Honey, I shrunk the flat, but it’s just us now

Published December 30, 2010

The Business Times
By EMILYN YAP

HDB flats are smaller than before but may provide more space as families shrink

HDB flats have gotten smaller over the years, but most occupants today should actually have more space to themselves as the size of families has also shrunk.

Small is BigData that BT obtained from HDB reflects this trend. From the 1980s to 2000s, all types of flats have been scaled down. The changes appear most noticeable between the 1990s and the 2000s.

For instance, a five-room flat built in the last 10 years would measure around 110 square metres, but an older one from the 1990s would be 110-135 sq m, while another hailing from the 1980s would measure some 123-135 sq m.

HDB explained that it ‘reviews flat sizes regularly, taking into consideration changes in demographic trends and lifestyle habits, as well as the need to optimise limited land available for housing’.

Home hunters have noticed the change in flat sizes. The difference stands out particularly to those who have been shopping for resale flats across estates, said Dennis Wee Group director Chris Koh.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail agreed that flats have become smaller in the last 20 to 30 years, but pointed out that there has also been a more ‘efficient use of space’.

For instance, most new flats no longer come with large balconies and long corridors. In addition, glass panels have become an increasingly common feature because they create a sense of spaciousness, he said.

While HDB’s data confirms that flats have become more compact, it also highlights something less obvious to the casual observer – many residents today should have more living space because their families are smaller.

According to official surveys, the average household size was 3.4 in the 2000s and 4.6 in the 1980s. This means that an occupant in a relatively new 110 sq m five-room flat is likely to have 32 sq m of space to himself, while someone living in a 123 sq m five-roomer in the 1980s probably had just 27 sq m of space.

‘Over the years, while flat sizes have been adjusted, living space per person has improved for HDB residents as household size has decreased . . . due to the nuclearisation of families and formation of smaller families,’ HDB said.

HDB ‘will continue to provide a wide variety of flats and ensure that flat sizes are reviewed regularly to cater to prevailing and future needs’.

Property agents note that flat sizes alone do not influence homebuyers’ decisions – other factors such as location and amenities come into play.

As Mr Ismail shared, many people are looking forward to waterfront living in Punggol, even though flats in the area are likely to be smaller than those in older estates such as Yishun. ‘The environments cater to different needs. There are pros and cons,’ he said.

Still, industry watchers are not keen – and do not expect – to see flats getting smaller as they have to accommodate families.

‘There’s very little that you can cut back on, unless you want to cut back on the yard area . . . As it is, the room sizes are just nice,’ Mr Koh said.

In the private housing sector, condominium units have also shrunk in size. The trend picked up pace from early 2009 when projects with a large proportion of shoebox units measuring less than 500 sq ft started to emerge. Developers have an incentive to keep units small so that they remain affordable even if prices in per square foot terms are high.

BT reported recently that the authorities have been projecting housing supply in the Government Land Sales programme by using smaller estimates for the average size of non-landed homes.

Market watchers do not believe that HDB flats will go the way of shoebox apartments. These private projects ‘cater to investors who want to own a second property or to a single who wants to buy . . . but public housing is for a family nucleus’, Mr Ismail said.

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