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The second I stepped out of the HDB lift, I knew which house belongs to the family I was going to interview. I spied a mini slide and a variety of kick-scooters, ride-on toy vehicles, bicycles and a whole lot of shoes. “Must be the right house”, I thought to myself. My guess was spot on as once the door was open, I was greeted by chatter from the full house of children.

“I knew this was your house!” I exclaimed to Steven, who so happens to be a blogger at The “Perfect” Father and he chuckled back, welcoming me in. I stepped into his jumbo flat – made from two adjoining 3-Room units in Ang Mo Kio, providing ample space for his not two, not three, not four but five children! On top of that, he even has space (a whole room and more) to house his numerous trophies from claw catcher machines.  

So is it possible to raise a big family in Singapore? Steven spills the beans.

(Spot the kids!)

Housing everyone under one roof affordably

As we sat down to talk, the children zoomed happily around on the electric toy car and indulged in their favourite activities with their siblings, oblivious to this “intruder” on a Saturday morning.

Steven brought us back in time to 17 years ago when he and his wife, Laifong, first started working. Laifong was living in her family home in Ang Mo Kio back then, and her mother got to know of her neighbour two units away who had wanted to sell their 3-Room flat.

Steven remembered that the asking price was quite reasonable at $130K thereabouts for the 3-Room HDB flat. Once he factored in the $30K first-timer housing grant and $10K proximity housing grant for living near parents, the price came down to a very affordable $90K*.

When their fourth kid came around, Steven and Laifong suddenly found themselves faced with a choice of going ahead with the upgrading to a 5-Room BTO they had applied for earlier, or to buy the adjoining 3-Room flat next door under the Conversion Scheme since their neighbour was moving out. The couple quickly did their sums. The asking price of the flat next door plus the $90K he had paid for their existing flat combined was still under the price of a 5-bedroom BTO in the same area.

During that time, a 5-room BTO at Ang Mo Kio would have set the couple back about $510,000 after grants.

Steven recalled how he and his wife gave up their BTO allocation in favour of knocking down the wall between the two adjoining 3-Room units to form a jumbo flat with enough space for all.  I guess it’s safe to say that our public housing scheme has served Singaporeans well. For Steven and Laifong, it was not so much a matter of whether they could house everyone affordably, but more of what type of public housing and at which location would work better for them.

With over a million HDB flats spread across towns and estates, the Singapore brand of public housing is uniquely different from the rest of the world. HDB flats spell home for over 80% of Singaporeans, and our home ownership stands over 90%, the third highest in the world.

Home Ownership rates globally. (Source)

Managing finances and balancing budgets

I could not resist asking how Steven and his family manage…  especially with 5 children. He shared that his housing loan, which he and his wife split 50-50 is completely covered by CPF, freeing up finances for day to day expenses. Home-cooked meals and hawker fare are their go-to because eating out for two adults and five kids can be quite a hefty sum. That said, they still budget for a yearly family holiday – Japan being their next destination.

The family of seven does not own a car and they are used to taking public transport to get around. Taxi rides are far and few between, a luxury reserved for special circumstances or when they are very tired. Thankfully, various transport routes are easily accessible from their home.  

Quality time is key

Being a full-time working parent, Steven shared that time is really a precious commodity. As much as both he and Laifong try to shower each child with individual attention, having a brood of five means they do not get to spend as much time with each child as they would like to. This is certainly a feeling many working parents can relate to.

This prompted Steven to come up with an interesting way of overcoming this “guilt”. He started the habit of bringing each child on one-on-one bonding trips overseas, timing it to coincide with just before they enter Primary school, a nice way to spend quality time together before they embarked on their formal education. He has since completed 3 one-on-one trips, bringing Steffi to Korea, Leroy to Gold Coast and Stacci to Perth.

He shared that these trips allowed him to show his love for each child through spending dedicated time with them. Both father and child got to learn more about each other on their bonding trips and share many happy memories and experiences together. Steven’s advice – “Live the moment, go forth and explore the world together!”

Endearing memories of home

Laughter and happy squeals emanate throughout the Teo household, never a quiet moment when the children are around. Their closeness as a family even spills over into their unique sleeping arrangement. Even though their jumbo flat has several bedrooms, the family of seven insists that they bunk all together.

They sleep in an elongated bedroom, made from knocking down the walls between two bedrooms. Their configuration of two king sized beds and one super single on the floor seems the perfect combination to fit all seven of them.

I asked Steven which child sleeps where and he put it simply – he parks himself on one king size bed, his wife on the other and the children will pick favourites for the night! A recent family staycation also saw all of them cuddled up in a king size bed! 

Challenges and joys

As I rounded up the interview to let the family get back to their lives, I understood more and more Steven and Laifong’s decision to have more children than the typical family. While there are challenges in raising such a big family… the immeasurable joy and warmth the young ones bring is certainly palpable.

We thank Steven and Laifong for sharing their #myHDBstory.

*Over the years, HDB has enhanced its offering of subsidies and grants to help Singaporeans afford their first home. Ninety per cent of first-time home buyers buy a flat directly from HDB at subsidised rates.

From September 2019 onwards, the newly announced Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG) will replace the existing Additional and Special CPF Housing Grants (AHG and SHG).

Eligible first-timer families buying a resale flat may now enjoy up to $160,000 of housing grants, comprising an EHG of up to $80,000, a CPF Housing Grant of up to $50,000, and a Proximity Housing Grant of up to $30,000.

Do you live in a HDB flat? Share your own #myHDBstory!