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It’s the 7th Month, So Why Are Renovations Still Going On?

August 26, 2020

We asked three interior designers how COVID-19 has changed things this year.

COVID-19 7th Month Hungry Ghost Festival Renovation Singapore

Traditionally, mid-August to early-September is a period where Singapore homeowners tend to avoid starting their renovations or even stop carrying them out altogether – and it’s due to the Hungry Ghost Festival which falls on the 15th day of the lunar month (2nd September 2020 on the Western Calendar).

However, things are a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has presented its own unique set of challenges. We spoke to three local interior designers who shared about the current situation on the ground as well as the precautions (both hygiene and supernatural) that they’re taking.

Compared to previous years, how have homeowners responded to the idea of renovating in the 7th month?

The Centris by Posh Home

Interior Firm: Posh Home

Robin Wong, Managing Director, Posh Home:

Previously, I’d say that out of 10 homeowners, 8 or 9 of them wouldn’t be comfortable about starting their renovations during the 7th month. But now it’s the opposite due to the impact of COVID-19.

Usually, most homeowners, especially if they’re Chinese, prefer not to start their renovation during the 7th month even if they aren’t very superstitious; it’s just seen as a bad thing to do according to Fengshui, which emphasises about doing things in the right place, at the right time. In some cases, even after the renovation has been completed, there are homeowners who’d rather leave their homes empty instead of moving in during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

However, time isn’t on their side this year, so even though they might not like it, these homeowners will have to go ahead with their renovation plans.

Renee Lim, Founder and Designer, Lemonfridge Studio:

I don’t feel that there’s a significant difference in homeowner behaviour as compared to previous years. The typical mindset towards renovating during the 7th month hasn’t really changed, apart from the fact that there are other more pressing concerns this year. It’s evident that COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on the industry, so time is of the essence if renovations are to be completed as planned.

Jonathan Kuok, Creative Director, Space Atelier:

I believe that there are quite a number of homeowners who were caught off guard by the suddenness of the Circuit Breaker (CB) earlier this year, and they’re probably still affected by the situation. It was definitely a surprise for everyone, and because everything was put on hold from April to May, they’re now forced to continue with their renovations even if it isn’t an auspicious period.

What challenges has COVID-19 posed for the industry? And what concerns do homeowners have about it?

High Oak Condo by Lemonfridge Studio

Interior Firm: Lemonfridge Studio

Robin (Posh Home):

I think that if they had the time, most homeowners would prefer to push back the start date of their renovation till after the 7th month. But because of the CB and Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), there has been a big delay in their plans. And to make things worse, the whole industry is facing a shortage of workers both because of the MCO and the situation in the dormitories.

I suppose homeowners are aware of the situation or are prepared for it because I have met some who’re only getting their keys in November or December, but they’re eager to sign (their contracts) with us now to ‘secure’ the manpower in advance.

Another thing that has changed is that sub-contractors are now asking for a 30 – 50% upfront deposit before they begin work. So, in a way, there’s also been a consolidation of power in the industry where only the larger or more reputable players have the financial means to get the manpower needed to cope with both existing and new projects.

Renee (Lemonfridge Studio):

As the effects of COVID-19 are industry-wide, every player in the field is trying to catch up with the backlog of work that resulted from the standstill during the CB period. This situation has led to a manpower crunch that many companies are currently facing, so naturally another concern is whether this is going to drive prices up.

As an estimate, I believe overall renovation costs will increase by 10 – 20% for the industry as a whole, but we won’t be passing it on to clients who’ve engaged us before or during this period.

Jonathan (Space Atelier):

If we’re talking about challenges, we definitely have to talk about the CB. Due to it, the completion date for earlier renovations were pushed back, and with new ones starting soon, it’s going to be tough for many companies to juggle new and old projects at the same time.

And of course, plenty of workers are still stuck in the dormitories, so the workforce is going to be smaller even though we’re allowed to resume work. But I believe that most renovations can still go on, but at a slower pace.

