? Bad? If you see your new pad as your very own Singaporean Sistine Chapel, then a BTO flat can serve well as your blank canvas.

If you do not mind other people’s taste, or if it’s to your liking, then resale flats may suit you more. You do not have to do all the designing yourself (or hire a pricey interior designer). You can simply pick a resale flat with an interior you like to begin with.

BUT, if you do intend to do some reno, more often than not, time and time again, resale flats will set you back more. This is because you’ll need to hack away existing renovations as well as install new things. You might need to fix the electrical wiring as well.

So why buy a resale flat? 

Citizenship, busting the income ceiling and waiting time are reasons why people go for resale flats

It generally depends on three factors: citizenship, income ceiling and waiting time.


If there’s no Singaporean Citizen (SC) in your family nucleus, then you have no choice. The only form of public housing PR families can buy is a resale flat.

Income ceiling

Well, this one is pretty straightforward. If you bust the S$14,000 income ceiling, you can’t buy a subsidised flat. Hey – earning a lot of money is a good problem to have.

Waiting time

In this aspect, resale flats win – hands down. Especially these days when BTO flats are faced with construction delays. With resale flats, you can generally move in within two months after sealing the deal.

With BTO flats, not so much. As noted previously, most BTO flats take around three years to five years to be developed.

This leaves you with two options: either stay with your parents or rent a unit while waiting for your flat to be completed. The former will help you save money, while the latter will allow you to start an independent life with a new home.


[Additional reporting by Virginia Tanggono]

Would you buy a BTO flat or a resale flat for your first home? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook post. 

If you found this article helpful, recommends PLH BTO vs mature estate BTO vs non-mature estate BTO: Which BTO to say “yes” to and COV Singapore – What is Cash Over Valuation (COV) of a resale HDB flat.

Looking to sell your property?

Whether your HDB apartment is reaching the end of its Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) or your condo has crossed its Seller Stamp Duty (SSD) window, it is always good to know how much you can potentially gain if you were to list and sell your property. Not only that, you’ll also need to know whether your gains would allow you to right-size to the dream home in the neighbourhood you and your family have been eyeing.

One easy way is to send us a request for a credible and trusted property consultant to reach out to you.

Alternatively, you can jump onto’s Property Value Tool to get an estimate for free.

If you’re looking for your dream home, be it as a first-time or seasoned homebuyer or seller – say, to upgrade or right-size – you will find it on Singapore’s fastest-growing property portal

Meanwhile, if you have an interesting property-related story to share with us, drop us a message here — and we’ll review it and get back to you.

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