Applying for a Build-To-Order (BTO) HDB flat is de rigueur for many Singaporeans.
Case in point: In August’s BTO exercise, the Hougang project saw a whopping 11,420 applicants vying for 459 available 4-room flats. That’s 24.9 people competing for each unit. That’s understandable, given that it’s the first BTO launch in Hougang in 5 years.
However, what’s surprising is that, although all seven projects were oversubscribed, this time, it was the non-mature estates that saw more demand than the mature estates. Non-mature estate Jurong East’s 4-room flats were 15.1 times oversubscribed as well; still higher than those in the mature estates of Kallang/Whampoa, Queenstown and Tampines, which saw a maximum of 8.5 applicants per unit.
HDB BTO Demand Over the Past 5 Years
Over the past five years, the usual trend is that Singaporeans gravitate towards the BTO launches in mature estates, with a few non-mature estates emerging as exceptions.
Earlier this year, we saw how a record 43.3 applicants vied for each 4-room BTO flat in Bukit Merah. February 2021’s BTOs launched in Kallang/Whampoa and Toa Payoh (Bidadari) were all oversubscribed, just one day after launch.
In 2020, we saw hot favourites Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Toa Payoh (Bartley/Bidadari) emerging as popular picks for mature estates. Sembawang and Woodlands BTOs, though both in non-mature estates, received high application rates as well.
When Ang Mo Kio and Tampines BTOs were launched in November 2019, there was a flurry of applications vying for 4- and 5-room flats in the mature estates. This was also the year where the first batch of BTO flats in the upcoming “forest town”, Tengah, was launched. And of course, the BTOs launched in Kallang/Whampoa in May 2019 saw astronomical subscriptions, thanks to the mature estate’s central location.
2018 was probably the year where non-mature estates rose in appeal, as hot spots Sembawang, Punggol and Choa Chu Kang were offered. Of note was the Teck Whye View BTO project in Choa Chu Kang, which saw a high application rate that surpassed even mature estate Geylang, due to its connectivity and affordability plus a lower supply of flats in the west.
Mature vs Non-mature HDB Flat Estates in Singapore
In short, mature estates are residential areas that are more than 20 years old; while non-mature estates are less than 20 years old. Typically, mature estates are more developed and equipped with better amenities and public transport infrastructure.
Over time, more and more non-mature estates will eventually “graduate” to the mature category and more non-mature estates such as Tengah will make their debut.
List of Mature Estates in Singapore
Ang Mo Kio,
List of Non-mature Estates in Singapore
Choa Chu Kang,
Here are some possible reasons why people would prefer living in each type of estate:
Amenities (schools, markets, food centres, shopping malls etc)
Tend to have more
Tend to have fewer, work-in-progress
Tend to be on the higher side
Tend to be on the lower side
Appreciation could be higher in the short term
Potential for more appreciation in the long term
Public transport links
Usually better established
Might be noisier and more cramped, but has its unique charm
Could be quieter and more peaceful, might have newly developed features (i.e. eco-town, forest town, landscaped parks, etc)
Fewer larger unit types available (i.e. 5-room flats)
More larger unit types available (i.e. 5-room flats)
Usually within or nearer to central region
Usually outside of central region
Mature estates are like towns where people have settled for decades, thus they’re likely to have all forms of amenities within easy reach. These include markets, food centres, schools, polyclinics, shopping malls, and the list goes on.
In a non-mature estate, especially the newer ones, amenities are still a work in progress, so there may not be the convenience of just nipping downstairs for a quick meal or buying fresh meat from the market. There may yet be a popular primary school for your kiddo within the area as well.
Many Singaporeans we spoke to felt this way, including Lecturer TH, who applied in June 2020 for a unit in mature estate Clementi. Says the 43-year-old: “I would choose a mature estate based on the availability of amenities like food and retail. My new flat also has easy access to parks and a coffeeshop, a supermarket, and a preschool downstairs.”
On the other hand, stay-at-home mum Nadirah, 32, who recently collected the keys to her BTO in Punggol, has a fresh viewpoint. She believes that: “As the main demographic of residents in Punggol is young couples/families (just like us), the amenities around the area are catered accordingly.”
2. Property Prices
Would you shell out over $700k for a BTO flat? Well, that’s what some larger flats in mature estates could cost you — and the facts don’t lie — we’ve compiled this ultimate list of BTO prices sorted by estate and price of rooms (from 2019 to now) for your reading pleasure.
Singaporeans are indeed a practical lot, and those we spoke to who opted for BTOs in a non-mature estate cited price as one of the main factors.
Terence, 39, a service technician, has been living in his Yishun BTO for a few years now. He says: “The BTO must be cheap. I think it’s crazy when people splash half a million dollars on an HDB flat.”
