How Are HDB BTO Flats Built? Here’s Why Some BTO Projects Take Longer To Complete Than Others

16 April 2024 | BY

We lift the veil on how HDB BTO flats are built to debunk some common misconceptions.

BTOs are a fairly popular topic of discussion, particularly among the younger demographic of Singaporeans. It’s not uncommon to hear many express concerns about securing a home for the future.

However, there actually lies an unprecedented amount of meticulous planning and precise engineering that goes into erecting a single flat. To help you understand some misconceptions about BTOs, we’ve outlined some interesting facts about the construction process.

What does BTO mean?

Image credit: Jiachen Lin on Unsplash

Before getting into the specifics, let’s first highlight the basics of what a BTO is. Build-to-order (BTO) flats are HDB flats that married couples or singles 35 years old and above can ballot to purchase.

The unique thing about BTOs is that you purchase them before they are built, hence the name “build to order”. A detailed description of each flat like floor plan layouts, estimated prices, and nearby amenities are also provided so applicants can make informed decisions on whether they want to ballot and ultimately purchase the unit.

How were HDBs built in the past?

bto in constructionImage credit: Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa on Unsplash

HDB formerly depended on 2D technical drawings to gauge the elements of a building that could be manufactured off-site. This method is called prefabrication, which reduces the need for on-site labour. The prefabricated components are then delivered on-site to be assembled—like putting a lego diorama together.

Also, before the emergence of BTOs, prospective buyers were only invited to choose their HDB flats after construction was complete, resulting in a lot of empty flats left unsold due to market fluctuations and property market slumps. Crucially, state funds—a.k.a taxpayer money—are used to maintain these empty units.

How are HDBs built today?

bto prefabrication processImage credit: HDB

In a bid to gauge the market better, HDB introduced the BTO system, where construction only began after 70% of the flat has been snapped up by homeowners. By only issuing construction tenders after demand is guaranteed, HDB prevents oversupply from happening.

Additionally, the construction of HDB flats has been made more efficient with the emergence of PPVC, an upgraded version of prefabrication technology. 

By using digital 3D drawings of the different dimensions of a given building, HDB prevents the need for alteration of prefabricated components due to errors in the manufacturing process, which was a possibility with the 2D drawings done in the past.

bto 3D BIM Image credit: HDB

By reducing on-site work as much as possible, there is a lower prevalence of noise pollution, which may bother homeowners who live next to BTO developments. This is also on the back of HDB allowing contractors to continue work on Sundays and public holidays.

Additionally, there is a lower reliance on manual labour as well as construction waste. Ultimately, the reduction of on-site work creates a more efficient process, which naturally results in shorter waiting times.

How long do I need to wait for my BTO?

That being said, the given waiting time for BTO projects is not fixed, with the median being approximately 3 years and 10 months in 2023. Each BTO project varies in terms of complexity and location, which affects how long it takes for the last brick to be laid.

For example, a project that has more floors will naturally take longer to build due to the complexities associated with constructing a taller building.

Common misconceptions about BTOs

Difficult for first-timers to secure a BTO flat

bto ballotImage credit: kpo & czm

One common sentiment among Singaporeans is that it’s difficult for first-time buyers to acquire a flat. This is patently untrue, as according to HDB, 90% of first-time home buyers secure a BTO flat within their first three tries. In fact, first-time buyers enjoy a higher priority when balloting as HDB sets aside a set number of flats in every development for first-timers.

One possible reason for this misconception despite this statistic is that those down on their BTO luck typically are more vocal about their woes than those who are successful, which may be the reason why we hear about rejection often. 

Also, BTO flats in prime locations are typically harder to ballot for due to higher demand, which may have resulted in rejection for most applicants.

Non-mature estates lack development & amenities

Image credit: HDB flat portal

The reason for the higher demand for BTO flats in prime locations is the belief that standard BTO flats in non-mature estates don’t have as much infrastructure. After all, nobody wants to live in an ulu location far away from any amenities.

While some flats are indeed far away from shopping malls and other hotspots, many are too quick to write off many projects just because the location is less than favourable. With Singapore’s ever-growing public transport network, flats in these less ideal locations like Jurong and Tengah may actually be an investment for the future.

BTO flats & houses are too small

On that note, many homeowners see their BTO flats as forever-homes, which is a problem when faced with the fact that flats in general have gotten smaller over the years. However, big houses still exist: the reality is that they tend to be standard-grade flats in non-mature estates. 

The solution for buyers unhappy with the size of their home is naturally to turn to these projects in less popular estates, where there is more land due to fewer developments. Alternatively, these homeowners may buy a smaller home first, then upgrade after the MOP period once their finances are more favourable.

BTOs are only for married couples

With how BTO applications are synonymous with marriage proposals, many singles mistakenly believe that BTOs are limited to married couples. In actuality, singles 35 years old and above may apply for a BTO flat: The caveat is that only 2-room flexi flats are available for purchase, though the grants still apply.

How are BTO flats built today?

Regardless if you’re a single with a 2-room flexi or a couple who purchased an executive flat, waiting for the flat to be operational will feel equally long for all. Many things need to be accounted for, thus complicating the construction process. 

Prospective homeowners can rest assured that the wait will be worth it—a quality project will take quality time to create. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

For more HDB guides:

Cover image adapted from: Lianhe Zaobao, HDB

Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.

More In... #bto