First comes the proposal, then the wedding, and then the house. This was once the norm, but not anymore.
In Singapore, when you’ve been in a relationship for a reasonable amount of time, you can expect your partner to ask you one crucial question: “Want to BTO?”
Today, many couples apply for a BTO (Build-To-Order) flat before proposing. Marriage comes a little later, and it can happen before or after getting the keys to their home.
Logically, it makes more sense. It’s pragmatic, as the wait for a BTO can be (dreadfully) long. The completion of BTO projects can take around 2.5 to 5 years. And let’s face it. Getting a house in Singapore is stressful. In fact, it’s downright terrifying.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship or if you’re single, buying a house here is crazy expensive despite the various grants available. It’s also incredibly difficult because you’re competing with hundreds of other buyers bidding for the same flat you wish to get. And when you are getting something which you will most likely have to continue paying for for the next 20 to 30 years, you can expect everyone to ‘fight’ for their ideal choice.
This competitiveness for a BTO forces many young Singaporeans to commit themselves into a relationship when they may not exactly be ready.
THE PRESSURE TO FIND LOVE FASTER
Because of the amount of time it takes for you to successfully get the keys to your new home, it means having to find the person you are ‘meant to be with‘ a lot faster.
I know of singles in their mid 20s who are still working on finding the right person to date, let alone have a relationship with.
Dating itself has become a more daunting task than before. From the get-go, we start thinking about whether we see a future with this person, because we no longer have time to spend on someone whom we’re not going to spend the rest of our lives with.
A lot of singles in their mid and late 20s go into their first date hoping that it’ll be their last first date. We’re no longer dating to date, but we’re dating for marriage. I’ve even heard a couple of my singles friends tell me, “I want my next boyfriend to be my last one.”
Sophia, 25 and single, shared how she goes into every first date subconsciously analysing everything about her date, to get a sense of whether she sees herself spending the rest of her life with him.
“First dates used to be about having a good night out while getting to know someone,” she shares. “Now I find myself thinking about stuff you’d usually only start thinking about after knowing someone for a couple of months like “Does he want kids?” and “How religious is he?””
As much as it stinks for people like Sophia, who thought dating would be “fun and enjoyable”, buying a house in Singapore means having to think about our future a lot quicker.
It’s not a bad thing to date with the purpose of marriage of course, but it may not necessarily be a good thing to be bogged down by the practicalities of what is seemingly a talk for much later on. While applying for a BTO is a great way to get us to plan for our future early, it also, in a lot of ways, ruin romance.
IS OUR HOUSING SYSTEM A CURSE?
But it’s not just the singles who are stressed out. Couples are having to commit to the person they are with a lot earlier in their relationship. And while that’s not exactly a problem, it does provide immense pressure to someone who’s not ready for that level of commitment, while facing their partner who is.
No longer do we have ample time in our hands to enjoy the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship. While there are the lucky few who stay with their school sweethearts for 10 years, a lot of us only find “the one” somewhere in our mid 20s.
But there are instances where despite having your lives planned out together, relationships simply don’t work out.
What happens when you have a BTO on your way, and you realise that you can no longer see a future with the person you are with?
I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a lack of post-BTO breakup stories within my circle of friends alone.
Alvin, 27, went through a breakup with his girlfriend of four years after they had successfully balloted for their home last year.
“She said that she didn’t see a future with me anymore and just needed some time for herself,” he shared. “It was later that I found out there was another guy.”
“I guess no matter how much you plan for something, sometimes life just kicks you in the nuts,” Alvin laughed.
A breakup was the last thing he had expected to happen, especially at a stage of his life where he thought he had his future all planned out.
What makes BTOs all the more scary are the implications that cancelling your application causes.
There’s no doubt that you end up forfeiting the money that you’ve invested, depending on how far along in the process you are.
You also lose your first-time applicant advantages, and if you want to apply for a BTO with your next partner, or as a single, you have to wait at least a year to be able to do so.
“It sucks that the implications of forfeiting a BTO are so costly, literally,” Alvin says. “But at least it’s taught me to take my time and not rush into settling down with someone.”
Samantha, 25, whose boyfriend also broke up with her after applying for their BTO together, believes that a BTO is an expectation created by society.
“Instead of asking, ‘Proposed already ah?’, people ask, ‘BTO already ah?’ which I think indirectly gives couples a lot of pressure to get a BTO.”
It seems like we assume getting a BTO guarantees a relationship. But there rarely is ever a guarantee on anything.
“A lot of couples rush into getting a BTO because they think that might give them some ‘security’”, she shared. “But that shouldn’t be case, you should apply for a BTO because you’re secure about your relationship.”
SOMETIMES YOU JUST WORK THROUGH IT
It’s normal to feel unsure about your relationship and stumble onto rough patches along the way. The stress that comes with the BTO doesn’t help either. What was meant to be a significant part of a couple’s life has become a stressful endeavour instead.
Couples who have successfully gotten their house have had their own share of rough patches along the way. But these couples found a way to set things on track to start building their future with their partners.
Mabel, 28, who has now secured her home through Sales of Balance (SFB), wasn’t sure if she was ready to commit to her boyfriend of 3 years before they applied for it in May 2018.
“I didn’t know if I was ready to commit,” she shared. “Because it’s not only about committing to a house, but committing to the rest of my life ahead of me.”
“Whenever we spoke about applying for a BTO, a part of me wanted it, but the other part was also scared.”
Today, Mabel and her fiancé have the keys to their house, and will be getting married in a few months’ time.
“When I told my fiance about my fears, we talked about it and decided to make it work together,” she continued. “I saw his efforts in trying to make our relationship work and I just wanted to do the same.”
For Alexa, 25, applying for a BTO was a natural next step in their relationship. When they applied for their BTO, they had been together for two years and knew they were ready for the commitment.
Yet, it was after they were successful in their ballot that Alexa’s relationship hit a rough patch.
“That ‘ready’ feeling became very different as we went through a seriously rough patch that really made us think if we should move forward,” she shared.
Like anyone else in her position, Alexa didn’t want to go through the hassle of withdrawing their application.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure because this was an investment we had gotten ourselves into.” she continued. “This really showed me that the BTO system can really be a burden.”
While in many ways, having a BTO on the line does encourage you to make things work with your beau and give your relationship another chance, it doesn’t allow you to consider your relationship rationally.
“We had to tell ourselves to consider the future of our relationship as if there was no BTO involved,” says Alexa. “Because we knew that if we let the BTO decide our future, we wouldn’t be happy.”
Fortunately, Alexa and her boyfriend managed to get past their rough patch and are eager to start their life together today.
DON’T JUMP THE GUN
It’s normal to have the urge to jump on a bandwagon that everyone around you is on. We all want to have a great home by the age of 35. We all have an ideal ‘plan’ of where we want to be by the time we’re in our late 30s.
Despite being single for the past two years, Jason, still has no qualms about rushing into a relationship at 27.
“I get that in Singapore, settling down with someone takes a lot more time. But I would much rather wait until 35 and get my bachelor pad than get a BTO with someone I’m unsure about,” shares Jason. “Singlehood doesn’t scare me, being with the wrong one does.”
BTOs should be a mere stepping stone into the future you want to build, it shouldn’t be the foundation of it.
“Your future shouldn’t depend on getting a BTO,” says Alexa. “It’s better to be 30 and single than to be with someone you’re unsure about.”