This is the same reasoning that accounting admin Hajar, 36, had when she applied for her Woodlands BTO in August 2020. She says: “I didn't even consider looking at mature estates, the price seemed a bit too much.”
And for Cindy, 47, who works in marketing, she says she’d “prefer the cost of my flat to be manageable”, though she eventually successfully reserved a 3Gen unit in mature estate Bidadari.
Nadirah chimes in: “The top consideration for choosing a non-mature estate was because of the higher grant available to us.” Note: Before the introduction of the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant in 2019, there were more restrictions for BTO applicants.
3. Resale Value
While we recently reported that there’s a narrowing price gap between HDB resale flats in mature and non-mature estates, it can’t be denied that many of the million-dollar resale HDBs are largely, if not all, coming out of the mature estates. Nevertheless, there are quite a few larger resale HDBs in non-mature estates trending towards the million-dollar mark as well.
Related article: Top 5 Most Expensive HDB Flats in Every Decade Since the 1990s
Content strategist Ted, 36, who applied for a BTO unit in the mature estate of Bidadari in November 2020, says: “If we rent out the unit or sell it after the Minimum Occupancy Period, it will draw more interest and better prices.”
4. Public Transport Accessibility
As a whole, a mature estate has better established connectivity, including public transport and roads. MRT stations and bus interchanges could be within walking distance, with a bus stop a stone’s throw away.
Related article: How Does Distance to MRT Affect Property Prices in Singapore?
However, it really depends on the exact location of your flat. For example, you may be living in the non-mature estate of Yishun or Punggol, but your home is right beside the MRT station; or you could be in the mature estate of Bishan, but your flat is located in a “neither here, neither there” spot that’s not really near anything.
Hajar shares: ”My future BTO in Woodlands will also be near the MRT and Causeway Point, and with the expansion of the Thomson-East Coast Line MRT route, commuting via public transportation is convenient.”
For Ted, a BTO flat within reasonable walking distance to an MRT station would provide more convenience when travelling.
It also seems a common thread among Singaporeans who applied for BTOs that the common perception is that mature estates tend to be noisier and more crowded, while non-mature estates are more peaceful.
Says internal auditor Ms Tay, 36, who applied for a BTO in Sembawang in November 2020: “While mature estates are well-established, they are too popular, crowded and costly.”
Terence, who is currently enjoying the peace and quiet in his Yishun BTO, concurs: “A mature estate may be convenient with all the amenities around you. However, mature estates are usually quite noisy. I just want to have a peaceful neighbourhood.”
Meanwhile, TH admits he’s still sitting on the fence, having considered BTO projects in both mature estates and non-mature estates before clinching a unit in Clementi. His main concern, however, is cleanliness.
TH shares: “Personally, I like the idea of a non-mature estate as you tend to get better flat features (such as three-quarter-height living-room windows) to begin with, and your estate is likely to be cleaner and spiffier from the get-go — I’m very particular about estate cleanliness.
“As I prefer high floors, I would rather try my luck in areas like Clementi, Queenstown and Bukit Merah rather than go for a 5th storey unit in, say, an area like Hougang, an estate that I also like. We also liked various neighbourhoods and estate designs (notably in Waterway Terraces), but the priority for me was still obtaining a flat. The mature estates we applied for just happened to be the only estates on offer in those sales exercises.”
Cindy also raises the point about how new estates have a “greener co-living space in the vicinity with some intended amenities”. Currently living in Sengkang while waiting for her keys to her new 3Gen flat in Bidadari, she’s close to Punggol, the first HDB Eco-Town. There’s also the upcoming Tengah “forest town” in the west.
While it’s definitely much easier to incorporate green features in a new HDB estate when it’s just a blank canvas versus a populated mature estate with existing bits and bobs to work around, HDB recently announced its Green Towns Programme, a 10-year plan to make HDB towns more sustainable and liveable. Another way is to pick a development itself that’s big on sustainability and being environmentally friendly.
6. Flat Size
Although many of us are content with our 4-room BTO units, thanks to the pandemic and our new work-from-home lifestyle, there’s been a preference shift towards larger homes, never mind the location (since we’re all lounging on our sofa in PJs anyway).
However, 5-room and larger flats may not be the easiest to obtain, especially if you’re aiming to live in a mature estate closer to the central region. It’s like a rare and shiny Pokemon that attracts hordes of hunters — exactly what happened when 5-room BTO units in the mature Bidadari estate were launched in November 2020’s BTO application exercise.
Even in non-mature estates, larger BTO units are also oversubscribed many times over.
Mrs Tay, who was one of those who applied for Sembawang Sun Sails during the November 2020 BTO launch, said her application was not successful as the development was oversubscribed. She’s currently living in a BTO that’s also at Sembawang, for which she received the keys in 2014.
