Home buyers fret as some BTO flats may be delayed by a year or more

Many BTO projects are facing delays due to a labour crunch in the construction industry. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Home buyers are becoming more worried that they will have to wait longer to get the keys to their Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, while others said they are resigned to the fact that their housing projects may now be delayed by up to one year or more.

A home buyer, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, said she had been looking forward to moving into her new BTO flat in Punggol later this year, after living with her in-laws for the past five years.

But her hopes were dashed when she was informed of a nine-month delay to her five-room flat in a project called Northshore Cove, and she is worried that it may be further delayed.

She said living with her in-laws is mentally taxing as she frequently clashes with her mother-in-law on how to raise her five-year-old daughter. "My husband and I hesitate to rent a place and move out because we have already tolerated this living arrangement for five years, (so) what is one more year?" said 26-year-old Ms Tan, who works in the finance industry.

On May 4, Covid-19 multi-ministry task force co-chair Lawrence Wong hinted about a possible longer delay during a press conference, while addressing the labour crunch in the construction industry, following the entry bans on travellers from India and Bangladesh, among other countries.

"Many projects have been suffering from delays, as all of us know. More recently, when we restricted the flow of workers from India and the entire South Indian continent… it means considerable delays will be added to all of our projects," said Mr Wong, who is also Education Minister.

"Some of our housing projects, BTO projects, may now be delayed by up to a year or more. So it does come at a considerable cost to Singaporeans," he added.

Mr Wong did not specify how many or which BTO projects are affected.

ERA Realty head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said the possible delay of up to one year or more is "not unexpected" as the Covid-19 situation is evolving quickly, both globally and in Singapore.

The extended delay for BTO flats may add upwards pressure on the HDB resale market as more people may think of turning to the open market for their housing needs, added Mr Mak.

The resale market remained robust in April as prices rose for the 10th straight month by 1.2 per cent compared with March.

Mr Mak expects HDB resale prices to continue to grow by 7 per cent to 10 per cent this year.

The delay of one year or more is up from the original six to nine months earlier announced by the HDB.

About 43,000 households are expected to get keys to their BTO flats late owing to construction delays, said the Ministry of National Development last month.

Of the 89 ongoing BTO projects, about 85 per cent are around six to nine months behind schedule, MND had then said.

Engineer Siddiq Sallim, 27, and his fiancee have ruled out applying for a BTO flat but is aiming for a unit in the next Sale of Balance Flats exercise.

"We might look into getting a resale flat if we have to, but the higher cost is putting me off. Alternatively, we may live separately after the wedding," he said.

"Of course I'm disappointed, but it's yet another unfortunate circumstance of the pandemic we have to put up with."

This month, HDB will launch some 3,800 BTO units in Bukit Merah, Geylang, Tengah and Woodlands. Another 4,900 BTO flats in Hougang, Jurong East, Kallang Whampoa, Queenstown and Tampines will be offered in August.

Ms Christine Sun, senior vice-president of research and analytics at OrangeTee & Tie, said this month's BTO exercise may draw some buyers away from the resale market.

"The launches in Bukit Merah and Geylang are well located, and buying interest is expected to be strong especially for these two sites," she said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.