SINGAPORE: When property agent Jane Siew started renovation work on her new home in March, she did not anticipate a two-month-long “standstill” which left plans in limbo.
Work had to be suspended due to the COVID-19 “circuit breaker”.
In the three weeks before restrictions kicked in on Apr 7, Ms Siew had only managed to get the walls hacked, add some tiles and finish some plumbing in the four-room HDB flat.
Keeping a close watch on the news, she said her mood would go “up and down” as new developments emerged.
“They would suddenly say this one cannot be done, that one (cannot be done),” Ms Siew said, adding that she understands this was due to the constantly changing situation in Singapore.
While renovation work can continue from Tuesday (Jun 2), provided construction firms can put in place the necessary safety measures, companies CNA spoke to said home owners should realistically expect work to resume three to four weeks later.
This is because time is needed to get projects approved by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Housing and Development Board (HDB), said several renovation companies.
Manpower and supply shortage could also add to delays, they added.
Submitting paperwork to BCA and HDB could take up to one to two weeks, said Mr Jonathan Choo, director of Hoong Fatt Heng Renovation.
He added that workers will then have to wait for BCA to contact them for swab testing before attending a COVID-Safe Training for Workers course. Separately, subcontractors have to apply for BCA approval.
Due to these various processes, Art Decor Design Studio's project director Wilson Chan estimates that he would only be able to restart projects in July. All 10 of his existing clients have said that they want to restart renovations soon after the circuit breaker ends.
READ: COVID-19: Construction sites can resume work from Jun 2; priority given to projects that follow new safety measures
BCA had said on May 27 that employees must download contact-tracing app TraceTogether before Jun 1 or when the company applies to resume work, whichever is earlier.
Employees will have to go for regular swab tests.
"Employers must ensure that their workers do not stay at the same accommodation with other workers performing works at construction projects or supply works and provide dedicated transport for their workers between workplaces and places of accommodation," said BCA in its advisory.
MANPOWER AND SUPPLY SHORTAGE
Contractors are also facing manpower and supply shortages.
JS Carpentry & Contracts director Jack Chan has about five Malaysian workers in Malaysia and 17 foreign workers confined to their dormitories out of a total of 30 construction workers.
This does not include their subcontractors who handle electrical, plumbing and tiling. Malaysian workers could make up as many as 90 per cent of the subcontractors' employees, said Mr Chan.
Some of them may have been affected by Malaysia's movement control order.
Although many of home owners are “pressuring” him to restart work, Mr Chan said he would still have difficulty coping even after all the necessary approvals are given.
“They want us to finish the job as quick as possible, but I said we cannot proceed because we don’t have manpower and we need to apply for so many things,” he said.
“Nobody do electrical work, plumbing work, tiling work, so we cannot continue. We are a carpentry factory, so we have to finish all these procedures before we can do carpentry work."
READ: Reducing migrant worker population will affect Singapore's competitive edge, lead to higher costs: Industry groups
Delays from tile, sand and cement suppliers could also extend the waiting time for home owners.
Mr Choo from Hoong Fatt Heng Renovation said that according to his suppliers, tile shops still have to remain closed during Phase 1 after the exit of the circuit breaker. Sand and cement suppliers are having problems importing their materials because of Malaysia’s movement control order, which is due to end on Jun 9.
The low stock could cause prices of materials to go up, added M2 Decor director Benjamin Toh.
With these challenges, some renovation companies would have to prioritise their ongoing projects, and this would be done according to the client’s situation.
“I think most importantly, I speak to all my customers. I tell them what are the key priorities, which customer I have to prioritise first, like customers who rented a unit, for example,” said Mr Toh, who has about seven clients with ongoing projects hoping to restart work once the circuit breaker lifts.
He added that he will not make his clients' any promises when it comes to a proper timeline on a project’s execution due to the uncertainties.
Nevertheless, most contractors CNA spoke to said that they are prepared to start work at any time with all the necessary safety measures in place, including temperature taking, installing the TraceTogether app and marking out 1m safe distancing across sites.
READ: Construction workers to be tested regularly when projects gradually resume after circuit breaker
This would come as a relief to home owners like Ms Siew, whose lease for her rented flat is running out. For now, she and her husband are planning to move into their relative’s place once their lease is up.
Even if the renovations take longer than expected from now, Ms Siew said she is “quite happy” because she can “at least get something going”.
“For the safety of everybody, we understand. It’s very troublesome, very painful for everybody, cost us more, longer time, but at least we got our own health. Eventually, we can still move in,” she added.
At a press conference on Monday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said he understands that home owners want renovation work to resume after the circuit breaker, but cautioned that safety measures need to be in place.
“I appreciate that many contractors are very eager to resume work. I also appreciate that many individuals are eager for their contractors to resume work on renovation projects," said Mr Wong.
“We want these works to resume as fast as possible but we need to ensure the requirements are met and done safely.”