A parliamentary Freudian slip

If we read more into this little statement “they are comparing apples with lemons”, it sounds like a Freudian slip by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan. He was fending off queries in Parliament on why studio flats are more expensive than 2-room flats of the same size, despite the much shorter lease of 30 years.

Why not just say apples with oranges like everyone else? I wonder if it was a slip of tongue or just a fancy choice of words. Do mind your language please, or your colleague Indranee Rajah may end up twerking in disapproval. Whatever that means, it’s a scary thought. So don’t even go there.

If you google “comparing apples with lemons”, you will find articles making the deliberate sarcastic twist when something bad is compared to something good or upscale, like a low-end tablet to the iPad. So in arguing that studios are reasonably priced and we can’t compare apples with lemons, is the minister implying that 2-room units are lemons and justifiably cheaper? No wonder they are now selling leftover 2-rooms to singles. Clearance sale, everything must go!

Mr Khaw was right, however, to point out that much of the comparison examples made were on flats in very different housing estates, such as Bukit Merah vs Seng Kang. Location, location, location is always a good excuse for a rip-off when someone tries to sell you a property. Until we have flats of the two different kinds being offered in the same BTO exercise in the same housing estate, it’s hard to have a true apple to apple comparison. In none of the recent balloting exercises have there been any 2-room flats and studios being built in the same housing town, let alone the same BTO project. It’s almost as if the HDB is deliberately avoiding such a situation lest its opaque pricing methodology — if there is even such a thing as a methodology — gets called into question when inexplicable price tags become oh so obvious.

But let me help out the minister by pointing out another reason most people have missed for this difference in price. Studio flats are open to all elderly of at least 55 years old with the usual income ceiling, etc. Subject to these conditions, it does not explicitly exclude those who have already taken “two bites of the cherry”, i.e. third timers. So after you have gobbled up the cherry in two big bites, you still get to buy a pricey apple that will hopefully keep the doctor away during retirement because you can no longer afford healthcare after that. Normal BTO flats are for first and second timers only.

So maybe that’s the price to pay for third timers. Who knows? If so, elders who are first or second timers are better off getting cheaper 2-room flats. Use the savings to build your own elderly-friendly frills. More importantly, you can pass the flats to your children when the day comes. That sounds a lot more reasonable to me.