An Undergraduate BTO Experience (2021): My Experience, Tips and Guide

BTO Application Undergraduate

The purchase of a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat and a place to call your own is a dream for many Singaporeans. Some might even consider a BTO application an informal proposal, a promise to a future together.

But hold up just a minute, I’m just an undergraduate,  where do I even start?

Well, I applied for my BTO (successfully) as an undergraduate in my third year of university. During this process, I felt that the online  resources available were inadequate and the HDB website was, well, not the easiest to navigate. As such, I wished to share my experience as well as a step by step guide for other undergraduates who wished to apply for a BTO as well.

Step 1: BTO Launch Application

The first step, as many would expect, is application. This can be done on HDB’s website, where new sales launches will be displayed.

But before you apply, you should check your eligibility first. Certain eligibility factors that should be considered are:

Factor Criterion
At least one applicant to be a Singapore Citizen with the other being either a Citizen or a Permanent Resident (PR)
Household Income Cap of $14,000. As a student, this will likely not be an issue for you.
Both applicants should be at least 21 years of age. However, under the Fiance/Fiancee scheme, if an applicant is under 21 but older than 18, they will be able to apply if written consent is provided by their parents/guardian.
Property Ownership
If you own any other property, locally or foreign, or have disposed of any such property under your own name, you will not be eligible. Unless you’re born into a really rich family, you likely won’t face this issue as well.

Once you have confirmed that you’re eligible, you’ll need to consider what kind of house you’d be able to afford. After all, here at TortoiseMoney, I always advocate for prudent expenditure.

A rule of thumb regarding house affordability tends to be that your house value should not exceed more than 5x of your household annual income. Yes, before you throw that back at me, I know it’s hard to gauge how much you’ll be earning before you even graduate. Of course, herein lies a risk of mis-estimation of your future salary. But do try to your best to estimate using current industry salaries and trends.

Type of Flat Average Price (Mature Estate) Annual Household Salary Average Price (Non-Mature Estate) Annual Household Salary
2-Room Flexi

Another way to decide if the home you’re trying to apply for is within your budget, try using a mortgage calculator. The rule of thumb would be that mortgage payments should not exceed 30% of your income. For the calculator provided (assuming a HDB Loan with maximum possible loan amount and tenure):

  • Loan Value: 90% of BTO value 
  • Loan Tenure: 30 Years
  • Annual Interest Rate: 2.6%

This will allow you to better visualise what kind of payments you’d be expecting to make every month for the kind of house you intend to apply for.

Sales launches usually occur 4 times a year in the months of February, May, August, November and the application period will usually span 1 week (so act fast!). This application process will take about 20 minutes of form filling and will cost you $10, and is payable by credit/debit card or QR code payment.

For couples where both applicants are of different races (like my partner and I), you might be considering which race to ballot under. 

This is because ethnic quota which is mandated by HDB reduces the competition in being able to select a unit as a non-Chinese. However, the main downside would be that non-Chinese tend to find it hard to sell their BTO and may have to lower their selling price under market rate. This is because non-Chinese sellers can only sell their BTO to buyers of the same race to maintain the ethnic quota within the block. Other considerations would be if you are applying to a mature or non-mature estate, as mature estates tend to be more over-subscribed.

And now, you wait for 2-3 weeks to receive your queue number if Lady Luck is on your side.

Step 2: Receiving a Queue Number

After a randomised balloting process, queue numbers will be released 2-3 weeks after the application window has closed. Notifications will be sent up via email, SMS or hardcopy letters. For my application process, I applied on 11 February (with the window closing on 17th) and my queue number was released on 6 March.

Generally, if you applied as under Chinese, your odds of being able to select a unit is quite slim if your queue number is not within or close to the total number of units (e.g. not being <150 if the total number of units are 100). That is not to say it is impossible, but the competition is quite high from my experience. For other races, the ethnic quotas are to your advantage and whether you are able to get a good unit would really depend a lot on the particular sales launch.