We’ve some clients who are renting and they’ve had to extend their lease – that’s one of the common scenarios. There are also those who had initially planned to hand over their existing homes to buyers, but due to the CB and renovation delay for their new homes, they were unable to do so, otherwise they'd have no place to stay in during the interim.

McNair Road by Space Atelier

Interior Firm: Space Atelier

Robin (Posh Home):

It’s regarded as bad luck to start a renovation during the 7th month, so one of the things that we do is a ‘ground breaking’. Usually, we’ll visit the site before the start of the Hungry Ghost Festival and ‘begin’ the renovation in advance by knocking out a cabinet or fixture. That’s one way to work around the taboo.

COVID-19 wise, we’ve adopted new technologies to cut down on the number of face-to-face meetings with clients.

Apart from Zoom, we’ve also started using project management systems like Basecamp, which allows us to consolidate/upload documentation and progress videos. On one hand, this allows us to cut down the number of WhatsApp messages that we send, and on the other, our clients won’t have to travel down to the site.

We’ve also invested money into building a Zoom booth that’s like an old-school telephone booth, except it has proper lighting, soundproofing, writing tablets, and high-quality cameras/microphones to make virtual discussions feel as close as possible to meetings in real-life.

Renee (Lemonfridge Studio):

Usually in regards to Fengshui, our clients will engage their own trusted practitioner, but we do carry out a ‘ground breaking’ ritual for them, which I believe is a common industry practice for renovations that take place during the 7th month period.

During this period, we tend to use WhatsApp and other forms of online communication for meetings and updates to minimise physical contact with others as much as possible. However, there are times when homeowners and designers will have to be on-site for certain discussions and decision-making.

In the event that a site visit is necessary, we’ll always ensure that we abide by the regulations in place for social gatherings in public.

Jonathan (Space Atelier):

Usually for the 7th month, we’ll just make some simple offerings below the HDB block and that’s about it. We also carry out a ‘ground breaking’ ceremony for projects running though this period, and in fact, my colleagues and I have been doing it at a couple of renovation sites for the past few weeks.

We try to have most of our meetings online, unless it involves choosing materials where face-to-face meet-ups will be necessary. We also have schedules to keep track of and limit the number of staff and/or visitors in our showroom at any one time.

Do you feel that homeowners should start/continue renovating during this year’s 7th month?

Tampines Avenue 9 by Lemonfridge Studio

Interior Firm: Lemonfridge Studio

Robin (Posh Home):

I think the answer is ‘yes’, everything is business as usual. The only big difference is that due to shortage of workers, only companies in better shape are able to offer their services.

Indirectly, this has raised the standards of the interior design industry in Singapore. Previously, there was a race to the bottom in terms of price, but because there’s a greater emphasis on reliability and the ability to deliver now, it has changed how the entire industry is competing.

Renee (Lemonfridge Studio):

In my opinion, whether it’s a good time to renovate now has less to do with the 7th month period and more to do with COVID-19 as well as the labour crunch situation. With all the foreseeable issues with starting renovation works now, it might not be the best time to proceed unless you’re rushing to move in.

That being said, homeowners should keep in mind that most renovations will probably take a longer time to complete unless there’s an improvement with the labour situation. Depending on the state of the property that’s being renovated, delays of 2 – 3 weeks should be expected.

Jonathan (Space Atelier):

I guess they don’t have a choice, right? It’s either renovate or not have a place that’s ready to live in. We have some clients who are starting their renovations right in the middle of the 7th month, and we aren’t even able to carry out the ‘ground breaking’ for them.

So, in a way, it’s a question of which is ‘scarier’. Not having a completed home? Or having to secure alternative living arrangements which could add to your expenses? This is a decision that homeowners will have to make for themselves.

Now's a good time as any to get started on your renovation plans!

Many Singapore homeowners have had to put their renovations on hold due to COVID-19 BUT that doesn't mean you can't start planning for yours now.

Ironing out the kinks in your home makeover plan will enable it to proceed smoothly once circumstances improve, so if you’d like some professional help let us know and we'll link you up with local interior firms that offer virtual consultations!

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