First Timers Dilemma : HDB BTO or Resale Flat?

Should first -timers buy a HDB Build to Order (BTO) Flat, HDB ROF (Re-offer of Balance Flat) or Resale Flats?

In Singapore, HDB (Housing and Development Board) is the main developer of public homes. High rise apartments, or better known to those living in Singapore as HDB Flats, is home to more than eighty percent of Singaporeans.

Each Singapore Citizen married couple (or Singaporeans within accepted criteria) is given 2 chances to purchase apartments directly from HDB. These include HDB BTO ( Built- to - Order), SBF (Sales of Balance Flat), ROF ( Re-offer of Balance Flats) as well as Executive Condominiums (ECs). Flats purchased from HDB are usually 'subsidised' or relatively cheaper compared to the existing developments in the area. However waiting time can be substantially longer as you purchase them while they are being developed. The exact duration you have to wait depends on if you purchase a BTO, SBF, ROF Flat.

The difference between BTO, SBF and ROF.

Most Built- to -Order flats (BTOs), Sales of Balance Flats (SBF) and Re-offer of Balance Flat (ROF) start out at the same point. HDB releases a site, and invites Singaporeans to purchase a unit. Singaporeans enter their names in a ballot for a BTO and they are able to select a flat based on their ballot numbers. ( The number of times your name is entered in a ballot depends on the priority schemes you are entitled to. ) 

Unselected flats from that round will be put in the pool for the next SBF. Eligible Singaporeans apply for the SBF and if there are flats that are still unselected, it would end up in the ROF pool. The ROF was previously held twice a year but HDB has recently announced that they will offer the ROF flats throughout the year.  This would reduce the waiting time for a ROF, because the flat would probably be ready for key collection by then. 

However, HDB has also started to offer resale flats which have been returned to them for various reasons ( divorce, death, inability to pay mortgage, unable to sell on the open market etc). These flats are also included in the pool of SBF but the reasons are not disclosed during the sale. You are also unable to see or check out the condition of these flats before you purchase. 

HDB has also started to place 're-purchased flats' into its pool of SBF/ROF flats. When selecting flats, you should be aware that not all of these are brand new flats. 

SBF Flats - Flats that are taken back by HDB

Take note that not all flats sold by HDB during their SBF/ROF is brand new.


Simply put, ROF flats are flats that have not been selected by previous potential buyers because of their attributes. This should be a critical factor for Singaporeans who wants to buy a new flat for its potential appreciation.

ROF FB comment Re offer of HDB flats

What should first - timer couples do? 

For newly married couples excited to begin their lives, there’s always the choice between buying a new HDB (BTO,SBF or ROF) or a resale flat. Until recently, resale flats in the open market have been too expensive for most first timers, with COVs ( Cash Over Valuations i.e. the cash premium above and beyond the flat’s valuation) going for an average of $30 000 to highs of $100 000. With other expenses to consider like wedding, furniture, renovation etc, the COV can be a deterrent to young couples. 

COVs have been falling to the point that it is no longer a norm, however it may still exist if you purchase a flat above the valuation price. (Confused? Don’t worry, we break it down in this article. Does $0 cov mean no cash upfront?  If you need more info regarding the steps to buying a resale flat, read this, " Buying a HDB resale flat ")

However, for new couples, settling into your own home as soon as possible can be one of the single most crucial steps in life. Unless you’ve been living together prior to marriage, a practice not very common to Asians, you would treasure the privacy that a new home provides, allowing you and your new spouse the opportunity to negotiate simple things in married life (like who cooks and does the dishes) and slowly work on constructing your lives.

HDB BTO, ROF or Resale? 

If you are one of those still undecided about if you should be buying a flat directly from HDB (BTO or ROF) or a HDB Resale Flat, these are some facts you can consider.



Resale Flats

Waiting Time

From the time of launch, the waiting times have an average of 2-4 years depending on the developer’s schedule.

HDB hasn't confirmed the duration it will take to get the keys to a flat but we estimate it would take between 3- 4 months.  

