Recently, I have been hearing a lot of people talking about the declining value of HDB Flat due to the 99 year leasehold problem. The opposition political parties members also went on to rattle away about how the current government is not doing enough to address this problem and it is wrong to be telling Singaporeans that HDB is an appreciating asset. In addition, many folks began to assert that owning a freehold property is the best solution to preserve the capital value of the investment into housing which is a major component of all assets for most families.
The "Legend of Freehold is King" in Singapore is not entirely correct for a number of reasons:
(1) In one of my previous post, I have mentioned that in land-scare Singapore, no one can guarantee that the Singapore Government will not invoke the use of a major weapon in their arsenal, that is, the Land Acquisition Act to take away even Freehold land. Hence freehold in Singapore context does not contain the essence of perpetuity relative to other neighboring countries such as Thailand.
(2) Once a property reaches 30 years old or older, chances are that there will be many property maintenance issues regardless of being HDB, private leasehold or private freehold properties. Common problems include spalling concrete, worn out electrical fittings, water pipes bursting or leaking, pneumatic disposal system, major refurbishment of old and frequently broken down lifts etc. I have not known of any property that just because of its status being "Freehold" are exempted from these old age maintenance issues. The collapse of the bridge in Italy has shown the world that reinforced concretes do not last forever.
(3) In land scare cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, buying any type of property is an extremely expensive affair. But in Malaysia and Thailand, there are abundance of freehold land and properties all around but at so much cheaper prices and also the associated maintenance cost. The cost of maintenance alone for any type of property is high in the context of Singapore. Tearing down and rebuilding are known to be very expensive for individual owners to undertake. Only the very rich minority upper class benefit from holding a freehold property and not the middle class folks which forms the majority.
(4) If freehold is so wonderful, then why do many private freehold owners in Singapore wanted to go the En Bloc route for redevelopment via selling off to private developers citing aging properties and maintenance issues. Most of these properties are less than 40 years old. Not even reaching half of 99 years old.
(5) Freehold properties are generally at least 10%-20% more expensive than leasehold properties. One would be better off investing the differences into other income generating investments for additional passive income. Personally, I will not pay a single cents more for a freehold status property over a similarly located property if the purpose is just for own stay.
(6) Most freehold properties locations are inferior to 99 years old leasehold properties in the context of the middle class which forms the majority base of Singapore.
As alluded to the above factors, my personal thoughts are that having the so called "coveted" freehold title is not an effective solution to the 99 years declining value problem in our local Singapore context. For own residential living in Singapore, holding a HDB flat may in fact turn out to be a better choice than other forms of property and which makes the most financial sense.
Please also refer to my other posting with regard to the (i) preservation of value for HDB and (ii) also the latest "VERS" announced by government: