BTO flat buyers face longer wait amid labour and supply strains

HOME buyers might have a longer wait for the keys to their Build-To-Order (BTO) flats.

A combination of the construction industry labour crunch and a ramp-up in the Housing Board's building programme is stretching the completion period for new BTO projects by several months.

The private sector has already taken a hit as contractors push back deadlines and take longer to complete projects, as the industry struggles with fewer workers.

And this seems to have affected the Housing Board sector as well, with estimated waiting times for some recent standard BTO projects of 20 storeys and below being stretched to as long as 43 months.

The National Development Ministry said in 2010 that the waiting time - from booking a flat to collecting the keys - for such BTO projects launched after the middle of 2011 would be about 2 1/2 years, or 30 months.

But this seems to be no longer the case, despite the Housing Board moving to a building "ahead of order" system.

A quick check of January's BTO launches shows that estimated completion times for projects of under 20 storeys range from 32 to 43 months.

For bigger projects - with more storeys and units - the waiting time stretches to as long as 58 months, or nearly five years.

The 1,058-unit Fengshan Greenville in Bedok, for instance, comprising eight blocks that are 16 to 19 storeys, has an estimated waiting time of 54 to 58 months for some of its blocks.

But even for typical standard BTO projects comprising five blocks of not more than 20 storeys, the 30-month timeframe seems unlikely to be met.

Tampines Greenforest, for instance, comprising 424 units in four blocks of 15 storeys each, has an estimated waiting time of 35 to 37 months. It was launched in January this year.

Similarly, Punggol Opal with four 17-storey blocks comprising 526 units also has a waiting time of 35 to 38 months, while GreenTops @ Sims Place in Geylang - a 19-storey block with 338 units - is expected to take 36 to 38 months. Both were launched in last July's BTO exercise.

A Housing Board spokesman noted that the construction time for each project depends on many factors, such as the complexity of the design features, soil conditions and other site constraints.

For standard BTO projects of 20 storeys and below completed from 2010 to last year, however, the average construction time was 30 months, he said.

Accountant K.C. Lee, 27, applied for a five-room flat at Keat Hong Mirage in Choa Chu Kang last November. The 1,159-unit development has an estimated waiting time of 39 to 43 months.

Mr Lee said that while the waiting time is quite long, it works for him. "It also gives me some time to get our finances ready for expenses like the honeymoon, renovation and deposit.

"But the long waiting time of three to four years might cause unpredictability for some relationships. I'm sure there are also some buyers who want a ready flat sooner so that they can start leading private lives."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 18, 2013

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