Coronavirus: Further renovation delays for home owners as contractors face labour shortage and other difficulties

Ms Nura Rashid and her family have been living in their half-renovated four-room HDB flat. PHOTO: NURA RASHID

SINGAPORE - For the past two months, Ms Nura Rashid and her family of five have been living in a half-renovated four-room HDB flat in Woodlands without a kitchen and master bedroom toilet.

The 35-year-old housewife was elated when the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) announced last Wednesday (May 27) that suspended home renovation works could resume in Phase 1 of the post-circuit breaker period starting on Tuesday (June 2).

However, her hopes were dashed when her interior design (ID) company said it could not restart works on Tuesday as it was still waiting for a number of approvals from BCA and was facing manpower shortage.

"They couldn't give us an estimated date on when they'll restart. There's nothing they can do and nothing we can do either, except wait," the mother of three told The Straits Times on Monday. Works in her home started in March.

The construction sector, which has largely been in limbo since Covid-19 circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7, will gradually be gearing up again on Tuesday.

Home renovations that are already under way are given priority to start first, but many renovation and ID companies said they are unable to resume work soon as they are facing a complicated approval process, along with labour and supply crunch.

All companies that intend to restart have to seek approval from BCA and show documents such as photos of suspended works and contractual agreements with home owners.

Approval will be granted only when companies show they can comply with the comprehensive set of safe management guidelines, which include sending workers for swab tests and training to ensure familiarity with Covid-safe measures.

"Initially, I had pictured our home to be completed before Hari Raya but until now, we're still just waiting. It doesn't feel like a real home," said Ms Nura, adding that the past eight weeks had been "very stressful".

She has been relying on a portable stove and gas cylinder to cook in her kitchen, which does not have tabletops or cabinets, for the past eight weeks. Her family will likely continue living in their half-completed home for now.

Mr Richard Yea, 43, chief executive officer of interior design firm Design 4 Space, said around 20 to 30 per cent of his sub-contractors can start work on Tuesday, but most are waiting for approval from the relevant authorities.

His company has around 110 pending residential projects and all were not approved by BCA. But he believes it was due to a human error when the application forms were done and will be reapplying.

Even if the projects are given the green light, however, Mr Yea's next challenge is securing enough workers to handle the large number of projects.

"In our line, every aspect, from carpentry and window works to painting and plastering, is done by different professionals. If we have 100 units and only three workers, how are we going to do it?" he said.

Tradesmen who are local or permanent residents make up less than 10 per cent in this industry, he said.

About 80 per cent of workers in the renovation industry are Malaysians, the majority of whom are now in Malaysia, said Mr Sky Tan, president of the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association.

Malaysia's movement control order, which was extended for the fourth time to June 9, bars its citizens from travelling abroad.

"Many are eager to restart work and home owners are also very anxious but some factors like waiting on approvals and getting workers' swab tests are out of our control," he said.

BCA said on May 27 that workers in the construction sectors have to be swab-tested for Covid-19 before resuming work, followed by regular testing once every two weeks.

Some companies are also worried about passing on the inevitable cost hikes, caused by manpower and supply shortage, to customers.

Mr Azri Abbas, 43, founder of interior design firm Renodiction, which has eight pending projects, said: "I have clients who have already signed on with us at a fixed price but if my costs go up, I will have to talk to them about raising prices. But if they don't understand, I have no choice but to absorb the costs."

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