Ted, however, won the HDB lottery, with his application for Bartley Beacon going through. The BTO project, located near Bartley MRT station, has 880 units of 3-, 4- and 5-room flats. And 5-room flats there are going at a premium of $627,000 to $726,000 (excluding grants).
He shares his view on flat sizes: “Mature estates typically comprise mostly 4-room or smaller flats, while more 5-room flats are built in non-mature estates. I’m glad to have gotten a larger flat in a mature estate.”
As you might have guessed, winning the HDB ballot on your first try is indeed something to shout about, especially for BTO projects that are astronomically oversubscribed.
For educator Fred, 43, his Yung Ho Spring II 2-room Flexi BTO unit had a low application rate when he balloted for it in February 2014 as it’s located in the non-mature estate of Jurong West.
Related article: Family Finds Dream Home After A Decade Of Trying For BTOs
Going back to Ted, his recent ballot success came after several unsuccessful tries. He recalls: “After balloting unsuccessfully for an HDB BTO flat countless times between 2012 to 2015, my wife and I eventually decided to just get a resale flat. We got married in 2013. Our ballot numbers were either too high or out of the range of available flats. Eventually, we gave up and in 2016 we bought a resale flat.”
He’ll be collecting the keys to his new Bartley BTO sometime in 2026. Now that’s a win to celebrate!
Last but not least, another possible reason is location. Yup, mature estates tend to be well-situated with a slew of amenities, transport connections and are likely closer or within the Core Central Region or Rest of Central Region (but there are of course exceptions like Tampines and Pasir Ris).
For those who mostly travel to central Singapore for work or leisure, location might be a key consideration.
Says Ted: “There was a loose perception that we would be working closer to the core region or CBD area, hence living in outer-region non-mature estates would increase travelling time.”
As for Cindy, she doesn’t really see a difference as Singapore is already very accessible, be it a mature or non-mature estate.
Non-mature vs Mature BTO Estates: Which is Better?
Both non-mature and mature estates come with pros and cons (i.e. price versus amenities; noisy neighbourhood versus peace and quiet), so we feel it’s really up to the individual and their needs.
One common thread we’ve noticed that’s come up a lot in our chats with Singaporeans who applied for BTOs is family and, to a certain extent, familiarity.
For TH, his family of three plan to move into his new 3Gen unit with his aged parents. As for the selection of Clementi, he shares: “One major factor was my mum’s familiarity with Clementi; I grew up literally across the road from where our new block is located. Those blocks across the road were demolished almost a decade back to make way for a DBSS, and this brings back memories for our family.”
Ms Tay echoes the same sentiments, firmly choosing to settle in Sembawang as it’s both close to her parents and her primary school alma mater. It was just coincidental that the “perks” of a non-mature estate (lower cost and less competition) accompanied her decision.
Hajar, who is waiting for her Woodlands BTO, adds: “I wanted a space close to family. My parents' house is in Woodlands, and my sis is living in Sembawang. I didn't want to move far away from them. Also, I've been living in Woodlands the whole time, so that when I moved, I also wanted to be in a familiar environment.”
Fred, too, picked an estate near to his father’s place; Cindy selected a Bidadari 3Gen unit to live in with her aged father-in-law that’s both close to her mother’s place in Serangoon and her siblings who stay along the North-East Line.
And Nadirah’s current BTO in Punggol is also not too far from her parents’ and in-laws’ places. She reveals that she applied to Toa Payoh in July 2014 as the project location was then just opposite her parents’ place. Unfortunately, that application didn’t work out.
Her words probably sum up this article the best. “Honestly, I don’t see much difference between mature and non-mature HDB estates other than their location. I believe each type of estate has its own merits. There isn’t one that is better than the other,” she says.
More FAQs about BTO Launches in Singapore
How to Apply for a BTO?
You must first meet HDB’s eligibility criteria before you can apply for a BTO flat; do check which eligibility scheme you fall under as well, your income ceiling, and even HDB Loan eligibility if you’re planning to take it up. Check out this application procedure page on the HDB website, and visit the HDB Flat Portal for updates.
Can a Single Buy a BTO?
Yes, you can. You must be at least 35 years old and you can only buy a 2-room Flexi flat in a non-mature estate.
What Is a BTO?
BTO stands for Build-To-Order, HDB flats in which construction will begin only if 65 to 70% of the units in the flat have been booked.
Can I Apply for BTO Before MOP?
The minimum occupancy period (MOP) of an HDB flat is 5 years. If you’re planning to apply for a BTO, you can only do so after your MOP has been met.
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This article was written by Mary Wu, who hopes to share what she's learnt from her home-buying and renovation journey with PropertyGuru readers. When she's not writing, she's usually baking up a storm or checking out a new cafe in town.