If you’re lucky enough to have received a queue number, you can use the BTO Buddy telegram bot (@BTObuddy_bot) to track the current flat selections for the estate you have applied for. Usually there will be individual telegram chats as well for each BTO launch for discussions between applicants about the units that have been selected or units that they are keen to select. These can be easily found by searching for “BTO name” + “Month and Year of BTO” in telegram (e.g. “Kim Keat Ripples Feb 2020”).

From here, the waiting continues….

Step 3: BTO First Appointment

The first appointment is used to select your unit and to pay the option fee. Officially, this is referred to as the ‘Flat Selection Exercise’. Depending on your queue number, this can be within a month to 6 months after your queue number is first released to you. The notification will be sent to you about 2 weeks before the actual appointment. For reference, I received my notice for the flat selection on 17th August for my appointment on 31st August. During the appointment, you will have to bring:
  • NRIC Photocopy
    • NRIC Photocopies for both applicants
  • Document from Educational Institution
    • For my appointment, I brought a Letter of Certification to show that I was a current student at my educational institution. Your school should allow you to request for one through your student portal.
  • Income Documents
    • Income documents can be retrieved from the IRAS Portal, under Individuals → Check Employment Income Status. Simply print the entire page and submit it at the appointment.
  • CPF Documents: This consists of 2 documents, both of which can be retrieved from the CPF website, under My Statements:
      • Contribution History: This document shows the contributions made to your CPF accounts, either by your employers or by yourself (if self-employed).
      • Yearly Statement of Accounts: This document shows all inflows and outflows from all 3 of your CPF accounts, including the interest earned in your accounts.
  • Enhanced Housing Grant (EHG) Document
    • As a student, you will not need to complete the EHG Document as neither of you have an income. As such, you will be covered under Deferred Income Assessment, which means your income is assessed only about 3 months before the flat is completed.
    • However, in the event where one applicant is working (for at least one year) and the other is schooling, you will qualify for the EHG application and you will be required to fill up the form that can be found here.
  • Application Form
    • The last form required is known as the Application Form and it is included on the HDB website from the link that will be included in the email sent to you notifying you of the first appointment.
During this appointment, you will be selecting your unit! This is an important point in the BTO application process as once you select you will be unable to change your mind. As such, do have an idea of which unit you would like to select before the appointment. Available units can be viewed on the HDB website with their respective prices. Some factors that many applicants consider would be:

  • Direction of windows: Try to avoid direction morning/evening sun as this will cause hot mornings/nights which may be quite unpleasant.

  • Level: Generally higher floors are more desirable, but do note that higher floors usually come with a heftier price tag, heh. Don’t try to get a floor that is too high if you don’t think you can afford it in the future!

  • Proximity to Amenities: Certain BTO estates are quite large. Hence, choosing units closer to certain amenities such as MRTs, bus stops or schools might be something that would influence your decision. Conversely, you may also wish to select a unit far from a multi-storey car park, which may be noisy at times.
You will also be selecting if you wish to opt in for the Optional Component Scheme (OCS) during this appointment. This is a scheme which allows you to have certain fittings prepared for your unit, such as flooring and doors, before you shift in. This amount will be added to the value of the unit as well. Usually the colours of the doors and flooring will be uploaded on the HDB website and will also be present at the HDB Hub (where the appointment will be at) for you to look at and feel. This will be up to personal preference, but for myself, I chose to opt out of it. One last thing! During the first appointment, after going through all the documents and selecting a unit, an option fee has to be paid to secure your unit. Note that this deposit is refundable at the down payment process in the second appointment. Also, this fee is only payable by NETS, so do ensure that you bring a card that is able to pay via NETS.
Type of Flat Option Fee
2-Room Flexi
4-Room, 5-Room / Executive Flat

Step 4: BTO Second Appointment

At the end of your first appointment, the staff at HDB will usually inform you that the next appointment will be in about 3-4 months. This appointment is the Signing of Agreement for Lease. They will notify you by SMS, email or hardcopy letter about 1 week prior to the appointment. For my case, my first appointment was on 31st August and my second appointment was on the 13th November.

Fortunately, this time, no documents are required! For this appointment, both applicants will have to bring their original IDs (NRIC) and their Singpass 2FA devices. Simple enough!

