When it comes to public housing here in Singapore, there are really only 2 options to consider: executive condominiums which become privatised after 10 years, and HDB flats.
While there have been a variety of different HDB unit types built and offered over the years, it’s safe to say that the majority of new HDB BTOs today largely follow the same cookie cutter layout and design, with only minor differences such as colour scheme or orientation. Compare any two BTOs in different estates, and they would essentially more or less be the same. Interestingly, this hasn’t always been the case!
Enter the fabled Design, Build & Sell Scheme – DBSS for short – which was slated to be the in thing for HDB developments. Even though these DBSS flats were discontinued after 2011, a fair handful of them are still either being listed online for sale or were recently transacted in the resale market, which goes to show their ensuing popularity amongst Singaporeans.
Here’s everything you need to know about the DBSS: its history, where you can find DBSS flats today, and if they are worth considering.
Design, Build & Sell Scheme (DBSS) – In a nutshell
Announced in March 2005, the DBSS was a new scheme meant to involve the private sector in building public housing. The aim was to diversify the range of flats offered to Singaporeans; in this case, flats that were more ‘premium’ in quality and design to cater to the group of homebuyers that had slightly deeper pockets to afford more expensive HDB flats, but not so much as to purchase executive or private condos.
Image credit: Santarli
Under the scheme, private developers had the autonomy to design the entire development from flat design and configuration to size however they wanted, as long as they followed some broad principles from HDB.
In short, think of it as HDB outsourcing some of the production of flats to the private sector. They could also determine the launch price of these flats, which unfortunately was one of the main factors that led to the scheme’s demise.
Natura Loft At Bishan, not your typical HDB facade.
Image credit: @aloysnaps
Once construction was completed, the maintenance of common areas like the void deck and surrounding, as well as enforcing renovation guidelines and lease conditions, would be handed over to HDB to oversee, which is more or less the same for any other HDB flat.
What’s the difference between DBSS flats and normal HDB flats?
While there are differences between DBSS flats and their regular counterparts, they certainly aren’t the most significant of differences.
The interior of a DBSS flat with an expansive balcony.
Image credit: @sumofussg
DBSS flats are quintessentially still HDB flats at heart, and will continue to retain their identity as public housing despite being built by private developers. In fact, they are subject to the same eligibility criteria as HDB flats, and buyers would enjoy the same grants and access to loans as per any other HDB flat.
DBSS units also more or less have the same floor area as their regular counterparts. And yes, buyers of DBSS flats will be subject to the usual 5-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP).
So then, what really are the differences? Well for one, because DBSS flats are built by private developers and not HDB, you can expect some variation in the units’ floor plans, and a better overall build quality and interior furnishing.
Depending on the project, DBSS units will come with additional features such as balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, or in the case of 5-room DBSS units, an additional bedroom as compared to regular 5-room flats.
Where can you find DBSS flats?
There are a total of 13 DBSS projects across Singapore:
Fun fact: The first DBSS project to launch was The Premiere in Tampines, which has 616 units and was launched in 2006 and received its TOP in 2008. The last DBSS project launched was 447-unit Pasir Ris One, which was launched in 2012 and completed in 2015.
What happened to DBSS?
Suffice to say, the DBSS plan was short-lived, having only lasted around 6 years and eventually being discontinued in 2011. So what went wrong?
Well for one, the quality of workmanship and finishing were apparently very major issues that initial homebuyers faced, and these were often common concerns that were not isolated to just a single DBSS project. From what we can find online, there were many complaints in several projects.
Image credit: SingHaiyi Group
For example, a news report in 2015 highlighted how residents of Pasir Ris One raised concerns over problems such as the corridors being impossibly narrow, how the master bedroom could not fit a king-sized bed, and persistent defects like tiles popping and cracks on window panes.
Elsewhere, Trivelis @ Clementi saw issues like shower glass screens shattering and low-quality flooring. Given that you’d have paid a premium for these DBSS units over the regular HDB flats, you really should not have to face such issues, and so the mounting frustration across all initial buyers of DBSS units was certainly a contributing factor to the scheme’s drop in popularity and eventual demise.
Another big contention for DBSS flats pertained to pricing. Under the scheme, these private developers had the autonomy to decide on the pricing of these units. Naturally, this posed significant problems, mainly because of how the flats were priced exorbitantly as compared to regular HDBs. While buyers were prepared to pay a premium for these units, they wouldn’t have expected the premium to be that high.
According to reports online, one classic example was Centrale 8 in Tampines; the average selling price of a 5-room DBSS flat was over 50% more than that of a 5-room resale flat in Tampines, and the selling price of a similar-sized resale EC unit in the same estate that year was just priced slightly higher than a DBSS unit’s selling price.
Image credit: Low Keng Huat
Another related concern was the affordability of DBSS units, not just for initial buyers but secondary buyers in the resale market. Given the relatively high entry price that the first buyers had to fork out for the units, this essentially meant that once homeowners reached their MOP and were ready to sell, prices of resale DBSS units would skyrocket, leading to the astronomical prices we’re seeing today.
Image adapted from: HDB
Take for example Natura Loft at Bishan. In just the past few months, we’ve seen a handful of units being sold for over $920K, and one unit even going for above $1M. You have to bear in mind that these are just 4-room units, and their floor area is also just about the same as any other 4-room HDB flat.
Are DBSS flats still worth it?
While HDB no longer produces DBSS flats, if you want to purchase one you can still do so. Based on our checks, there are quite a number of DBSS flats being listed for sale, and so it isn’t exactly slim pickings, though we also wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s an abundance of them.
However, with all that we’ve discussed above, it does beg the question: is it still worth it to get a DBSS flat?
Image credit: @sprayandprayleon
In summary, it really depends on what you value and what are your plans for the future. Premium status aside, quite a number of the DBSS projects are located in decent locations, such as being a short distance away from an MRT station or town centre, and also in close proximity to plentiful amenities and the like.
In that case, you can somewhat justify the high price point you’d be paying to enjoy the convenience and centrality of these locations.
If you’re looking to flip a DBSS property, then we’d advise against it. The HDB resale market has seen record-high prices over the past year, and short of calling it a bubble, there has to be a point where prices will eventually taper off and drop. In that instance, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with no – or even negative – profit.
However, if you’re looking to stay in these flats in the long term, then you would have a better case for getting these DBSS units. Again, this returns to the main plus point of location as well as the additional features that come with these units, and if they hold perceived value in your eyes.
Given that there is a scarcity of DBSS units in Singapore due to the scheme being discontinued, this limited supply does contribute to the overall value of the unit, which can help in ensuring you don’t make a loss should you choose to sell it eventually.
DBSS flats in Singapore
To sum up, the DBSS was initially thought to be a great initiative, especially by opening up a middle bracket between HDB flats and ECs to cater to a wider range of homebuyers with higher purchasing power. However, with the benefit of hindsight, the DBSS programme was fraught with limitations and problems from the onset, which eventually led to its curtain call.
That being said, it would be unfair to totally write off the value that DBSS units have in today’s property market, and we’re sure that regardless of whatever has been said about the scheme, we’ll still continue to see a relatively healthy demand for these units.
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Cover image adapted from: @sumofussg