Once you decide on a house and exercise the option to purchase, it would take about 3- 6 months to the point you receive keys to the flat. 


For newly married couples, getting a BTO means that you have to live with either set of parents, which can result in a lack of privacy, having to meet the expectations of the In-laws etc.

Getting a flat direct from HDB which you can move right into after marriage is ideal. 


The privacy that comes with your own space, having a room with an en suite is most ideal

Flat Sizes

New flats in BTO and SBF are typically smaller in size.

ROF which are  new flats are typically smaller in size.

Resale HDB flats are much larger in size

Settling on one with an Size and Ideal Position.

Buying a BTO is similar to buying an item virtually or online. You view it on a screen, put in your order and be patient until its delivered. You are unable to see the view, whether you face your neighbours, the direction of the wind, the afternoon sun etc. 

Unfortunately for HDB BTO, there is no return policy if you are not fully satisfied with it.

You pick the flat from a list and you are not able to know how the unit looks likes, the direction it faces etc. 

When buying a resale flat, you would put in an offer to purchase the flat if you are totally satisfied with it. This includes being satisfied with the size, the location and the position of the flat i.e. the direction it is facing, the view, etc.


The cost of a Build to Order flat is subsidized by HDB which means that it is cheaper.

This means that you will NOT be able to utilize your first timer or proximity grants. ($40k - $70 k )

However if the total income of you and your spouse is less than $6500, (depending on the size and location of the flat you select), you will be eligible for the

Additional Housing Grant and the Special Housing Grant.

Also, if your order for the BTO is not put in at the initial launch, i.e. you buy it at the SBF (Sale of Balance Flat) Exercise, the price may have risen substantially to be similar to flats in the resale market.

The cost would be similar to a SBF. It would not be as cheap as a BTO as the unit is already completed. However, it will still be considered subsidised compared to a flat sold on the resale market. 

Resale Flats prices are pegged to the market rate of houses in the area and the current Real estate prices at that point in time.

For first time buyers, HDB provides a grant of $40 000 - $50 000 or more depending on your household income.

This is not inclusive of the $20 000 Proximity grant that you can get if you pick a flat close to your parents/ parents-in-law

You may also qualify for the Additional Housing Grant  of up to $40 000 if your combined income is less than $5k.

Renovation Costs

New BTO flats come unfurnished and you have to factor in renovation costs.

However, as they do not have existing floorings, cabinets etc, you can save quite a lot on hacking costs. You basically have a blank canvas to create your ideal living space.

Another positive point for new couples is that buying a flat that would only be ready in the future enables you to save up for renovation costs instead of paying additional interest on loans

Renovation costs of brand new flats are cheaper, but if you selected a 'repurchased' flat from the SBF/ROF, it would be similar to a resale flat which needs a total makeover

With regards to Renovation Costs, there 2 are scenarios which can happen.

A) You can select an apartment in good condition and save time and effort and money.

B) If you want to redo the flat, you would need to spend more on hacking and tearing down the current furnishings.

Old homes may also come with defects that form over time, for example leakage in pipes, crack in ceilings etc.


New flats in new estates usually do not have established amenities in the neighbourhood.

Similar to new BTO/SBF if they are brand new but similar to resale flats if they are repurchased. 

Mature housing estates have amenities conveniently within the neighbourhood

Potential for appreciation

If you bought a BTO and are able to select one with the best attributes, i.e. good unit in a good location, that is not faced with ethnic quota restrictions, you can somewhat count on an appreciation. 

Flat prices may appreciate to match the resale prices but you may find it hard to find a buyer because of the flat's attributes.

Flat prices might not appreciate as much as BTOs or SBF Flats.

If you are ready to purchase a resale flat but you are not sure where to start, you may find this article useful : Buying a resale flat.

HDB Resale Flat - Where to start
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Zubz Kadir is the founder of PropertyRocking.SG She believes that real estate is the biggest purchase one can make and such a decision should not be taken lightly. Knowledge can make or break a purchase. Zubz graduated from National University of Singapore (NUS) Bachelors with a Degree in Informations Communications and Sociology from the and a Masters of Mass Communications from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).