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Sell your flat, have peace of mind?

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In his National Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of how our retirees “need peace of mind in their silver years.”

“They want to be assured that they can retire happily after a lifetime of hard work,” Mr Lee said.

The Government is thus improving the country’s social safety nets, such as the new Medishield Life, and the upcoming changes to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme.

“Stronger safety nets are not just to give you peace of mind, but also to build the confidence to hope and dare,” the prime minister said.

But “Singaporeans know that they have to prepare for retirement”, Mr Lee added.

“For most of you, your HDB flat and CPF savings are key ways to fund your retirement. The HDB flat has allowed Singaporeans to build a home, and to grow a valuable nest egg for old age,” Mr Lee explained.

“Your flat is an asset which appreciates as Singapore prospers. My team is studying how to make it more convenient for retirees to get cash out of your flats, in a prudent and sustainable way.”

While on the surface there does not seem to be anything wrong in helping homeowners unlock the value in their HDB flats – what Mr Lee called “an asset” – there is a certain unease about the underlying notion nonetheless.

Stronger safety nets aside, it seems that the Government sees the home - which you spent "a lifetime of hard work" to build and own - as a convenient way out for the Government to exploit to fund Singaporeans’ financial retirement needs.

It seems that the Government is looking at the issue of retirement as a strictly dollars-and-cents issue, unaware of or disregarding what a home means to people in their old age who have spent "a lifetime of hard work" building that home.

To seniors, their home is probably the only tangible thing they have which gives them a sense of security, of belonging to this nation, however small that sense may be.

Yes, it is perhaps – and often, it does in fact – provide them that very same peace of mind which the prime minister speaks of.

One would think that in a country as rich or as wealthy as Singapore – where the Government dishes out billions for vanity projects without blinking an eye – our elderly retirees would not have to resort to selling their homes or "to get cash out of your flats" in order to survive daily living.

It is very telling that Mr Lee refers to our homes as an “asset”, which is devoid of the emotional attachments, the personal memories, the place where intimate moments of each period of our lives were shared with our loved ones.

A home where we cried and laughed, where we supported and encouraged each other. But most of all, a home where we look forward to living in in our old age, where we, after all our children have flown from the nest, have peace of mind.

Instead of finding ways and means for elder or senior citizens to "unlock" the value in their homes, I would have thought that in order to assure them of a peace of mind, the prime minister of our country would have said something along these lines:

"Do not worry in your senior years, or about your homes. In fact, we do not want you to sell your homes, or move to another one. Your home is one which you have spent a lifetime of hard work building up, even one where you raised your children, and it is filled with priceless memories for you and your family.

"It is one where you know your neighbour, your coffeeshop aunties and uncles, where the familiarity with the environment gives you that sense of security and pleasantness.

"No, please don't sell your home. No matter the difficulties you face in your senior years, we will help you. We will enhance our social welfare schemes to provide for you so that you have true peace of mind and not have to worry about having to sell your home, or worry about whether you can afford healthcare, or day to day living.

"We are Singaporeans, all of us - and while this bigger island is a collective home to all of us, the house, the flat in which we live is also a home."

Mr Lee said “[we] are working together to improve our lives, build a better home, and hand to our children a better Singapore than what we inherited.”

“This was the spirit of our pioneers.”

It is ironic then that Mr Lee, in a speech about “peace of mind” on the country’s National Day when one is supposed to feel a sense of belonging, chose to speak of - effectively - selling one’s home in one’s old age instead.

I don’t think this was “the spirit of our pioneers” which Mr Lee speaks of.

Instead, our pioneer generation came from far away to build homes for their children and their children’s children, and not to have to sell their homes in old age.

Perhaps what this blogger said will help us, and the prime minister, understand what a home is:

I asked my wife that day after I read the news.  "Dear, if one day we did become poor, should we sell our house and rent/buy a smaller house instead?" She says I'm mad and she would rather die then sell our current house.  I asked why?  She replied, "It's our 1st house together.  I like the location and neigbourhood and moreover  our children were born and raised in this house, it has sentimental values that cannot be matched by wealth.  Nope, I would die and leave the house to my children rather than selling it!"

I smiled and nodded.

We were not buying a house.  We bought a home.

It is strange - and sad indeed -  that retirees are asked to or have to sell the one thing which has given them peace of mind in order to have, well, peace of mind.

Clearly something is wrong if you're among the richest nations on earth and yet your elderly have to sell their homes in order to have this "peace of mind" you speak of. 

It is also sad that our retirees have to sell their only homes "after a lifetime of hard work", as Mr Lee puts it.