Update: This article was written before the announcement on COVID-19 circuit breaker closure on workplace premises on 3rd April 2020.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, its impact can be felt across all industries, and that includes the home renovation line in Singapore.
But how exactly have things changed since the start of the pandemic? We asked a homeowner and two interior designers to share their experiences and precautions – and also to answer the question that has been hanging on everyone’s minds: “Should I be renovating now?”
Clara – Homeowner who recently finished renovating her home
About her situation: My renovation started in December last year and ended in March. We have moved in, but there are still works that are still not done. So, there’s stuff like the carpentry and doors, which weren’t installed when we moved in. And due to the lack of workers, the ID firm I worked with was unable to come in and install these things.
On issues faced due to COVID-19: We felt the impact most when we were trying to buy stuff like fittings and appliances for the house. We had made some of our bathroom fixture purchases on Lazada and other e-commerce sites. But the delivery was halted because the stock was from China. I think we really felt the impact after Chinese New Year.
And also, for furniture, the items we wanted seem to be out-of-stock for longer than usual. For example, like IKEA, they are usually fast and on time when it comes to restocks. But this time round, it’s been like two, three months and the chairs and mirrors we wanted still aren’t available.
Advice for anyone renovating: I feel that I’m quite lucky because I was able to move in amid the whole situation. I think for people who are starting on their renovation, it’ll be a) more challenging for them to find the products they want, b) they might have to pay more, if the imports are not coming in. So, be prepared for that.
Thoughts about the situation: I asked my ID if they were affected, and he said that they had already stockpiled some materials, so it wasn’t that bad. As homeowners, we aren’t really in the know about what the whole situation is like, we can only hear from others. But you can feel the impact for sure.
To renovate or not to: If we were still renovating, definitely yes, we would go on. That’s mainly because of our timeline, but even if we were not bound by it, I don’t think we’d stop because it would be quite weird to halt everything and come back later just because of COVID-19. It’s important to know – and also understand – that some things will move slower.
Larry Lim – Co-founder of Summerhaus D’zign
COVID-19’s effect on the industry: I don’t think the industry landscape has changed much per se, but it has definitely affected things on a few fronts. I have heard from other fellow designers, of course from different companies, that firms who work with Malaysian carpenters are facing manpower difficulties due to the lockdown.
For example, some of these firms have taken orders, done the site measurements, and purchased the materials for fabrication, but because of the situation, they are having trouble looking for help locally. Due to this, I think a lot of projects will be delayed at this moment.
COVID-19’s effect on Summerhaus D’zign: Luckily for us, all of our carpenters are based in Singapore, so thankfully we aren’t facing that much of an impact. But on the materials supply end, for things like false ceiling boards, we have to search for alternatives. I have heard from my suppliers that the bulk of their stock comes from Malaysia and they are facing shipment issues.
How homeowners are responding: I’d say the demand for renovation is always there. If you take a look at the number of TOPs happening lately, you’ll realise that people will need to move in and they will need to renovate, so I think it won’t impact demand in terms of numbers that much.
I do have some clients who are taking things slower, and they are able to put off their renovation plans because they have more than one home. But for those who have to move in the next 3- 4 months, I believe they’ll be affected. Also, maybe in anticipation of the situation becoming more serious, homeowners are most likely going to spend less and their renovation plans will be less grand.
On precautions taken: On our end, we have cut down the number of face-to-face meetings. For the first meeting, we hold it over the phone and get most of the requirements, so that cuts down physical contact and also meeting time. Where possible, we try to do online meetings as well.
The rest of our precautions are very much in line with what MOH has been advising, so of course, temperature checks and social distancing. We also try to limit the number of people at each site by staggering the contractor teams. And we make sure to know who’s where, so if anything happens, contact tracing can happen straight away.
Advice for anyone renovating: I think most people can expect delays and a longer renovation period – that’s for sure. Depending on the scope of work, you can expect extensions of about two weeks to one month, that should be a reasonable period.
At this stage, I think homeowners should also be prepared for the possibility that everyone has to stop working if the government mandates it. If that happens, the pushback will be even longer. If you want to be extra-safe, have a Plan B. For example, talk to your landlord for a possible extension if you’re renting or consider pushing back your move-in dates.
To renovate or not to: I don’t see any reason why not, because from a safety perspective, homeowners won’t be visiting the site every day. We’re also taking precautions on our end and monitoring the situation. Like I said, if the need is there, then it’s about mitigating the delays and challenges. Just be mindful of the timeline and be sure that your contractor or designer doesn’t overpromise.
Elton Then – Managing Director of ProjectGuru
COVID-19’s effect on the industry: I find that customers are more hesitant to arrange for face-to-face meetups these days because everyone is avoiding close contact. And the other issue is the number of inquiries that we’re getting – it has been dropping due to the cancellation of large-scale marketing events as part of the latest control measures.
For furniture and fittings, because the whole supply chain is being disrupted, customers who have ordered their items overseas will face delivery delays. Selection-wise, there’s also less options available due to the same reason.
COVID-19’s effect on ProjectGuru: We have a carpentry factory in Malaysia, but because of the lockdown till mid-April, we have made arrangements for our Malaysian carpenters to reside in Singapore and to set up a new factory here.
But still, there’s a certain degree of disruption because the workers whom we have brought over are only a percentage of our total workforce and the new factory still needs to be prepared. We have informed our clients about delays in carpentry work, and we foresee this situation persisting till May or end-June because we’ll have to catch up with the accumulated backlog.
How homeowners are responding: We haven’t had any clients cancelling their renovation plans yet due to COVID-19, but we foresee more people delaying their upgrade to a new home because the economy probably isn’t going to do too well for the next one year or so.
And also, most homeowners are likely going to be more prudent in their spending, their budgets have gone down about 20 to 30%. Like for instance, for a new 4-room flat, the usual budget is roughly about $35,000 to $50,000, but that has dropped since the epidemic started.
On precautions taken: We heavily encourage the use of telecommunications for all discussions with our clients and even for payment, we ask them to do a bank transfer instead of delivering cheques. The only times that we really have to meet face-to-face are for material selection and during the handover of a completed project.
Also recently, we have partnered with a professional cleaning company to offer a one-time air disinfection before handing over the keys – and we’ll be absorbing all charges for this service for a limited time.
Advice for anyone renovating: I would encourage homeowners to be more careful about screening the ID firms they’re thinking about hiring. It’s not just about looking at portfolios any more, they’ll have to take a look at the ID’s approach to the situation too.
To renovate or not to: Even though homeowners are being more cautious these days, I believe that most people are still interested in renovating. Some of them have collected their keys or sold their current home, so they’ll have no choice but to go ahead.
In fact, it’s possible to move in first before completing the carpentry at a later date, so long as essentials like the shower, WC, electricity and a proper bed are there. The only issue is if you cook at home, because the kitchen worktop can’t be installed and measured properly without first having the surrounding cabinets in place.
To sum up
So should you renovate now? The answer: It depends.
If you’re comfortable with some delays (mainly in the areas of carpentry installation and furniture purchasing) OR need to move out from an existing residence, then you might wish to move forward with your renovation plans. Otherwise, it’s possible to take a wait-and-see approach, so long as it doesn’t affect your quality of life.
In the meantime, if you’d like to speak to an interior designer, let us know and we'll link you up with interior firms that offer virtual consultations!