Before this appointment, you will also be required to prepare the down payment as well as certain fees and charges required for the flat. A summary of the required fees are as follows (for the purpose of illustration, we will use a flat of value $400,000):

Fee/Charge How to Compute Amount ($)
Down Payment For Flat
If you qualify for staggered down payment (application submitted before or on the younger applicant’s 30th birthday), 5% of unit value. Most students should qualify in this category.

Else, 10% of unit value

Stamp Duty
Stamp Duty is computed based on BTO unit value where:
First $180,000: 1%
Next $180,000: 2%
Next $640,000: 3%
Remaining amount: 4%
An calculator has also been kindly provided by IRAS to compute expected Stamp Duty *
Conveyancing Fee
Conveyancing Fee is computed based on BTO unit value as well, with:
First $30,000: $0.90 per $1,000
Next $30,000: $0.72 per $1,000
Remaining Amount: $0.60 per $1,000

Sorry, this one no free calculator
($192.60 without GST)

The confirmed amount will be indicated on the appointment letter for your second appointment. Do note that the option fee paid earlier can be used to offset the total amount required for the down payment. Also, the total amount to be paid on the second appointment can only be paid by:

  • CPF OA Savings: As students, you will probably not have sufficient value to cover the entire payment with our CPF OA, but you can still use what’s in there to offset the amount required for the Cashier’s Order.
  • NETS: This will be subject to withdrawal limit.
  • Cashier’s Order: This is essentially a cheque, issued by the bank, using money from your own account (i.e. the amount is taken by the bank, and the bank writes a cheque to your payee, which in this case is HDB). This is to prevent applicants from writing cheques when their accounts do not have sufficient value, which would cause the cheque to be rejected. Cashier’s orders can be obtained at your respective bank branches for $5.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve paid the down payment, most of the work is done (for now)! The next appointment to wait for would be key collection, which will happen much closer to the actual completion of the flat (likely about 4-5 years from your application).

Note that at the key collection, you will be paying the remaining 5% of the down payment if you qualified for staggered down payment earlier in your second appointment.  

Another important point to know would be that for applicants who are students (meaning under the fiance/fiancee scheme), a certificate of marriage will have to be presented within 3 months of possession of the flat.

How to Improve Your Chances to Get a BTO!

BTOs are very competitive things, with certain popular estates racking up subscription rates of over 10 times the number of units!

Apply More (Especially if multiple BTOs in the same area)

If there are multiple BTO launches in very similar areas, do yourself a favour and apply for both if you’re ready to apply! Double the applications, double the chances! For example, looking at Nov 2020 and Feb 2021, both sales launches have units in the Bidadari Estate (Toa Payoh). Applying for both would definitely give you an advantage in getting a unit.

Married Child Priority Scheme

The Married Child Priority Scheme helps couples to purchase units near their parents’ residence. To qualify, the BTO location has to be within 4km of the residence of one of the applicant’s parents (no additional bonus if both applicants’ parents live within 4km of the estate).

Up to 30% of the units in the BTO estate will be reserved for MCPS applicants, which greatly increases your chances of getting a unit for yourself!

Alas, the catch is that your parents will not be able to move out from the 4km radius within the next 5 years of possession of your new flat. As such, do discuss with your parents carefully before applying under the MCPS or else you might unintentionally trap them.

However, it is also possible to discuss with the staff at HDB on how the ballot number that you received was obtained. They will be able to check if you are able to withdraw from the MCPS without affecting your queue number. This will allow you to give your parents the freedom to move while still being able to purchase your HDB flat! Win-win situation!


To summarise the total payments through this experience thus far:

Stage Payment Required Payment Method
Credit/Debit Card or QR Code Payment
First Appointment
Option Fee:
$500 (2-room Flexi)
$1,000 (3 -room)
$2,000 (4-room and above)
Second Appointment
Down Payment
Conveyancing Fee
Stamp Duty
NETS, CPF OA, Cashiers’ Order

At the end of the day, buying a BTO is definitely a big decision, a likely one of, if not the biggest purchase you’ll make in your lives. But if you and your partner are ready for it, do consider going for it!

All the best in your applications!

Photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

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